Adrian Belew and Tony Levin in King
Crimson in Buenos Aires at Teatro
Broadway. Photo by Max Pierrot.

Finally, the third and final part of my interview with Tony Levin. As one of progressive rock’s most esteemed bass players, there could have been many more tangents to take during the interview, but I only had so much time. Levin, after all is much more than a sideman. He is one of the great innovators on the bass in the world of progressive rock. He also has his own catalog of solo and collaborative work, which can be found on his website. But I had my own curious questions of his work with King Crimson that continues to this day. On to the interview…

I caught you in Buenos Aires with King Crimson.* I had a chance to interview drummer Bill Bruford and saw some amazing shows at the Teatro Broadway. Are you still a member of King Crimson?

As usual with King Crimson we find different ways to do everything, so the status is not what it would be in a normal band. I don’t know how to describe it. I’m not fully a member, and I’m not out of the band. I mean most bands, frankly, if you’re not touring and recording with them then you’re not in the band anymore, but in this case, Robert assures me, Robert Fripp, and I actually believe him, that I’m kind of on reserve duty, and I will be called up to active duty some time, probably in the not too distant future. I don’t know if there’s a chance of me doing some work this year. I don’t know quite what’s going on right now, but typically with Crimson, I get busy with other things, when I don’t know what they’re doing, and then when they start doing something I kind of have to wait . . . so I would describe it as: I’m the fifth man in a four man group, whatever that means. I think there’s a pretty good chance that I’ll be doing something with them in the near future.

Mind if I ask some King Crimson stuff I was always curious about?

Not at all.

On Three Of A Perfect Pair you are credited as playing synth. Do you recall what songs you played synth on?

No, I don’t remember the songs at all. What I do is (I have a synth actually here on the road with Peter, too) I have a simple synth with bass sounds, and I never play it for a whole piece, but sometimes I kind of fashion a part that’s a back and forth of eighth notes between the bass and the synth or between the stick and the synth. The more I accent certain bass notes with the synth. So it’s completely used in conjunction with the bass, not on its own. It’s very hard to pick it out on the record because really I just use it as a “texture difference” from the bass.

For instance, on “Man With An Open Heart” I can’t tell if you did that with a bass or a synth.

Yeah, I know. I’d have to listen myself to try and figure it out.

And as far as Beat goes, how much of that record was influenced by the jazz of the Beat Generation’s age?

I think a lot of the lyrics were, and that was kind of the inspiration point, but musically we weren’t actually thinking about that generation at all. We just kind of were using the vibe of—especially Adrian [Belew]—was using the vibe of that generation as the inspiration for the names of the songs and the lyrics.

“Requiem” has a certain John Coltrane influence. It sounds like what Coltrane was doing at the end of his career.

It could be. Well, it’s hard to say. I mean it was nothing conscious, but we did that at the end of the album, having done the rest of the album, and it was totally improvised, so maybe it was similar. There was nothing specific said about that.

So you guys don’t like listening to music when you’re working on albums?

Not really, no. In fact we try not to listen to other music.

One day, in Buenos Aires, I could have sworn I saw you in a crowd taking pictures of a pair of tango dancers in a plaza. Do you remember ever doing that?

Yeah that would have been me! In fact, one or two of those pictures are going to come out in my book, which I hope to finish by the end of this year. It’s about my travels in nineteen years on the road with King Crimson and those are mighty good pictures. You’re right, it was me. Yeah, that’s funny.

So you’re planning on releasing a book?**

I can’t promise a date, cause I’m pretty slow at these things. I hoped to have it done a year ago, and I didn’t, but I have great photos from back in 1980, when I started in King Crimson, and they say not to release them all is a [unintelligible]. I don’t know what the title will be but it will be all my photos and journals from the years on the road with King Crimson.

Do you still take lots of pictures?

Lots! Yeah, now I take digital. I used to take black and white film, but I still take lots. In fact, I just up-dated my website with photos from yesterday’s rehearsal. They’re very up-to-date. I should have shots from tonight, pictures from tonight’s show, up by the middle of the night tonight at tonylevin.com. If you ever want to see what’s going on in the tour—whatever tour I’m on—I’m pretty good about up-dating it.

Are you documenting this current tour? Will anything special be done with the photos?

