started life in the early 80's, as Mark King
, Phil Gould
, Mike Lindup
and Roland Gould
. Since then, they've worked through 11 studio albums and 20 Top-40 singles. On top of this, Level 42 are considered one of the greatest influences on the funk/jazz (or "fusion") world. This year, they are set to celebrate their 30th anniversary with a collection of rarities and re-workings, along with their most memorable works. Along with an up-coming tour, it looks like a busy year for Level 42.
. Singer, bassist, writer and co-founder of the band is widely regarded as one of the most prominent slap/funk bassists on the planet. He lends his time, between promotion and touring, to give an interview with Ultimate-Guitar
UG: Level 42 have been out of the studio etc. for a while now. It must be nice to get back?
Absolutely, the writing/recording process has always been evolving over the years, and today's technology affords us the most exquisite opportunities to realise even the wildest ideas because it really doesn't cost anything any more. So you have an idea, run with it and see where it goes - if it's cool, cool! If it stinks Command, backspace.
This year, Level 42 return to the touring circuit once more and it looks as though it's set to be a big one. I hear the tour is in support of a new release. What can we expect from it?
Universal Music are releasing a 30th Anniversary 4 cd box set (July 19th) that, along with every single we ever released, includes 10 acoustic re-workings of our songs. The exercise was very enjoyable as the songs have taken on new personas, and approaching them acoustically gave free reign. There is also a cd of rarities' that includes a live version of Love Meeting Love', our first release in 1980, but recorded live in December 1990 from the front desk, and featuring Alan Holdsworth on guitar. His solo is amazing.
Are you looking forward to finally touring America again?
Oh yeah!! Bring it on!! It has been far too long since we played the States, and I have missed it, but The Agency have come through for us this year and we'll be hitting your Freeway's in July.
Due to schedule clashes, long-time LV42 drummer Gary Husband couldn't make the new tour. Will Gary Husband be returning after this year?
Gary can return whenever he likes, he is an amazing musician and like another brother to me. His playing is dynamic, inventive, and challenging, but the thing we'll miss most this year is the dude's sense of humour, he's a hoot!
Tell us about Pete Ray Biggin and how he got the gig on the new tour
Well, Gary leaves big shoes to fill, but Pete Ray Biggin has been in training since 1992 when he joined us on-stage at a soundcheck in Leeds for the Guaranteed Tour. His parents brought him along at the age of 11 (him, not his parent's!) and he got on Gary's drums and let fly, so I kept his number and gave him a call as soon as he was needed, a mere eighteen years later He is another cool dude!
Players who play your songs often find it difficult to do quite what you do. Did playing and singing at the same time come naturally to you or was it something you had to work at?
It's always a bit of a challenge when you play the songs live for the first time, you know, in the studio you lay down the lines as best you can then sing the song as best you can, then six months later you get into rehearsals and `holy moly, this is tricky' but stay with it and it will all come together.
Are there any basslines that even challenge you physically in the L42 set?
"I love playing as much now as I ever did. It is a gift you cannot refuse, and you have a duty to honour it."
Lessons In Love' is a bit of a marathon for your right fore-arm, the damn thing just keeps going round and round, but it is the same for the drummers in L42 as 16th's are the norm, and even the best of them are wilting by the end.
Do you ever feel restricted by the fans love of your slap bass technique? One Man, for example, was mostly finger-style. Very Sting' wouldn't you agree?
I don't feel restricted at all, and I'm flattered by your comparison to Sting. The gig is bass right? So you do the right thing for the track you are playing. If it is being driven by a percussive slap line then fill your boots kid, otherwise get back in goal and lay it down low and slow. What matters is playing the right part for the piece.
You and Status Graphite basses seem to have been joined at the hip since Level 42's initial breakthrough in the early 80's. Tell us about KingBass MK II. Is it everything you expect/need in a bass?
The Kingbass II is a lovely instrument, but the KingBass 30th Anniversary model is even better! Rob Green (Status Graphite boss and visionary) has just made me two beautiful basses to celebrate our 30th Anniversary. We had a brainstorming session a couple of months back and decided to use the best qualities from both previous models. I still love the size and weight of the original KingBass, but love the sound of the second, so we have a hybrid that incorporates the best of both worlds, plus some cosmetic enhancements that are just gorgeous!
