The Levellers are back with their new album Static On The Airwaves, which is the first album from the band since Letter From The Underground back in 2008.
I caught up with Simon Fiend from the band to talk about the new album and what they have been up to since we heard from them last.
- The Levellers are back with a new album Static On The Airwaves so what can fans expect this time around?
We are really pleased with it and it’s current, we are talking a lot about what is going on; and so in that way we are still the same.
I think people are going like it and the feedback that we have got so far has been good. But I am quietly confident that we have got a good winner here really (laughs).
- Well you have slightly touched on my next question really how have people be responding to the new tracks?
Well so far very good. I have been fairly out of the loop recently as we haven’t played together for quite a long time, after the end of recording the album we didn’t have a lot on as it was the end of the year.
I am not a great one for technology so I don’t really follow things on Facebook or Twitter or anything like that mainly because if we did we wouldn’t have time to do anything else; I don’t know have people to put all this stuff up (laughs).
So it’s hard for me to tell but friends who have had it or people who I have talked to who have heard it I have had some really good feedback and that is quite pleasing really.
We have got album launch next Monday (25th June) and it will be interesting to see what people say there I think; obviously we won’t be playing the whole record.
It’s going to be hard to tell until we are out there again as well haven’t play together for some time so until we get out there amongst the fans again it’s going to be hard to tell - but fingers crossed (laughs).
- But for people who are coming to your music of the first time with your new record how would you describe the sound of the album?
It’s folk rock style but and while there are modern influences it is talking about age old stuff. There are a couple of tracks on there that may surprise people; Alone In The Darkness is a track Jeremy wrote and that is more of a love type thing and that is an unusual thing for us as we don’t usually talk about those things.
Then we have got Raft of the Medusa and that is more of a traditional folk theme. And then there is We Are All Gunmen and Out Forgotten Towns which are much more relevant to today’s world.
- This is the first album from the band since Letters from the Underground back in 2008 so what have you been up to since then?
Hard to tell (laughs). No we have been touring a lot and we have all had various family stuff and issues that we have had to deal with; my mum passed away last year after a few months in hospital and that was fairly traumatic and took me out for a while.
It has taken quite a while to write this one, mainly for reasons like that. But it was just about having time when you are touring a lot, and we do tour a lot as a band generally, but you just need time to relax and write and then sit down together and that whole process gets harder the more that you do really.
If you are a touring band it’s a good way of getting out and around to your fans and when you are prepared to do and do it well and thoughtfully you can do it really successfully but it take a lot of your time so it’s hard.
When we were younger it was easier as we had more energy and less commitments as most of us have got kids now and stuff like that so we have to fit all in together.
That was the reason that we went away to the Czech Republic to record this album because working and writing in our own studios is very difficult especially at school kicking out time (laughs). So it’s harder as you get older but we manage alright but it does take a bit longer between albums now. - You have teamed up with Sean Lakeman once again so what made you want to work with the producer again?
He is just really good for us because he brings out is quite well and he has got a lot of vision and he is great with chords and stuff; he is a great musician himself. But he works with us well and once we settle down we create well together in a live environment; we work very much live now.
You just get a good vibe and if you are strict with tempos and stuff the feel of certain songs can go because it is rigid and it is good to work around that and if you can do it live - Sean is good at bringing that out really.
Sean is good fun and he is a great character and we get on really well with him.
- You recorded the album in Prague at Sono Studios so how was that experience?
It was good actually. It was different because we were out in the woods, it was right in the middle of a national park, and even though it was close to Prague we didn’t go in there at all. It was good mainly because it meant that we worked hard and we did it quickly and in today’s world it is a cheaper option.
There is a great live room out there and there we some great musicians who came along and played on it.
Personally for me it was a great space to be in actually as it was just after my mum died and it was nice to be out somewhere that was kind of in the middle of nowhere and I could just go out into the woods and wander about.
So it was kind of cathartic and I was able to work and put a lot into the album which was really good. So yeah it was good fun and I enjoyed it out there. As I said you were away from the distractions from home.
