Levelle walked into the room calmly, his face partially obscured by a black cap with bold white letters that read, 'Positive Energy'.
The curator of Traits of an Empath was here to talk about his latest EP. Having good intuition, being in touch with spirituality and sensitive to energies and anxieties inspired the name, but it is Levelle London's history of mental health issues and homelessness that has paved his journey through music so far.
With conviction Levelle says: "I think most people have had to deal with mental health in different ways because it's not taught about in school. I've had a whole leap of journeys around it. It shouldn't be so hard to speak about". He asserts the crux of the issue to be confusion and misconceptions around mental health:
"Some people think it's an illness or an excuse, others think it's an adjective. I think I've been alone a lot of the time and misunderstood. I don't want anyone else to feel like that", he said earnestly.
Levelle London was born in Camden to a mum who had him him young. A combination of his desire to be free spirited with a breakdown in communication with his mum meant their relationship was tough while he was growing up. Levelle was consequently shifted between his parent's houses all throughout to his early teenage years. Going to secondary school in South London he ended up moving there to live with his Dad, but it reached a point where he wasn't able to stay and so he lived with friends. Levelle reflects on this as where the cycle started:
"Whenever I would go back to my mum's we would have horrible fall-outs, and I ended up getting kicked out. So I had to start going to all of these homeless shelters trying to get a hostel."
At the time Levelle was looking for shelter, if you were under eighteen you needed a letter from a parent to prove they had kicked you out of your home - something his mum was not happy to oblige with. And then when he turned eighteen, he wasn't a priority anymore.
"I was homeless. Sometimes I slept on the bus, sometimes at a friend's house, sometimes I would do all nighters roaming the streets. But I always kept up music." he tells me.
Levelle explained that building relationships with friends with studios, like producer KZ enabled him to keep on top of writing and producing tracks: "I stayed at his a lot. I was living out of my bag. I would record at his, wash, eat, go college - I was studying music at college at the same time as well - I was just grafting, staying at different people's houses everyday. But music was my passion, it kept me occupied."
Levelle worked, produced music and studied at college all the while he was living out of a backpack. The depression came hand in hand with his homelessness, marked by the breakdown with his mum. His story depicts a very common reality for far too many in the UK capital - statistics that were published at the beginning of 2016 revealed rough sleeping in London doubled in the past five years. But it is people like Levelle who are often not even counted - the hidden homeless; sofa surfers, those in temporary accommodation, squatters - the less visible but just as vulnerable who experience homelessness in a variety of forms.
The issue of homelessness has faced universal stigma throughout its largely undocumented history. But Levelle's story challenges the stereotypical misrepresentations of those without shelter as lazy, alcoholic, drug addicts who only have their self to blame for such circumstances. In reality, the main cause of homelessness is - like Levelle's experience demonstrates - due to relationship breakdown.
Levelle had been homeless on and off since the age of fifteen. Now at twenty-four years old, he has just secured stability by finding a home through turning to the organisation Alone in London. Beaming with excitement, Levelle described how his new found stability felt:
"I've finally got my own little space. I've got my studio setup and I'm grafting from now.
I'm experiencing loads of different emotions because I'm not used to my own company. Waking and making music on the spot without having to book and pay for a studio, that's an experience every artist should feel - you can be in your own space and be creative and have one-hundred per cent control over your creativity."
Now residing in East London, Levelle explains how much of his music revolves around his experiences of homelessness. The track Three Corners explores his struggle to make money and survive in three corners of London; North, South and East. He tells me, "I had to get into a lot of things I didn't want to but because of circumstances I had to in order to survive. I used that track to vent this out."
I asked Levelle whether holding down a conventional job was ever an option. He told me:
"I had loads of jobs. My problem is I would get depression bad at work - I'd be standing there crying on the spot. Leaving home early at fifteen meant I never really lasted in workplaces because I would have breakdowns. Music remedied this depression and it lifted up my career slowly - but I couldn't write anything without the depression. Music was like my getaway; it became my diary that depicted what I was going through, and since then it's enabled me to let go of certain things through recording and performing my music."
He added, "Homelessness helped me at the same time as it hurt me. It really built me. Things are good with my mum now. I have things that I am still scarred by - sometimes things remind you of the past and it doesn't feel good. But I have to swallow my pride a lot. I am an adult now so I have to act like one."
Levelle's grounded nature derives from nurturing solid friendships with people who have positively inspired him. Since being away from home for most of his life, he had to rely on friends to get by and so they became his family.
He tells me, "I've got a best friend from school who I sat next to in Science in secondary school. One day he turned to me and said we are going to be on the red carpet. I'm going to be an actor and you're going to be a singer. And he did it. He's the main character in Star Wars." The actor Levelle is referring to is John Boyega.
Despite growing up under challenging circumstances, Levelle has a calm and balanced presence with which he carries a wholeheartedly warm and positive energy. He admits that despite reaching points where he didn't want to be here anymore, he felt he had a responsibility as an idol to make better choices:
"I could have let all the negativity spill out at breaking points where I was ready to go but for me, I feel like it is common sense to not choose the other direction. I've got passion and people that look up to me - people that have told me I mean something to them; that I inspire and motivate them. I do it for them. You don't choose when you become an idol. If you're given that responsibility you've got to use it."
Murder My Ego, the first track off Traits of an Empath is about Levelle's endeavour to let go of grudges and pride in order to rebuild a relationship with his mum. He tells me:
"That's all the stuff the ego holds and for me to have good relationships with other people and myself, I need to be humble and let go of negativity. It's important to remain positive in a realistic way - having a positive energy and outlook in life; looking for the positive in things and deleting the toxic in me so the toxic people don't come into my life."
It seems through using music as an outlet to stream his subconscious and by embracing the responsibility of an idol to set an example to others, Levelle has triumphantly come to terms with his difficult past. Consequently, he has successfully channeled negative experiences into wholly positive ones and encourages others to "feed your passion and remember why you are doing what you are doing, in order to keep motivated."
Levelle's philosophy that resonated the most was that we all have a choice when it comes to how we move around in life, and choosing to advance with a positive mentality is the key to overcoming hardship. This message was only to be reiterated by the sticker on the studio door he was sitting besides which read: 'I have a choice'.
Traits of an Empath is out now on iTunes.
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