Over the years, which unoriginal member of the band has had the biggest effect with regards to musical direction?
Wally Badarou, no doubt at all. Wally is a lovely guy, and fantastic sound-smith. If Reg Presley from The Troggs had had Wal in the studio he would have had his fairy dust! Starchild' is a classic example of what Wally is about.
You've worked with many names in the past, as well as other people in LV42 bringing ideas to the band (of course). How do you approach someone else's song when you are asked to put a bassline on it?
I just listen. I remember being blown away by Alan Holdsworth's application to our music when he laid his parts down for the Guaranteed' album. He never bluffed it. He'd ask to hear the track over and over and make loads of notes in his own weird tablature, really get to know the melody, then let rip with some amazing playing. Music is all about your ears really, so just listen, but listen Real Good.
What album are you the most proud of, if there's a single one?
I think they are all flawed but have some very cool bits too. I wouldn't want to change any of it because it is all part of the journey, and getting to here meant doing all those albums as you hear them, plus, an album is a fantastic diary really, and if you are lucky enough to be making them then go for it and live with the results.
How did 'The Essential' come about? Was it all deliberate composition or was it mostly jamming with yourself?
Jammin' babe! I had convinced Polydor to cough up an advance to help me house my imminent family, and having already spent the money, went into the studio to fulfil the contract. Albeit two years later, Jerry Boys, who had engineered our last album, was good enough to come in and babysit for me... while I made it up as I went along! I had about two weeks to sort it and managed it somehow. It's still heavily un-recouped though so let that be a lesson to you all
What bass players are you digging at the moment other than your early influences? Anybody recent'?
Sure, Hadrien Feraud and Matt Garrison are just two of the young guns that I'm hearing out there, but there must be loads of amazing players that don't get the breaks and will be consigned to pillow-funk forever hmm, could be a good title for a song.. or an award?
Is there anything out there in the chart you like at the moment?
I'm not a big chart follower anymore, not since we left them anyway!
As a musician, you started out as a drummer but moved onto bass, hence the pounding slap-pop style that you've perfected so well. Do you sit at the drum kit much anymore? Will it always be your first love?
"An album is a fantastic diary really, and if you are lucky enough to be making them then go for it and live with the results."
I do still play drums, yeah. Gary has a fantastic Pearl kit set up in the studio and I get to beat seven bells out of it when the mood takes me, which is quite often. Plus, having real drums makes any rough idea come to life, and to quote Mr T I pity the fool that has to use Stylarse RMeX to get a track going. Real drums rule.
Recording methods have changed so much over the past few decades. Analogue, digital. Mono, stereo. How much production and overdubbing on records goes on with Level 42 now compared to the days of old?
In the early days of L42 we'd sit in the studio and play our parts simultaneously, then a couple of albums on we'd do three or four takes and cut together the best drum performance, and then patch with overdubs anyone else's part that needed it. You just take on board the latest production techniques' and go with it. Is it any better than all sitting down and banging it out..? Probably not.
When an old track is suggested for a set, do you ever have to go back and 're-learn' it?
NO, they are ingrained, and it is incredible how your hand falls to the right note. Lyrics are another matter though, and I have been known to repeat the same verse on more than one occasion.
Level 42 are praised for being able to play practically anything in their back catalogue be it singles, album tracks or obscure B-sides. Is there anything you couldn't pull off live?
I couldn't pull the head off a live bat, which Ozzy apparently can.
Do you think you are a better player then you were 10 or 20 years ago? If so, in what ways?
I love playing as much now as I ever did. It is a gift you cannot refuse, and you have a duty to honour it. So I'll endeavour to play the best I can for myself and anyone who comes to hear us. We always rehearse for up-coming shows and I'm proud of that. We always did, and we always will do. So am I a better player than I was 10 or 20 years ago..? Yeah.
What comes to mind when you watch your old early 80's performances?
Going to the Gym for one. BUT! How about those clothes? Who's idea was that?
On a final note, for the readers' interests, what would your Desert Island Discs' be?
Blue in Green (Miles/Bill Evans), Sex machine (James Brown), Meeting of the Spirits (Mahavishnu Orchestra), Zadoc The Priest (Handel)... Oh man, there are just so many I can't choose, which is the curse of the Libran.
Interview by Anthony Bentley