Intervju med Mike Levine i Triumph!
För någon vecka sedan hade jag nöjet att åter få en pratstund med den mycket trevlige Mike Levine. Sist vi pratades vid nådde jag honom på mobiltelefonen på Jamaica och fruktade då en gigantisk telefonräkning, men det visade sig inte alls bli speciellt dyrt.
Nu, två år senare, når jag honom åter på mobilen, men denna gång sittandes vid sidan av vägen någonstans utanför Toronto.
Vi pratade bl a om kommande livedvd, remasterskivorna och första giget med Triumph.
Hi, this is Niclas from Sweden!
Mike Levine: Hi Niclas, how are you?
I´m good! How are you?
ML: I´m excellent, thank you!
Are you in Canada?
ML: I am. I´m in Toronto sitting on the side of the road on my cell phone.
I actually talked to you two years ago and then I caught you on your cell phone in Jamaica.
ML: I remember, yeah. Everything good with you?
Yeah, I´m all god but it´s getting hysterically cold over here. It´s been snowing all day and it´s freezing, but that´s just the way it is this time of year.
ML: Yeah, we have no snow but it´s cold.
I´m kind of wondering about these re-releases? How much work was done remastering and stuff like that?
ML: Frontiers did all the work. This was basically their idea, to put these out and get them back on the street. We contributed whatever they asked us to contribute, which was some art they didn´t have and we reworked a lot of the interiors and they´re obviously remastered to reflect what´s going on in today´s world. I haven´t even seen them! (laughs) Other than the art, right. Everything was done there and we´ve been going back and forth. They really wanted to make sure the band was happy with the artwork and stuff. The music files are fine as far as I´m concerned.
How long have you been involved with Frontiers Records?
ML: It´s been about… let´s see, when did we get in bed together? Back in January I guess. Yeah, the deal was done and then the put out the “Greatest hits” remix package and also at the same time they took rights for the catalog and also for another dvd that we´re working on.
Ok. Did they approach you or you them?
ML: No, the president of the company, Serafino, got in touch directly with me. Actually I think he called Rik first or sent Rik an e-mail and then Rik sent it over to me and then he and I spent a few months chatting and trying to arrive at some kind of agreement that we were both happy with, which we finally did in January.
What´s this dvd that you´re working on then?
ML: That´s gonna be a combo of, at least I think, the Sweden Rock show and the Roklahoma show with a lot of backstage documentarish type stuff on it. Yeah, it should be really neat! We really didn´t get enough of each show that´s really high quality. We didn´t really have a separate film crew, we just used the cameras for the big screens, so the cameras are pointed at the ground sometimes. (laughs) But we did the entire audio of the Sweden Rock show, that´s all finished, but Roklahoma we haven´t really touched yet. It´s a work in progress. Actually this week we´re gonna hire an editor that is just gonna go through all the… because just from Sweden we have like probably 10 or 15 tapes, digi beta tapes from the camera guys that were just following us around and the same kind of thing for Roklahoma. All that stuff has to be gone through and figured out what we can put in and what we can´t and hopefully there´s a lot of swearwords and stuff. (laughs)
How involved are you as a band in that process? I mean, do you watch everything and say “I want that or cut that!” or do you leave that to the editor?
ML: We leave it to the editor and then we´ll go in and say “I hate that!”, “Fix that”, Do that!”. (laughs) It would just be to tedious to sit there and look at film from five cameras. I mean, a good shot is a good shot and he´s gonna know what that is. It´s just a question of how they´re cut together or whether… I mean, editors have a way of taking stuff and moving it around. There was one shot he used of Gil doing a drum roll and it was in the middle of a guitar solo and I´m going “He´s not playing a drum roll, what are you focusing on?” (laughs) He said “I thought it´ll look cool there!” and I say “it looks very bad there!”. (laughs)
Any thoughts of writing a new album?
ML: You know, we´ve danced around that a little bit, but we´re all of the inclination that if we were to go into the studio we´re like “Let´s get three incredible songs!”. Like incredible songs, not just songs. Stuff that we think is exceptional and do three songs and sit back, look at it and see and then move on from there, kind of thing. But we don´t really have a serious plan of recording an entire album, at this stage anyway.
Are You writing music constantly or…?
ML: On and off. I´ll sit at the piano or pick up the guitar and work on some stuff and I´ll phone Gil and play it for him. We go back and forth every now and then, but everybody´s busy with their own stuff unfortunately.
When you started out writing songs and then compare it to today when you´ve been through things and you´re older, do you still have that same fire so to speak, as you had when you were young or ist it more difficult writing songs now?
ML: It was always difficult! (laughs) Let me tell you, to answer your question honestly, it´s a lot easier to write a song, period, than it is to write a song for Triumph. You can go “I really like where I´m going with this, but it´s so good for the band, I wanna record it!”. It might be good for Mariah Carey or who ever, you know. The only way to really write for Triumph is for the three of us to sit down. You have an idea but you don´t finish it and then you take it to the other guys like we used to do it. Sometimes it was a whole song and the we´d just rip it apart and rewrite it because it had some good thing in it but not enough good things. If you know you have some good things that are gonna happen or if you were to know that you were gonna put something out and if we for sure were gonna go on the road or something like that, I think you get more fire out of the band than if just “Let´s just do it for the heck of it!”.