Lately, I only shoot digital in color, and I pretty much just use it for the website. I’m kind of distracted with that. Someday I think I’ll regret I’m not shooting film in black and white anymore, but that’s life. You can’t do everything, and I really enjoy the immediacy of being able to present the audience with a photo of them. I take pictures of the audience every night, and I know from their cheering I know a lot of them go up on the website.

Who’s the better actor you or (old time band mate and session drummer) Steve Gadd?

Actor? I would say we’re both pretty bad. We were both playing ourselves, in the movie [One Trick Pony], and I thought he would be better at acting like himself than I was at acting like myself. Don’t ask me why. It sounds like a pretty easy job, acting like yourself, but I thought Steve was particularly good at it. I don’t think I’d want to see either of us in a part where we’re not acting like ourselves.

So you’ve watched One Trick Pony?

Actually, I probably never sat and watched the whole thing, by the time I finished touring to promote it, it was already closed in the theaters, so I got a video copy of it. I’m not sure I ever sat all the way through it, but I enjoyed making it, though, and I like everything Paul [Simon] does.

*In 1994, I interviewed Bruford as King Crimson warmed up the then new double trio format for the recording of 1995’s Thrak. One story that resulted is a piece that appeared in Florida International University’s student-run newspaper, “the Beacon.” Someone actually transcribed it for the KC fansite Elephant Talk. It can be found here. The other story, on King Crimson itself, appeared in a regional Florida music scene called “JAM Entertainment News.” It cannot be found on the Internet, but maybe I’ll provide a scan of the original document, if there is demand for it.

**Levin did release a photo book entitled Crimson Chronicles Volume 1, the 80s in 2004. On his website, Levin promises a book chronicling the 90s KC sometime in the future: “The photos have been printed, but it might be some time until the book is ready. (!).”

The interview continues…

Read Part 1 (on recording with Peter Gabriel)

Read Part 2 (on touring with Peter Gabriel)

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Thanks to DGM Live (King Crimson’s website) for linking directly to these series of posts, my full-length interview with King Crimson bassist/Stick man and stalwart Peter Gabriel sideman Tony Levin. See my prior post for Part 1 of this 2003 interview with this innovative bassist. And so it is on with Part 2 of the interview, Levin on his time on the Up tour…

How long have you been on tour for the Up album?

We started rehearsals last August [2002].  We did warm-ups last September.  We toured the States November, December.  We toured Europe in April, May and now it’s June, and I think that’s going to be it, although you never know.

Why return to the US for a second tour?

I didn’t ask Peter.  I don’t really know.  I know it’s a different kind of show because we’re not doing big arenas, so we don’t have the huge stage above us and the thing built– although we are adding some different material, and we’re also using some different staging ideas of Peter’s.  Actually, we haven’t done them all yet.

What’s this live show like compared to the last Up tour?

It sounds a lot better being outdoors with no ringing.  The trouble with arenas is it’s good to see a special show, but the sound is awful.  Here outdoors people are already commenting it sounds great.  They can hear everything.

How’s the live presentation of this tour compared to the last Up tour?

Huh. . . (he sighs) Golly!  You know, I’m typical of musicians.  Once I’m on the tour I don’t really think about the last one, so it’s hard to think back. I think it’s similar in that there’s quite a bit of spectacle and the spectacle is mixed in a way that Pete is very good at, with real human elements, so the people in the audience don’t feel like they’re seeing some kind of circus.  They feel involved in the show.  They feel like he’s speaking to them directly. That’s partly because he’s in the middle of the arena and it’s part because both he and Robert Lepage, the show designer, are very good at keeping the show human and communicating well.

Beyond the addition of “No Way Out,” how has the set list changed?

We’ve added “Don’t Give Up.”  Actually, I think it’s going to change from night to night, too.  I know we rehearsed “Darkness,” but we haven’t done it and “Grieve” we rehearsed, but we didn’t do that.  Give me a minute to run and get a set list while we’re talking. . .

What songs do you like to perform and why?

One that I enjoy the most is “Mercy Street,” but I don’t actually have a difficult bass part or a bass part that’s particularly up in front, but we do it in a very different way than we used to.  We all sing on it.  There used to be pretty minimal background vocals.  Now it’s really quite a vocal song, and it’s just a very good moment.  When we did it in the round stage some of us sat on the edges of the stage and revolved—Oh, WOW!

