Tony Levin on Stick Men, “Prog Noir”, more


I probably should have my credentials revoked as I not only missed the Stick Men’s concert here in Eugene, Oregon, last Friday, I wasn’t even aware of it until Saturday (which explains why I missed it, but…). Anyhow, the band, which consists of prog giants Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto, along with another virtuoso, Markus Reuter, have produced some really inventive, complex, and accessible music in their most recent album “Prog Noir”, which Levin reflected upon in an interview with The Register-Guard:

Question: What — besides the lineup — has changed over the years?

Levin: As for the music changing, yes it had, but not easy for me to describe how. I’m just immersed in the music we’re playing and writing — there’s no “plan” as such for how the direction is going to proceed. Probably easier for listeners to get a sense of how we’ve changed. I do feel that the new release, “Prog Noir,” is our best material — OK, you always love your latest music, but it seems to capture what we are as a band. To me, the distinctiveness of a band is one of the most important factors that makes me interested — that, plus great quality “classic” writing, is what we strive for.

Question: What is the role of this band in your career?

Levin: You could say that Stick Men is a “progressive rock” band, and since King Crimson is also that, and Peter Gabriel (whom I also play with) came out of that genre … you could say that I’m settled in that genre. To me, as I’ve said, from the inside, I’m only trying to come up with new directions and valid material, not trying to be “prog” at all. (Yes, trying to be “progressive” in that it signifies moving forward, not trying to repeat the successes of the past.)

I am indeed passionate about our trio, and wouldn’t refer to it as a “project” but as a band. I am also very active in the current incarnation of King Crimson — we tour quite a bit each year, and Stick Men tours are fashioned to fit between the Crimson tour legs. And when Peter Gabriel tours (last summer we did a month along with Sting), that’s a great pleasure for me, too.

I don’t rank these bands to myself. I’m committed to them all and thoroughly enjoy the time making music with them.

Question: Thinking of “Prog Noir,” what did the cycle look like for the album — from conception to finished product?

Levin: This album took years to come together. Our recent releases have been done quicker, maybe because we’re out on tour a lot. But, especially with lyrical content, sometimes you just need to hold off until it’s really right before you release a record. In the part of composing that came from my end, some were musical ideas I’d been kicking around for a long time (like “The Tempest,” about 9/11) and some were very fresh ideas that needed hard focus to get right (“Never the Same,” which explores the feeling of being back in King Crimson after a few years’ hiatus).

Question: What are your thoughts on the role of lyrics in Stick Men songs?

Levin: We don’t want to be a “songs” band, and a big percentage of the pieces we do are instrumental and quite complex. Then, there are some lyrics I’ve come up with that work musically but just don’t seem right for the band. Usually a big release like this one has a few pieces that got rejected just because we had enough material to keep the best and set aside the rest.

We’ve also found ways to share the lyrics among us in the live show — usually they’re written by me, but more often “spoken-word” than sung with pitch, and I think it’s part of the character of the band that the lyric attention gets spread around a bit … sometimes even with Markus doing the whole vocal.

To say that in a shorter way, we feel that the lyric function, like everything else we come up with, needs to be distinctively our way of doing it.

Read the entire interview on the Register-Guard’s website.


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