An Interview with Mark King of Level 42

Kevin Keating
Mark King of Level 42
Back in the mid-to-late 80’s, I was a kid whose only outlet to new music was the radio which was driven by top 40 hits and pop music at the time. And luckily, in 1987, I discovered Level 42 who had a string of hit singles off their ‘Running In the Family’ album. A few years later, I purchased my first bass guitar, and looking back, it was probably due to the influence of Mark King, Level 42’s lead singer and bass virtuoso.

This year celebrates 30 years for the band who recently launched into a worldwide tour hitting festivals throughout Europe and a handful of dates throughout the US and Japan.

Here in the bay area, Level 42 will be playing the Regency Ballroom in San Francisco on July 30th and we were lucky enough to catch-up with Mark a few weeks ago for this brief interview below.

If you don’t already have your tickets, be sure to grab them soon and we’ll see you at the show! And be sure to check back for a review shortly after!

For now, here’s the text to the interview with Mark King:

SF Bay Area Concerts: It's been a few years since you’ve toured this extensively with the band. Can you talk about how this tour came about and if the tour will expand beyond Europe and the US?

Mark King: Yes, it’s been way too long since we played the US, but we are coming over as part of our 30th Anniversary tour that has already taken us back into Japan in June, we had some great shows there, and we have been playing festivals every weekend in Europe which has been fantastic too. Our fans seem to think that it is our decision whether we play certain territories or not, but the fact is every band need local promoters to bring them into local venues, that’s where the tour planning starts, so I’m thrilled that the guys at The Regency Ballroom in SF have had the faith to bring us in, and I promise we’ll give them a great show!

SF Bay Area Concerts: Do you have any fond memories of previous performances in/around San Francisco?

Mark King: I have many memories of SF, being ejected from a $1.50 a night Hotel back in 1979 being one of them ( I had back-packed across the US with the original guitarist and current lyricist Boon Gould for 3 months – crazy days! ), but my favourite memory is when we opened for Steve Winwood back in 1986 and a guy from Alembic Basses came by with a small case of some fantastically exotic hard-woods and asked if they could build a signature model for me. Well, my hero Stanley Clarke used Alembics so I really thought I’d arrived!

SF Bay Area Concerts: Over the years, you've played to audiences around the world, besides the Bay Area, do you have any favorite places to play?

Mark King: Aside from the Bay Area obviously, I really just love playing live with this band. Whether it is Japan, or Denmark, London, or LA, you realize what a small world this is, and wherever you go people are really just the same, you know, the same concerns for the future, for their children, and it’s a privilege to see this first hand. If we were to believe the world was just what we see through the media we’d all be going to hell in a hand cart! The guys and I still get a kick out of the fact that we can make a living doing what we love to do. How bad can it be?

SF Bay Area Concerts: Now that Mike Lindup (L42’s keyboardist and vocalist) is back with the band can you talk about your longer term plans? I’ve read that you’re working on new music for the Universal special/deluxe editions coming out this year. What about beyond the special releases, can we expect a full release of new music from Level 42 in the near future?

Mark King: For sure there will be an EP of tunes to coincide with our UK and European tour which kicks off in October. So far the vibe is very much in the Funk direction, with more than a nod to the great James Brown, but currently Universal Music are celebrating our 30th Anniversary with a 4 cd Box Set which, along with 2 cd’s of all the singles we ever released, plus a cd of rare live performances and original demos of some classic L42 tunes, there is an album of 10 acoustic arrangements of our songs, which was great fun to make, and quite different from anything we’ve done before.

SF Bay Area Concerts: I believe you have a fairly robust home studio. Can you talk about your favorite gear? Can you talk about your favorite software?

Mark King: I’ve been a big believer in the ‘home studio’ thing ever since I got my first Teac 8 track back in 1984, and by 1990 I’d expanded this to a fully blown SSL equipped room with 2 Otari MTR 90’s and 48 tracks of Dolby SR. Then the revolution happened with Mac’s moving in and the whole digital-domain and that’s where I find myself at the moment, along with everyone else!, but the freedom afforded musicians these days is amazing, and the huge, ever expanding range of plug-ins and mastering tools means everyone can have a crack at making great sounding music without having to find a budget of tens of thousands of dollars. I’m loving Logic Pro 9, and despair that Digidesign and Apple have gone their separate ways, so I’m using Apogee converters and find the sound very nice indeed.

SF Bay Area Concerts: Over the past 30 years, the industry has changed dramatically. You’ve seen format transitions from vinyl to cassette to CD to digital download. How do you feel about digital downloads?

Mark King: Well I love the digital download thing personally. How cool is it to hear a piece of long forgotten music and then be able to go and get it right away! I’m terrible for over-doing the iTunes store, especially when I’ve had a glass of wine or two in the evenings! But I also remember the real thrill of going into town and ordering a Mahavishnu Orchestra album on vinyl when I was 14 years old, waiting impatiently for a week or two for it to arrive, then putting it on the stereo and devouring every word on the sleeve and liner notes. Great days indeed.

SF Bay Area Concerts: As a multi-talented musician and prolific bass guitarist, who has influenced you over the years?

Mark King: That’s very kind of you to say so, thanks. My first big heroes were Cream, fantastic players and great tunes, then Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Rich, Mahavishnu Orchestra, Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and all the amazing fusion musicians from the 60’s and 70’s. I feel very lucky to have been born when all this stuff was just coming online. Currently there are some fantastic young players coming through so the Bass is in very good hands, and I look forward to saying hi to any aspiring players when we visit The Regency at the end of this month. Love to all, Mark.

Level 42

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