What’s going on?

Well, something pretty special, although not show-related unless I drink all this liquor that showed up behind stage.  Good golly!  That’s great.  Someone sent back three bottles of Fernet Branca a very unusual drink that I particularly like…So I’m still walking toward the set list.  But anyway, so that’s the special thing, but now that we’re on the normal stage, of course we’re not revolving, but I’m pretty sure we’ll sit in the front.  But anyways, it just works as a special moment in the show, and I particularly like that one.  I like all of the pieces.  There are none that I haven’t had a lot of fun doing.

Now, I think it’s a gorgeous song, but do you ever get tired of playing “In Your Eyes”?

No.  I don’t.  Generally, on a really long—we used to tour for years, so when we’re on a really long tour you get tired of some of the material, that’s for sure.  But not the really good pieces, and this tour’s all good pieces, plus we’re not touring for a couple of years, so I don’t think I’ll get tired of anything. OK, I’m on stage where my set list should be and it isn’t there!  OK, we’re doing “Red Rain,” like we did.  We’re doing “Secret World.”  “Games Without Frontiers” we have added.  We’re doing that.  We didn’t do that in the regular tour. “Don’t Give Up” we’ve added.  “Tower,” actually the full name is “The Tower That Ate People.” We’re doing that.  We’re doing “Shock the Monkey.” “Come Talk to Me,” which on some shows we did and some we didn’t.  Those are the new ones that we’re doing tonight, but by tomorrow or the next show, things could have changed.  We could have added more newer pieces or newer or older pieces.  We did rehearse quite a few.

Did you even do “Shock the Monkey” on the Us tour?

Oh, on the Us tour, yes.  Last year we did it a couple of times but only a couple.

Hopefully you’ll do it when you come down to West Palm Beach.

Yeah!  I think, unless we do something wrong, it’ll still be there.  Unless we’ll do it badly.  I’m looking forward to going there.  It’ll be fun.  I haven’t been in Florida for quite a while with Peter.

How do you think Melanie is working out?

Um, great.  It’s a pleasure for us, not only having her sing and stuff, but I’ve known Melanie since she was a little girl, and, um, every band has a different energy depending on who’s in it and what they bring, and it’s great having a younger energy around and while we’re on the road.  There are a number of things that are great.  Also, she’s a great person, so it’s pretty neat having her.

Do you remember the day she was introduced to you as part of the band?  What did you think?

That’s a good question, but I’m afraid I don’t remember.  I’m sure you could get interesting answers to that from people, but I can’t remember when that was.  I think I heard it before the tour that she would be doing it.  Sorry, I don’t remember exactly.

Who’s the live drummer this time around?

Ged Lynch.  He’s done a lot of work with Peter in the last few years, and I did know his playing because two years ago we did a show in Seattle, a WOMAD festival, with kind of the same line-up, in a way, and Jed was the drummer, so I know he’s a very good drummer.

He’s on the record too.

I think so.  Playing both drums and percussion.

So what happened with Manu Katche?

Nothing happened to him. Just Peter chose to tour with Jed.  I don’t know why, really.

Remember when you did World Diary?  They were impromptu jam sessions in hotel rooms and stuff, right?  Have you thought about using more current portable recording technology and doing another one?

I have thought about it.  My first plan was to follow that up with two other albums in the same vein, going around the U.S.  I particularly avoided U.S. musicians [on World Diary].  I wanted to do it around the world, but not in the U.S., and I thought it would be nice to travel around the U.S. in my Harley with just my bass on my back or the Stick and visit musicians and just do records in their town.  So I was going to do that, but somewhere along the line I got busy with other ideas of what I might do for another album.  Lately, I’m enjoying writing in a more compositional way, in a less collaborative way, where I pretty much write the song out completely and then bring in musicians, so I’m sure I’ll go back at some point to a collaborative kind of thing.  Maybe go back to do that.  It was fun, but I wouldn’t mind doing that again.

