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Latest News November 2002

The new Level 42 line-up is Mark King (bass & vocals), Gary Husband (drums), Lyndon Connah (keys & vocals), Nathan King (guitar & vocals) and Sean Freeman (sax). Dreams & Visions
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  • 11/22: The BY THE FANS FOR THE FANS UNOFFICIAL VCD video compilation Level 42 Dreams & Visions is on its way to the volunteer copiers and is READY TO ORDER! For details click here!

    Here follows the exclusive interview for Forevernow.com with Steve Lawson, conducted by Bob Considine.
    An interview with Steve Lawson
    By Bob Considine

    Winston and Carl thought it might be a good idea for me to conduct an interview with Steve Lawson. And now that I've done it, I couldn't agree with them more!

    Steve, as you know, made quite an impression opening for Level 42 on the UK leg of their current Greatest Hits tour. He opened the eyes and ears of many fans used to a more conventional style of playing. With a unique sense of melody floating above the chordal landscapes he builds with loop technology, Steve is an amazing live and studio technician and arranger who gives you sounds you can feel on the fly.

    He's also a real nice guy.

    Check out his latest release, "Not Dancing For Chicken," available through his website http://www.steve-lawson.co.uk. Also, for those of us who are stateside, Steve is planning some American dates for early 2003.

    Q: Firstly, how did the tour go and how did you get the gig?
    - The tour has been amazing for me - I love doing any gigs I get, so to get to play to thousands of people a night, who were really up for what I was doing was fantastic. I love the process of touring, the interaction with the crew and with Level 42, and also getting the chance to play to and then meet up with people who'd never heard what I do before. All in all, a fantastic experience!

    I got the gig because prior to the Level 42, I was touring as support act to the 21st Century Schizoid Band - a band comprised of four early members of King Crimson, and featuring Jakko Jakszyk on guitar. The soundman on that tour was Mark Clements, who was going on from that to do the Level 42 dates. After the second Schizoid show, Mark commented that he thought I'd be ideal for the Level 42 dates, so I gave him copies of my CDs to send to Mark King, who liked it, thought it would work and got the promoter to book me for the dates - simple as that!

    Q: How satisfying is it to lure in new audiences? I'd imagine a Level 42 audience, which largely has an appreciation for the bass, would be very receptive. Were there any great compliments you recall that stuck with you?
    - Oh, I LOVE playing to new people. Partly, there's just the mischeivious part of me that loves the expression on people's faces who've never encountered looping before - that moment when they realise that it's not all on CD, but that I'm playing it all live and looping it as I go along... The audience on most of these gigs was way more receptive that I could have hoped for! It was great, and the comments afterwards were just amazing - the best way to get a feel for it, I guess is to have a look at the guestbook on my website... modesty prevents me from repeating the more hyperbolic responses I got from some bassists... [laughs]

    Q: Is it true you hadn't met Mark before the tour? Was was the interaction with you and him during the tour? Was there any chance to jam together?
    - I hadn't met Mark before the first show, and just after I arrived at the venue he came in, introduced himself and said how happy he was to have me along for the tour, which was great. He was encouraging each time I saw him on the tour - which due to the nature of the beast, with me driving myself to each show, was sadly not that often. We didn't get any time to jam together, unfortunately - soundcheck times are fairly strictly adhered to on a tour like this, and so there really isn't much time for just sitting around noodling, more's the pity!

    Q: You come from a well-respected, sophisticated genre of bass playing...In some circles, is there a certain snobbery when it comes to Mark King because he has achieved so much pop success? Or even a jealousy?
    - I'm not sure about snobbery - there's almost certainly some jealousy out there, purely because he has been so successful, but I think that most bassists appreciate what he represented to the instrument - especially in the UK - in terms of raising its profile in the 80s. And on top of that, the way that he and the rest of the band successfully married very complex fusion arrangements with great pop melodies was pretty unique in its day, and that gained them a lot of respect from players who recognised the new ground they were treading.

