"We didn't want to turn our material into lounge music or shit jazz" In conversation with The Levellers
Folk-punk anarchists The Levellers are celebrating their 30th anniversary in 2018 and are about to release their latest album We The Collective. With the release date just around the corner, The Music Fix had an audience with lead singer Mark Chadwick to discuss their anniversary celebrations, the new album and what it feels like to be angry in the modern political climate.
Hey Mark, how are you today?
The Levellers are celebrating 30 years together in 2018, how does it feel having been a band that long?
Well I'll be honest with you it's been brilliant. I didn't think I'd be breathing never mind be in the same band for 30 years.
You're doing a massive gig at Caerphilly Castle in mid-June as well. Being a proud Welshman myself its great to see a big gig happening outside of Cardiff for once. Is that gig going to be concentrating on a Greatest Hits set?
Well firstly 'yacky da' to you Craig (laughs). It'll be whatever the evening suits I guess. It'll be all the hits and more! We like to mix it up. We don't want to get bored. There's no point looking at a band that's bored because that energy will be transferred to the crowd and we wouldn't want that. The Levellers would never just go through the motions.
So let's get on to talking about the new album We The Collective. Although the Levellers sound is very acoustic-based, talk to me about how the project came to be.
Well, we were working on two different things at the same time. We were doing a new album, as in a traditional album with electric guitars and everything, and we got sidetracked by this project. We met producer John Leckie at a festival and he said that he'd really like to do an acoustic record with us, because he is always coming to our festival and he mentioned Studio 2 at Abbey Road. He wanted to a really paired down acoustic album so we can concentrate on the lyrics. He made us think outside the box and we went "ummmmm......why??" We were a bit sceptical but over the last 30 years we have always taken chances so we did it. We got some musician friends of ours in The Moulettes, Laura from She Makes War. The arrangements that Hannah from The Moulettes and John came up with, although not necessarily traditional, suited our music fantastically and brought out a new emotion to the music,
The track listing on the album is a surprise as well because it's not necessarily the hits. The only hits on there are probably 'One Way' or '15 Years'. We wanted our selection to be quite obtuse and a bit different. We didn't want to record songs that we had previously recorded acoustically.
Was it difficult to pick the set of songs you were going to record?
It became quite early on which songs would be dramatically worth it. We didn't want to turn our material into lounge music or shit jazz! We are going to be leaving that well alone. As a group we had to think outside the box and pick some unusual songs but ones we enjoyed playing as well. Hannah had to like them to get inspired as well.
Do you feel like the songs you picked are now given the time to breathe a little with the lyrics at the fore rather than swamped by the other instruments?
It was very much at the forefront of our mind as well. When we made this record, John would turn around to us and be like "F*ck me, I didn't know what that song was about!" We didn't have to explain it to him, he would just get it that little bit more. This is a guy who has been producing for years, who says I've heard this song for years but now I get it. That's what we are looking for, for people to listen to the album with fresh ears.
You mention the guest stars from The Moulettes and Laura of She Makes War, the album definitely has a feminine quality to it. Was that something you thought about going into the studio or was it a gradual process when you were working on the material?
It was very much a conscious choice, almost the yin and the yang together. We wanted to make these songs for the people and 50% of the population is feminine. It's really nice to have that reflection, the male and female voices together.
Were there any tracks you tried to record acoustically but felt they didn't work?
We are all astute musicians and we have good musical ears so we knew well in advance what would work. 'Subvert' for example, to do that one in seven time was absolutely mental on our part, but it worked. It's a punk rock classic from the 70's and one we covered years ago and is the best recording of that track, apart from the original, because the lyrics are there, right in your face.
What was it like working at the majestic Abbey Road studios?
Beautiful is pretty much the only way I can describe it.
There must quite a few musical ghosts hanging around that place...
I tell you what, you go in and all the equipment is relatively the same, in one studio they are recording a film score with a 40 piece orchestra and you are next door with the original piano as used by The Beatles and the mic they stuck in front of me was used by John Lennon. I was like "F*ck off...this is Ringo's isn't it!?" (laughs). At the end of one day we played the piano and the way the acoustics sounded in that room produced by that piano were note perfect from Sgt.Peppers, it was surreal!
Were the new tracks, 'Shame' and 'Drug Bust McGee' written specifically for this project?
They were actually part of the other project that we were sidetracked from and we found those two tracks would fit the acoustic album perfectly.
Excellent. Thanks Mark.
For all things Levellers including pre-orders for 'We The Collective' and tickets for the 30th-anniversary gig in Caerphilly in June go to their official website, follow them on Twitter and like them on Facebook.