When the name Tony Levin comes up,
many may think of the imposing bass player
onstage with such acts as Peter Gabriel
and King Crimson. However, aside from his
undeniable world-class skill on the instrument, he’s also genuinely one of the nicest
guys in the business. Articulate, professional
and always ready with a kind word, he’s a
pleasure to work with in the studio. I recently caught up with him to ask a few questions
for PG readers about Sticks, amps, recording
and his upcoming projects.
I have a whole slew of amps that I’ve tried
and tend to go back and forth between
them. Lately I’ve been using these cool little
Blackheart amps. On the road, I split the top
of my Stick into two of them, with a little
delay on one.
Stick Men Bass Man, Tony Levin
How about when you’re out with
How do you record at home?
I do a lot of recording at home actually,
because people can send me files to work
with. The good thing about being home is
I have all my basses to choose from and I’ll
often use a different bass on each track.
However, if I go out to a session I have to
pick the few that seem right.
I like to use a Radial JDI Direct Box, and the
JDV Class A Direct Box. Which one I use
depends on the song, but they both give me
a nice quiet channel. I run that into a MOTU
interface and then right into Logic.
Do you use amps as well at home?
Yes, I have an Ampeg SVT with 4x10s up
in my attic with a Shure PG56 on it. That’s
when I want really powerful bass tracks and
it’s easy to just kick it in, although the house
does start to shake. It’s got a little bit of a
scoop around 400 Hz; it accentuates the
lows with some growl and really sounds
different than the DI. When I do vocals, on
my own music, it’s with a Beyerdynamic
M 260—and recording amps I use the
Beyerdynamic M 88.
How about recording the [Chapman] Stick?
It’s a little more complex, and I use different
methods. The Stick has a top end that goes
through a guitar amp, and I also use the M
88 mic on that. The signal is split using both
DIs and both amps. I find that the top of the
Stick DI isn’t too useful, so I’ll sometimes
add some plug-ins to the sound.
Then I do use an SVT. I can also have a trunk
of basses and such. Also a pretty important
ingredient for me is my Korg rackmounted
tuner. It’s actually one of the most important
things in my rig, because I try pretty hard to
be in tune all the time.
What are your primary basses?
Mostly it’s the Music Man 5-strings, the
StingRay 5. I’m a fortunate bass player in
that I get access to the new ones, even
though I use my classic all the time. I’ve
come to prefer some of the anniversary
special editions, which have a piece of
mahogany in the body that gives it a little
more sustain and quite a bit more deep
end. I’ve come to depend on that for certain things. I know with Peter Gabriel it’s
very handy; he likes it a lot.
I also use an NS [Ned Steinberger] electric
upright bass, which I play on a lot of tracks.
Again, Peter has come to favor that on a lot
of his ballads.
Do you compress that?
Actually, in the studio, I’m often compressing the sound in some fashion in my path
before I get into the MOTU. I often use the
compressor that became the Retrospect
compressor, which is out of production now.
I got the prototype, which sounds different
than the production model, and I really love
it. I use it all the time with my 5-string bass;
but no, not with the NS electric upright.
I’ve found for the power and live sounding feel of the bass, it helps to use some
subtle compression. I also use an Empirical
Labs Distressor if I want more of a studio,
I really like the pedals made by Analog Man.
He reproduces vintage pedals and for the
Stick, I like his CompROSSor compressor. It’s
very reliable, and I use that on the road a
lot, along with his version of a Big Muff.
What’s coming up for you in the future?
Besides cutting tracks at home, I’m working
very hard with my band mates in Stick Men,
which is myself and Michael Bernier on Stick,
and Pat Mastelotto on drums. We’ve been
touring for almost a year and we’ll have our
first album ready by November. We’ll probably self-release and it will be in the usual
places like Amazon and iTunes. But it will
definitely be online on my website at
Rich is a producer, engineer and mixer who has worked
with artists ranging from Al DiMeola to David Bowie . A
life-long guitarist, he’s also the auther of Pro Tools Surround
Sound Mixing and composes for such networks as Discovery
Channel, Nickelodeon and National Geographic.