    Slapping is always going to have its detractors, but there aren't enough hours in the day to worry about people who judge music based on the techniques employed by the bassist rather the integrity of the song and the performance as a whole. And anyone who caught any of these shows on the Level 42 tour will see that Mark is a fine soloist, and a monster groove player - there really aren't many slap players around who can touch him for carrying a groove.

    Q: You're an instrumental, solo bass player and a user of gadgets, yet you have a strong sense of melody and love of the singer/songwriter. What kind of challenges do you face when you write and record? Are you striving for virtuosity, new sounds or a song you can feel?
    - I'm not sure I'm thinking about it in any of those terms - I just play music! [laughs] I don't think of it as 'bass music' or virtuosic music or anything else, I just play what  I hear in my head - I often refer to what I do as 'sound-tracking the inside of my head', so for me there is certainly a narrative element, though that's clearly going to be significantly less obvious that it would be if I were singing words!

    The 'new-ness' of it doesn't really come into either, to be honest - I just play what comes out, and I happen to be a bassist so that's going to be the vehicle for what I write. If I was a multi-instrumentalist, like Prince or something, then I guess the music would be different, but the vibe would still be there, as it stems from whatever my 'story' is at that time...

    As there are many people doing what I do, I'm sure that the novelty value of it helps me a lot of getting people to listen to it in the first place, but they are unlikely to buy the CD after the show or come back to another show if it's just novelty. There has to be some substance behind it, so I focus on that, on thinking 'Music First'.

    Q: So, given there's a narrative element to your music, here's the question everyone wants to know - what comes first - the song or the title?
    Nearly always the music. I do keep a running list of possible track titles - things that connect with me in some way, and if I have a bit of music that seems to come from the same place, I'll try them together - like a new outfit, to see if they match. Sometimes I'll be playing with a particular event or mood in mind - more often than not, the very specific tunes are about death, bizarrely enough...

    Q: So can the bass be a voice? Or in a perfect world, would you prefer to be a singing bass player?
    - The bass is definitely my voice right now - I would like to sing, and probably will at some point, but I certainly don't see what I do now as a compromise due to a lack of singing skills on my part!! [laughs]

    When I hear music, what I generally hear is my 6 string fretless bass - the processing allows me to broaden the palette of emotions and expressions that I'm able to encapsulate in music, and the looping allows me to layer those sounds up in different combinations... it's just like studio work, only it's deconstructed on stage for everyone to see!

    Q: What kind of problems do you run into in playing live with loops? Any nightmare technical stories?
    Well, the worst case scenario is that I've got a couple of minutes into the song, hit record to add yet another layer to a dense looping part, and play some horrendous discord which gets recorded. This used to be my very worst nightmare, but the loop box that I'm using now - the Gibson Echoplex Digital Pro - has an 'undo' function, so I can remove the last layer if I were to make a mistake... fortunately, in all 22 Level 42 shows, I didn't make more than a couple of fairly minor mistakes, and certainly nothing that anyone but a serious hardcore fan would have spotted!

    It is slightly troubling being this reliant on technology - if there were some sort of power-surge and it blew all the fuses, I'd be stuffed - I could play for about 10 minutes without the loop stuff, but as I hear music in layers, I'd not have much to play beyond that.

    Q: Is making more accessible music ever important to you?
    - I think one of the by-products of my love of pop music is that I'm a sucker for a catchy tune - my listening taste is really wide, from full on avant-garde free-improvisation through to the Spice Girls. I just like 'good' music - the style isn't what defines it as good or bad, there's something more essential that transcends style that I connect with in a particular song or artist.

    I think it might be 'believability' - is what they are doing believeable? Do they look like they are into it? do they sound like they are just in it for the money? are they honest about it just being a laugh? It's too complex a relationship to encapsulate in one sentence, but any music that I connect with gets assimilated into my music, and there aren't that many bassists whose music makes its way into what I do.

