This article apppeared in issue 76 of The
Organ, published September 2002...
..Marina went off to talk to Bic (Christian Hayes), one time member of Ring and Cardiacs whoat the time was in Levitation as well as doing things with the born again version of Panixphere...
After a period of playing absolutely everywhere, supporting everybody and their dog, Levitation have been rather quiet... Hang on though, they're just about to erupt, nah, not erupt, Levitation don't erupt, they're just about to gush into action again.... We caught up with them down in their rehearsal studio and said..
What’s going on Bic?
The new album is being mixed at the moment.. We were just about to head off on a double headline tour with Catherine Wheel but they've pulled out because their album's delayed. It's a drag because the two of us together could play bigger places and do better shows, so we're just about to start playing some gigs of our own...
Go on then Bic, tell us about the new album...
It's quite interesting because at the moment we're thinking of doing two, we've recorded seventeen tracks and there's another couple that could be finished quite quickly, so at the moment we're thinking of releasing one album in June and one in September... But that's only a decision we've reached in the last few days; we've still got to suss out whether it's possible to do, 'cos it's going to cost a lot more. But it's good because it looks like we can sell the albums cheaper.
Are they to be released in any logical order?
No, because they were all recorded within the same two sessions. It's all the same project - I mean, it's typical, we go into a studio to do seven or so tracks and end up doing... fourteen, I mean, it just always works this way with us, even if we finish what we set out to do we just plough on and record more. There's a lot of finished material so why not get it all out now? It's just getting around the record company, but they seem quite keen on it. We did mention it before, last year - and everyone laughed. But this time 'round Chrysalis have been really keen.
You're at that early stage with a new record company where they're all enthusiastic...
Yeah, it's good at the moment because this is the first thing we've done and they've been going yeah, let’s do it, put out two albums. They're into doing some interesting things because basically the whole industry needs a shake up at the moment, it needs different ideas, it's gone completely stale - luckily, there's one guy at Chrysalis who kind of realises this and he's into two albums, fingers crossed about this, we still don't know if we can definitely do it.
I'd say the industry is far more than stale, it's time to wipe them out and start again, take their money and press your own records... but I won't get into a rant right now, let's just hope Chrysalis can keep their enthusiasm for longer than the attention span of your average major...
Yeah, enthusiasm wore off with our American label sometime last year, they were 'shocked' and 'stunned' and 'outraged' when we didn't tour there.... That wasn't really our fault, Dave got really ill, had to have an operation so we couldn't go, and then they got moody and cancelled a lot of things when we could have done with them. That's one of the reasons we have so much written now, we didn't tour much last year so we've been writing lots.
So what makes people so enthusiastic about Levitation?
I don't know - I think it's the mish-mash of five different musical styles coming together - the blend of it all is what's interesting to us and seems to be interesting to other people as well because it constantly surprises them. This session we've done has some stuff that really <is different from what we've done before – for instance, when our manager heard it he went "What's THIS?!?"
Is it a radical change?
Nah, not really - there's more sides to it now - some more really hardcore stuff, and some more really mellow stuff.
Is there an actual Levitation sound then?
Yeah - definitely; I think it's just the sound the five of us make together - not a definite mood, it goes through all different moods, but there's definitely a sound. And if you consider some of the stuff we've written and it's all really manic and you've got Terry singing really tunefully over the top - that's something that I don't hear a lot of people doing and that's something intrinsic to what we do. It's not a conscious thing, it's just the way that each individual interprets the song that makes it Levvy ...
Do any of the individuals contribute more than the others?
It's not always five ways, it's sort of generally perceived by us to be a five way thing.
In the press it seems almost to be the Terry Bickers Band.
Well, yeah, but that's not true, Terry will tell you that - that's not what it was ever about, or is about. But people are going to think that, it's a rock cliche - the person who stands in the middle and does the singing is the leader... it isn't the way things work in our band.
The thing you seem to read about constantly in the music press isn't about the music or what you're up to but the fact that Terry Bickers is bonkers...
But that's all from the past! That's a real press thing: "The most quotable man in the world" sort of stuff. We ignore all that and get on with playing our music.
And how would you describe your music to someone who hasn't a clue what you sound like?
I've no idea - I'm the last person you should ask because I'm too close to it. People are always throwing different things in, saying everything from The Beach Boys to... oh, The Times did a review of the last gig we did and said we were like Metallica playing New Age music! Which I thought was ridiculous, but quite funny. I don't think we're much like Metallica!
I think it's fairly safe to say you'll never play Donnington...
No, not really... be interesting to do though. Maybe we should. Dave did threaten to audition for Black Sabbath...
He's actually getting a lot of admiring thrash metal drummers checking him out...
Really! Ha ha! He's into that sort of stuff.
Talking of which, what's happening with Panixphere?
The whole idea behind that was just being bored one afternoon and doing music...
And then we booked you an Organ gig!
Exactly and that was really brilliant – it was basically me getting drunk with Tim Smith (a Panixphere and a Cardiac) one day and we kind of talked about the idea because I'd really wanted to do it again - Panixphere is a really old band –
Was the original Panixphere that thrashy?
