DATE OF INTERVIEW:
6th March 2011
METAL DISCOVERY: You became more autonomous by setting up your own record label three years ago – what prompted that decision?
JEREMY CUNNINGHAM: We’ve always kind of had a little record label that we put our first two singles out on but we could never afford to deal with the Levellers’ releases once the band got a bit more popular. We just couldn’t manage it with all the publicity and all the other stuff that goes with it. So we kind of always had our label but we signed to indie companies to distribute and stuff, and we were on a record label, China, for years. They, basically, sold out to Warner without our consent and without their managing director’s consent either – it was a whole business takeover by shareholders – and they sold us out to Warner so we ended up on Warner Brothers for a year until we managed to buy ourselves out of it. But they still own all our back catalogue and it was a nightmare…so, after that, we thought, right, we’re gonna try and get our own label together. And, luckily, it just kind of coincided with the technology improving enough to be able to do that, you know, with the internet and everything. You don’t need high flying publicists and stuff if you’ve already got a live following and, on the internet, you can go quite a long way yourself. So, basically, it just all coincided with us having enough money in the pot and enough kind of vision to be able to do it at that point. It’s something we’ve always wanted to do. We want to control everything ourselves! [laughs]
(Jeremy Cunningham on writing sessions for the next Levellers album)
"...you’ve got to record an album that’s as good as ‘Levelling the Land’ and we don’t want to release one until we’ve got the songs that are that fucking good. So we’re really self-critical..."
Jeremy Cunningham backstage at the Engine Shed, Lincoln, UK, 6th March 2011
Photograph copyright © 2011 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
Interview & Photography by Mark Holmes
Levellers Official Website:
Levellers Official MySpace:
A Weapon Called the Word (1990)
Thanks to Michael Eccleshall at Music Media Relations for arranging the interview.
Levelling the Land (1991)
See Nothing, Hear Nothing, Do Something (1992)
Headlights, White Lines, Black Tar Rivers (1996)
Special Brew (2000)
Mouth to Mouth (1997)
One Way of Life (1998)
Hello Pig - The Offal (2001)
Green Blade Rising (2002)
Truth and Lies (2005)
Hello Pig (2000)
Letters from the Underground (2008)
MD: Yeah, which fits in with your own politics, I guess.
JC: Yeah, all of us do two or three band related jobs. Like, I do the artwork; Jon does a lot of the mixing and stuff, so we’re all doing bits and pieces.
MD: Obviously you’ve always been a cross-genre band and appeal to fans of different genres but are you aware of the influence you’ve had in the metal genre?
JC: A little bit; yeah, I do, yeah. We’re going to Kerrang in Birmingham to play the whole of ‘Levelling the Land’ live. They’ve got an hour’s worth of studio time so we’re gonna play as many songs from the album and B-sides that we can. But, yeah, especially if you talk to our crew, they’re all fucking metal. Our lighting guy, he’s in a metal band and does lights for The Prodigy and 30 Seconds to Mars; he’s just done Linkin Park and people like that.
MD: There’s a whole folk metal subgenre, of course.
JC: Yeah, I don’t know much about that.
MD: A lot of the Levellers does infiltrate that as an influence.
JC: I think a lot of it’s to do with our attitude as well because I’ve met quite a few metallers and they’re like, “oh, I wish there was a few more powerful guitars in it but we like the attitude kind of thing, and the speed of it, and the anger and intensity of it.”
MD: There’s a Finnish metal band called Amorphis who’ve done a song called ‘Brother Moon’ which sounds overwhelmingly similar to ‘Carry Me’.
JC: Really? The name sounds familiar but I don’t know them.
MD: Ask your crew!
JC: Yeah! [laughs]
MD: How is your touring mentality these days compared to the early days; are you still as enthusiastic about doing the live shows?
JC: Yeah, yeah, it’s pretty similar except we’re a bit more laidback than we used to be. The partying antics don’t go on quite so much as they used to.