    My primary influences are people like Bill Frisell, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, Stevie Wonder, David Torn, Don Ross, Keith Jarrett, Bruce Cockburn, James Taylor, The Pixies, Spearhead - loads of jazz, hip-hop, singer/songwriter, pop, soul, funk stuff - the bottom line is that it's about 'music', not 'bass music' or 'pop music' or jazz or any other category - it's one of the things that Level 42 did - taking whatever they wanted from jazz, soul, funk, pop and rock and combining it to make their own sound.

    The bass players I connect with are those who write great music first and foremost - people like Michael Manring, who is one of the most remarkable musicians I've ever heard on any instrument - it's almost incidental that he plays bass, he's just an outstanding musician and composer.

    Q. You've also been in more conventional "band situations." When putting your prints on a song, what are you looking most to do? Is their less satisfaction in these situations for you, personally, than being a solo bass player?
    - I'm very aware of what I'm being hired to do in a 'side man' situation - if they want a 'bass' bass player, then that's what I'll do, and my first part will be the simplest, most effective thing I can think of... keeping as close to the groove as I can. Once that part is down, I can then look at adding some 'spice' - and if they want, some looped processed bass stuff.

    I occasionally get calls to go in and play a 'keyboard player' role, where I'm there to provide chordal backing and ambience on a track that already has bass on it.

    Bottom line is, I love doing a good job - I love accurately representing the music in my head when I'm playing solo, and I love that feeling of being able to interpret and enhance someone else's music in a way that works for them when I'm doing sessions. I don't feel any need to play loads of notes or to use my E-Bow or play chords or whatever, I just have to do a good job, and if that's playing one note, I'll play one note...

    Q: Is there a certain maturity a musician has to go through to come to that point? For example, some might think they have to or show off their God-given chops to insure a future gig with someone else.
    - Oh, definitely - everyone goes through that, and I learnt the hard way, like everyone else, that overplaying mostly ruins songs - unless the whole song is built round a really busy line...

    One of the features of looping is that I'm constantly thinking like an arranger - if I were trying to play bass, chords and melody all at the same time, my primary concern would have to be technical nightmare of just trying to have 10 fingers making that much noise. However, with the loops, I can play parts that are much simpler - as I would on a recording date - and layer them, combining them into a much more integrated and to my ears more satifying whole.

    It certainly took me time to get past the bassist's disease of listening with our eyes rather than our ears, to other bassists. Often we're taking in by what looks good rather than what sounds good, and I'm glad that I got past that a long time ago and can focus on the music rather than trying to build up uber-chops...

    Having said that, there's nothing wrong at all with having your flash tricks - I've got a few of them that come out from time to time - but they have to be the icing on a well made cake. Eating a whole bag of icing is just going to make you puke! [laughs]

    Q: Are you still a Modulus man?
    - My relationship with Modulus Guitars goes back 10 years to when I spent just about every penny I had on my first one, which is the four string fretted bass I still have. I loved it straight away, even though it was this hideous 'porno red' colour - really garish. I eventually has a luthier in London called Martin Peterson refinish it and replace the pickups, but it's still essentially the same bass.

    When I started to get a level of success as a session player and writer for Bassist Magazine, Modulus sent over a fretless VJazz bass for review, that I used on a session the day it arrived! It just felt great, sounded great, and was the thing that got me into the fretless sound. The graphite necks felt so reliable, never went out of tune or warped, had no dead spots and they all look so cool too. Add to that Modulus' commitment to only using sustainably farmed wood certified by The Rainforest Action Network which is something I whole-heartedly support and it was a no-brainer where I would go when I wanted a 6 string fretless.

    So I saved my up money, and ordered the bass about three years ago, and have played it just about every day since! They are great instruments made by great people, simple as that!

