Level 42 frontman talks history, technique, equipment and the future
Exclusive interview with FBPO’s Jon Liebman
April 27, 2015
Top photo: C. Godwin
Mark King is best known as the bassist and lead singer for British rock band Level 42. King is greatly acclaimed for incorporating his extraordinary slap-style bass technique into a rock setting. FBPO’s Jon Liebman caught up with Mark at the 2015 London Bass Guitar Show.
FBPO: How would you describe your musical upbringing?
MK: Lucky, I guess. Growing up through the ‘60s and ‘70s was a joy because there were so many amazing musical firsts coming through. Fusion, funk, soul, rock…. you name it. It was all being invented before my very ears!
FBPO: How did you become a bass player? Didn’t you start out as a drummer?
MK: Out of necessity, really. My mate Phil Gould and I had grown up on the Isle of Wight as drummers and would get together a lot to talk all things drums. We went our separate ways, but eventually met up again in London.
I had traveled out to Austria to join a band as their drummer there, but as is often the case, things never worked out and I ended up returning home minus my drums! So when we got together again to jam in what was to become Level 42, I took the role of bass player. For some reason, no one else wanted to do it!
FBPO: Tell me about your technique. I mean, your slapping ability is certainly well known, but it’s not the Larry Graham or Stanley Clarke kind of slapping. Yours is in more of a rock setting, which isn’t as common.
MK: Agreed, it’s not like Larry or Stan Clarke, both of whom I adore, and having played with Larry a few times now, it is very apparent when we are side by side. I’m not really sure how to describe my version of slap, but when I close my eyes and visualize playing bass, it is usually around a sixteenth pattern that is akin to a conga player laying down a pattern for the other guys to do their thing over.
FBPO: While it’s not unusual to find elements of jazz and funk in rock music, your approach is still quite unique. I guess your background as a drummer helped you there?
MK: I think my development as a composer and songwriter is as much to blame. I titled my first solo album Influences for the very reason that whatever music was created was a direct result of all the music I had heard over the previous 24 years. Hence my good fortune at growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
FBPO: How would your compare Level 42’s music with your solo releases: Influences, One Man, Trash, etc?
MK: Well, with the earlier L42 stuff, I was always writing with the other guys, so you move over and make room for these new ideas that would then re-inspire and take it all somewhere else. Then when you are “off the leash” and on your own, you can go wherever the musical winds carry you and not have to keep an ear on the whole “…does this track work with the other songs we have?” thing. It’s all good, though. Just different!
FBPO: What kind of equipment are you using these days?
MK: I use Rotosound Funkmaster strings, double ball end, 30-50-70-90, on my Status Kingbass Paramatrix basses, into my pedalboard, which changes quite regularly as I come across some other new bit of kit. It is largely TC, though. I currently have a TC Corona chorus, Hall of Fame reverb, Flashback Delay and looper, Dark Matter overdrive, Helix phaser, ElectroHarmonix POG2, Radial Design Big Shot ABY amp switcher, Line 6 Relay G50 wireless system going into a TC Electronic Blacksmith 1600w head, and two 4×10 cabs. I also carry the new BH800 head as a spare too. It’s brill.
FBPO: What else is keeping you busy?
MK: I’m quite a social animal these days, so I go to a lot of parties and industry shindigs because it is important to keep your face on the scene. I like messing about in the garden too, but the parties are more fun.
FBPO: Having been well established on the music scene for many years, what else would you like to do that you haven’t already accomplished?
MK: That’s a hard question to answer, really. I’m still doing it with the band and am loving it all as much as I ever did. I’ve got no plans to retire, but some co-writes with new blood would be cool. I’ll get on it!
FBPO: What would you be if you weren’t a bass player?
MK: I’d be a weather lady. After the news.