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Interview with Tony Levin

interview by: Jan-Jaap de Haan
pictures taken from PapaBear-records and Elephant Talk

First of all, many fans really want to know why you and Bill are not present in the current KC line-up. What happened? Is this a (definite) split?

Well, as often with Crimson, that's not a normal situation. A year ago, when Robert decided to organize a full Crimson release and tour (as opposed to ProjeKct ones) both Bill and I were committed to other things and couldn't fit it in our schedules. The situation with Bill may have been more complicated than that - I don't know for sure. I was in the start of a tour with Seal, which was to go 14 months. Later in 1999, when Seal's tour ended prematurely, it was too late musically, for me to join in without undoing some of what the guys had been doing. Robert has told me, and I trust his judgement, that both Bill and I will be involved in the next Crimson endeavor.

How do you look back on all the ProjeKcts?

The ProjeKcts were fun (at least the ones I was in) but I have been looking forward to the next moves of the full band - that's where my heart lies.

You have been doing quite some things yourself, like The Black Light Syndrome and Liquid Tension Experiment. Can you compare the two projects?

I do a LOT of projects and albums on my own - we have recorded the second Bozzio Levin Stevens cd -to come out next Fall, I think- and I have recorded and toured with Bruford Levin Upper Extremities. And recorded a live cd of that, which is just out on DGM, titled "Blue Nights"

Is there any chance there's going to be a sequel to those or is LTE "to the end" now Rudess has joined Dream Theater?

As for LTE, now that 3/4 of the band is in Dream Theater, its very unlikely that we'll do more as a band -- just too similar to the other band, so there's little reason to continue. If my contribution to LTE was a distinctive part of it's music, then things might be different, but realisticaly, I'd say that I've been playing in their style on the cd's, so the stituation is as I described.

DT have incorporated some LTE-stuff in their set. How do you feel about that?

I didn't know that, but it's fine with me.

Do you happen to know where Peter Gabriel has gone? Fans have been waiting for the new album for ages. Has it been recorded yet, and if so, can you tell anything about it?

I wish I had more info about Peter. We have recorded many tracks over the past years, but I don't know how many he has finished, or when he'll release them. I do expect there will be a tour when he does finish.

Recently, you formed a "more or less" Gabriel-reunion with Fast, Marotta and Sancious. How was that, and can you tell anything about the results, being your new solo album.

My upcoming solo cd is "Waters of Eden" which is the first I've done featuring the bass - mostly fretless, sharing the lead role with the keyboards and guitar. For much of this cd, it was also a reunion of Jerry Marotta on drums, Larry Fast keyboards, and me. So that's much of the old Peter Gabriel band. David Sancious played keyboard on a couple of tracks too. But Jerry and Larry will be touring with me, this Spring in the U.S. and hopefully July in Europe.

As if you weren't busy enough you've been working with Seal an doing some jazz with Bruford in BLUE. Can you compare the jazz in BLUE, the pop with Seal and the heavy-metal-side in LTE? How do they all come together? Or do they not, and are you simply a musical multiple personality.

I approach each music project as unique. When I listen to the new music of someone, I focus on the music itself, and what I can contribute as a bass player. I don't compare the styles, unless some song sounds TOO MUCH like a piece on another album, in which case I'll try to change it a bit. The bands you mention are all quite different. With BLUE we expand the music live, making it very different than the cd. David Torn, especially, never plays things the same as the night before. The band also leaves large improv sections for new things to happen. And we do at least one total improvisations in each show. Crimson also does improvs, but with more people in the band, there's less room for featuring each player, so it's more of ensemble improvisations - which are more difficult - and the compositions in Crimson vary from completely worked out, to having some room for change. LTE only toured a little, but we tried to play the music from the cd exactly as it was. The experience for the audience was to hear that music performed live.

Seal is a terrific performer, with a great stage charisma in addition to a great voice. He also had a great backup band (David Sancious, Brian Blade) so we had a lot of fun with the grooves he's written.
As I said, with each, I'm focussed on the music being made, not on what style bass player I might have been before.

Originally you're a bass-player, but you've made yourself famous more recently as a stick player. Do these qualities suffer from eachother? Are you more a stick-player now?

I enjoy the Stick, and I am quick to bring it out on a project where it is appropriate. I like the sonic factor of the Stick - it's so different than my basses, yet it can fill the same function. On "Waters of Eden" I didn't use the Stick because I was specifically featuring the bass and cello.

Is it true that you lost a couple of instruments in a fire some years ago?

Yes, I lost some old favorites, but I've replaced what I could by now.

You've filled the shoes of great bass-players like Squire, Wetton and Waters. Do you have any bassist-'idols' yourself?

No, not "Idols", but I very much admire the bass playing of a lot of great players, both past and present. And, though I try to have a unique style, I can't help but be influenced by the great playing I've heard through the years.

What is the favourite album or project you played on?

I have no favorites. Typical of many musicians, I focus very much on what I'm doing in the present - so my favorite is always the one I'm doing.

Now that your have a solo-career as well, do you still think of yourself as a session-player?

Not session player, but as a bassist who gives the low-end function to the music. My solo efforts are fun, but pretty much an excursion from what is my main career: a backup bassist in bands, records, and especially on tour.

How different is writing an entire album from "just" coming in and playing the lines, like you did with for instance Pink Floyd?

Very different, as you can imagine. But I am the kind of musician who enjoys both. In fact, in the long term, I think I prefer adding my talent to the music of others, when it's good music!

You once explained you have some hearing-damage. How do you deal with that?

I think it's pretty common now. I have no big problems, I just have to wear ear protection when the music is loud, which is most of the time. I notice that more other musicians are doing the same.

Is there any person/project you would like to play with if you had the chance..?

Many. Elton John, Clapton, .... Jimi Hendrix would be my first choice if he were alive.

Could you give us an insight in your agenda for the next couple of months?

As I said earlier, touring from ... next week! through July, possibly Japan in August, with California Guitar Trio, possibly more Tony Levin / Jerry Marotta / Larry Fast touring in September.

Thank you very much for taking the time!



1999 - Dutch Progressive Rock Page