Tony Levin [Interview]
Interviews are fast becoming my favourite part of the TMMP-maintaining routine. You start off with a list of questions, but from that point it’s impossible to know what will come out. This time around, prog legend and all-round class act Tony Levin discusses his new album with brother Pete (appropriately titled Levin Brothers and reviewed via TMMP here), creativity, and the importance of connection.
Your new album, Levin Brothers, is comprised of tunes with a 1950’s cool jazz vibe. What inspired you to move in that direction?
When Pete and I were kids that’s the style of music we were listening to and digging a lot. I moved into a prog rock direction with my career, though I often play jazz — and only a few years ago it occurred to us to maybe re-visit that style, with short melodic songs, short solos, and lots of tracks on the record – simply because we enjoyed it so much way back then, and it’s stuck with us.
What was the creative process like during the composition and recording of Levin Brothers? How did those pieces develop from ideas to reality?
I had to do a lot of practicing on the cello (usually I’m playing bass) to get better at soloing… so I wrote pieces as I was practicing. Pete is very experienced at jazz writing, so he visited every few days to clean up my chords and stuff – then he contributed some songs, and we were very happy with the material. That process lasted over a few years, since we were enjoying doing it between our various tours.
Which piece on Levin Brothers has the deepest emotional significance for you?
I like playing King Crimson’s Matte Kudasai, because I have a long history with it, but if I had to choose, I’d go with the song called Bassics. It best personifies what the album is like – pretty simple (with the bass taking the lead, which is a bit unusual) and I connected the track to an important part of my own music history by asking Steve Gadd, the famed drummer, to join me on it. We were in school together, and I did my first jazz playing with Steve kind of mentoring me – so it just seemed right to have him there on the groove – and fortunately he was happy to help.
What advice would you offer to young, aspiring jazz musicians?
I rarely give advice, even in the rock field where I usually work — we’re all trying to learn the rules as they change every few years! But I’d point out that those of us who are lucky enough to have a career playing good music, should hopefully gain the perspective to appreciate that. I spent quite a few of my years in music just head down, doing it – – liking it, but not to the extent that I did when I looked around and compared my career with the other options. Now, I love what I do, and enjoy every show as a chance to connect with great audiences, over the most wonderful of things: music.
What makes you happy?
Music, family, friends. (Okay, also espresso, pasta, vodka, books, football games)
Will you be touring for this album?
Oh yes – this isn’t the kind of band that will ever break up! Pete and I have played locally whenever we have the chance, for some time. I have some rock tours to finish up this year, and we’ll then try to plan some club touring for next year.
Beyond Levin Brothers, what does the future hold for you both?
In music, it’s hard to predict. This year has been wonderfully busy for me — I think next year will have a few less tours, but certainly some great playing, with Pete and with other groups.
Thanks for taking the time to do this interview; it’s a pleasure to help support your music.
Check out TMMP’s review of Levin Brothers (complete with audio preview) here.