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Brand X Special: An Urorthodox History
Not Dead Yet live
Richard Macphail Ma Book Of Genesis

Martin Levac speaks with it


Frankfurt/Main on March 18, 2005

it: Where and when have you been born?

Martin: I was born in Montreal, Kanada, in 1971.

it: When did you start playing the drums?

Martin: I started playing drums when I was eight years old, must have been 1979, and I was playing to music that my father had on record - things like Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Beach Boys.

it: How did that come about? Did your parents give you a drumkit?

Martin: It was a toy-kit that my parents bought at Sears, which is something like “Kaufhof” you have here. I had this toy-kit for two years, after that I had my first real drumkit.

it: What do you do in you “normal” life, when you’re not touring with The Musical Box. What is your daytime job?

Martin: I don’t have a daytime job. I have been a professional musician for a few years now. The band auditioned me because I had other jobs as a drummer. I have done some session work as well as some events such as weddings.

it: When did you decide to become a professional musician rather than having a daytime job?

Martin: I always liked the idea of being a professional musician. I have spend a few years doing some body-work, I worked as a motorcar mechanic – I love cars, I also own an old car. I’ve done that for some time and then I worked as a teacher for body-work. I went to university to get a degree as a teacher for that. I always tried to find some time for gigs, especially on weekends. Five or six years ago I decided to quit my daytime job to become a professional musician.

it: What was the reason to do covers of Phil Collins and when did that start?

Martin: Uuumh...well, I don’t know...(hesitates)

it: Did you look in the mirror one day and said ‘hey, I look a bit like him’?

Martin:! (laughter) I discovered Genesis in 1986 with the Invisible Touch album and tour and I loved it. At that time I was 15 years old. Phil Collins has been an inspiration ever since I went backwards buying all the albums. But I wasn’t thinking about covering him live for a living at all. I was always thinking of finding my place in a good music group, having a good paycheque and just feel ok. Could be playing I Will Survive on a wedding – that was cool.

Martinit: But this is not the first time that you play this role. You also had a Phil Collins cover band in Canada?

Martin: Yes, well - once I got in touch with The Musical Box, a couple of friends of mine asked me to join a Phil Collins-era Genesis-Coverband and I said – ‘well, if you do the Mama-Tour, I will come’ – because this is my favourite tour. I think Phil Collins was at his top during this tour, being a front man. We did this for a few weeks, two or three shows. I wish I could do more of that as I love being at the front playing a role. This job is also a comedian job – as much as you play the music, you also have to play a role.

it: When did you first see The Musical Box perform live?

Martin: In 1993, at the very beginning with their first singer, two keyboard players and two guitarists – that’s the only time I saw them. (looks surprised) – I don’t really like coverbands (laughter)

it: Did you have your Mama-Tour project at that time or later?

Martin: No, the Mama-Tour was in 2003. I never had a Genesis project before. If you go three years back in time – I never played Genesis stuff before that. 

it: So, the soundclips you have offered on your website are from the Mama-Tour project.

Martin: Yes, they are from that tour. We did these shows between the first and second The Musical Box Foxtrot/Selling Tour seasons.

it: How did you join the Musical Box?

Martin: I auditioned for them more than ten years ago – in 1993 when I read a newspaper ad saying that the band is seeking a singer! I thought: Let’s sing some Genesis with the Band, it will be fun. But they didn’t take me, they took Denis [Gagne] (laughs) – so I though, ok, this is not for me, Genesis Cover Bands. But before I left the room I said to Guillaume (the drummer) – ‘your job I’d like to have, so if you ever leave, just give me a call’. Nine years later I am in my living room, the phone rings and it is Sébastien Lamothe saying ‘are you still playing drums?’ – I said ‘are you kiddin’?’. He said ‘do you want to come to have an audition with us?’ I wasn’t too busy so I went there.

it: What’s your impression of this and the previous tours you did with The Musical Box. How is it going so far?

