By JAY KENNEY
The Stick Men is a progressive rock band formed in 2008, featuring musicians with extensive experience playing together. Tony Levin and Pat Mastelotto are the rhythm section of the legendary progressive rock band King Crimson and Markus Reuter is a composer/guitarist who designs and plays his own unique touch style guitar. The Stick Men is a rock trio like no other. Playing instruments not seen or heard every day and writing captivating and challenging music, they embody the tradition of forward-looking rock music. On October 21, 2014, The Stick Men will perform their only New England date at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass., with special guest Mindset X (click on link for related story). We recently interviewed the band right before a charity show in Kingston, N.Y. where they discussed their music, touring, crowd funding, and what the future holds for the band.
Limelight Magazine (LM): The Stick Men have a gig at the Regent Theatre in Arlington, Mass., on Oct. 21, 2014. Are you looking forward to this show?
Tony Levin: Very much looking forward to it. Boston’s where I’m from, so getting back to the area to play is always special. (I do come in for Pats games when touring schedule permits it, and that’s great, but playing is even better.)
Pat Mastelotto: Yes.
Markus Reuter: I’m looking forward to this show, and the whole tour, very much.
LM: This is your only New England date on the tour. What can your fans expect from the band at this show?
Tony Levin: We love sharing our music – Stick Men has been touring and recording for quite a few years now – so we can choose music from some past albums as well as the new one. We will also play some King Crimson pieces, a no brainer, since two of us, Pat and myself, are members of Crimson, and we all love that music. And we do our version of Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.” And we love to improvise too, so there’ll be some musical surprises, even for us.
Markus Reuter: We are about to release a “Best Of” compilation and our set list will reflect that. So we will be looking back by playing songs we haven’t played in a long time, but we’ll also play some new pieces.
LM: How does the band decide on a set list? I’ve seen you perform several King Crimson songs in the past, but now that you have a few studio albums under your belt will it lean more toward that material?
Tony Levin: Good question, and we do vary it from show to show, so we’ll only decide on that day which of the pieces we’ll do.
Markus Reuter: I guess we’ll still be playing two Crimson songs in the set. The rest has always been our material.
LM: The band’s music is often described as being complex and adventurous. How would you describe your music to a first time listener?
Tony Levin: We try to be ‘progressive’ in the real sense of the word, not simply by playing “Prog rock music”…so we look at our music as a growing thing, and don’t keep going out to do the same thing. This year we’re in writing mode, exploring ideas for next year’s album, and at some point in the show we’ll probably give some early exploratory versions of those ideas.
Pat Mastelotto: Two, two-handed guitar bass tappers going at it.
Markus Reuter: It’s essentially rock music. Very visceral and groovy.
LM: Giving the complex nature of your music, are there any songs that you perform live that end up being more difficult than you expected?
Tony Levin: When you’re playing complex music, any piece can suddenly become really hard — sometimes they’re based on different players playing intermeshed parts, or separate time signatures, and if anybody has a little glitch, well, you don’t meet up where you thought you would, and some quick adjusting needs to be done. I’d say that happens pretty regularly, and we’re always pleased when we survive it.
Pat Mastelotto: All of them 🙂
Markus Reuter: Yes, some are harder than others. The devil is in the details usually. Some pieces require extreme concentration while others require physical stamina, for example.
LM: Your rhythm section just wrapped up a tour with King Crimson on Oct. 6 and you’re wasting no time at starting up the tour with The Stick Men. Did you go straight into rehearse mode after the Crimson gigs? How much time does the band generally devote to rehearsing?
Tony Levin: Our rehearsal periods vary a lot, depending on what schedules allow. This time it’s a bit nuts…the Crimson tour finished in Seattle and Stick Men have a benefit show (today, actually) here in Kingston, NY – then Pat will run home to Texas while Markus and I rehearse a few days, for the tour starting next week! Next February, I’ll go to Berlin, where Markus lives, and we’ll rehearse there for a week, getting ready for spring touring.
