Don't quaestion everything…


Alternative Press - June 1992


Former House of Love guitarist Terry Bickers, now one of the brainchildren behind London’s Levitation, is building a reputation for being, well, let’s just say, a few seeds short of a full melon.

“The other day he tried to break a guitar with his head,” laughs drummer Dave Francollini, co-founder of the band. “He tried really hard, and wound up sort of hurting himself. Then he sat with his head in the bath for like an hour. Yeah, Terry does have some strange ideas sometimes.”

He sure does. Perhaps we all do. But while the rest of us direct our energies into the tangible and acceptable, Bickers (vocals/guitar) shapes his creativity into a uniquely spiritual but absurd quest for enlightenment – giving birth to vibrant, eccentric patterns of sound that swell, burst, and regenerate like colourful kaleidoscope crystals.

That’s one of the reasons thirty-something House of Love dictator Guy Chadwick gave the then 20-year-old Bickers the boot in late 1989, just as the band were beginning to make waves with their eponymous debut. Apparently, Bickers’ far-out invention was too much for the conservative, sober-minded Chadwick. House of Love haven’t been the same since. Neither has Terry Bickers.

By early 1990, Bickers was lost and alone. He slumped into a severe depression, completely shutting himself off from the outside world, and even tried to commit suicide by slashing his wrists. It was, indeed, a desperate cry for help. But more than that, it was Bickers’ way of severing ties with his past as Chadwick’s intern.

For a while after the suicide attempt, no one heard from Bickers. There were occasional sightings, like the one at Reading Festival, where he was supposedly seen stealing fruit from backstage so he could go off and live in the woods. But for the most part, it looked as if the enigmatic guitarist was doomed to experience life inside his own head, behind locked doors – the type of fate suffered by other rock visionaries/lunatics such as Syd Barrett and Brian Wilson.

But you can’t keep a good Bedlamite down unless you confine him in chains, and today, Bickers is anything but restricted. He’s on the loose, running wild, and saying some mighty strange things. Together with Levitation bandmates Francollini, Bic Hayes (guitar), Laurence O’Keefe (bass), and Bob White (keyboards), Bickers is creating some of the most powerfully magical, yet unclassifiable music around.

One thing’s certain, whether through drugs, meditation, or whatever, Levitation are about transcending musically, mentally, and politically. Their song are as multi-rhythmic as Hawkwind, their melodies as lofty and mysterious as vintage Pink Floyd, and their message as humanitarian as U2. Yet Levitation resemble none of these bands. To categorise them is unfair. Beyond that, it’s just plain wrong. Sometimes their sound is truly brutal – incised with rippling distortion and pummelling drums; at others, it’s quite beautiful – imbued with delicate, shimmering arpeggios and floaty, giddy keyboards.

“We don’t deny that we’re rock music. But we don’t adhere to our influences like a blueprint. There is a lot of different input and a lot of different styles. The more influences you have, the better disguise there is on what influenced you in the first place. That makes you seem more original,” says Bickers amiably and quite coherently.

For a moment I dismiss all rumours of his mental inadequacy as mere journalistic hyperbole. He seems as sane and settled as a county librarian. But after just a few minutes, his thoughts carry him beyond the land of the tangible and into the esoteric terrain of his own cryptic mind. What a strange and wonderful thing it must be to be a microscopic cell swimming through the inner-recesses of Terry Bickers’ brain.

Many of his comments seem at first like awkward attempts at humour. But he never laughs, and he elaborates on his politically correct but logically skewed ideas until he’s lost most everyone but himself. “We’re trying to share as many far-reaching emotions in our music as we possibly can. You know, certainly human emotions, but definitely other ones too – animal, mineral. We share those same feelings that, I imagine, a fox feels when he’s being chased by a pack of hounds. We bay at the moon and hide to keep from being captured,” he says.

Continuing his discourse on animals, Bonkers, uh, I mean, Bickers becomes progressively more and more passionate, until he’s practically shouting. Just wait until he starts talking about minerals. “I don’t know if you’ve heard, but at the moment, a lot of the hunted animals across the world are starting to walk into main town centres. They’re basically freaking a bit. They know that man is destroying the habitat. It’s a bit of a protest march, you might say. All the animals on the planet are getting fucking angry. They know that there are holes in the ozone and the rain forest is getting cut down, and all that shit because their instincts tell them. They follow their instincts, whereas mankind doesn’t.”

All the members of Levitation feel quite strongly about our four-legged friends, even if they don’t vocalise their empathy as vehemently as Bickers. They’re all vegetarians, and insist everyone in their road crew be vegetarian as well. And when they’re not making music, they’re often protesting for animal rights. “We’d like to get a lot more active with it, but at the moment we’re all too busy twiddling knobs and making sounds,” says Francollini.

