Triumph – Mike Levine (bass, keyboards, backing vocals)
Tags: Allied > allied forces > anniversary release > bassist mike > gil moore > hold on > interview > lay it on the line > magic power > mike levine > radio in america > record > time > Triumph
TRIUMPH, the ?other? rock trio from Canada, has just celebrated their 30th anniversary release of Allied Forces. Preserving the essence of the original recording, the band has remastered the masterpiece on 180 gram vinyl. Formed in 1975, the band released ten albums and consistently toured, calling it quits in 1993. They reunited briefly in 2008, but played only two shows. The constant question for the members, guitarist/vocalist Rik Emmett, bassist Mike Levine and drummer/vocalist Gil Moore, is why aren?t they touring now? Calling from Toronto, Mike filled me in on what the band has been up to, the significance of Allied Forces and why in the hell TRIUMPH are not doing any current shows together.
You are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Allied Forces by re-releasing it on vinyl. Tell me your feelings on this achievement. Are you surprised that it still has legs, so to speak?
Not really. We knew we had something special with our music dating back to the beginning. If you don?t have that confidence, then you?re not going to get anywhere. That album was just such a huge hit on radio, in America and Canada, and pretty much the rest of the world. You knew the songs had legs and would last a long time. 30 years later? I?m not quite so sure I?d believe that. But as every five years went by, you kept hearing them on the radio all the time and people kept buying the records and you realize you were onto something special.
I know you?re a big fan of vinyl and the so-called resurgence of vinyl collectors making it popular again. I grew up on albums, the artwork, etc and still love them. What?s your take on LP?s?
There?s three or four times in a record?s life where it sounds incredible. The first time is when you finish the mix in the studio. You put it up on the big speakers and your hair blows because the volume is so loud and you think, ?Wow, that sounds great!? (laughs) And the next time that?s really cool is when you go to the mastering room, which in those days, that?s where it make it sound like a record. They cut the lacquers, the mastering that they make the plates out of. And it sounded incredible in there when you listened to your test lacquer. But when you heard it on the radio it sounded fantastic. If anyone?s a vinyl fan, you gotta check this record out.
I have Just A Game on original vinyl and it still sounds great today. I?m proud that I own it in its LP form.
Vinyl has the unique character. It?s got shades to it. There?s no black, no white, it?s all grays. A CD is black and white, period. There?s no grays on a CD. Certainly when you get to the incredibly, horrible-sounding mp3s, there?s no anything. Vinyl has to have this warmth to it, this depth, and those are the different shades of gray. And if it?s a nice pressing, which this one is. We didn?t have this kind of vinyl back in 1981 when this record came out. I kind of miss the different ?pops? now and then (laughs).
You produced the band?s earlier albums, you produced this one right? Did you think about remastering it as well or did you think you didn?t want to tinker with the overall sound?
It says ?produced by Triumph.? We were a ?All for one, one for all? band, it didn?t matter who did what. We split the songwriting whether you wrote a note or didn?t. We split the production credit whether you contributed or you didn?t. But yeah, I was kind of the quarterback on the production part. That record sounds so good, we didn?t want to mess with it. We wanted to get the original sound. As soon as you start playing with something you can lose a little bit of the magic and I didn?t want to do it. We went from what?s called EQed master, which they use to make cassettes from. It got made at the same time as the lacquer was done in the mastering room. Thank God the tape was nicely preserved. Bob Ludwig, who originally mastered this one in 1981 and redid it again in 1984. We used his original master. He?s the best guy in the business and still is, I think.
Are you not active in the music business, playing wise, since Triumph?s split?
I?ve done a bunch of things over the years, but the last ten years or so I haven?t done much of anything other than being in charge of the various pieces of product we put out; DVD?s and the greatest hits remix. I?ve been in the studio but haven?t really been playing. The only time that I?ve really played was with Rik and Gill when we did the Sweden Rock show and Rocklahoma in 2008.
Speaking of those shows, why nothing since? How is there not a new Triumph or more reunited shows?
What happened was, after we did those two shows in ?08, we decided to put a tour together, which we started to do. There was buildings on hold, there were support acts we were looking at, there were lots of e-mail exchanges and contracts being done. Then the recession hit in late 2008 and early 2009. We were going to go out in the summer of ?09, but everybody got nervous. We didn?t know how bad this thing was going to be, nobody was going to have any money to go to shows. We just didn?t want to go out and risk anything. If we didn?t go out and sell out everywhere, it would have been a failure as far as we were concerned. We decided to lay back in the weeds and wait it out, and we?re still waiting.
Have you been talking about writing new material?
I think if we decided for sure that we were going to go out, we may go and cut two or three songs, but not a whole album. I always say, ?What?s the point?? If we go on the road and we have eight or ten new songs, nobody really wants to hear them. They want to hear what they love, what they grew up with. If we played a new song instead of ?Lay It On The line,? we?d get tomatoes thrown at us! (laughs). We?d either make an EP or make it available on itunes.
In Slash?s autobiography (page 148), he wrote that you were picked up by the cops for just walking out of a 7-Eleven with some beer and were thrown into the same cop car as him in 1986. What?s the story on this?
That?s what happened! (laughs). It was like 2:30 in the morning and I was buying beer because we were mixing (Sport of Kings) and I was on my way back to the studio. All of a sudden this cop car pulls into the parking lot with its lights flashing … ?Up against the side of the car!? I said, ?What?s going on?? They said, ?You?re under arrest.? I said, ?For what?? They said, ?For intention to drink and drive.? I said, ?But I haven?t been drinking. I just went to the store to buy beer. Is that against the law?? ?Shut up and get in the car!? I get in the car and there?s Slash and another guy. I didn?t know him then but he looked at me and said, ?Holy fuck! It?s Mike Levine of Triumph!? (laughs). He said, ?What did you do?? And I said, ?I don?t know! What did you do?? ?Well, I had a disturbance,? he said. ?I?ll be a witness at your trial if it ever goes that far.? I was let out, but I spent most of the night in jail.
?Magic Power? is a huge relationship song. Do people tell you where they were what they were doing when they first heard that song?
Oh, absolutely. I think the two biggest songs that people talk about that effected them in their lives are ?Hold On? and ?Magic Power.? I went to two different grocery stores about a month ago and two different people came up to me and said, ?I gotta tell you this story.? (laughs) One was about ?Hold On? and the other was about ?Magic Power.? The mail we used to get early on about ?Hold On? were incredibly touching stories. We were actually making a difference to somebody.
With everything that Allied Forces has achieved and I know Rik is still doing his solo gig, but what?s next for TRIUMPH?
I don?t know. We did Rockline the other night. We?re just chatting about different stuff. I?m not sure where it?s going to go. Then again, you open the newspaper and everybody?s screaming ?recession? again. To go out and play is high-risk for us in a lot of ways. A. We haven?t played in a long time. And B. It?s very expensive financially for us to mount a tour. If the economy was good, we?d be out there, no doubt about it.
By Kelley Simms