"Jazz is the sound of suprise, and Steve Adelson's The Answer's Inside keeps the unexpected going with the lyrically swinging Chapman Stick, adding a new dimension to listening."
-Nat Hentoff - (jazz literary legend)
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With a history of recordings and performances with Peter Gabriel, King Crimson, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, John Lennon and others, Tony Levin has secured his role as bass legend. Recently, Tony has put more of his efforts into writing and producing his own musical visions. His newest release on Narada records is called "Pieces Of The Sun" (POTS?). Different from his three previous recordings, this CD is more aggressive and dynamic. From the opening tune "Apollo" with its intense keyboard hits, to the closing fretless bass, melody-rich "Silhouette", Tony navigates through a wide variety of landscapes in composition and style. The recording is not a "Wootenization" of the bass. Tony's playing is more about finding the pocket, locking into the music, and using melody and space to achieve a whole band concept. Tony has been associated and linked to the Chapman Stick, particularly on many of the King Crimson signature songs. He uses the Stick extensively here, on seven of the twelve tunes. Of course, the Crimson/Gabriel/Yes textures come through in Tony's arranging, but perhaps that's because he created those flavors in those bands in the first place. "Pieces Of The Sun" reflects the image that is Tony Levin, bassman, musician, composer.
TCG: What's the history of the band? (personally and musically)
TL: Jerry Marotta, Larry Fast and I toured and recorded together in the early Gabriel days -from the late 1970's. So we're tight as a band, and also good friends from way back. Also, Jerry and I (who are neighbors) have done a lot of albums together as a rhythm section (including intervier Steve Adelson's!) and toured in various groups. Jesse Gress is a great guitarist, who's home, like mine and Jerry's, is Woodstock N.Y. We all first played together in a local bar band called "Uncle Funk". I knew of Jesse's playing before that, from his work in 10 years with Todd Rundgren's band. So, Larry, Jerry and Jesse became my touring band after the last album (Waters of Eden) and we enjoyed each other a lot on the road, personally as well as musically. Writing for this album I had in mind to make it a band type of record, with writing that featurs the playing of each musician, and I hoped to expand on the live energy that we developed in the last two years while playing clubs around the country. I think the real "discovery" on this recording for many people is going to be Jesse's fantastic lead playing. We, the others in the band, are a bit better known than him, but there are times when the record sounds to me like a guitarists record - a great guitarist's record!
TCG: Explain some of your compositional processes. Also each song's development and growth. Your ideas or community effort?
|Steve with Tony Levin during a recording session in Woodstock for Steve's latest CD.|
TL: When I'm in the writing mode I kind of go away, mentally, from a lot that's going on in my life. The pieces, or parts of them, get processed in my befuddled brain night and day. (In fact, on this cd package, I've finally thanked my wife and daughter for their patience with this process, which makes me only half there for many months at a time.) Anyway, I carry music paper in the car and jot down segments all the time. Then into my garage/studio, with piano, guitar and bass, to try to rough out the compositions, playing myself, to find parts that work. The real fun is at the end -going into the studio with the guys and hearing their interpretations of the music.
Previously I'd recorded in segments, at different studios. This time, aiming at more of a high energy band-type album, I found a large barn studio in Woodstock (named Applehead) where we could hang out long hours, play live, and give a lot of focus to the music. Each song had a different life and progress on them varied. I tried to have us do jams in the studio every day too, hoping that new ideas would come from them. They did, and two of the jams later developed into pieces for the album. One piece, "Pieces of the Sun" came, in part, from a thing we played at the start and end of our live shows. One piece, Phobos, was an old composition of Larry Fast's (from a 1978 Synergy album) that I'd always liked, and I asked him to let us add our playing to the already exciting piece. Another was a Peter Gabriel song Jerry, Larry and I had played on a long time ago. Never came out (in fact, Peter had forgotten about it) and I thought it would musically fit the album to have us re-record it, sharing the vocals among us (though it might have been fun to have Peter himself come in and do it!)
TCG: The music is more dynamic than your previous solo projects. Conscious decision?
TL: Yes - kind of covered by an earlier question, but the live playing with this same lineup of musicians really influenced the direction I wanted to write in. I very much had that live energy in mind while creating this album.
TCG: Explain the "Sun" theme throughout.
