Saturday, October 8, 2011

Tony Levin Interview: Levin Torn White -New Release And Review


By Ray Shasho

September 13th will be the official release date for an exciting Progressive Rock collaboration by Tony LEVIN (Bass and Chapman Stick), David TORN (Guitar and Textural Events) and Alan WHITE (from Yes) on drums and percussions.
Three brilliant avant-garde musicians band together on this astounding CD. If you’re a fan of Progressive Rock, Jazz Rock Fusion,Psychedelia or Space Rock you will certainly savor this creation. The CD was produced by Scott Schorr and Tony Levin for Lazy Bones Recordings. LEVIN TORN WHITE will be available to purchase at papabear.com where the first 1000 will be personally signed by the artists. You’ll also be able to order the CD at Amazon.com and iTunes- digitally on the 13th.

In an age of American Idol and Glee lunacy it’s refreshing to satisfy the psyche with imaginative and elaborate euphony. Spacey tracks like “Ultra Mullett,” “Convergence” and “Sleeping Horse” (shades of Pink Floyd) will certainly rekindle the senses. Imagine relinquishing your consciousness to a mind-blowing experience of eclectic sounds reminiscent of King Crimson/Pink Floyd/Frank Zappa/Jeff Beck/Tangerine Dream/Gentle Giant and The Mahavishnu Orchestra.

Prog Rock is back with surrealistic vengeance thanks to Tony LEVIN David TORN and Alan WHITE. And the production work by Scott Schorr is extraordinary. So detach your mind from a needed reality break and buy this mind-altering CD.

Tony Levin has been a member of King Crimson and Peter Gabriel. Since the early 70’s Levin played on over 500 albums including working with John Lennon, Pink Floyd, Alice Cooper, Lou Reed and even legendary drummer Buddy Rich. Levin fostered the Chapman Stick a wide version of a fretboard on an electric guitar but with 8, 10 or 12 strings and usually played by tapping or fretting the strings. He also plays an NS electric upright bass and invented Funk Fingers, transmuted drumsticks attached to fingers used to hit the bass guitar strings for funkier sonority.

Here’s my recent interview with musician, songwriter, vocalist and trailblazer Tony Levin.

Tony, thank you for joining me today to talk about an exciting new alliance of progressive rock veterans. What inspired Dave, Alan and you into recording the album together? 

“Well, I've known Alan and admired him for some time, but never got to do a project with him. (Not counting the "YES" album where we both played with different incarnations of the group, but not together!)
David is an old friend and co-conspirator … since he had me and Bill Bruford lend a Progressive Rock flavor to his "Cloud About Mercury" album. And we did a few recordings and tours together with "Bruford Levin Upper Extremities.
When I realized from Alan's ideas, and my reactions, how radical the direction was for this music, David seemed not only the best choice, but pretty much the ONLY choice for guitar!”

I watched the You Tube Video of Levin Torn White. You guys were adjusting and maneuvering synthesizers, echoplexes and just a massive amount of electronics in the studio and it reminded me of the making of the Dark Side of the Moon album. Can we expect that same kind of improvisational genius on the new CD?

“It's a category I don't know quite how to describe. Improvisational, to be sure, but with each player improvising separately to what the others had done, and then re-assembling and then re-improvising. I think there needs to be a name for this method of writing, but for now I'll just call it … ‘wild’!”

Who produced the album? Are the days of inviting an Alan Parsons or Todd Rundgren to the studio over?

“Scott Schorr was the very capable producer, and not just in name - he oversaw it all (albeit with the biased eyes of a fan) and his efforts are very apparent on the tracks.”

I see that the magical Chapman stick will be featured on the new CD, talk a little bit about playing that incredible instrument.

“It's a very versatile instrument to be sure, and also I find the Stick very helpful in taking the music to a different place than the trusty old bass would take it to.  Maybe because there are various ways to play the Stick (like bowing it, or cello-type volume swells, or very percussive hammer-on attacks that make the low notes speak very clearly … also overtone hammering, double hand note bending… and more)
I've played the Stick a lot in the bass function, but lately (since touring with Stick Men) I'm also comfortable using the guitar side of the instrument.
To describe it quickly… 12 strings, 6 bass and 6 guitar, with stereo output, so the guitar strings output go to a guitar amp, and the others to separate pedals and a bass amp --virtually two instruments.”

Speaking of Pink Floyd, what was it like working on the A Momentary Lapse of Reason album? That was a great album! Was there ever a thought for you to join Floyd as their permanent bassist after Roger Waters? You would have been perfect!

“It was an honor to be asked to play on it, of course. (And I did get some Stick on the record!)  There was talk of me touring with the band, and of course I was keen to… but that tour conflicted a bit with the end of the Peter Gabriel tour I was committed to, and I'm not one to disappear from the end of a tour, even to be with Pink Floyd!”

Any plans for a Levin -Torn- White- tour?

“We're indeed talking about that… too early to know if it can come together. Alan busy touring with Yes -- I have Fall and Winter commitments with Stick Men sharing a bill with Adrian Belew. So … we'll see.”

I see you resume touring with the amazing Adrian Belew and King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto.  No Florida dates yet?

“Yes indeed. Talk of Florida dates, but looking like they may not come through. (I'm always reluctant to predict future plans in a print interview… by the time it comes out you're proven wrong and sound like an idiot. Well, we kind of are idiots in regard to our future plans… but this time I won't predict whether that tour will come to Florida.)”

