Adam Levy channels grief over his son's suicide into 'Naubinway' album

Adam Wahlberg performed songs from
In April, Adam Levy, left, performed songs from "Naubinway" for a crowd during the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference in Minneapolis.
Larry Marcus | Courtesy of Think Piece Publishing

Adam Levy is a familiar face — and voice — in the Twin Cities music scene. Best-known as the founder and frontman of The Honeydogs, Levy has made his career in indie rock.

His newest album, "Naubinway" marks a departure for Levy. It's a solo project, dedicated to the memory of his son, Daniel, who took his own life almost four years ago.

Levy joined MPR News' Tom Weber to discuss the album, and the outreach he has been doing with mental health forums.

Turning grief to art

At first, the intense grief over his son's death left him hollow, creatively. "I couldn't write at least for a year and a half," Levy said. "The idea of writing a song about my experience, or trying to summarize my son's pain in any kind of art, just seemed to trivialize it."

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Though he continued to play and tour with his band, he didn't make anything new. Whatever he tried "didn't feel big enough."

Eventually, he returned to the studio, in part inspired by his son's art. Daniel was a prolific artist, and his original works decorate the "Naubinway" record. Levy sorted through piles of sketchbooks from the last year of his son's life to choose the works that accompany the songs.

The cover of the "Naubinway" album
The cover of the "Naubinway" album features art by Adam Levy's son, Daniel.
Courtesy of Think Piece Publishing

The lyrics on the record address the pain head-on: both Daniel's pain and that of the family he left behind.

"There was no way living he could banish the parade of demons in his mind," Levy sings in "Potter's Field."

The title track of the album, "Naubinway," is perhaps the most personal, and the most steeped in his family's grief. Naubinway is a small strip of beach on the upper peninsula of Michigan — and the last place Daniel's mother remembers him smiling.

When they were trying to decide where to lay their son to rest, his mother remembered Naubinway. Levy, his daughters, and Daniel's mother and stepmother drove to the beach and scattered his ashes in Lake Michigan.

Lately, Levy has shied away from performing the song for crowds. "It feels a little like the atom bomb of the show," he said. "I just feel like I need to careful of people's hearts because of what this is about."

In the studio, he played "Naubinway."

"Life goes on in spite of great tragedy," he said. "So here I am."

"Naubinway" will be released on Oct. 23.