TL: As often is the case with song and album titles, this kind of has multi-meanings. I was looking for a "big" type name for the album, to signify to the buyers that it was considerably heavier than my last (not to mention 7, 8 and 9 minute compositions!) Early on in my writing, a friend, Robbie Dupree, heard some of the music and suggested "Pieces of the Sun" as an album title. There were already a few "Sun" titles: "Apollo" (who is a sun god), "Ever the Sun Will Rise" and "Helios" (another sun god -this song didn't make the album.) For the cover, we found some great photos of the sun on NASA's website, which they kindly allowed the use of.
TCG: Did the instruments you pick steer the music or did the music point you toward certain instruments. (i.e. Stick vs. bass)
TL: This project the music led the way. I only decided on what bass to use after the piece was written. (with maybe an exception or two -"Ever the Sun Will Rise" breaks into a Jerry/Tony groove reminiscent of "I Don't Remember" - a Gabriel track that was one of the early Stick featured ones. I broke out my very bassy Gibson bass for the tubby part on Tequila. The NS cello has it's own sound too, especially with fuzz, as I used it on "Pieces of the Sun", in harmony with Jesse's Strat. And "Ooze", I wrote by playing with my Funk Fingers on a guitar.
TCG: What do you envision for the band and future projects?
TL: I'm a typical musician in that I don't plan too far into the future! We'll tour this Spring, for sure. Hopefully into the Summer and maybe Fall. I'd guess that I'll use the same lineup on the next Narada album, and there may be a live cd eventually, but no plans about any of that yet.
TCG: What else are you working on currently or in the near future?
TL: I've been doing some sessions, but mostly I'm in preparation for the "Pieces of the Sun" tour. It takes a lot of advance preparation, rehearsing, new equipment -a lot of attention to getting the tour booked right, photos... stuff like that. Not much fun, but necessary to be able to get out there and play.
TCG: Relationship with Narada? Why last 2 recordings not on Papa Bear?
TL: I had no obligation to continue with Narada, and in fact I thought they might think this music too heavy for their label, but they were very positive about it, and about my touring with the band. So, since they're much better at record promotion and sales than my Papa Bear Records is (that's a big understatement! PB Records is just me, and all I do is offer the records on my web site, completely ignoring publicity, ads, promotion and all of it. In fact I consider the Papa Bear records a well kept secret, and hope that someday they'll be collectors items for those brave souls who managed to find them!) I will do more on Papa Bear in the future (and will have some art work coming out on it this year) but no plans yet as to what or when.
TCG: Many readers would love to know of Peter Gabriel plans. Anything?
TL: Gee, I honestly don't know. We long ago recorded plenty of tracks for the upcoming album, but I've heard no word yet of his finishing them, let alone tour plans. I do hope, as much as any fan, that he comes out with the album (while I'm young enough to enjoy it!) and that I get to tour with him again -it was some of the most fun music and touring I've ever done.
TCG: Who have you been listening to for enjoyment and/or inspiration?
TL: I listen to a lot of varied things, and get plenty of inspiration from them. Lately, John Adams' "Nixon in China" opera, Martha Argerich's older piano recordings, English excentric soul singer Lewis Taylor, and D'Angelo's "Voodoo" cd, which has utterly amazing grooves on it -Pino Paladino's bass playing on that makes me feel I should be back taking bass lessons. In fact, that's not a bad idea - wish I had time!
TCG: I guess since we're a vintage guitar magazine, it would be noteworthy to list your arsenal of instruments and what you like about each.
