Friday, 09 January 2015 15:58 | Written by Michel Scheijen |
TO LODGE THE GENTLEMAN IN THE SPOTLIGHT
Besides Mark King’s thump-slapp bass guitar technique there’s also Mike Lindup’s falsetto voice and jazz influenced keyboard playing which is an significant element of Level 42’s distinctive sound. The British pop rock and jazz-funk band who had a number of worldwide hits during the 1980s and 1990s. Despite the worldwide fame of his band, Mike Lindup seems to prefer quite life that’s a million miles away from the greedy media.
The band’s ‘Sirens’ tour in the autumn of 2014 suggested an excellent opportunity to approach the gentleman for an in-depth interview about the inns and outs as professional musician. Perhaps LazyRocker.com publishes his most revealing interview ever. We are proud to do so much good!
It wasn’t easy doing research about you. There certainly aren’t too many Mike Lindup interviews. We didn’t get any further than the basic facts. Do you prefer to stand out of the limelight?
“Well, I’m probably a fairly private person. It’s not deliberate. There’s some stuff about me on the internet. Maybe I haven’t done anything sensational enough to write about. I’m quite boring, you know. Ha!Ha!Ha!
It’s also a fact that in Level 42 the natural focus is on Mark King. Most of the people are looking for the front person in a band, and write about him or her.”
So Mike Lindup always stood and still stands in Mark King’s shadow?
“No, I don’t really think so. I was always seen that way. When the group was it’s most famous, somewhere between 1986 and 1990, it was certainly Mark where most of the light was cast on. At that time there were some moments when I thought ‘hang on a minute…there’s a band on stage…it’s not only Mark’. In my opinion band chemistry is a very interesting thing. During live shows the audience can see the components that make up a band. Even when a band changes their lineup, like we did. After almost 34 years people still want to come and see us. That very gratifying.”
Level 42 started as a jazz-funk band in the early ’80s and turned into a pop-funk millionseller. This development didn’t came without consequences. Is has been said that former members Phil Gould (drums) and Rowland ‘Boon’ Gould (guitar) left for that reason.
“I have to correct that. There’s obviously a lot of information out there, and some of it is accurate and some is certainly not. The reason why Boon Gould left the band first in 1987 was because of the touring was taking it’s toll. After our big tours throughout Europe we were going to America to start some things there. We went back for another European tour followed again by a an American tour. We were continiously on the road. Boon didn’t enjoyed that. It was too much for him.
Phil left because of musical differences. He wasn’t happy with the musical direction the band was heading towards. But we knew that before Boon left. Boon’s leaving was a kind of surprise for us. He never complained about anything.”
What are your thoughts now about that so called ‘commercial deviation’?
“When you write music it can happen that you’re going to stick with a formula. There are a lot of musicians who do the same thing for almost thirty years. We wanted to avoid this. On every album we tried to do something different.
The foundation for the succes was layed by Mark. He felt that the band had the possibility to reach much more people if we took more time in the writing and preparing of the songs. This coincided with the period when our songwriting became most popular. Of course there were fans who rejected the poppy stuff. They simply couldn’t appreciate our changing direction.
I never considered our music as popmusic. It was more a kind of adaption. Our songwriting just developed that way. I don’t have any regrets about that period, either. Without songs like ‘Lessons In Love’ or ‘Running In The Family’ we wouldn’t be here today. Sure, you can argue that if we had done things a bit different, things might have been different. But everthing can be regarded as ‘what if…’
I mean look where we are now. We’ve got fifteen albums to choose from. That’s an incredible variety. During concerts we play the old stuff, the popular stuff, and some new material. People are really enjoying it.”
As a devoted jazzfan you surely prefer the jazz-funk period from the early 80’s, don’t you?
“The fun is in everything we play. It doesn’t matter if it’s an instrumental or a song. I enjoy playing ‘Lessons In Love’ much more than when it was a chart topper. Becaus nowadays it’s not about album sales, hitsingles, or the demanding record companies. The live playing is a more important ingrediënt.”
After the ‘Forever Now’ album in 1994 Level 42 disbanded for quite a long time. Becaus of what reason?
“That’s quite a history. In the 90s things had changed a lot. There was a recession going on, dance music was trending, other bands were taking the limelight. Our good relationship with Polydor became less good. They started questioning or complaining about the forthcoming new album, and it all ended up in a big fight with lawyers. So we moved to RCA and released ‘Guarenteed’.