The interview continues…

Read Part 3 (on King Crimson and more)

Read Part 1 (on recording with Peter Gabriel)

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

After my recent lengthy review on Peter Gabriel’s new release, Scratch My Back, I started feeling a bit nostalgic about the old PG days. The last published piece I wrote about my all-time favorite progressive rock musician came around the time I met the man backstage after a show on the Up tour, in West Palm Beach, Florida. I got his autograph on the then new CD, and that was pretty much it. I kind of felt stupid talking to him for such an impromptu moment as he signed paper plates for these annoying Brazilian chicks and another fanboy who brought practically every PG album for him to sign– even Genesis’ the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I even offered Gabriel my service to hold his cup of tea as he signed the ephemera, but I still could not come up with much anything to say.

As much as I wanted to interview Gabriel for a piece in Goldmine during the release of Up, I was really there to meet Tony Levin face-to-face, as that is who the label offered for an interview, and I was quite cool with that. The opportunity to chat with Gabriel’s longest lasting band member gave me a great opportunity to glean some insight into their long-lasting relationship.

<!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;} p.MsoBodyText, li.MsoBodyText, div.MsoBodyText {margin:0in; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; font-style:italic;} a:link, span.MsoHyperlink {color:blue; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;} a:visited, span.MsoHyperlinkFollowed {color:purple; text-decoration:underline; text-underline:single;} @page Section1 {size:8.5in 11.0in; margin:1.0in 1.25in 1.0in 1.25in; mso-header-margin:.5in; mso-footer-margin:.5in; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –> This interview was conducted via phone on June 6 and 8, 2003, while Peter Gabriel was starting up his second U.S. “Growing Up” tour on the West Coast.  I believe the locations were San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively. Levin was very gracious about talking with me about his work with Gabriel since 1976, over the phone, during one of the tour stops leading up to the West Palm Beach show, where Levin secured me some nice seats and a backstage visit. He has been one of the nicest rock veterans I ever had the pleasure to interview, and I want to share my never-before published, full Q&A with him (Goldmine published an abridged version for their Prog rock issue from October 17, 2003).

This is Part One in a series of three blog postings that I have decided to break the interview up in, and it focuses on his work with Peter Gabriel in the studio. Part two will be all about playing live on the Up tour and related questions, and part three focuses mostly on his work with King Crimson and other tidbits he shared with me about his photography and acting. So, without further ado…

You’re probably the most consistent Peter Gabriel sideman.  What keeps you coming back to work with him?

Well, first of all, I’ve done lots of different music projects.  I’ve done a lot of touring and a lot of albums, but Peter’s consistently my favorite thing to do, so it’s not a matter of just me coming back.  It’s actually—if I had to choose between Peter and anything else, I would choose Peter’s tours.  The reason of that is a combination of them being really good music and really fun and Peter being a great guy, and so he kind of attracts good people, so it’s nice to be around, even in addition to the music being really great.

What are Gabriel’s recording sessions like?  Did you have to be handy for 10 years straight for Up?

They’re different than anybody else’s, that’s for sure.  First of all, I’m only involved in part of it.  I come in early, when we’re doing what’s called the rhythm tracks, and Peter generally has an idea of the song, maybe not completely worked out, and we spend anywhere from a few weeks to a month doing an album worth of rhythm tracks.  And then it goes through a process that really takes longer and longer each album.  It takes years, and Peter fiddles with it and sometimes brings in other rhythm section elements and then, when the final product comes out, I’m as surprised to hear it as anybody else because it has very little to do with the version I heard in the beginning, and often I’m still on it . . . so it’s an interesting process really that Peter goes through.  More than knowing what he wants at the beginning and going directly there is kind of a process that takes him quite a while, and I’m only involved in the early stage of it.

How do you feel about this, for your creative sake?

I’m fine.  First of all, I’m very used to it.  This started this way in, golly, 1976  (laughs).  I should be used to it by now, and also I do a lot of albums that are done different ways, and what I focus on is bringing what I can musically to the project and really becoming a fan of the music and contributing from the bass-end of things.  I don’t really get so bothered about the process itself and the way it’s going ‘cause that’s not really my domain, unless I’m the producer, which is pretty unusual.

How much direction does Gabriel give you when you play your bass parts?

