Keith Levene’s new album fundraiser

Keith Levene is a legend in the punk world and beyond. A founding member of The Clash and PiL, he’s now raising money to record Commercial Zone 2014, which he describes as the missing 4th PiL album, and which will feature new material too. He’s got pledge rewards up for grabs on Indiegogo, including one of his guitars. Judging by the eight-minute bootleg track he sent out as an extra to pledgers, the album is going to be brilliant. We talked to Keith, who’s on twitter as @missingchannel, ahead of a rare public appearance at a Ditto Campfire session.

Keith Levene

Keith is showing us his hands. They’re big, battered, and strong, and get punished on a daily basis when he plays guitar.

Look at my hands, I don’t use a pick! I practice three hours a day, every day, on an acoustic. I don’t really play electric guitars unless I’m playing live or recording. I use my Guild all the time, it’s a D25, and 50 years old this year.

Keith has inspired generations of guitarists, and also taught plenty of others, like Sid Vicious, and Viv Albertine (The Slits) - who name checks him at gigs. He says he would teach people 24 chords in two minutes!

Now the multi-instrumentalist and songwriter is getting a new album off the ground - Commercial Zone 2014 - and heading off to a studio in Prague to record. Putting some of his guitars up as pledge rewards is a measure of his passion for the project. There’s a white Danelectro for sale at the moment, that was used on Yin & Yang.

I’m using my Travis Bean

He says it’s hard to see guitars he loves go, but he is taking his absolute favourites with him.

For the album I’m using my Travis Bean. Not the one you see in photographs but a brown wood one, TB1000. Also a 12 string Danelectro. I bought it because of the way it sounded when it’s not plugged in.

Keith has had a few Travis Beans including a 1977 TB1000S which he described as a “wicked guitar with a wicked sound”, and also a Travis Bean Wedge.

His collection has changed over the years, as some guitars have gone missing, including the iconic metal Travis Bean which he used to use, and which he would love to have back.

No effects

At the Ditto Campfire session Keith told a rapt audience about how he started out as a roadie for Yes, until Rick Wakeman told him to “fuck off and form a band” after he changed the keyboard settings one too many times.

As he went through his list of his early guitars, from a red Gibson SG to a longed-for Les Paul, he said he has always been passionate about keeping his set up simple.

I want a really shrill trebly sound with no effects. Just me pugged in.

For the new album Keith is going to Faust in Prague, which he says is an old school studio with a Solid State Logic desk. He has enlisted drummer Ted Parsons of Teledubgnosis, a previous collaborator, who has worked with Killing Joke and Prong, and was in Swans.

Keith has always loved new tech and makes 3D videos for some of his music, but doesn’t want to record at home.

There’s more tech in an iPhone than studio 2 of The Townhouse, where we recorded Metal Box. But you can’t beat that personal contact.

Tom Bolton (Ditto) and Keith Levene

Real-time composition

We asked about the vocals on the new album. He said won’t be singing and that’s a definite.

I don’t know how these people get up and do it. I may work with a choir, or maybe someone who’s never even sung before.

CZ2014 is an exciting campaign for people to get involved in. Keith and his sister Jill are hand-making artwork and textile album covers, and Keith’s already given pledgers a few extra surprises, in the shape of bootleg track AREA FIFTY 2 and also VIOLENT OPPOSITION. VIOLENT OPPOSITION was composed in real time in 1987, the first thing he did after CZ 83. It’s his favourite kind of music-making.

There’s something magic in the real time composition area.

  • Keith’s Commercial Zone 2014 initiative is at Indiegogo and the campaign finishes at midnight on Thursday 22nd May.