[Fiddle player Jon Sevink has entered the room at this point]
JON SEVINK: Speak for yourself!
JC: Well, yeah, he’s flying the flag at the minute! [laughs]
MD: The final thing I wanted to ask – have you started composing for a new album yet, a follow-up to ‘Letter from the Underground’?
JC: Yeah, we’re working on it, yeah, we’ve done two writing sessions. Basically, after ‘Letter s from the Underground’, because that was so easy to record – it was hard to write but it was so easy to record – we kind of went in and recorded it a bit too quick. You know, we felt that there’s a couple of songs on it that could’ve been loads better if we’d have had a bit more time. We wrote some new songs quite quickly after that, went into the studio and tried working ‘em out and we just couldn’t fucking do it; we just couldn’t get ‘em together. And then we went through, basically, a whole year of trying to play stuff and it just not working until it got to the point where we were dreading going into the studio. We just had to go, “fuck it, we’re gonna go out, do a tour and just play the old stuff and play ‘Letters from the Underground’ and not even think about doing any new stuff, then we’ll come back to it at some point”. So, early autumn last year, we’ve basically got friends of ours who own a hotel up in Yorkshire and they had some free time without people in the hotel so we went up, got a room each, and did a whole load of writing, and demo recording in one of their conference rooms. You know, it was very nice, with a sauna and all that! [laughs] We had Sean Lakeman, who did ‘Letters from the Underground’, pulling us together ‘cause it’s like herding cats trying to get all of us in the same room! And, so, we did that and we actually managed to break our streak of not being able to do anything and we wrote about four or five songs, of which two or three were really good. Then, earlier this year, we went back again and did another writing session, and now we’ve got eight songs out of which five or six are really good. So we’re, basically, gonna do two more writing sessions this year and, hopefully, we’re aiming to record very late in this year and get an album out early next year. Basically, you’ve got to record an album that’s as good as ‘Levelling the Land’ and we don’t want to release one until we’ve got the songs that are that fucking good. So we’re really self-critical; brutally critical.
MD: Out of interest, how was ‘Letters from the Underground’ received in the States, like with ‘Burn America Burn’?
JC: [laughs] Do you know what? I don’t really know! I mean, it didn’t have a great impact there but the guy who mixed it, mixed it in New York. He’s an English guy but he lives and works in America. He’s Dave Grohl’s favourite engineer and does all the Foo Fighters stuff and all these massive bands, like Placebo and things like that. He was mixing ‘Burn America Burn’ in this massive studio in New York and he was saying he was having to keep it really quiet! He was just about to get his Green Card, you know! He said, “yeah, I did it really quiet until everyone had left the studio, then pushed it up”! [laughs] But I said to him the song is not an anti-American song at all; the song is about how Bush’s America was burning itself, you know, falling in on itself. And I knew, because I wrote the words to it, and I knew it was an inflammatory chorus, and I kind of wanted that, but the rest of the song’s about the shootings in Kentucky in the university there and how people never noticed the guy who did it because he looked so much like one of them. You know, it could’ve been anyone who suddenly fucking lost it, and the song is just about the sort of place that can produce that kind of mentality, and how it’s just falling in on itself. I never saw it as an anti-American song. A couple of American fans, some of them went, “look, what the fuck are you doing?” but more than I thought actually got the point of the song.
MD: Yeah, it’s more an attack on America’s political infrastructure than American people per se.
JC: Yeah, it’s exactly that. It’s okay for American bands, metal bands like Slipknot and people like that who’ve done a similar fucking thing but it’s just if it’s sung by an outsider, it’s always a bit uncomfortable. If an American band went “burn Britain burn” we’d be going “oh yeah, you’re probably right, but fucking Yanks, what the fuck are you doing?!” [laughs]
MD: Exactly! Well, thank you so much for your time.
JC: No problem, thanks.