TL: Wow, I might need to take this question home with me -so many basses, so many stories! My main bass, Music Man 5 string, one of the first they made, is a shade of Salmon which, when they realized it looks like Barbie Doll flesh, they quickly discontinued. So I call that one the Barbie 5. I have a custom Music Man 4, with my collected custom pick collection embedded inside the finish. It's very heavy, and hence has a lot of sustain -good for some studio, jazz type playing, not so good for tubby rock, and not good at all to carry on stage! Keeping with the Music Man basses, there's my custom 3 string -made years back for me with only 3 strings (E,A,D of course) and no volume or tone controls! (Hey, why do you think they call it a "bass"!) I've used that on tour, but not lately -waiting for that next Gabriel tour! I have a wonderful Epiphone Rivoli and, with the same sound, a Gibson EB2 (that one I found in Austin, painted like a confederate flag, so I refer to it as "Billie Bob Bass") which are very useful for certain types of tracks. I don't remember every instance I've used them, but a bit on Paula Cole's album, KMax's album, Peter Gabriel's upcoming (if those tracks make it to the record) and on a couple of tracks on my new "Pieces" cd. My Music Man fretless 5, I keep tuned with high C string, is mostly for melodic lead playing. It's one of the modern (Ernie Ball) ones, with a very useful midrange control to zero in on good lead tone. Much older, one of my first Music Man's, a 4 string Stingray that I used to paint different colors for each tour. Couple of stories about that old war horse: it was pained black with white hexagons for one Gabriel tour where the stage had hexagons. Then later for Crimson's "Three of a Perfect Pair" album and tour, I painted it yellow with the blue MacDonald's type symbol that our album had. When Dire Straits asked me to play a track on the "Brothers in Arms" record, I came with that bass, and they didn't like it, mentioning they wished I had brought the bass I'd played earlier on Mark Knoffler's record. Only later I realized it was the same bass -different colors. To boot, I loaned the bass (kind of permanent loan) to a friend's son when he went to Berlkee. Years later when a fire took many of my older basses, I asked him for the bass back, and he reluctantly parted with what had become a very dear bass to him. Okay, now there's "Face Bass" -long ago I had Music Man paint a silhouette of my bald head, in black, on a white finish (to match my picks.) In the fire in my barn, that bass was badly burnt but survived. I poured epoxy through it to strengthen it enough to ship back to Music Man, who finished the repair. But it had turned a deep shade of amber -exactly like a meersham pipe when it gets hot. And the black charring of the bottom of the bass now makes it look like my previously bald head has... an AFRO! (as luck would have it, the toasting caused the bass to get lighter, and has an even better rock sound, so it's one of my faves now for rock.) When Ned Steinberger first came to me to try his newly designed bass, I suggested it might work for me as a fretless. He made another, and I still have that -probably his second bass. I don't play it as much as I ought to, but it has no fret markers, and I need them to play in tune. (to TRY to play in tune.) This bass was used on the early Gabriel tours in late '70s. "Graffitti Bass" -is another Music Man Stingray that, sometime in the '80s, I took to their booth at the NAMM show, and let passers by have a go at it with magic markers and even chisels. Looks pretty vintage! Okay, I'm getting into this now - I don't think I've gone through this list before! The "Sledge" bass is really two basses. The bass I played the Gabriel track "Sledgehammer" with was a black Music Man Sabre bass (the only non-Stingray I've had) which I played on that track with a lot of compression, a pick, and an octaver. Sometime in it's lifetime, the neck warped and I replaced it with a carbon graphite one. But, on stage I preferred a bright silver bass I had, with "Novotone" interchangeable fretboards (remember them?) one of which was just a stainless silver slab. Made a great LOOKING bass. Anyway, this bass did pretty much burn up in that fire -I've kept the remnants, which are recognizable, but this one ain't getting repaired! (Which reminds me, after the fire I shipped Music Man the pathetic bits of one charred bass, it's neck gone and the truss rod bent in half from the heat -I preceded their receiving the shipment with a fax. It told them I was having some trouble with the neck on my new bass, and asked if perhaps they could fix it for me! To their credit, they calmly faxed me b a ck that the warrantee didn't cover playing in smoky clubs. Other interesting basses: NS Electric Upright -one of the first Ned made. A Guild Ashbory -little plastic thing. I first came across one when I saw David Gilmore sitting in a hotel coffee shop, practicing on the little thing. He suggested I get one. I've actually used this on a few albums: "Lovetown" which was Peter Gabriel's track for "Philadelphia Story", and one of the Bozzio/Levin/Stevens tracks. a Warr one string! Used on tour with Project Four (of King Crimson) and probably on the recordings from that tour. an Ovation Magnum ! Don't ask why, but long ago I decided I should have this bass. My thinking was that it would be just right for some Gabriel tracks. Took it on the plane with me to his studio in England. As I entered and put the bass down, the engineer said "What are you doing with Peter's bass?" Turns out Peter, who doesn't even play bass and only has one, had the exact same bass. Didn't use it. Gibson Ripper - played it on many of the Paul Simon tracks I did in 70's, including the movie "one trick pony" because it had that warm sound engineer Phil Ramone liked. My old Fender Precision - in the '60s, when I was playing upright in Rochester, I heard Andy Muzon playing one with Jackie and Roy. Asked him where to get a bass like his. He said to go to NYC, to Dan Armstrong's in the village, get a used Precision. Should cost about $180 he said. I immediately took a train down, went in, got a 10 year old Precision for exactly $180. Played only that for many, many years (till I got my first Music Man) and even got my blood on it when Peter G. inadvertently bopped me on the head with a mic stand (well, I HOPE it was inadvertent.) But sadly the bass got pretty burnt up years ago. I have the remains because, having lost my Ampeg Baby Bass, this is my first electric!
TCG: Coke or Pepsi?
TL: That's easy: ESPRESSO!