Interview: Tony Levin (Levin/Minnermann/Rudess, King Crimson, Peter Gabriel)

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HIT CHANNEL INTERVIEW: September 2013. We had the great honour to talk again with a legendary bassist and Chapman Stick player: Tony Levin. He has a very successful career as a member of King Crimson (since 1981) and playing with Peter Gabriel (since 1976). He has also played with John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Paul Simon, Tom Waits, Liquid Tension Experiment, L’ Image, Levin/Torn/White, Stick Men and of course, as a solo artist. Seven months since our previous conversation, Tony adds one more album to his vast discography. He just released the brilliant “LMR” with Marco Minnermann (Steven Wilson, The Aristocrats drummer) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater keyboardist). Read below the very interesting things he told us:


I think “LMR” it’s one of the most “live” and “spontaneous” studio albums you have done in your career. Do you agree with this?

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Well, I don’t usually think in terms of comparing different things I’ve done. I do know that I’m very happy with the way this album came out. It’s always a jump into the unknown when you take a new group of players, even if they’ve played together in smaller combinations, and start writing an album. So there were surprises in this one, as usual, but they were happy surprises, and I feel we came out with some very nice compositions, which featured the playing of each of the guys in a way that’s balanced and even fairly accessible for progressive rock.


Basically, the album was written by you and Marco. Do you think the album would be different if Jordan Rudess was more involved in writing since the beginning?

It would indeed be different, or at least some of the compositions, and I look forward to doing a second album where we all have input in starting off the piece. But I don’t want to underestimate the effect each of the players has, even if he didn’t “write” the beginning of the piece — there are melodies to be made up, grooves to find, counterlines, and the mysterious counter currents that make things feel like progressive music instead of just a piece someone wrote — those all fall to the second and third player to join in on the piece – and I think Marco and Jordan did a great job with that.


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Were you surprised by Marco Minnermann’s talent.. on guitar?

I was surprised — did not know that he played guitar and bass – and he plays them well!


How important was the role of the producer Scott Schorr on “LMR”?

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Scott was the originator of the idea, and closely involved with choosing the players, with editing all the parts, with the mix, with the release. Really he’s in every way the “producer” of the album — I am just named as co-producer because I was there from the beginning.


Are there any touring plans for Levin/Minnermann/Rudess?

This time, alas, we cannot tour, because of schedules which stretch well into next year, and because it’s, to me, problematic to tour with a group with its first album – much better to do it after the second.


Did you pull out any old gear (pedals, amplifiers etc) for “LMR”, as you did on Stick Men’s “Deep”?

Pretty much used all my stuff, as I often do… one big difference was that I used the NS Electric Cello quite a bit, and found it very useful for getting a somewhat different texture in the pieces.


Recently, you finished some recordings with Steve Hunter. Did you enjoy playing again with Steve Hunter (Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Alice Cooper guitarist) after 35 years?

Yes, I greatly enjoyed it. Steve’s a good friend, and one of those great guitarists who has his own sound. Though the last we toured together was on Peter Gabriel’s first solo tour(!) it’s always a pleasure to record with Steve.


You played in one of my favourite Tom Waits songs, “Downtown Train” (from “Rain Dogs album, 1985). How was recording with a very talented person like Tom Waits? Had you realised when you were recording it that you had done an incredible song?

Some record sessions involve a lengthy involvement, and allow for lots of input from the players, but some are less so — that one, I’m afraid, was pretty short — and I wasn’t playing on many pieces, so I was just brought in to join the other players for a song – we did it, and I left. I do love his music, and felt lucky to be a little part of it.


I think that you live close to Levon Helm’s (The Band drummer and occasional singer) farm and studio. Did you have the chance to know Levon? Do you like the music that he created? He is a hero of mine.

I did know Levon a bit, because we’ve been living in the same town for a long time – also I did some recording at his barn studio, and had played on a few of his “Ramble” concerts in the barn. He was a great talent, a unique guy, and is missed by many here in the Woodstock area, as well as by fans around the world.


Do you think playing with different people is a form of evolution too?

It has always been special to me to play with good players — I don’t actually learn specifics about how to play better myself, but there are so many aspects to playing well, that I’ve found lots of inspiration from them, which has helped a great deal with my bass playing. And it’s an ongoing thing, because I still play with new people all the time, and hopefully I’m still learning.


A huge “THANK YOU” to Mr Tony Levin.

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