SO in one of the more unlikely moments of my prog-loving life, I got to interview the legendary TONY LEVIN (of King Crimson, The Stickmen, Liquid Tension Experiment, Peter Gabriel etc etc etc) ahead of his Australian tour with The CRIMSON PROJEKCT this June.
For all you readers who submitted questions – they’re in there…
Hi Tony, it’s a great honour for us to chat with you. Everyone at OzProg is very excited about The Crimson Projekct coming to Australia. Can you tell us a bit about how you and Adrian decided to bring the groups together to form one and the shows you’ve been playing?
Adrian has his wonderful Power Trio, that he tours with a lot of the year. And for me, I love putting a lot of passion and musical work into “Stick Men”, a progressive trio we formed some years ago. We in Stick Men tour quite a bit, all around the world (but, not yet in Australia, so this is pretty special for us.)
About two years ago Adrian had the idea of combining the two trios for some shows, playing a full set of each band and then combining for an extended encore (really a whole set) of King Crimson music – we knew we had 3 Crimson members, and also the 6 players to cover some of the 90’s material written for double trio.
Audiences liked the shows a lot, so we did more tours, including one around the U.S. opening for Dream Theater.
How much preparation time does it take to go back and relearn the old KC material, or re-arrange it?
It takes quite a bit of work, but mostly at home getting ready for the rehearsals. We have done quite a few tours, though, so we’re usually pretty close to up and running. When we come in June, we’ll have just done tours including Israel, Ukraine, Latvia, and most of Europe.
What was it like for the group to tour with Dream Theater? We here think it would have been pretty much the ultimate prog show. How did the band go on those shows in front of that type of audience?
It was a nice tour – Summertime, with outdoor venues. I’m friends with the guys in DT, so we had fun backstage. The audiences were great – it’s always different being the opening act, and on that tour we could only do some of our Crimson set – there wasn’t time to do Adrian’s trio set or Stick Men’s music. It was fun, but I prefer to do our whole show.
When was the last time you were in Australia? What do you remember about it/what are you looking forward to now?
I was there with Peter Gabriel, and played some great shows. I’ve visited a few times through the years – first time was … gee, back in the 1970’s, I think, with Herbie Mann, in a jazz band.
It’s always been a wonderful experience for me – great people, great music around, and, hey, the beer’s not bad either!
Anything in particular you’re enjoying listening to? Any Aussie acts you’re familiar with?
It’s a shame, I don’t get to listen to music much – just too busy with the stuff I’m working on, or learning music for upcoming tours and albums. I wish I had time to be conversant on all the groups, there’s so much great music being made all over the place.
You’ve had the amazing fortune to sustain a career in progressive music over several decades – how do you see prog now as compared to when you first started out? (And which decade was the best? Haha)
Good question, but I’m not really good at looking back. In fact, I’m like a lot of musicians I know in that we are good at focussing on what we’re working on, and a little at looking what’s coming in the near future …. not so good at planning for the far future, and even worse at looking back at what’s gone on before. Truth is, the only time I think about what I played on some album or tour from before the last few years, is when I’m asked about it for an interview!
I have heard some great progressive bands in my travels, and I’ll admit to being musically influenced by some of them too. I think it’s a cool genre to be involved with, and I know, for me, what being progressive means is always trying to push ahead and do music in ways I haven’t done before. I can’t claim that I always succeed at that, but it’s a pretty valid way to go about making your music.
Any tips for young players seeking a career in experimental, expressive music?
Tough to figure out this industry, even for ourselves! So no specific advice, but I do find it sad when I see artists who gave up on the kind of music they most wanted to make, maybe to try to be more successful… it seems that whatever the music business does to you, you always have the music you make, and get to share, so compromising it may not be a good idea.
What’s next after this tour for you?
This year (2014) is looking really full of tours for me, which is great. But, let’s put an asterisk… in rock, you never know when a tour will get cancelled or moved or other things affect it. But looking like a few tours with The Crimson ProjeKCt, a few with Stick Men, a couple with Peter Gabriel, and a tour next Fall with the re-formed King Crimson. Who wouldn’t be happy about that year of making music.
You keep up a fairly heavy touring schedule, how do you maintain your health and sanity on the road?
Too old to get nuts. Health, well, so far I’ve been lucky. I do my best, like most guys, to stay healthy, but a lot of it is luck.
The art of the Chapman Stick seems to still be a rare form – are there any young players out there you could point out to us?
I’ll claim ignorance, again, of what good stuff is going on musically around the world.
Have you heard much from Robert Fripp about what he’s planning with regards to the new KC?
I don’t know much except what is public – the new lineup will have 7 players, including 3 drummers, and, from the original lineup, Mel Collins on sax.
Where do you see the future of progressive music headed?
Hopefully someplace surprising to all of us. Otherwise it’s not very progressive.
Now, if you’ll indulge us a moment, here’s a few questions from some fans we gathered online:
Do you ever feel like you need to go back to basics?
Yeah, in fact, I’m just today working on a song called “Bassics”, for duo jazz album with my brother Pete. We are going way back to our roots with this one, having grown up listening to the cool jazz of the 1950’s.
Is there any possibility of LTE doing another album?
You never know, and in the case of this band, I don’t even pretend to know. I do hope it happens one day.
Do you have a spare pair of funk fingers David Morkunas from A Lonely Crowd (www.alonelycrowd.bandcamp.com) can have?
Hah… they are being made again, and are available online (after many years of my ignoring them.)
What did Peter Gabriel’s riders used to be like?
Still have the riders this year… nothing special… some fruit and veggies, a lot of water.. towels… if there’s more, I don’t know about it.
You’ve had one moustache…what’s next?
I like these questions! Every couple of years I try growing a beard (just did it over the holiday season) and also let the moustache ‘grow out’, to see if it’s all white yet! (Otherwise I dye it every month or so) I think when it’s just white, I’ll let it stay that way, but I don’t like the look of half dark half white, so, until next time I check it, I’m sticking (hey, a pun) with the way it is.
What would it take to get the new KC (with Robert Fripp) to tour Australia?
I’ll ask! Can’t guess what the answer will be.
Did you cut your hair because Tupac cut his hair?
Funny. He could be my kid!
Have you ever been in a barbershop quartet?
Quite a few. I had one in high school, and would sing at the school functions. I started one in Peter Gabriel’s touring band, and in the early tours we did a piece in the show. I wrote a funny piece for King Crimson to sing as a Barbershop, but alas, they didn’t want to do it (Can’t blame them for that) so I changed the words and did it as opening number with The Tony Levin Band. And, just last week I did a barbershop arrangement of Don’t Give Up for a guy’s record.
Do you go to school?
I finished up (bachelor’s degree) some time ago. I WOULD like to take a few specific classes now, but my schedule doesn’t allow for consistantly turning up… I’d have to turn down concerts, and I’m not going to do that!
Do you like Serious Beak (http://artascatharsis.bandcamp.com/album/huxwhukw)?
Don’t know, sorry.
Thanks for indulging our readers…hopefully the silliness was accepted in the spirit it was given. We can’t wait to see you here!
THE CRIMSON PROJEKCT featuring Tony Levin, Adrian Belew, Pat Mastelotto and more, tour Australia in June – full dates at www.tombowler.com.au