RCA claimed to be more involved when we started on the follow up. It took a lot of time to make the new album. We even finished it twice because we wrote some extra songs. Also Phil Gould came back. It was a great time working with him, again! Finally, everyone was happy. We called the album ‘Forever Now’ and the title track came out as a single.
After that everthing seemed to die. There was no promotion done for the album. We became invited by a German radio station to promote, but RCA rejected that. They said we didn’t need to promote. Can you believe this? It was utterly crazy! We discovered that they were more interested in bands that brought them a lot of money instead of us. Things worked out extremely difficult and Ii wasn’t enjoyable anymore.
Mark and myself decided to have a break untill the dust settles. He went on and recorded his soloalbum, and I tried to discover what was Mike Lindup without Level 42. I did some different things, worked with different musicians like the Brazilian group Da Lata. All these different things were very valuable for me.
“Since I went the music college I hadn’t done anything else than Level 42. It was my life for more than fifteen years. I needed to get out of the album-tour-album structure, and find out what else life is about. I did some self development courses to find out what makes up a human being and what makes up a personality. I also did some travelling during that time.”
It took a long time before you finally joined the band again. What took you so long?
“Mark wanted to start Level 42 again in 1999. At that time I wasn’t really interested in joining, because I was doing my solo things. We made an agreement of using the bandname so Mark went on.
In 2005 Mark invented me to perform during the 25th anniversay show at The Forum in London. I came on as a sort of treat for the fans. It was really thrilling to be on stage with Mark, again.
He asked me for some performance on the ‘Retroglide’-album, and if I would join the band on tour. That was a fantastic experience. The fact the we actually had something new to play, and not just playing the back catalogue, brought me back to the band”.
Some of the famous groups from the 80’s are labeled as retro nowadays. This doesn’t apply to U2 or even the Rolling Stones who are retro in any kind of way. There seems to be a contradiction between what’s retro and what’s not. What’s your point of view?
“You shouldn’t be asking me, you should be asking the people that put their labels on. But your point of view is quite clear. Especially in the Rolling Stones case.
Development is a very important thing to become not be labeled as retro. U2 and Madonna have done that from time to time in a very creative way. I’m not so familiar with the Rolling Stones so I can’t be saying anything about them. At the moment there’s a very big thing about the ‘80s going on. So it’s understandably that people who grow up then love that period and want to enjoy that experience. It makes them feel young or it brings back some memories. But good music remains good music. Even when it went out of fashion.”
The great mr. Wally Badarou was an important off stage factor in Level 42. In what sort of way?
“Wally came in because of Phil Boon. He had done an album with Robin Scott who created the group M. They’re most famous for their hitsingle ‘Popmusic’. After this succes Phil was invited by him to play drums on his soloalbum. Wally and Gary Barnacle were also there.
When we were making our very first single ‘Love Meeting Love’ in March 1980, Phil suggested Wally’s contributions because of his fascinating synthesizer sounds. That wasn’t my kind of expertise, because I was more a piano player that a synth programmer. Wally came in and did his thing on ‘Love Meeting Love’. He was involved on the all tracks from the album ‘The Early Tapes’ that was recorded before but released after our debut album.
Beside his capability as a synth programmer he also brought some music with him. ‘Starchild’, from our debut album, is a demo that Wally played to us. Before we decided to work it out as a song, it was a pure instrumental piece. By the way: the reason we got a record deal was because we had a bunch of instrumental tracks. Andy Sojka liked some of that instrumentals. If we turned them into songs, he would sign us to his label.
So Wally became in all our albums involved as a studio musician. He had an objective ear because he wasn’t involved in what we were preparing. He suggested some ideas and so. Compositionally he sometimes came up with some toplines. Later on when we were doing albums like ‘War Machine’ or ‘Running In The Family’ he almost became a sort of co-producer and in certain way a spiritual member of Level 42. Unfortunatally we never got him on stage, you know.”
You never got intimitaded by his brilliant capabilities?
“Right at first, when the idea came of getting another keyboard player, I suggested that maybe we also could get another bass player or vocalist! But I realised very quickly what Wally did. He was an orchestrater. He was adding colours and enhanced our sound. His French-African background was very important. Related to French impressionism
Wally didn’t came in and said that he could play a bigger solo than me. That’s not his thing. Wally and I naturally complemented and respected each other as keyboard players. Wally is truly a great guy in any kind of way.”
What are your primary, musical influences?