- The band celebrated it's 20th anniversary last year so what is the secret to your longevity?
I think we have always been very much in control of it and we knew what we will and won’t do and therefore we enjoy what we do because we are generally not having to do stuff that is compromising us or is uncomfortable.
You can slog yourself stupid, which we have done in the past, it’s ok if you feel like you are up and coming but we have peaked in some ways and I think we have got the point where we don’t need to slog ourselves around the smaller clubs in Europe.
We have got other responsibilities now so we can’t be so blasé about it and I think it makes you more thoughtful about how you do it. So that and the fact that we are all mates, we have always been good friends together and we have always helped each other out if we can.
We are a good touring unit as well - all out crew have always been great and they are loyal as they have worked with us for fifteen or twenty years now.
That and keeping your fingers out of the pie (laughs). We are not loaded, we are not rich people and we don’t drive around in flash cars but we have survived and we have got families and we pay our way - it’s worth it.
- You play guitar, banjo, mandolin and the harmonica so where did you love of music start?
I think it was probably at home because both of my parents loved music, I think they met at Ronnie Scott’s actually, and they were into jazz and classical. My mum liked country/folk stuff and I like that.
So I think that probably started it as I had an ear open to it even though I didn’t listen to much popular music until I was about twelve or thirteen, which is quite late I suppose.
But I started learning instruments at six or seven years old and I just picked things up because I liked the sound of them and I was just intrigued by them.
So yeah I have always loved music and my brother is musical as well. It turned out that my dad was as well and he got a piano was I was fifteen or sixteen, I came home from school and there was this baby grand piano, and my dad just had a fabulous ear for it.
He played by ear and I think he surprised himself as much as anybody else (laughs). So I think it was probably in the family yeah.
- You joined the band in 1990, two years after they were formed, so how did you find stepping in a little later?
It was relatively easy really. I kind of knew them anyway as I had been to see them a few times the previous and they had stayed at my house one night after a show.
So I had got to know them and that was kind of nice and they liked my music, I supported them a couple of times. I guess they knew what they wanted and I just liked being in a band really instead of trying to do it all on my own.
I mean it was tricky to start with as there was a lot of noise going on and I wasn’t use to working with drums or bass or anything but it was relatively transition in the ten days that I had (laughs). No it was great and it has been great - it has been twenty two years now that I have been in the band.
- As I said the band has enjoyed a very successful twenty years so how have you seen the industry change in that time? Has it changed for the better?
In some ways some things are much better and I think it’s a lot easier for people to get out there but having said that there is much more competition because it’s easier to get out there. The internet and technology has made it much easier to put ideas together, even I can put ideas down onto my iPhone quite easily and I still find that incredible.
The other sides of things is the massive difference in sales or income for bands - if you are use to selling a certain amount of albums at a certain price ten years ago that changed as people were downloading stuff and not buying albums so you are down a lot of money in terms of revenue.
And that made us rethink how we do things so you can get the income that you need - we have the beautiful Days Festival and that has been getting better and better every year.
We always thought originally as a band that it has never really been about money, I think if we were capitalists we would have all given up and got jobs years ago, but because we not a money based or craving band we have come through the austerity years.
With government cuts in the arts as well it has effected everybody but we are quite use to having tight belts and so we have survived that a lot easier than some people might have done.
So some things have changed for the better but some things have change for the worst, there is a lot of corporation going on as there are big companies that are buying into festivals, radio stations and smaller labels.
I still like technology for its underground possibilities still and the underground music scene is still really lively and if you have got your ear to the internet you can find out what is going on and there is some good stuff out there.
I think things change but you can’t stop progress (laughs) so there’s not much point worrying about it too much.
- Finally you are going on tour later this year so are you looking forward to that?
I am indeed, as I said it has been a long time since we played together properly; December was the last gigs that we did so this is the longest time that we have had off as a band in ten or fifteen years.
So we have had a couple of rehearsals and we are all loving it as it is great just to get back together and play. Yeah it is good fun and we are looking forward to it.
The Levellers new album Static On The Airwaves is out now
FemaleFirst Helen Earnshaw.