Don't quaestion everything…


Earzone - 1994

Levitation are back and sounding as wonderful as ever, if their three recent storming gigs at the Water Rats were anything to go by. So we met up with Bic Hayes (guitar) and Bob White (keyboards/guitar) to find out what they had to say about Levitation's return...

Earzone: How did you feel those gigs at the Water Rats went?

Bic: Mixed reviews really... I thought the middle one was the best one but then what the fuck would I know?! We're not really the people to ask... like any band we've all got our own opinions about our gigs and I personally felt they went badly but I was told by people who were there that they went really well!

Earzone: We certainly enjoyed them.

Bob: I suppose it's a personal thing the way everyone in the band enjoys a gig. Bic is probably looking a lot more around the stage and at the audience and seeing what's happening, whilst most of the time I've got my head down, so involved in what I'm doing I miss a lot of what's actually going on... if it feels good then I enjoy it. I actually thought the gigs were really good.

Earzone: They seemed to go down really well...

Bic: Yeah, it was really nice to see some friendly faces again... getting back into the swing of things!

Earzone: So you're pleased to be back playing again? It's been over a year....

Bic: Yeah I really like playing live...

Bob: It's been a year since we played here... we went and did some gigs in Germany just before we did the London ones.

Bic: Basically just to bash the band into shape. Because we hadn't played live for so long, and not at all since Steve had joined, so it all made sense to go away somewhere where we could all basically rehearse in a live setting.

Bob: But then after the first couple of gigs we were starting to get bored, wanting to play to some more people and get a bit of feedback...

Bic: So yeah, it's good to be back!

Earzone: Why the Water Rats?

Bob: It's a nice small intimate venue.

Bic: And we like the stage there... there's all those little velvet curtains and the little pillars - they're really nice! Those curtains are a lovely maroon colour!

Bob: There was no point trying to come back in some sort of blaze of glory... as we've said, we wanted some shows to ease us back into things; to let people know we were playing again. We'd been away for a year and the music business is a very fickle thing!

Earzone : So who's the new singer?

Bob: Steve Ludwin is his name...

Bic: The funny thing was I've known Steve for years, cos when I was in Cardiacs, the band that Steve used to be in , Some Have Fins, used to play with Cardiacs quite a lot. Some Have Fins were in the process of splitting up and our paths crossed again....

Bob: The singing he's doing for us is quite different to how he used to sing before though...

Bic: Well, we let him take the bucket off his head to sing with us!

Bob: Yeah, they did have this bucket thing didn't they?! But we don't make him do that so he's a lot happier with us!

Earzone: And he's American...

Bic: Yeah he is. He's from the Bronx, he had it really rough ya know! He fled here because he used to be a crack dealer! Having said that he's really making some lucrative money over here now cos he's the person who actually brought crack to this country!!! I should't be saying all this really should I?! (laughs) No, really he's a very nice boy who was brought up in a nice suburb somewhere I'm sure!

Earzone: Did you have any reservations about taking on an American vocalist? A lot of people see you as a quintessentially English band...

Bic: Yeah we did, but then we realised that it was just a form of racism and that's not PC, we didn't want to be not PC! (laughs) I did personally have some reservations about us using an American vocal though, purely for sound reasons, and I do think that it does change the sound from how it was. Steve certainly gives it a different edge which at first I thought didn't really fit the music but then I realised that was only because I had the old Levitation in my head. I think it was the same for all of us, it was a slow process... Bob was probably the first to really see the potential of it... it took a while for it to click with all of us. But we did want to get a really good singer, and Steve's a brilliant singer, the fact that he's American is incidental.

Earzone: To an extent yes, but as you said earlier, it has changed the sound to a degree...

Bic: But hopefully that's a good thing, we're certainly very happy with our sound now. I mean really we're an international band anyway - we've got an Italian drummer, and American singer, an Irish bass player... and I'm foreign, but we haven't really worked out where I'm from yet!

Bob: A totally different universe I reckon! (laughs)

Earzone: Were you consciously looking for someone solely to sing?

Bic: No, everyone we auditioned at first played guitar as well, but that just didn't work out so we started looking for just singers.

Bob: It was the singing that we really wanted obviously. Originally we wanted a vocalist/guitarist because of the shape the band had been in before... we were in a impossibly difficult situation at the time in that we had completely finished a record when Terry left. So we were left with a choice, either to make that record work with a different vocalist, or to start again completely from scratch. And we really liked the material, we'd spent a year and a half to two years writing it all, and it seemed such a waste to just dump it. So that made getting someone in even harder in that we were asking them to sing in quite a specific way on some of the songs. I think Steve found it quite hard at times...

Bic: But then that helped to broaden his capabilities, it made him sing in a different way that he never had before, and he's really pleased with the results.

Bob: And of course he's been really healthy for us since then, helping to push us in new, different directions.

Earzone: So the change in personnel has led to a change in direction?

Bic: Inevitably yeah... when you get someone new in it changes the balance, the chemistry... it's added a different personality to the band and it'll be interesting to see where that develops. Some of the newer material we're writing has a really different feel, much more structured, hard hitting, immediate...

Bob: There's a change in attitude, I think. Someone who went to our Water Rats shows said that it was like a cloud had been lifted from the band, that there had always been this slightly oppressive atmosphere hanging over our gigs before which has now been cleared away. Steve's approach is so different to Terry's, he's almost the total antithesis of Terry and obviously that makes everything feel different. I don't think we're any less intense musically than we ever were, but with what Steve has brought to it, it just takes us on somewhere else again, adds an extra dimension. And I really like where we're going now.

Earzone: As we've already said, it's been over a year now since that last infamous gig at The Dome when Terry left the band. What happened there?

