Tony Levin Interview – New Album From LEVIN MINNEMANN RUDESS: “From the Law Offices of Levin Minnemann Rudess”
Article by Eric Larson, © Copyright 2016 FretlessBass.com
It was an honor to catch up recently with Tony Levin, the legendary bassist, who is an extremely busy man. Tony was the first bassist to answer our “18 Fretless Questions” many, many years ago, and has always been very approachable and friendly to FretlessBass.com. We can’t thank him enough for taking the time to tell us about the new album from LEVIN MINNEMANN RUDESS: From the Law Offices of Levin Minnemann Rudess.
FB: I’ve been listening to the new album from LEVIN MINNEMANN RUDESS: “From the Law Offices of Levin Minnemann Rudess” which was released July 15, 2016. I am very impressed! Much thanks for letting me listen to it pre-release.
How does the writing and recording of this album compare to the last album?
Tony Levin: We took a lot more time on this album, for the writing process. Partly because we were all on the road much of 2015, with various tours. Also, we’d got a sense on the first album of how the other players would react to the pieces, and so, at least in my case, wanted to fine tune it to what the players did best.
We had the project on our radar really since the first album came out a few years back — just had to wait for touring breaks to bring it together in the right way.
FB: What equipment did you use for this album? Is it the same that you use on other projects, or is it unique to this band or project?
Tony Levin: I do quite a bit of recording from my home studio, and that’s where I did the parts for the album. The signal path from the basses is: into a Radial D.I. then to a Universal Audio (Apollo) converter into Logic. On some tracks there’s also a channel out of the d.i. to my Ampeg SVT, miked with a Shure.
Basses, I used quite a few – my Chapman Stick, on which I use a Kemper Profiling Amp for the top side, and bass side goes thru the path described before. Used the NS Electric Upright, and my Music Man 5 string StingRay. I have a number of MusicMans, and I used a few of them — I usually listen to the piece (if it’s from the other guys – when I write it, that’s different) I listen to it and determine what bass sound might work well with it. Then, if I’m at home where all my basses are, I have the luxury of going to the one that seems best.
FB: Do you play fretless bass on this album? It sounds like fretless on Witness and possibly on Balloon.
Tony Levin: Witness has my NS Electric Upright, which is of course fretless. On Balloon I played the regular fretted bass, but with a bassy sound and slides, which makes it sound a bit like a fretless – kind of half way.
FB: Balloon is one of my favorites on this album. It has a much lighter feel than most of the other songs. Tell me how that song came together.
Tony Levin: Each of the tracks was written by one or another of us, then sent to the other players to do their thing on. I like Balloon a lot too… it’s a Marco composition.
FB: Ready Set Sue – the bass line and bass effects sound quite complex. There is a lot of bass activity in this song. How does the layering of sounds happen between the instruments and musicians in this band?
Tony Levin: Some of Jordan’s compositions have his unique bass lines built in (as fast as they are, he does them with his left hand while doing all the rest with his right) There’s no approach I can hear other than doubling those lines — often with Chapman Stick, to sonically have it’s own space.
FB: Since the band members play multiple instruments each, how does the writing and recording process happen in a band like this?
Tony Levin: As mentioned, Jordan or Marco or I just sit down and write a piece, hopefully fashioned for the other guys to have room to do their playing, then pass them on to one or another of the players (and it makes a difference which – we vary it because the third guy will usually have less options of how to go on it.) Marco is the one who’s really multi-instrumental on the album – he plays drums on everything, of course, and guitar on quite a lot. Jordan is also an excellent guitarist, but it’s pretty much multiple keyboards that he’s contributed this time around. From me, it’s just a variety of my basses.
FB: What was the biggest challenge when making this album?
Tony Levin: Getting it started was the biggest challenge. We all have busy touring schedules, and in the little time at home, some other recording priorities pop up (in my case, Stick Men, Levin Brothers, King Crimson… hard to bounce in and out of those modes.) Speaking for myself only, things got more together when I decided to bring recording gear on the road with me, and did a lot of my writing and demo recording in hotel rooms. Then, when in the home studio, re-doing final versions was pretty easy.
I say that getting underway was the biggest challenge because from then on, once we started trading tracks, it was very smooth (though some pretty difficulty playing for me, on other tracks!)
FB: Does this band have tour plans?
Tony Levin: It’s our touring commitments with other bands that makes it unlikely we’ll be able to tour. Having said that, you never know!
FB: What other projects are you working on that you would like our viewers to know about?
Tony Levin: I have a few other things coming out: a poetry book I’ve just released (of my lyrics and poems) – the link to that is on my site, tonylevin.com and Stick Men have been working hard on a special release that’ll come out in October – it’s titled “Prog Noir.”
King Crimson will tour from September til December, all in Europe and the UK. There’s a break from that tour in October, and Stick Men will do some European shows then. Lots of touring next year, with Stick Men, Levin Brothers, King Crimson, and maybe more.
Go check out this new album, their previous release, and other creations from Tony Levin today! And stay tuned for an upcoming interview with Tony about his 2016 tour with Peter Gabriel and Sting, and more.