“Steve Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, John McLaughlin, Ayrton Moreira, Astrud Gilberto, Juao Gilberto just to name a few. A lot of Brazilian music has been very inspirational for me. It started with the single ‘Desafinado’ from Astrud Gilberto that my parents played the whole time. My dad had a record player for 45-inch ep’s in his car. A very unusual thing in the early 60’s! He had ep’s of Astrud Gilberto singing Gill Evans arrangements, Nat ‘King’ Cole singing ‘My Fair Lady’, and the Gerry Mulligan Concert Jazzband. Those were the soundtracks to the trips from our home to Worthing were my grandparents lived. Going down that road…the A24…listening to that music, had a significant impact on me.
My mother got involved as a singer in the folk scene. She also listened to Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger. There was a lot of music going around when I was a young lad.
All the guys in Level 42 grew up with the jazzrock from Weather Report, Return To Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Miles Davis of course. ‘Biches Brew’ was such powerful stuff. My mother was a bit shocked when she bought that record. She probably thought that it was similar to ‘A Kind Of Blue’. Ha!Ha!Ha!”
Because of today’s modern technology it’s easier to produce an album than it ever was before.
Musicians can do their own thing without any interference from a producer or a record label. Is that freedom improving the quality of good music?
“It’s a big statement. Technology makes it’s much more accessible today. We needed to go into a studio to make a record. You needed the equipment, the recording engineer, and it was a good idea to have somebody producing it. Sometimes the artist itself is not the best person to produce. Obviously there are a few people who are capable in producing theirself. They have a lot of experience. We tried it on our second album, and it was a disaster.
Today it’s possible do it all by yourself. You buy a MAC, a USB keyboard, a USB microphone, an A to D converter, get your mix around, and make an album. The trouble with technology is what Brian Eno said about it. He said that it’s possible to make something mediocre sound very polished because of all these plug-ins, but that doesn’t necessarily make better music. Apart from the thing of writing music you need apprenticeship and practice. By practice I mean in public, performing it.
Just because it’s easier it also doesn’t make it a better situation. I think it’s a lot harder for new groups, nowdays. There isn’t the amount of records companies looking to sign and develop new talent. When we were signed to Polydor, we were signed for three years plus two one year options. That’s effectivily a five year contract. And we hadn’t released any album, yet. That situation doesn’t exist anymore. Unless you’re already famous because you’ve been on the X-Factor or something like that. Probably it’s a one year contract with a lot of clauses.
A lot of young acts have to become very savvy. They have to sell themselves by social media and blog about their gigs.”
So there seems to be more bad than good music today?
“Most of the stuff I hear on commercial radio doesn’t seem to be very inventive. It’s hard to distinguish. I know I sound like someone’s dad now, and in fact I am because I’ve got a ten year old son. Ha!Ha! This always happens, you know, complaining that todays music is all rubbish. Of course it’s not! There’s a lot of great music made by young and fantastic musicians today. But you won’t find them in the obvious places that you used to. You don’t need commercial radio to hear different things. It’s all of the same there.
I like it when somebody has a very distinguished style like Bruno Mars or Adele. They are amazing vocalist, amazing live performers. Especially Adele. She really admitted something. We need artist like that, we need artist that develop. “
What is your top five of favorite albums where you would to stuck with on a desert island after armgeddon happened?
1. ‘A Kind Of Blue’ - Miles Davis
“I can listen to it over and over again. Even if it’s familiar there’s still a certain kind of fascination in it. That’s a very rare thing to find in a record.”
2. ‘Innervisions’ - Stevie Wonder
“Truly a bunch of great songs.”
3. ‘Romeo & Juliette’ [the ballet] - Sergei Prokofiev
“Definitely some of my favorite music of all time, and so romantic. I read somewhere that Prokofiev apparantly wasn’t a nice person. I didn’t want to know that. How can a person that’s so horrible compose such amazing music? But it just happens. “
4. ‘First Touch’ - Dominic Miller
“A very special album. Dominic and I met at college. He was our first guitarist before we had a name or contract. I played a lot with him. He writes really great music.”
5. ‘Off The Wall’ - Michael Jackson
“Because of the time it came out. It’s me in the sitting room and turning it up load. I love that Quincy Jones production”.
Top five favorite Level 42-albums:
1. ‘Level 42’ [debut album]
3. ‘Running In The Family’
4.’Standing In The Light’
5. ‘Forever Now’
Thanks for your time and answers, Mike.
Michel Scheijen for LazyRocker.com