“But we definitely align ourselves with people who are actively protesting,” says Bickers. “So even if we can’t be there alongside them, our thoughts and emotions are with them, and they can feel that. And all that energy harnesses itself within them.”

Uh, sure Terry. Now, tells us about those emotional minerals. “No, really. Have you ever sort of held a crystal for several hours. If you do that you’ll know what I mean. Crystals were the original, sort of, like, emergence of life. Multiplication of cells, yeah? That’s what crystals do. They have a really good feeling to them, like our songs. Onyx and quartz and moonstones, things that shamans are interested in. We’re into sort of a cross collaterizing of shamanism and Buddhism and certain elements of Christianity.

“God, I believe, is not found in church. God is found inside the sea and rocks and trees. Whenever you go into a great forest or a national park, you find God. It’s the presence you find in those perfect moments – on the beach, or with your close friends. Around the dinner table, that’s where God is.”

In a way, Levitation are like the foolish animals that wander into town central to be shot. While so many of their contemporaries play it safe by gazing at their shoes and milking a sort of fuzzy drone from their Marshall stacks, Levitation leap out of the bush, naked and vulnerable, guitars blaring in unheard of configurations of sound, protesting for an end to stagnancy and complacency.

Their American debut Coterie, a combination of British EPs along with a few live tracks, was delightfully fleshy, progressively surreal – suspended by shimmering guitars and hallucinatory melodies. But Levitation itch for change, long for evolution; and in the case of their second record, revolution. Need For Not often doesn’t even sound like the same band that did Coterie. While the former strived for a certain serenity, the latter cries out for action. Much of Need For Not is restless and chaotic, percolating in a pungent brew of mystical hyperactivity. It’s not that Levitation have lost the gift for swirly, swimmy bliss, they’ve just chosen to pursue a more immediate, emotive direction. As Francollini says, Levitation are the “sum of their collective bio-rhythms.” They’re the kind of band driven by the instinct of the moment. And they consider their abrupt tempo and rhythm shifts to be as wonderfully unpredictable as life itself.

“When you stand outside a department store and watch the people walk by, their footsteps fall in all kinds of different rhythms. Nothing in life acts at a regular tempo, and we want to echo that. I mean, you can wake up in the morning after making love to your wife in a totally tender moment. Then you can drive to work in your car, crash it, and suddenly you’re in this massive emotional maelstrom,” says Francollini.

Need For Not is a refreshing celebration of both healthy and dangerous emotion. It could be just the album to separate Levitation from the whole Euro-psychedelic drug-rock pack. “God, I hope so,” says Francollini. “I fucking hate pigeonholes. Most pigeons in this country have, like, one leg. So if you pigeonhole yourself you only give yourself one leg to stand on. We have more to do with Henry Rollins and the Butthole Surfers than we do with a lot of bands in England today.”

Levitation don’t believe in the philosophy live and let live. They exhibit a deep disdain for most of today’s British music, and they want the world to know it. “Any band that are copying copyists of My Bloody Valentine really should be put in a low ditch and shot through the neck,” says Francollini. “Slowdive. I mean Slowdive! I mean slow death. My God! Those tempos!! My grandmother thinks it’s too slow. Chapterhouse too. Hang them all. Really, I mean it. They’re all rubbish. They can’t write songs. But for some reason people love them. It doesn’t make sense. It’s like, you’ve got enough missiles to spare. Can I have one please?”

“We are the rag-and-bone men of rock,” interjects Bickers, interrupting his own reverential daze. “We’re like the people that drive around and collect spare scrap metal – the ones that give you a dollar for your old washing machine or your broken television.

“Have you heard of the Mutoid Waste Company? They’re a group that adopt technology and use it in different ways to express how everything’s gotten so out of hand,” he says, flying off on yet another tangent. “Technology is almost in the wrong hands, really.  Why should all the boundary-breaking technology be in the hands of the military? I mean, it belongs to the common people. What I find amazing, is how people think technology is neutral. It’s not. Like guns. From the moment a gun is made, its only purpose is to kill. That’s bad technology, yeah?”

“Yeah,” answers Francollini, recalling an especially harrowing recent incident in a Mexican bar in downtown Los Angeles, where the band got caught in the crossfire of a drive-by shooting. “All these machine guns suddenly exploded around us. We dove under the table, and there was all this glass flying. It was fucking terrifying. That’s one of the reasons I don’t like to talk about drugs anymore. Because drugs in America are a really big problem, and people get killed every day because of them.”

Genius and madness may seem diametrically opposite, but in art and music, the two are not so far removed. Just look at Vincent Van Gogh, Edward Munch, Roky Erickson, Jim Morrison…The list goes on and on. As poet John Dryden wrote nearly 300 years ago, “Great wits are sure to madness near allied and thin partitions do their bounds divide.” Today, Terry Bickers and Levitation are rising to meet the challenge.

Jon Wiederhorn

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