Bic: Have you got about a week? It's very difficult to explain...

Bob: The gist of it is that Terry just didn't really want to make music with us anymore..

Bic: We were going off in different directions... an integral part of what Levitation was about was always that we were all really different, that's what makes the band really interesting, that someone would push the band one way whilst someone else would pull it another. For me, the stuff that we all write together is the most interesting, but Terry started to feel that wasn't what he wanted. He wanted to head in one direction and wasn't really prepared to budge on it or contribute to a collaboration anymore. There were also a lot of circumstantial reasons, we'd been touring a lot, really on top of each other all the time... that's actually why it happened on that particular night, but it could have happened before that and it was certainly going to happen sooner or later anyway.

Earzone: It was a problem that had been brewing for some time then?

Bic: Yeah, a long time...

Bob: It probably seemed really sudden to a lot of people because they didn't know what was going on behind the scenes, but it had been going to happen for a while.

Bic: We'd had some other close run ins, weird gigs where we'd all sit down afterwards and say are we gonna keep doing this. But then we'd have a big conflab and all pull together again. But it was getting to the point where Terry would just freak out on stage, basically slagging the band off, which obviously upset the rest of us. It had happened a few times before that last gig but I think that we all knew very early on at the one that there was no going back again. It was awful, I just wanted to leave, but then you have this professional side that says no, finish the fucking gig, if you trounce off and make a scene it just makes things even worse. But no, it certainly wasn't sudden... we were like an elastic band that had been stretched so far that it just had to snap.

Earzone: Did it ever occur to you to call it a day with Levitation and reinvent yourselves, to scrap all the material and start again? There was always a media thing, especially in the inkies, that Levitation was Terry Bickers' band...

Bic: The media always likes to create celebrities and in a small way Terry was one of those. They love to jump on people and give them a label, and so we got 'Bonkers Bickers!'... Terry was never very happy with that, he found it was condescending and he was right! But they decided that he was 'bonkers' and thought it was a great laugh, it made good press. Terry is a very quotable, charismatic person who's got a lot to say and the press loved that. But the point is that Levitation was the FIVE of us... one of those people left, so Levitation was the four of us... now we've got another person in it's the five of us again. It was never a case of dump the name and start again, Levitation had always been more than one individual. We did have a bit of a crisis deciding whether or not we wanted to continue at all though... we found trying to find a new singer a very disheartening process and we were seriously thinking of jacking it all in. So we decided to go away together to a barn in Herefordshire and record an album on a 16-track without any pre-written material, basically just jamming together. And that was a really enlightening process, it made us realise that the four of us were still really strong, really liked working together and still had plenty of ideas.

Bob: We recorded about 16 backing tracks in a week. Once we got down there it all just came flooding out...

Bic: And that's when we realised that Levitation still had plenty to offer. So why give up the name? The only reason we would have done that was if we thought that Levitation had failed, and we didn't think we had failed...

Bob: Or if we thought that the name was no longer relevant, but the majority of Levitation was still there, only one part had gone. And why alienate the people who did like Levitation and put yourself right back down at the bottom of the hill again?

Bic: Plus we couldn't think of any decent names ! The Casual Slippers doesn't really feel right does it?! (laughs)

Earzone: What about records? You'd recorded two albums worth of material before Terry left...

Bic: Yeah, that was the 'Meanwhile Gardens' thing, which became a bit of a saga! When Terry left we were about to release 'Meanwhile Gardens 1', tour to promote that and then mix the second album for releases six months later... but obviously his leaving threw an enormous spanner in the works. We were left with two albums worth of material and featuring a singer who'd left the band, so it was back to the drawing board.

Earzone: So that material will never see the light of day now?

Bic: Some of it will, but in a different format. We actually do have an album completed ready for release right now - once Steve had joined the band we decided to go in and re-do some of the 'Meanwhile Gardens' tracks to use on a new album, along with one track from the Hereford session and a new track we'd written in the meantime. So no, you'll never see the 'Meanwhile Gardens' albums as they were intended, but some of those tracks will crop up in a re-recorded state on the new album...Bob: We're in the process of haggling with record companies over here at the moment. Now that we've started playing again, people are starting to take notice.

Bic: There'd better be something out before the end of the year... I'm sure there will be because it's all ready to go now. That's what's so frustrating, when you've completed an album that you want people to hearbut you don't have a release date. I think the album may be coming out in Australia though in the next few weeks, so if anyone's going to Australia they can buy up a few and bring them back! We're quite big in Australia... never been there... apparently it's very hot, very big, mostly desert...

Bob: Lots of covers bands!

Bic: Yeah, so why are they all here?! Send em back!! (laughs)

Bob: We're actually hoping for the Australian Levitation to appear!

Bic: (laughing) The Australian Levitation! Yeah, they'd be fucking coining it in, I can tell you!

Earzone: Now you are back, can we expect loads more gigs? When are people likely to see Levitation back on the road again?

Bic: When we can afford to go on tour again.

Bob: Which usually means when the record company get their shit together and release a record. We can't afford to go on tour right now. We have got three more gigs lined up at the Water Rats at the end of July and from then on it'll probably be odd gigs dotted around, probably still around London mostly.

Bic: But once the record comes out, we'll be off on tour again, hopefully before the end of the year.

Earzone: Finally is there anything else you'd like to add?

Bob: I'd like to mention the Milk And Honey Band album...

Bic: Oh my god, I don't believe it! He's going to plug that awful record!!

Bob: (laughing) It's my solo record probably coming out at the end of August. It's called 'Round the Sun'... and it'll probably sell about 18 copies!

Bic: But isn't your Mum going to buy one - that'll make 19!

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