Keith Levene:
Billboard, NYC, May 23rd 1981

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1981 Billboard / Roman Kozak


By Roman Kozak

NEW YORK – Public Image Ltd, or PIL as it is known to its fans, has a new LP 'Flowers Of Romance' out on Warner Bros, but the musical entity formed by former Sex Pistol Johnny Lydon (Rotten) is both more or less than a band.

PIL now consists of three members. In addition to Lydon there is guitarist Keith Levene and video expert Jeannette Lee, who has increasingly pointed PIL in a video direction. But, says Levene, to do video properly one has to do it in the U.S., indicating that PIL is moving its base from London to New York.

"It's an expansion. It's time to get serious," says Levene, interviewed recently at Warner Bros office here.

He says there are no plans to get together a working band to tour behind the new LP release. Rather, he says, he is doing some press and college radio interviews, while spending his time learning about cable TV in the U.S., which does not exist as an entertainment medium in Britain. Levene does not have much faith in videodisks or cassettes.

With only two musicians in PIL, Levene says that any live performance by the group would have to be so pre-programmed and computerized that it would not be worth doing.

"I would rather send a video around to the clubs," says Levene, "or use cable and communicate that way."

However, PIL did play two surprise dates at The Ritz here over the weekend. [1]

Moreover, says Levene, the whole touring/record company setup as it currently exists has become too establishment, once again losing the freshness it had when first the Beatles came out, and then a decade later when the Sex Pistols further expanded the horizons of rock.

PIL is an 'anti-rock' group, both in its sparse, almost frightening insistent and dissonant music, and in its efforts to escape the confines of what a 'rock' band is supposed to represent. Hence the name. It is a production company more than a band. It makes audiodisks, video projects, it may produce new artists (Levene has someone in mind, but it hasn't happened yet, he says), and it explores the possibilities offered by technology.

"I want to manufacture electronic equipment and be in the same league as Sony," says Levene. "It's that ambitious."

Hence the move to the U.S. Levene says he is "definitely here", but it was hard, he admits, to convince fellow PIL members Lydon and Lee to make the move with him. He says he has convinced them, and as soon as the visas are approved, PIL will become an American-based entity.

Levene himself, now that he has had a litle time to spend here, has become a converted New Yorker. "It's magic," he says.

"I think PIL will be very busy. The thing is direct feedback from moving down the streets of New York, seeing every electronic store you can see, and seeing the laser disks collecting dust on the shelves. The song says the future is now, and it's true. It's there for the taking. It has to be used."

Already PIL has created three video pieces, two showing it as a band in performance, and one, titled 'Bog C. Orifice', shows Lydon playing the part of Bog and being interviewed on tape.

Levene currently is working at ex-Utopia member Moogy Klingman's audio/video Hi-Five Studio in New York on a project for cable TV. It is also a PIL objective, indicates Levene, to bring together the various people in new music and video projects. For instance, Levene says, it is counterproductive that Klingman and Todd Rundgren should have independent video studios, if they could all better work together.

"I want to get into new programmes, and video is the machine, the access to the people," he says. "It's like the whole rock 'n' roll scene, and everybody was reaching out and trying to do this new thing. If anything was new after the Beatles it was the Sex Pistols. And we got the guy, that's Johnny Rotten. I don't care if I'm famous or not, but Johnny is. He's a household name all over the world, and I'm really surprised we haven't been able to sell any records," he laughs. "But it doesn't matter, because the guy is a very interesting guy and we have a lot of work to do. I hope more people will keep up with it. I am sure they will. I want weirdos, not the young cult following but those who maybe just watch telly, know about us and once in a while buy a record. We don't care if there's only a few thousand of them, just as long as … well, you understand."

Though the band has an anti-rock rep, Levene admits that his roots come from there, and in fact he learned how to play the guitar listening to the Grateful Dead.

"When I was learning to play the guitar I was learning from this American living in London who was a Jerry Garcia freak. I've had a complete Grateful Dead education," he admits.


[1] PIL played only the first of the two dates, with the second gig being cancelled.


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