It varies a lot.  Sometimes he’ll have a bass idea that’s pretty good, and I’ll just do it, and sometimes it’s an idea that I’ll modify and make more bass-player-like, and sometimes it’s an idea that I’ll kind of go against, and I’ll try something different and sometimes we’ll compromise.  Sometimes, in the end, we’ll go back to his own idea.  Sometimes he likes what I do completely from the first note and just says, “I love that, keep doing that.” It really varies quite a bit.  I certainly am open to his suggestions because, like many people who are musical and who aren’t bass players, he gets ideas that a bass player wouldn’t normally think of, and I like to use him as an inspiration for coming up with unusual parts.  But I also—for me as a bass player, the part has to have some kind of bass-ness to it.  I don’t know really how to describe that in words, but if it doesn’t really move my body in a certain way, then I’m not as happy with it as I’d like to be, so I keep kind of moving towards the part that just kind of organically works for me.

Is that bass opening for “Don’t Remember” yours?

I think it’s just mine.  It’s a Stick part.  It’s this unusual instrument, the Stick, where I can play bass parts that have bigger jumps than on a normal bass and a little bit of a different timbre– much more attack than a normal bass, so that was a typical stick part of mine.  But other parts. . . “Sledgehammer” was my part, on a fretless bass, but “Don’t Give Up” was a part that really he worked out on a drum machine, but it kind of almost had pitches, so he played me this drum machine part, and I said, “Well, that’s a great bass part.  Let me just put the notes that work to that,” so, really, in a way it was three-quarters his part.

What about the beginning of “No Way Out,” on the new record?

“No Way Out” has three different basses on it.  That’s a good example of why I don’t know what the record’s going to sound like till it’s done. One of them is mine, playing an electric up-right bass, but then two other basses, with different players [Danny Thompson on Double Bass and Gabriel on Arpeggiated Bass] were added later.  I’m the beginning of the three.  I’m not sure which is the guy that comes in first.  I forget.  It’s been so long since I did the track.  But I know I have an issue when we play that live—and I’m about to play that live for the first time tonight—about which of those three parts to pick out to play.

How did you first get into playing the Chapman Stick?  What lead you to it?  When was that?

When I first heard about it, which was about 1975.  I heard there was this instrument you play by hammer technique, and then it’s kind of like a bass but different, and it appealed to me because I like unusual music and unusual instruments, so I got it right away, and I’ve been playing it ever since.

And you didn’t play it at all on the first Peter Gabriel album, right?

I brought it to those sessions.  It was pretty new, and I actually showed it to the producer [Bob Ezrin], and he had me put it away.  He didn’t even want to even hear it.  I do remember that.  But I played it on the tour of that album for one piece called “Moribund the Burgermiester.”  I remember playing it a lot on that tour, and on the second album I was playing it pretty exclusively.

What gave you the idea for the funk fingers?

It’s a long story, but I can tell it quickly.  It started from a piece of Peter Gabriel’s called “Big Time” where on that album, So, I asked Jerry Morrota to play with his drumsticks on the bass while I fingered it, seemed like a good idea.  And then a year later, when I was doing the touring I was trying to play that part with just a drumstick in my hand.  I had to practice it a lot, and, as usual, just like now, I was practicing and Peter Gabriel walked by me and said, “Why don’t you figure out some way to attach two sticks to your fingers,” so that’s what that was.  His idea really, and then we fooled around, my bass tech and I, really for a year with different size sticks and different lengths and things like that till I finally got so I liked it.  Then I called them “funk fingers” just for the fun of it.  It ended up on this tour I was playing them quite a bit.  For most pieces I’m playing the funk fingers.

And what’s the advantage of playing with them?

They’re more percussive.  That simple.  There are a lot of disadvantages.  It’s hard to hit the right string.  I had to practice a lot with them to get used to them, but once I’m used to them it’s very percussive, which for some things it’s really good.  I wouldn’t play them on every piece.

So, I heard Peter’s on to the next album, have you done any work on it?

I’ve heard that too (laughs).  I know nothing about it.  I know we did a lot of tracks for the last album, so there are plenty of spares, but I know nothing about it.  You would think being on the road that we talk about that stuff, but actually we don’t.  I don’t know what’s coming next for him.  I know that he’d like to release another album before another six years go by.