    Q: Did being a former product reviewer make your life tougher or easier, considering that honesty may have actually kept you from sponsorship opportunities?
    - I did used to write product reviews for Bassist magazine and Guitarist magazine, and that was one of the main reasons why I've never 'signed' an endorsement deal with anyone. I couldn't possibly do my job accurately if I was on somebody's pay-roll.

    Fortunately, all the companies that I had any kind of relationship with while I was writing for Bassist were those whose equipment I had bought and then contacted them to say that I liked it, and then they chose to help support what I was already doing, rather than having some executive come to me with a cheque book and some rubbish bass offering to pay me to say that I thought it was great...

    I've had offers from some companies that make very nice stuff, but I'm more than happy with the gear that I own and don't really need any more. I'm certainly not a hoarder of musical equipment, though I do love gadgets! I am in the process of having a 6-string fretted bass built, but that'll be it for a while after that...

    Q. Who or what is your musical guilty pleasure?
    - Oh, I listen to a lot of stuff that would perhaps surprise people who've just listened to my solo bass stuff! Things like The Spice Girls, Kajogoogoo, The Carpenters, Duran Duran, Nick Heyward, Craig David, Alicia Keys and a lot of nu soul and R 'n' B stuff, as well as heavier things like King's X, Pearl Jam, Green Day, King Crimson... I genuinely have no genre-boundaries round what I listen to, so there's going to be something in there for everyone, and something else that everyone thinks is crap! [laughs]

    Q: Who's the one person you want to play with the most?
    - Mmmm, it's down to two - either the american jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, or Nik Kershaw, who is in my rather humble opinion, one of the greatest songwriters to emmerge from the UK in the last 20 years... playing with either of them would be a dream come true.

    But I just love playing in lots of different settings - it's the variety that keeps it interesting.

    Q: Lastly, what's up next for you?
    - Well, December will be spent catching up with all my bass students, who I've shamefully neglected while I've been away on tour, and also I'm putting the finishing touches to a string of dates in and around California in the new year. I've got a few other things in the pipe-line for next year, including some more support work in the UK, and hopefully some dates on the east coast of the US before too long.

    I'll just be playing, and teaching and having a great time!

    Solo bassist Steve Lawson's brand new solo album, 'Not Dancing For Chicken, now available at www.pillowmountainrecords.co.uk!. Listen to Mp3s at Steve's site! Steve is also a member of the LEVEL42WEBDIGEST!

    click here to order

  • 11/20: The November 28th show at the Arena in Berlin has been cancelled and a new show will be played at De Lantaarn in Hellendoorn (The Netherlands). Visit ticketservice.nl for tickets and lantaarn.nl for details.

  • 11/11: Britfest 2002 was a great success! Read all about the final total and the auction results here.

  • 11/8: Thanks to Chris Johnson from Sheerers Music for sending in these pics from the Sheffield and York gigs. Chris spoke to Gary Husband who said he's up for doing another clinic at Sheerers next year! (Check out some pics & info from the previous clinics!)

    l42_york1.jpg l42_york2.jpg mk_sh1.jpg mk_sh2.jpg

  • 11/7: The BRITFEST 2002 Page has been updated with a list of auction items! The fest is Saturday Nov 9th at The Globe at Morning Lane, Hackney, London (7PM to 1AM).

  • 11/5: There were rumours of a Level 42 show being filmed for DVD but unfortunately, as of this writing, that fell through. In better news: a few shows will be recorded for a future cd release.

  • 11/02: Check out these two scans from the Royal Albert Hall! (Thanks Raymond)

  • 11/1: Special thanks to Richard Maybury for sending in scans of the tourbook! In total there are 28 pages. Here is a selection:

    tour02a.jpg tour02b.jpg tour02c.jpg tour02e.jpg tour02l.jpg tour02m.jpg
    tour02u.jpg tour02v.jpg tour02w.jpg tour02x.jpg tour02z.jpg tour02z+1.jpg

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