Makes sense. There´s been some talk and talk earlier this year of a possible Van Halen/Triumph tour? How much truth in it was there and was it even an idea from the beginning?
ML: You´d have to speak to Live Nation about that. I think it came out of their camp. (laughs) That was a concert promoter’s wet dream that would´ve done huge business. I think Van Halen is still planning to go out, I think. We have had really no communication with them or with Live Nation. As far as I know right now, it´s still a rumor.
You´ve never toured with them, have you?
ML: We played with Van Halen at the US Festival.
ML: That´s the only time, but that´s not a tour. That was Dave with a bunch of headliners. (laughs)
Alright! I found some stuff from the past. I read that you´re first paid concert as Triumph, was at some place called Simcoe High School in 1975. Do you have any memories of that?
ML: Sure. (laughs)
How old were you back then?
ML: A lot younger than I am now. (laughs) I had probably turned into my 20´s at that point. It was fun. Back then the stage was like a 6 inch riser kind of thing and we had totally unsophisticated gear to be able to pull it off. We had pyro that didn´t work properly, light would fall over. (laughs). But I do remember that the audience went absolutely nuts. It was kind of satisfying to do that gig and have people that paid to see you and really love it.
Did you go to school there?
ML: No, that school is about 75 miles outside of Toronto, so it´s in a whole different area.
Was that a common thing back then, playing gigs at high schools?
ML: Yeah, there was a really big business actually. That´s how bands survived here, high schools and colleges. Every high school would have a dance on a Friday or Saturday night at least once a month. And they had good budgets to buy talent with, so I think they paid us 750 bucks and that was our first gig, which was a lot of money in those days. A lot of money! But we just said “The name of the band is Triumph and we´re great!”, we made a poster and said “Our price is a 1000 bucks!”. They offered 750 and the agent took it.
Nice! It wasn´t recorded, like on a tape recorder or something?
ML: No. We didn´t think about that. We were much to worried just playing and having enough gear to play the gig. We had roadies even. I think we had two roadies. As I remember it, it was at that gig… it might be that gig where a strobe light fell on Rik´s head or my head. (laughs)
What is the earliest live recording you guys have got of Triumph?
ML: I guess we probably… that was decently done, I guess in 1979. We did a couple of… I think there was a couple of King Biscuit Flower Hour for radio and then another company called Westwood One. There were three or four and they used to compete with each other, so one would offer you more money than the other and get more stations to play it. I think we ended up making our bed with nobody and just said “No, it´s not your turn this time!”.
I read that you were approached by Ted Nugent for the band that would become Damn Yankees. What made you turn it down?
ML: Actually it wasn´t Ted, it was John Kalodner who was the A&R guy at Geffen Records. He and I were friends and he called me and said “We´re gonna put this band together with Nugent and Tommy Shaw and would you be interested?”. I said “No, I don´t like those guys!”. (laughs) Nah, I´m just kidding! I love Ted and I love Tommy and jack Blades who ended up in the band, is a very good buddy of mine. I love him dearly too! So all that being said, it was really too soon for me to think about going into another band, especially one that wasn´t located… it was on the west coast or the east coast or whatever and it just didn´t feel right for me. I thanked John very much for the offer, but that was kind of a no go.
Finally! If you would record some new stuff, do you think you would end up producing it yourselves or use a hot shot producer?
ML: I don´t know! The experience we´ve had with hot shot producers were just that. They were hot shots, you know, and it was more about them than about the band. I don´t know how exactly we would do it. If there was a really good guy that we really thought was the right guy, I don´t think anybody would object to it. Finding that guy would probably take longer that write the songs. (laughs)
Wouldn´t Nick Raskulinecz, who did Rush´s latest, be good?
ML: Yeah, probably would, you know. When it came time we would certainly at least take a meeting with him.
Cool! The Sweden Rock show, any plans of releasing it as a live album as well?
ML: I haven´t thought about it. Maybe that´s a good idea? I haven´t thought about it.
Well, you should!
ML: Yeah, I´m writing it down now. (laughs) We´ve got the audio for it just sitting there.
Yeah, a lot of people would probably buy it.
ML: Yeah, Sweden Rock audio… right. Yes indeed. Thank you! You see, in every conversation you always learn something good. Oh, we didn´t talk about the box set!
ML: That´s very cool! That package looks fantastic! It´s gonna be a very limited edition. I don´t have the final numbers yet, but it´s looking like 500 for Europe only and 300 for North America, that we´re gonna sell off our website. It won´t be a general release over here.
Wow! Is that Frontiers as well?
ML: Yeah, it´s Frontiers as well. I thought it was very smart of them to help promote the catalog. It´s a really good idea and they´ve done a beautiful job on all the original artwork and stuff. We´ve never done a box set so I think it´s a really nice piece for a fan and it will be a collector´s item too. It ain´t gonna be many of them around!
Really cool! Well, thank you so much Mike!
ML: Thank you Niclas! I really appreciate it and I hope we talk again soon!