In the press kit it says that it’s supposedly called I/O, and he’s set to release it in a year and a half or something like that.

Oh, really?  Well, there you go, as usual you know more than me.  I’m usually the last to find out about these things, but then sometimes what you hear isn’t going to happen anyways, so…

The interview continues…

Read Part 2 (on touring with Peter Gabriel)

Read Part 3 (on King Crimson and more)

After my recent lengthy review on Peter Gabriel’s new release, Scratch My Back, I started feeling a bit nostalgic about the old PG days. The last published piece I wrote about my all-time favorite progressive rock musician came around the time I met the man backstage after a show on the Up tour, in West Palm Beach, Florida. I got his autograph on the then new CD, and that was pretty much it. I kind of felt stupid talking to him for such an impromptu moment as he signed paper plates for these annoying Brazilian chicks and another fanboy who brought practically every PG album for him to sign– even Genesis’ the Lamb Lies Down on Broadway. I even offered Gabriel my service to hold his cup of tea as he signed the ephemera, but I still could not come up with much anything to say.

As much as I wanted to interview Gabriel for a piece in Goldmine during the release of Up, I was really there to meet Tony Levin face-to-face, as that is who the label offered for an interview, and I was quite cool with that. The opportunity to chat with Gabriel’s longest lasting band member gave me a great opportunity to glean some insight into their long-lasting relationship.

Levin was very gracious about talking with me about his work with Gabriel since 1976, over the phone, during one of the tour stops leading up to the West Palm Beach show, where Levin secured me some nice seats and a backstage visit. He has been one of the nicest rock veterans I ever had the pleasure to interview, and I want to share my never-before published, full Q&A with him (Goldmine published an abridged version for their Prog rock issue from October 17, 2003).

This is Part One in a series of three blog postings that I have decided to break the interview up in, and it focuses on his work with Peter Gabriel in the studio. Part two will be all about playing live on the Up tour and related questions, and part three focuses mostly on his work with King Crimson and other tidbits he shared with me about his photography and acting. So, without further ado…

You’re probably the most consistent Peter Gabriel sideman.  What keeps you coming back to work with him?

Well, first of all, I’ve done lots of different music projects.  I’ve done a lot of touring and a lot of albums, but Peter’s consistently my favorite thing to do, so it’s not a matter of just me coming back.  It’s actually—if I had to choose between Peter and anything else, I would choose Peter’s tours.  The reason of that is a combination of them being really good music and really fun and Peter being a great guy, and so he kind of attracts good people, so it’s nice to be around, even in addition to the music being really great.

What are Gabriel’s recording sessions like?  Did you have to be handy for 10 years straight for Up?

They’re different than anybody else’s, that’s for sure.  First of all, I’m only involved in part of it.  I come in early, when we’re doing what’s called the rhythm tracks, and Peter generally has an idea of the song, maybe not completely worked out, and we spend anywhere from a few weeks to a month doing an album worth of rhythm tracks.  And then it goes through a process that really takes longer and longer each album.  It takes years, and Peter fiddles with it and sometimes brings in other rhythm section elements and then, when the final product comes out, I’m as surprised to hear it as anybody else because it has very little to do with the version I heard in the beginning, and often I’m still on it . . . so it’s an interesting process really that Peter goes through.  More than knowing what he wants at the beginning and going directly there is kind of a process that takes him quite a while, and I’m only involved in the early stage of it.

How do you feel about this, for your creative sake?

I’m fine.  First of all, I’m very used to it.  This started this way in, golly, 1976.  (snicker).  I should be used to it by now, and also I do a lot of albums that are done different ways, and what I focus on is bringing what I can musically to the project and really becoming a fan of the music and contributing from the bass-end of things.  I don’t really get so bothered about the process itself and the way it’s going ‘cause that’s not really my domain, unless I’m the producer, which is pretty unusual.

How much direction does Gabriel give you when you play your bass parts?

