Keith Levene:
Flipside fanzine #27, October, 1981

Transcribed (and additional info) by Karsten Roekens

© 1981 Flipside


By Bill Bartell and Darby Crash, six months late because it was first submitted to 'Creem', but here it is!!

If it can be said that John Lydon is the Public in PIL, then the Image and its Limitations is the brainchild of Keith Levene. As guitarist of Public Image Ltd. and, as I see it, the true genius behind the band, Levene is often overlooked in the presence of one J. Lydon, and the public is missing a great deal.

In Los Angeles, and in spite of the absence of a reception party, Keith was still in a talkative, omniscient mood in regard to 'his' band, and the manuscript that follows is an account of the interview.

BILL BARTELL: "What did you think of the L.A. crowd?" [1]

KEITH LEVENE: "I was really surprised. I dunno, they just annoy me. They were like pseudo skinheads, gobbing all the time, it just didn't mean anything to me."

BILL BARTELL: "Do you think that most of the audience was living a Pistols fantasy?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I think that like a third of them were, and because of that they really limited what the band could do. They just blew it for themselves."

BILL BARTELL: "What about the other two thirds?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Well, another third seemed really interested, a bit off the wall anyway, and the other third that weren't the Pistols idiots were just annoying people that go to any gig and just go around causing fights. But I reckon a third of that audience were really into it. And the others, well, they didn't care, did they?"

BILL BARTELL: "How are the Warner Brothers executives reacting to the band handling all of its own business affairs?"

KEITH LEVENE: "They don't like it. We had a meeting with them and they said, after two years of us being together, to get a manager or nothing is going to work. In the end we had to say 'Yes, we'll get a manager,' but not really, it was just to end the conversation, and we went on doing what we had been. They tried to undermine us, they sent telegrams to John saying 'Keith's getting the promoter to advertise saying you used to be in the Sex Pistols,' when actually they were only advertising it like that because Warners wasn't backing up the promoters. They were supposed to put up $80,000 to support the tour, and all the promoter wanted was for them to do some radio spots. They put up the money for the tour, but they just took back the money from the gigs to pay it back. Luckily we arranged the three biggest gigs ourselves so we made a load of money off it, and they can't say anything about it."

DARBY CRASH: "Didn't they initially have a 30 date tour scheduled?"

KEITH LEVENE: "They wanted us to do a tour, but we told them we don't tour, like, we're never going to do this again, never more than two gigs in a month. I want to play L.A. again, in fact I want to do an album here. I don't know why, I just want to."

BILL BARTELL: "Do you think there is hope for the audience you saw tonight?" [1]


BILL BARTELL: "Do you classify your music at all?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I'll just say we're not a rock and roll band. I'm anti rock and roll, rock and roll stinks to me. It was great ten years ago, but it's got nothing to do with what is happening now, because nothing is happening anymore. It's just like so much of nothing."

BILL BARTELL: "What about a new album?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Well, I want to do an album here, release an album out there." (waves hand towards Los Angeles) "It won't be a Public Image album, well, it will be, but it will be just me and John on it."

BILL BARTELL: "What about the 'Metal Box'/'Second Edition' controversy with Warners?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Well, they're just arseholes, that's all. If they don't want to release what I thought was a fucking good idea, well ... What happened was, we had to spend a third of our advance, seventy or eighty thousand dollars, just to get it released in England. Our own money. We said we want this metal box, and they said 'Well, you can't have it,' so it was the only way we could do it. We said that promotionally it would work, just make 50,000 to see, but they didn't. In the end they wanted to make 200,000 after ours sold out immediately, and we said no. The reason we made 'Second Edition' was because we couldn't afford it. In New York they're selling it for fifty dollars when it should be fourteen. We didn't release it as a collector's item, we just couldn't afford to make more. But when they asked to make more we said no, because it just wasn't worth it."

BILL BARTELL: "Do you think the promotion Warner Brothers is doing is poor?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I think they're useless because they don't understand us at all."

BILL BARTELL: "Do you think the band would be receiving as much attention as it is had John not been in the Sex Pistols and you in The Clash?"

DARBY CRASH: "You were in The Clash?!"

KEITH LEVENE: "That thing with John cancels itself out. As popular as the Sex Pistols were, it also has bad points to fuck it up, like the audience tonight. It's not really that important at all. We could have made it within, say, six months as some mega-band and done Sex Pistols things, but we didn't, and it's taking time. Our ideas are so different anyway. You see, we're Public Image Ltd. – we're a limited company. We're a company and not a group. We've got a company over here, we're incorporated. And it's all part of PIL, and PIL is a company, a group of people, like Jeannette who is in the band. We're individuals and we've got creative output, and this" (tapping my 'Metal Box') "is what we're doing at the moment. We're just trying to use all the companies positively. And when we do gigs we're not necessarily out there to give people a good time. I just do whatever happens at the time. It has to be spontaneous."