Ah no, some of the songs were the same - we wanted to do this just as an excuse to get drunk and really have fun doing it for the original reasons of the sheer joy of doing it. Originally we were going to be doing purely the old stuff but that was ludicrous, we wouldn't have the time to get it together so we thought, what about doing some cover versions of things we're really into! Hence the XTC and Foetus covers. We were going to do a Devo cover but we never finished learning it... Then we got that first gig at the very last minute and we had to do a Cardiacs cover and a Levitation cover (Hangnail). Panixphere are just for laughs really.
(ORGAN INTERRUPTION: the first gig was with The Enid and Miranda Sex Garden at the Astoria, we originally asked Sea Nymphs but technical difficulties the day before meant they had to drop out and Panixphere saved the day by learning a set on the afternoon and playing on that night!)
Does that mean there aren't many laughs in Levitation?
Ha! Well, sometimes there's no laughs at all... Being in a band on a day to day basis, you can lose the feeling that you were doing it for in the first place and Panixphere is about plugging into that completely carefree attitude, just enjoying music. Just turning up at gig and not worrying about who's going to be there, what the P.A.'s going to be like - whatever it is, whatever's available, Panixphere will do it just for the crack - and if people come and watch it with that attitude I think they'll get a lot out of it.
But can't you do that to some extent with Levitation?
No.. I mean, we're a professional band!
I don't mean quite like that - there's almost chaos onstage at times with Panixphere, but I don't mean from that sense, but the actual enjoyment of touring with Levitation?
Oh, no, we really enjoy going out – we did a brilliant tour with Cardiacs last year, all of us had a really good time.. but it is kinda different. Panixphere is a load of people who want to do it for the same reasons, I don't think Terry or Bob or Laurence would want to do it - in Panixphere we just go out and get drunk and play loads of loud, really thrashy music; it's not their sort of thing! I originally started playing music because I wanted to do that - similarly for Tim and Jon and Dave, so it kind of suits us.
Are you involved in any other side projects?
Terry's done some other stuff, more ambient things, Bob's doing his own album, a totally solo thing so far, which he'll probably put out on Rough Trade. And sometime this year we're hoping to put together a Panixphere album - that will probably be an amalgamation of all the people we know just taking that mad attitude into the studio, and then inviting everyone we know to come in and lay down some tracks on it: that depends on fitting it into the schedule of Cardiacs and Levitation... We might get it out on
Dogfish Records, the Pinhead Nation thing.
There seems to be a total and utter mix up of the Cardiacs/Ring/Levitation family at the moment, there's so many different bands – if you tried to put it down as a family tree -
It'd look really good wouldn't it?
We tried it, it looked like a plate of spaghetti!
That's brilliant - I think it's really good, kind of what generally happens as you get older, everyone starts going in circles – for instance, the other day I got a tape from a band called Müng, one of who's a guy called Pete who before we were called Levitation, drifted in and out, and now he's playing with Sub who used to be in The Dave Howard Singers and Karma Kanix, who in turn were linked to Here And Now, and Jon who was in Tabitha Zu... Everyone gravitates towards London to make music... even though you get bands dotted all over the country, eventually they end up in London.
How did Levitation come together then?
Pure chance really. At the time I was playing in The Dave Howard Singers and Terry came to a gig; a few months later I was working as a cycle courier and I bumped into Terry who had just left House Of Love and was doing some recording. He recognised my face and asked me to come round and play some bass. He'd been given some money from a record company to do some demos and there were all sorts of people coming in and out of the studio because at the time he was revered as this really special character. I was one of the people who hung around because I was really enjoying what was happening - there was a real open minded attitude going down, everybody putting in things.
That seems to be the hallmark of what's happening in your plate of spaghetti: the thing that everyone in the family has in common is this open-mindedness....
I think that's us all getting older; your musical horizons expand
You're not that much older - I think you all had that attitude at the start back with Ring......
Maybe, though it has all changed, encompassed different sorts of music, and we're much more tolerant of each other in terms of making music together; you realise where people's strengths are and you encourage them to come out, and where your weaknesses are. It's experience, yeah - I've really noticed it lately, you let go of egos. Also you do feel better about what you do, and you are more willing to pursue it in loads more different areas. We've learnt how to work with other people - the great thing about Levitation is that we've written so much stuff - we all go off in these little pockets of two people or one person, then bring it in and if someone doesn't like it it'll just be put on the back burner or dumped - no-one's ever gone "Waah, that's my song and I want it in," 'cos there's so much stuff coming in, and personally I think the best stuff is the when we do it all together, quite often by accident or spontaneously - that's really exciting, really healthy.
When you get the album released, are you expecting a different reaction to it?
It's supposedly June... Well, I think some of the stuff is more mature than before, but on the other hand we've got some total punk.... thrashouts, so it goes through all sorts of moods, some pompous rubbish as well, it's great; there's a nine minute total prog-out that might not make to the first album 'cos it's not mixed yet, but it's fucking great!
And that appears to be that... unless there’s more somewhere...