The Levellers would be a mess if they earnt a decent wage according to bassist Jeremy Cunningham. Instead it's about keeping it real, gigging town halls, and running their festival, Beautiful Days.
Virtual Festivals: You’re currently doing what you seem to love the most – touring. How’s it all going?
Jeremy Cunningham: The tour is going very well, thank you. The one we just did was only about five dates, and it was in smaller venues so it all sold out pretty fast. It was just to let our fans know that we were coming back out with new material because last year we spent the whole year doing acoustic shows really, and not doing the normal electric Levellers stuff at all. So, this was just to give the fans a taster and to get us back into the swing of it!
VF: When you tour, you often play at fairly modest venues. Is this a conscious decision to avoid being viewed as sell-outs?
JC: We play smaller venues such as town halls and this is because at the moment, we are promoting our own shows and we have been doing so for three or four years. When we promote our shows, we go into places that people don’t usually play in because it is off the circuit so we can actually get a better deal ourselves, and we can give the people coming in a better deal. People like it because it is not your run of the mill show. Having said that, we still do a tour that, at the moment, is working out at once every two years for SJM, our promoter. On that tour, we do go through all the normal venues and use a standard promoter as well. We do that to keep everyone happy basically. The next coming winter will be the next tour of this kind that we’re going to do.
VF: Your music has been described both as folk-punk and indie, what description do you think fits you best?
JC: There are all these labels flying around but folk-punk is what we do, it just sounds really boring, dull and horrible I think! However, indie is certainly what we always have been because we’re probably one of the only two independent bands on our own record label, and we have our own record label, our own promotions and everything. We used to call ourselves a punk rock group because that’s where the attitude and the music come from.
VF: Would you have as much respect today if you had followed a more glamourised life created for you by a record company?
JC: I don’t think that we would have the same respect and following if we had taken a life mapped out for us by a major record company, but that was never what we were about. We always wanted as much control as we could possibly have over what we were doing, and so we always took the long game into consideration when we were signing deals. We didn’t care if we didn’t get paid as much as so-and-so as long as we could manage ourselves on a wage for the next five or six years, and have some sort of security from that. None of us would ever be good with big sums of money; we’d probably be horrible messes by now if we had have been given that!
VF: You own Metway studios in Brighton. I guess a large part of your money goes into that?
JC: As soon as we got any kind of money, we set up the studio and then ever since that, all the money goes into keeping the place going because it’s like an arts centre – there’s so many people in there doing different things, and it costs an absolute fortune to keep it going, and to keep the maintenance up.
VF: Would you welcome one of your songs becoming popular in the mainstream market again, like ‘Beautiful Day’ did, if it bolstering your political message?
JC: We’d definitely welcome another hit like ‘Beautiful Day’ because that’s the whole point of it really. If you’re a band, you automatically want as many people to hear you as possible and that’s why you do it in the first place. We want as many people to hear us as possible without compromising ourselves. We have never been afraid of that.
VF: Would you say there’s been a real change in the music industry over recent years, in the sense that what was once classed as alternative has become a much more mainstream genre?
JC: There has been a change for definite. I quite like the way things are right now because I’m into all that guitar rock. The Kaiser Chiefs are not really my kind of thing but at least it is exciting to listen to. Their songs aren’t really as good as Snow Patrol, who have been going for years and their song writing is spot on.
VF: What expectations do you have for the new album?
JC: This album is full of poppier stuff, the most poppy work we’ve done since ‘Beautiful Day’, but it’s a lot edgier than that. The reason for this is because we have a new member in the band with us, Matt Savage, and he plays pianos and keyboards. He’s been with us for three years now, but this is the first album he’s contributed to, song writing wise. He’s a massive fan of The Beatles and Oasis and you can hear his influence coming out in some of the music now. We’re hoping it will do well because we think the first song we’re releasing is the best one for a while in terms of quality song writing.
VF: Why should people listen to your music when there are so many new bands emerging?
JC: Because we’re the original and best! We’re the only band that has ever stuck to their guns about putting a message across to people – we’re saying look to yourselves, don’t believe anything anyone has told you. We can stand by our record and say we’ve stood up and said this about various things, whether it be the poll tax or the Iraq war fiasco, and we were right on all of those looking back in hindsight. We’re always the first to admit if we were wrong. We’re normal people and we get things wrong as well, but as far as bands go, we definitely have something going on that nobody else is doing, so the music is definitely worth listening to just to check that out.
VF: Finally, it’s a tired music hack formula, one that you’ve been bracketed into in the past, so what is it from the horse’s mouth: A (your band) is like B (another band) on C (which drug)?
JC: (laughs) The Levellers are like Led Zeppelin on speed! No, actually the best one for us would probably be that the Levellers are like The Clash on ecstasy!
The Levellers‘ new single ‘Make You Happy’ is out on April 18 and is taken from the forthcoming album ‘Truth And Lies’. The band headline Beautiful Days, which takes place at Escot Park, Devon, from 19-21 August.