Godfathers of Pop – Mark King Interview
Founding member of Level 42 Mark King started out as a drummer until he convinced a music shop to hire him as a bass expert. His band evolved from jazz funkateers to international pop pin-ups in the Eighties, selling 31 million records along the way.
In a way, the Sirens EP recalls your earliest funk pop roots.
Yes, the new stuff has got a lot of parallels with Love Games – the first single we had out for Polydor on our second album.We’d recorded an album for Elite but they never put it out, so in our innocence we agreed to record another and went off to record Love Games. When you hear Sirens there’s a lot of that in there, the jazz funk thing. But it’s not dated – it sounds relevant.
The remixes are interesting…
Hypnotic and repetitive, that’s the best dance music. It was great working with John Morales – he got it. It’s something we moved away from as developing pop songwriters. Originally we were driven by the funk mafia, DJs like Robbie Vincent and Chris Hill, who were doing all-dayers and soul weekenders.
Why did you choose to put the new material out yourself?
I went and had a chat with the major labels but I felt they weren’t going to do anything I couldn’t do myself. They just want access to your database and Facebook. If I need PR I’ll hire PR, and it’s not like we need A&R-ing; I know what we do better than anyone.
So I’ve become my own little fat label producer! I wish I’d done it sooner. EPs are the way to go; six tracks, and then in six months’ time fans get another, and then bang – you’ve got 12 tracks, and it’s an album.
Do you still enjoy new music?
I love it. I went to the 6 Music festival – their DJs Gilles Peterson, Shaun Keaveny and Lauren Laverne are so great. I love Connan Mockasin’s album Caramel, he’s a great kid from New Zealand. Drenge are fantastic, and I’ve been hanging out with the dudes from Elbow. They sent a picture of themselves with another band, Everything Everything, raising a glass. I got visions of them thinking I’m sat in a bath chair with a rug on my knees!
You’re MD for the Prince’s Trust.
Yes, they wheel me out and I pull a band together with Midge Ure. Two years ago I guested with Larry Graham, the Godfather of slap bass, who played with Sly And The Family Stone. We did the North Sea Jazz festival, and who should come on but Prince – he detoured his flight because he heard Larry was playing.
We also had Carlos Santana, so we ended up playing this great jam with 9000 people going bananas. It’s nice to be thought of enough by these people to be invited to play with them.
We had a week at his house in Switzerland just before he died. He invited me down to do some writing, so we spent seven days going out, having some nice dinner and then jamming at his place. Robert was such an audiophile… you could be rapping about music, then he’d go rushing off like a little boy and come back with the vinyl. It didn’t matter how obscure, he always had it! Sadly nothing came of those tunes as he passed away soon afterwards, but two blokes who love their music got to spend a few nice days together.
Which Level 42 song are you most proud of?
Something About You is a well-crafted pop song, and Starchild sounds as fresh as it did to me in 1981. That’s good, as 33 years is a long time ago! Level 42 was supposed to be about slap bass, the tight rhythm section and synths, but we found it gave us a whole new freedom. A good song will always be a good song.