BILL BARTELL: "Like John bringing the kids on the stage tonight?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Yeah. He's done that once or twice before, but it isn't planned or anything."

BILL BARTELL: "What do you think of the turn The Clash have taken since you left?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I think they're pathetic wankers and have been since I quit."

DARBY CRASH: "Why did you leave?"

KEITH LEVENE: "It was either Mick or me, so I let Mick stay because I didn't want to be with them." [2]

BILL BARTELL: "Did you like the music of the Sex Pistols?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I thought the Pistols were great."

BILL BARTELL: "You used to do some Pistols material like 'Belsen' and 'Problems', didn't you?" [3]

KEITH LEVENE: "'Belsen' was my song, I wrote that with Sid and John, that's a Public Image song. We didn't do it tonight because we didn't want to. We did 'Religion' tonight, and we haven't done that before on the whole tour. And we did 'Home Is Where The Heart Is', and we haven't done that one ever."

BILL BARTELL: "So does the company have any movie or video projects coming up?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Yeah, a lot of video ideas running around, but the thing about video is that it is changing from tapes to discs, and it isn't quite commercially viable yet, but that doesn't really interest us. It interests me not, like, a band performance on disc, but that people have the opportunity to make short movies with their music included. I'd like to send videos around the country on tour and do off gigs now and then, just to show the change. We've changed a lot on the tour. We've done nine gigs so far, and four of them have been totally different and the others were just, like, monotony."

DARBY CRASH: "What do you think of L.A.?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I think it's easy to live here – too nice"

BILL BARTELL: "What do you think of the situation with Adam & The Ants and Malcolm?"

KEITH LEVENE: "Nothing at all. Malcolm is very interesting. I've never liked him and he has never liked me, we've always hated each other, and I think he's very mad. He's almost very clever, but he gets his motives mixed up with his ego, kind of fucks things up. He does have something because a lot of people spend a lot of time talking about him."

BILL BARTELL: "Do you want to be a superstar?"

KEITH LEVENE: "No, I'm not trying to be a superstar. I don't know what I really want. I don't like doing gigs because it's format rock and roll. There is no way you can do heavy gigging and say you're genuinely giving it your all. We never wanted to do a tour because it obviously destroys bands. I'm not trying to be a star, I just want to see a lot of fucking things change – people being a lot more honest and a lot more creative again, to stop following. I like Eno, I like Peter Hammill and ABBA. I hate The Clash, I hate the Specials."

BILL BARTELL: "Do you dislike ska music in general?"

KEITH LEVENE: "No, I just don't like third-rate imitations. I'm dead against anything like that. I'm against film unions and musicians unions, any of that stuff. I'm not in any of them."

BILL BARTELL: "Doesn't not being in cause some problems with royalty checks?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I don't know, I've never had one. We negotiate our own contracts and pay ourselves. We just blow it all. Warners works for us and so does Virgin. Warners just doesn't realise it as much as Virgin does. The record company is supposed to release and distribute your record. They give you an advance, but they're still working for you. Most bands let companies dictate to them, tell them to cut their numbers short, what to put out, that sort of thing. They wanted us to speed up 'Fodderstompf' and to turn up the vocals on the 'Public Image' single. We told them to fuck off." [4]

BILL BARTELL: "Do you want to become a label that takes on other acts?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I'd like to be like World Enterprises in that Bowie film, 'The Man Who Fell To Earth'. Massive but honest, making loads of money but no ripping people off. With people like Warners there's a lot of CIA involvement – money exchanges, I'll talk about it with the tape off, if you like, but not with it on."

BILL BARTELL: "What about American alternative bands like The Residents?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I think that is all full of shit, full of influences. I like the idea of people doing things, but it would be so much better if they would look to themselves. So much easier, so much less effort. Like me, I'm into monotony. I'll tell you if I'm nicking, like, I nicked 'Swan Lake', but I didn't nick the idea, I just used it. The way I play guitar now, I hardly use chords, I just play with no limitations with respect to key. Wobble is like a scaffold for me to build around. I don't play guitar really, I just use it to get sounds."

BILL BARTELL: "This is getting rather lengthy, do you have anything final to say?"

KEITH LEVENE: "I think L.A. is a killer city!"

DARBY CRASH: "Bill, throw your 'Metal Box' over the balcony!"


[1] PIL played the Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles on 4 May 1980. Although this interview was published "six months late" in October 1981 it is obviously from PIL's May 1980 US tour.
[2] Keith Levene was fired by The Clash because he didn't bother to turn up to rehearsals.
[3] PIL played 'Problems' just once (Paris, 22 December 1978). 'Belsen Was A Gas' was played regularly until February 1979.
[4] The re-recorded version of 'Fodderstompf' (a.k.a. 'Death Disco Megga Mix') is faster and in a higher key than the original album version.


Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
© n/a
Archives | Fodderstompf