Martin: These tours are not the same. It’s great to tour the world with this show as a cover band! It’s so unbelievable. It’s a strange era these days. You also got the Australian Pink Floyd Coverband and others, in Canada we even have someone who has been doing Elvis Presley for ten years now. I think it’s very strange.

it: What is the difference between the Foxtrot/Selling and the Lamb-Tour project?

Martin: Well I wasn’t a Lamb Lies Down lover at all! I skipped this album from all the others. I listened to it once when I was 15 and then never again until I joined The Musical Box. So I only listened to Lamb-songs when Genesis performed them like The Carpet Crawlers or In The Cage. I love the Three Sides Live version of that song. You could have said to me ‘there’s a Genesis song called ‘The Lamia’’ – and I would have said ‘yeah? Is there?’. It was harder for me to learn all that stuff as it has not been with me all my life – compared to the Foxtrot and Selling thing.

it: How much freedom do you have as a musician to improvise and be spontaneous during the show?

Martin: Oh, that’s what kills me the most. I try to stretch the stuff as far as I can but then he (Sébastien) gives me a look and – ok (laughter) – I’ve been too far out this time. It’s quite hard because Phil Collins didn’t play these songs twice the same. I would like to push it ahead a bit, but we can’t. I try to vary my intensity of playing, yet still by respecting the original parts. But sometimes it’s frustrating.

Martinit: Is your personal drumkit different from the drumkit you use on stage with The Musical Box?

Martin: Oh, I had many drumkits. I don’t have a specific drumkit. I have an old Gretsch drumkit that you may have seen during the Selling Tour. I also have some kind of groove kit.

it: What happened to the DVD Release?

Martin: I’m not aware of anything. One day Sébastien came to my door, gave me a DVD and said – watch that! So I watched it and thought it was great. But they decided that it will not be for sale. They don’t like it. It’s Denis’ and Sebastien’s decision. I am not part of making any decisions. I’m only the drummer. (laughs)

it: Of course, we have some questions about the Geneva show when Phil Collins joined The Musical Box on stage. Have you met Phil before he performed with the band in Geneva?

Martin: Yes, I met him in fall 2002 when he was in Montreal to promote his Testify-Album. I have not been listening to the album yet, but I heard that song – Can’t Stop Loving You - on the radio. I thought it was a great single. Phil came to a radio station and I have friends working on that radio station and they called me saying “hey, we’re taking you somewhere tonight” – ok, cool. So they picked me up and took me there to meet him – which was pretty fucking cool. I met him and he was very kind, very gentle and actually he asked me more questions than I had time to ask him.

it: So you met Phil before you went on tour with The Musical Box?

Martin: Yes, that was before we went on tour. But we were rehearsing already. We started the pre-production of the Selling Tour in July 2002, I met Phil in September and the first gig was in October I think. So I was fuckin’ in it. That was something to meet him during the time I was working so hard to get all these tiny ghost notes right. I remember saying to him ‘what were you thinking at that time?’ and he just went ‘fffff’ (pretends to smoke a joint). (laughter) – That’s how he replied.

it: What was the situation like when you walked off stage in Geneva and Phil went on stage to play on your drumkit? How did you feel about that?

Martin: When the show started, I almost forgot he was there. I tried to focus on the show and I played a fucking great show. Before the show, I was nervous, but when it started, I was very focused, grounded and played a great show. After the last song which was “it”, I had to make a few changes at the drumkit so that he could be comfortable – I had to lift up the bench a bit because he plays really high on the bench, lift the cymbal, remove my bass drum pedal, because he wanted to use his own – so I was still focused on those things to be done, then I put my first foot off the stage and then – he was there, dressed like me, backstage, like that (spreads his arms) and he said ‘come here’, so I got closer and he took me in his arm and said ‘man, that was fuckin’ amazing’. Well, I could have died there, I guess. This was fucking great. After that my girlfriend took my hand and took me to the soundman. It was only there that I realized that this was my drumkit, this is Phil Collins on my drumkit, and these are my friends on stage playing with Phil. That was amazing. That was so unreal.

it: It was the second time that a member of Genesis joined the Musical Box onstage after Steve Hackett did in 2002.