You’ve worked with so many great artists over the years. It’s really hard to keep up with you Tony because you’re always so busy and working on so many different projects. It makes my job as a writer tough exploring research about you. What was the defining moment in your music career and who gave you your first big break?

“Like many musicians, I don't look back much… only concentrate on what music I'm doing, and occasionally look ahead. So, little perspective on my career … but I'd say it was a big 'break' when producer Bob Ezrin had me play on a Peter Gabriel album. That same day I met Robert Fripp on the session, and would spent the next … well, many many years, playing with both. Before that I'd done albums with Bob (Alice Cooper, Lou Reed's "Berlin") but not that led to me joining the band to go on the road. I was to find that live shows are what make me most fulfilled as a musician.”

Buddy Rich was mentioned as someone that you worked with in the past. I was always a Buddy Rich fan growing up. What was he like?

“I only played a week with Buddy (a stand in NYC for his big band, and a few shows with quintet in a club) didn’t really get to know him, but what a player -- his energy and techniques were extraordinary.”

And did you get a chance to spend some quality time with John Lennon?

“Only the two weeks in studio. But long enough to have fun jamming, to respect both his musical talent and his ability as a producer. And it was easy to be comfortable with John's very New York in your face honesty - his first words to me were "They tell me you're good, just don't play too many notes." … I said that I wouldn't, and indeed, I knew from the start that musically we'd be fine together since I never do play too many notes.”

Where is the line drawn between Progressive Rock and Jazz Fusion?

“Hah... definitions are never easy. From my time in King Crimson, I'd describe a Progressive band as one that keeps trying to break musical barriers, and keeps trying to do new music. That was (and is) our ambition in King Crimson, whether we succeeded or failed with each album still the ambition is the driving force - we try to always challenge ourselves as individual players and as a band, to not settle for what we've done before.
Jazz fusion, while sharing some of the technical aspects, seems quite different in that the sound of the genre remains the same.”

Did you really play at the White House for President Kennedy? What was that like?

“Yes I did, with a youth orchestra. What was it like … well, a big trip for a high school kid. Playing on the White House lawn, with a stand up lunch in the White House afterward… not something you get to do every day. I dug it, but probably not more than the Carnegie Hall concert on the trip down to Washington from Boston!”

Session work has got to be great because I imagine you’re usually working all the time. Do you prefer working in a studio atmosphere as opposed to being on the road touring?

“I prefer live playing. But I am lucky to get to play music when I'm not touring, and even more so nowadays with file sharing and home studios. For me, if the music is good, whether the artist is famous or unknown, I love being part of the music and contributing what I can to the bass end.”

What do you think of the more simplistic approach of recording on the internet nowadays?

“Not as much fun as being with the guys, of course. But budget-wise, it allows people to do albums who could never have afforded that before -- so it's a good thing.”

So is it true, are you the pioneer of blogging?

“I started my site in '94 --- and after a bit of trying to sell my cd's, I realized people were more interested in my road diaries. So I kept up with that, and came to really appreciate the way the web allowed us to lower the barrier between musicians and fans -- let them inside the road life… I especially latched on to taking photos of audiences every night, and sharing that with web visitors, so they can see how much they inspire US.”

 So many artists that I’ve spoken with who had the opportunity to work with Frank Zappa say that he was a pure genius. I know you’ve worked with Mothers of Invention ex keyboardist Don Preston in Aha. Not to be confused with A-ha. What are your thoughts on Frank Zappa?

“He was great, of course, but I never met him. The band I first joined in New York was all Mothers alumni -- Don Preston, Ray Collins and Billy Mundi.  Wild, indeed!”

Any final thoughts on Levin Torn White?

“Only that I appreciate how the listening audience sticks with us thru our musical adventures. The Levin/Torn/White CD is an ambitious and challenging one, and it's great to know that people are giving it a chance and opening up their ears to maybe some brand new things.”

Thank you Tony and good luck with all of your many endeavors.

“Thanks Ray.”

I want to thank Scott Schorr from Lazy Bones Recordings for arranging this interview.
The Tony LEVIN David TORN Alan WHITE CD will be available to purchase on September 13th at papabear.com where the first 1000 will be signed by Tony, David and Alan. You’ll also be able to order the CD at Amazon.com and iTunes- digitally on the 13th.

Levin Torn White Website- http://levintornwhite.com/
Tony Levin Website- http://www.papabear.com/
David Torn Website- http://www.davidtorn.net/
Alan White Website- http://alanwhite.net/
Lazy Bones Recordings Website- http://www.lazybones.com/

Order author Ray Shasho’s new book Check the Gs -The True Story of an Eclectic American Family and Their Wacky Family Business at Amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com or borders.com. You’ll live it!

Ray’s website- http://rayshasho.com/   Ray’s blog- http://checkthegs.blogspot.com/
Ray Shasho on Goodreads- http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4822527.Ray_Shasho
  
Normalcy is a myth and anyone who tells you differently isn't very normal."Check the Gs" is a memoir from Ray Shasho who tells of his own offbeat upbringing working in the family business art gallery, from a young age. Of Cuban and Syrian descent, he tells a very American story of coming from everything, seeing everything, walking the line of the law and much more. A fun and fast paced memoir, "Check the Gs" is a worthwhile addition to many a memoir collection.”  ~~ MIDWEST BOOK REVIEW

Contact Ray Shasho at rockraymond.shasho@gmail.com
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