“I think the songs required a different treatment,” suggests Levine.
“For this album, I started co-writing, with Barry Berk. The songs had a different sort of energy and it felt like they were asking to go in a different direction. We wanted to incorporate some of the sounds we were listening to at the time – Duke and the King and Ray Lamontagne, which is more the soul side of things.
“I loved doing Six Winters and I was very happy with it, but I didn’t want to do the same thing again. I wanted to do something more uptempo; I’m in a different place now.”
Was it a case of actively seeking out a different feel or just beginning to write and seeing what happened?
“It was a combination of the two,” says Levine.
“Some of it was just fooling around in the studio, but there was definitely a point at which I felt I was ready to start a new album, but I needed more songs. With that imperative as a driving force, were there any situations that lent themselves to the creation of something special?
“Last One Standing is an interesting one,” says Levine.
“Barry was playing some vintage beats on his computer, and he suggested I pick up my guitar and see if anything matched a beat he liked. I’ve never written like this before, but I did, and I came up with a guitar hook. Then I just started riffing with lyrics, and at the end of it I had this mess of about 10 pages.
“The process then was to piece it all together like a puzzle, and it was hard work, because I didn’t know what it was about! It’s important for me to figure out what something is about, so that took some time.”
Levine teamed up again with producer Dan Roberts, who won a South African Music Award for his behind-the-desk work on Six Winters.
“Dan absolutely gets the country-folk idiom,” Levine says, “but he’s always up for something new.
“There are still elements of that sound, and he just became part of the process of figuring out where we were going this time.”
Roberts is credited as a co-writer on many of the songs on Border Crossing, and as a producer, he would have had input beyond those ideas as well.
“The bulk of the songs were complete when we took them to Dan; most of the co-writing was between Barry and I,” says Levine.
“Dan’s input was more on the musical side – making choruses stronger and bridges longer. He’s very big on pre-production: getting the songs to a point where they allow the actual sound we’re after to work properly.”
The Levine-Roberts partnership has been very successful. Would there be a scenario in which Levine would consider moving on to explore new collaborative ideas?
“I’ve recorded three albums with Dan now,” she muses, “and I think I’d be ready to explore new influences. I’m five albums in, so it might be time to explore what’s out there.”
Levine recently completed a South African tour, driving long- distance to promote the new collection.
“I like to separate touring into different legs so I can keep coming back to Joburg – I don’t like to be away for too long,” she says.
“The first bit was in KwaZulu-Natal – in Durban, and the Midlands, plus the South Coast. After that there was the Western Cape and then the Eastern Cape – my first extensive tour in the latter area.”
How do the audiences in small towns with nothing much in the way of a live music circuit differ from those in cities where fans are spoiled for choice?
“They were great,” smiles Levine.
“They’re very appreciative because they don’t get much to see. That said, in Stanford, a tiny place in the Western Cape, there’s a girl who’s decided that she’s going to organise a monthly gig and bring people to her community. So there’s room for growth.”