It varies a lot.  Sometimes he’ll have a bass idea that’s pretty good, and I’ll just do it, and sometimes it’s an idea that I’ll modify and make more bass-player-like, and sometimes it’s an idea that I’ll kind of go against, and I’ll try something different and sometimes we’ll compromise.  Sometimes, in the end, we’ll go back to his own idea.  Sometimes he likes what I do completely from the first note and just says, “I love that, keep doing that.” It really varies quite a bit.  I certainly am open to his suggestions because, like many people who are musical and who aren’t bass players, he gets ideas that a bass player wouldn’t normally think of, and I like to use him as an inspiration for coming up with unusual parts.  But I also—for me as a bass player, the part has to have some kind of bass-ness to it.  I don’t know really how to describe that in words, but if it doesn’t really move my body in a certain way, then I’m not as happy with it as I’d like to be, so I keep kind of moving towards the part that just kind of organically works for me.

Is that bass opening for “Don’t Remember” yours?

I think it’s just mine.  It’s a Stick part.  It’s this unusual instrument, the Stick, where I can play bass parts that have bigger jumps than on a normal bass and a little bit of a different timbre– much more attack than a normal bass, so that was a typical stick part of mine.  But other parts. . . “Sledgehammer” was my part, on a fretless bass, but “Don’t Give Up” was a part that really he worked out on a drum machine, but it kind of almost had pitches, so he played me this drum machine part, and I said, “Well, that’s a great bass part.  Let me just put the notes that work to that,” so, really, in a way it was three-quarters his part.

What about the beginning of “No Way Out,” on the new record?

“No Way Out” has three different basses on it.  That’s a good example of why I don’t know what the record’s going to sound like till it’s done. One of them is mine, playing an electric up-right bass, but then two other basses, with different players [Danny Thompson on Double Bass and Gabriel on Arpeggiated Bass] were added later.  I’m the beginning of the three.  I’m not sure which is the guy that comes in first.  I forget.  It’s been so long since I did the track.  But I know I have an issue when we play that live—and I’m about to play that live for the first time tonight—about which of those three parts to pick out to play.

How did you first get into playing the Chapman Stick?  What lead you to it?  When was that?

When I first heard about it, which was about 1975.  I heard there was this instrument you play by hammer technique, and then it’s kind of like a bass but different, and it appealed to me because I like unusual music and unusual instruments, so I got it right away, and I’ve been playing it ever since.

And you didn’t play it at all on the first Peter Gabriel album, right?

I brought it to those sessions.  It was pretty new, and I actually showed it to the producer [Bob Ezrin], and he had me put it away.  He didn’t even want to even hear it.  I do remember that.  But I played it on the tour of that album for one piece called “Moribund the Burgermiester.”  I remember playing it a lot on that tour, and on the second album I was playing it pretty exclusively.

What gave you the idea for the funk fingers?

It’s a long story, but I can tell it quickly.  It started from a piece of Peter Gabriel’s called “Big Time” where on that album, So, I asked Jerry Morrota to play with his drumsticks on the bass while I fingered it, seemed like a good idea.  And then a year later, when I was doing the touring I was trying to play that part with just a drumstick in my hand.  I had to practice it a lot, and, as usual, just like now, I was practicing and Peter Gabriel walked by me and said, “Why don’t you figure out some way to attach two sticks to your fingers,” so that’s what that was.  His idea really, and then we fooled around, my bass tech and I, really for a year with different size sticks and different lengths and things like that till I finally got so I liked it.  Then I called them “funk fingers” just for the fun of it.  It ended up on this tour I was playing them quite a bit.  For most pieces I’m playing the funk fingers.

And what’s the advantage of playing with them?

They’re more percussive.  That simple.  There are a lot of disadvantages.  It’s hard to hit the right string.  I had to practice a lot with them to get used to them, but once I’m used to them it’s very percussive, which for some things it’s really good.  I wouldn’t play them on every piece.

So, I heard Peter’s on to the next album, have you done any work on it?

I’ve heard that too (laughs).  I know nothing about it.  I know we did a lot of tracks for the last album, so there are plenty of spares, but I know nothing about it.  You would think being on the road that we talk about that stuff, but actually we don’t.  I don’t know what’s coming next for him.  I know that he’d like to release another album before another six years go by.

Iin the press kit it says that it’s supposedly called I/O, and he’s set to release it in a year and a half or something like that.

Oh, really?  Well, there you go, as usual you know more than me.  I’m usually the last to find out about these things, but then sometimes what you hear isn’t going to happen anyways, so. . .

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)