Tony Levin. To most
musicians, enough said. The guy’s been everywhere and played with everybody who
has made a dent in the world of music for the last 30 years: Peter Gabriel, John
Lennon, King Crimson, Herbie Mann, etc. A musician’s musician.
The man loves to gig, and hes constantly on the road. But, the last few
years hes started doing his own music, and RESONATOR is the current release
on Narada Records. He also releases solo work on his Papabear Records label
(available exclusively through his website).
In my discussion
with him, he expressed concern that the lyric in these songs work well. There
was also concern about the use of his voice. He wanted the music to stand -
to be valid within itself, and be not enslaved to a point in time that may not
be as appropriate for an audience ten or twenty years from now (Tony expressed
this same concern with some of the album covers for KING CRIMSON). The themes
are universal: life, loss, existence, humor, and the sometimes precarious dance
between science and the spiritual. These former themes expose Tony as a bit
of a mystic, which allows him a bit of objectivity. He can acknowledge the overwhelming
impact of these themes, yet balance the heavy, with the Zen like
willingness to take the impact, dust himself off, get back on his feet, and
rejoin the dance for all its beauty.
betting that approaching music in a non-formulaic way may be very natural for
you. I believe we are living in a time when formula music has never been stronger
and more encouraged. I dont see people looking at music on its own merits,
but rather as a commodity and product to be compared. Consumers ask, Is
that as good as this? Or is this one as good as the previous one? - rather
than looking at one particular piece on its own merits?
an interesting time for music, partly because music is somewhat a way of communicating,
and its a wild time for opening up new ways of communicating.
PA: This album showcases vocals in a prominent way. As someone known as a musicians
musician, and one of the go to guys for instrumental excursions
with many people, do you think you took more chance or risk? Was it frightening?
quite frightening, but a big leap for me. Like many musicians, I like challenges,
and even with my comfortable territory (Bass, Stick, and instrumental music)
Im usually pushing myself to move off the old ways of doing things, learn
new techniques, make some up, stuff like that. Maybe its from being in
King Crimson for so long, a band where challenging ourselves individually and
as a band is standard practice. So, for years Ive had a lot of material
brewing - things I wanted to communicate that I couldnt get across with
my instrumental writing. And finally it seemed time to take a deep breath, write
the material the way I felt it suited me best, and do lead vocals on it. Id
sung backgrounds a lot (with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson and some others) so
I was familiar with my voice (its qualities and lack of qualities). The recording
process took me much longer than usual this time, but in the end Im happy
it did so that I had time to adjust the compositions the way they needed.
a bit of the mystics imagination with this outing. One song example might
be Throw That Dog a Bone. Dogs have the simple mind thing down,
dont they? So much to teach us! Care to comment? By the way, Lilly has
TL: Throw the Dog a Bone is somewhat characteristic of this new
music - its humor kind of masks a somewhat deep theme. Dogs look up to us, kind
of like were gods to them when you think about it. And the song is a processing
of that fact midst our natural tendency to look up above us, and try to obey
the edicts of our God or gods. Its amusing when our dogs, wanting so much
to please us, break the rules sometimes, and feel so bad afterward - are we
that different about our commandments? And then, science almost always being
a component of these songs, what is going to happen when we create some new
life (not so far in the future) and need to program it to obey commandments
of behavior from us? All interesting fodder for music, I think. Meanwhile, theres
Lilly, my dog, happy to perform some barking for the song. I have to admit she
did not bark on cue - but getting her barks on tape was as easy as, well, as
getting a dog to bark!
PA: Do you
think this new delivery system of selling digital downloads of songs - with
the ability to bypass many middle men - is going to be a lasting vehicle for
TL: Ive got
no insight into the digital download world - seems to me that things are changing
fast, and we dont know how music is going to be shared, and maybe paid
for five years from now. Its certainly made things interesting! And maybe
theres a lesson there for coming challenges in other areas - I think the
rate of change with this new technology is increasing, and well have to
get better at adapting, if we dont want to get stuck in the feeling of
being left behind. Its complex now, in the field of music and music sales,
but I think it may get like that with all media, and with information itself.