Pat Mastelotto: King Crimson had about seven weeks of rehearsals spread throughout 2014. Stick Men will get one day
Markus Reuter: We usually do very little rehearsing.
LM: On your last studio album, Deep, you used PledgeMusic to help fund the project. How did the idea come about to use a crowd funding source?
Tony Levin: That worked out well – we’re very appreciative of the fans who help us out to a higher degree by pre-ordering the CD and other stuff – in a band, financing the recording is an issue, and often you want to do more…like have a DVD with some video and extra bits, but the costs have to be paid before making it, and a lot of bands don’t have the backing or funds for that. So getting advance funding from the campaign allowed us to make a more extensive and better product for Deep than we would have been able to without it. I don’t see us doing that kind of sourcing for some years, because you don’t want to lean too heavily on your biggest fans – they’ve already been kind enough.
Markus Reuter: We wanted to release Deep also as a 5.1 mix on DVD plus a concert
movie, so we needed much more funds. It was wonderful to see how much support we got from our fans.
LM: Do you feel that crowd founding platforms have enabled musicians who may not normally have label support to keep the focus on the music and to stay in touch with their fans?
Pat Mastelotto: Yes. Certainly.
Markus Reuter: Yes, but it seems this is already over. The major labels are now plugging into the same pool.
LM: Can we expect any new music from The Stick Men on the horizon?
Tony Levin: This tour we’re bringing back some cool pieces from our past that we haven’t done in a while and, as said before, we’re giving some glimpses of the upcoming music from next year. To make that music really the best it can be, we’ll have many periods together rehearsing and recording until we feel it’s right. Since we’ll do that in both Berlin, Germany, and Austin, Texas (where Pat is based) it should have quite an international feel to it!
Markus Reuter: Some time in 2016. And I hope we’ll play some of the new music live before an album release.
LM: This band has been together for over five years now. Besides having one lineup change, how has this configuration of the band evolved?
Tony Levin: We’re very comfortable musically with each other — not a surprise with Pat and I having been touring together since mid-90’s in King Crimson! I think in a live show the chemistry among the players is part of the fun of the show, and hopefully it shows with us that we enjoy each other musically.
Pat Mastelotto: Actually it’s been about seven years. The configuration really hasn’t changed since Tony remains a Chapman Stick and I remain on acoustic and electronic drums and percussion. The change to Marcus was too a very similar instrument but Marcus’s style of playing is completely different. With the next recordings, we hope to re-introduce more vocals back into the songs.
LM: Along the same lines, what do you like most about playing with these guys?
Pat Mastelotto: I love the level of musicianship and commitment.
Markus Reuter: I guess it’s the fact that we’re creating “music” and that there’s actually an audience that wants to hear it.
LM: You all have such diverse resumes. Is there anyone you haven’t performed with that you would like to in the future?
Pat Mastelotto: Hendrix and Lennon but I’m not in a hurry.
Markus Reuter: I’m open to whatever happens. I do want to move further, for sure.
LM: After this tour, what’s next for everyone in the band?
Tony Levin: Right after our Mexico City show, I will go to Europe for a Peter Gabriel tour that ends in early December and I can finally catch some Pats games in chilly December. Then January we’ll be writing music separately, hook up in Berlin in February to start bouncing it around. Looking at Far East and S. American tours in March thru May, then getting that album done in the Summer. We all are part of a music camp in August, called Three of a Perfect Pair Camp, in the Catskills… so that’s about as far ahead as I can guess at.
Pat Mastelotto: About a week after this tour ends in Mexico City I’ll be going back to Europe to tour with the Slovakian guitar player David Kollar, that’s only about 10 shows – and then after our last show in Prague, I’ll go to Sweden to work with IB Expo which will include Mel Collins from King Crimson.
Markus Reuter: I will be taking three months off of touring.