Martin: Well I wasn’t there when Steve Hackett joined the band on stage.

it: Yes, but do you expect more of that to happen during forthcoming shows?

Martin: I don’t think so. Because not everyone is like Steve Hackett or Phil Collins. Well maybe Rutherford, I don’t know. But certainly not Gabriel and certainly not Tony Banks.

it: How did the rehearsals go with Phil?

Martin: The rehearsals were very hard, because he hasn’t been checking this out at all. You know, he told us ‘I checked this out’ but he didn’t (Read Phil Collins' statement about his performance with The Musical Box in Geneva).

it: There is a picture of Phil, possibly taken during rehearsals, where he puts together his hands as if he were praying.

Martin: No that was during the show just before he started the song. He told me that he’s been listening to the song during the week in his car and said ‘well I’m ok, I can play that’ (sounds exactly like Phil while saying that). And when he got behind the drums, it was totally hell. He was so uncomfortable and he was sweating like hell. They played the song four or five times – the whole song! Sometimes they stopped it to start again from another part and sometimes it was quiet for a second, then Phil was waiting for another musician to start – it was very hard.

It seemed so hard. I tried to reassure him – in some kind of drummer to drummer conversation – I said ‘well you don’t have to do the triplets if you don’t want’, because they are difficult. And he said that his chops [describes the playing ability of the combination between foot/hand speed and technique] were there back in 1976 or 1977 – he said ‘when I played with Brand X, I was really hip and my chops were all there’ but this was 30 years ago and he playes more backbeats today. That’s what he likes to do now. That’s cool.

it: What do you think about Phil’s music. You said before that you do not know the Testify Album...

Martin: Well I bought it but never listenend to it.

it: Ok, so what do you think about his carreer, starting as a drummer in Genesis, becoming a singer, finding a fusion outlet in Brand X, then becoming a solo artist with a poppier sound and getting more and more successful.

Martin: I think it’s great. Maybe it’s a bit too cheesy sometimes, but I love pop-music a lot. I am not a prog lover except for one album from King Crimson and one from Yes. I’m not into this neo-prog thing. I listen to lots of styles. I think what Phil did is good – that’s when I discovered him. I was 14 in 1985 and he was singing Sussudio and that was groovy (sings the horn section’s part). It’s fucking groovy! I love that stuff!

it: Did you see the First Final Farewell Tour?

Martin: No (pause) ...well you can ask me why! (laughs) I was busy with these guys rehearsing the Lamb show and the ticket in Montreal was so expensive so I didn’t go. I went to see Gabriel on his last tour. I was a bit disappointed to have paid more than 100 Dollars to see and especially hear this, you know...I have seen the show in 1993, the Secret World Tour, it was a great show with Manu Katché and Paula Cole, it was great then. This tour was ...heavier.

it: Ok, last questions. From this show, what is the most difficult song for you to play live?

Martin: That is The Colony Of Slippermen because there’s this fast response between the hi-hat and snares. I’ve been working very hard on this.

it: Do you have plans for the time after the Lamb tour or after The Musical Box in general?

Martin: I don’t know. Just be happy. (laughs)

it: Any plans for a Phil Collins Coverband?

Martin: No, I don’t think so.

it: What’s your favorite Genesis track and album?

Martin: Album I would say A Trick Of The Tail and song – I don’t know, probably Second Home By The Sea.

it: Ok, I think we’re through

Martin: Yes, ok..

it: And we have something for you. A recording from a Genesis show in Zurich in 1977. It contains a funny introduction from Phil for the track Robbery Assault And Battery. If you ever cover this era....

Martin: If I ever...(laughs) – is that a suggestion?

it: Thanks a lot for taking some time and all the best for the rest of the tour.

Martin: Sure, was great fun, thanks as well.

Interview: Christian Gerhardts and Helmut Janisch
Transcribed by Christian Gerhardts
Photos by Peter Schütz

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