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Everything In Threes: Interview With Triumph's Mike Levine

By Krishta Abruzzini, Pacific Northwest Writer
Friday, May 30, 2008 @ 10:06 PM

“I’m way better looking than Geddy!”

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With roughly twenty years behind them, Canada’s power trio Triumph will reunite for the first time this year at the Sweden Rock Festival (June 4-7) and the Rocklahoma music festival in Pryor, Oklahoma (July 11th).

Making a clean break from the band in 1988, singer/guitarist Rik Emmett left fellow band-mates Mike Levine and Gil Moore amid growing dissatisfaction over writing credits and artistic direction. Under a long standing agreement, Emmett left with only a one ninth interest in the band and cited for many years he had no commercial interest in Triumph. Emmett was open and vocal about his mistrust of his former band-mates.

On March 10, 2007 the band was inducted to the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame. All original members were present and for the first time in nearly two decades the period of silence between them was broken. Although asked of a possible reunion at that time, it didn’t seem likely. Gil Moore was busy with his studio Metalworks in Mississauga and hadn’t actually played drums in nearly fifteen years. Rik and Mike were busy with other projects, and it would take time to fully dialyze the years of dissention between the three.

With time and the realization that the three were more brethren than just co-workers, the band has decided to give Triumph a go with the two reunion shows and the potential of a full-scale world tour in 2009. KNAC.COM caught-up with a very excited, somewhat nervous Mike Levine who was preparing for the upcoming shows.

KNAC.COM: Triumph has always been compared to that of Rush, I think partly because you’re all from Canada and a trio. Has that been a frustrating comparison or flattering?

LEVINE: I’m totally flattered with that [comparison]. The real comparison is the fact that, as you alluded to, we’re both from Canada, we’re both from Toronto, both three piece bands. After that, it changes. I’m way better looking than Geddy! (Laughs). Rik’s way better looking than Alex.

KNAC.COM: He’s probably not as scrappy either.

LEVINE: No, he’s not. I think musically, we’re like apples and oranges. We’re two different bands.

KNAC.COM: Rock critics haven’t always been kind to the band either. How do you handle that?

LEVINE: I could care less actually. You know that expression, ‘those who can do, those who can’t are critics’? I’ve never really cared what they said, honestly. As long as they get an advance story, spell the name of the band right and put a picture in the newspaper, I was happy.

KNAC.COM: It’s when they stop talking about you that you’ve got to worry. It’s been nearly twenty years since the original lineup all played together, with some turbulent past feelings between Rik Emmett, you and Gil Moore. What brought about the reunion?

LEVINE: I guess it all started when the event in Toronto called Canadian Music Week, which is an annual event where hundreds of bands play in clubs. It’s a big industry and fan based thing. The guy that runs it all came to us individually and said that he wanted to put us in the Hall of Fame for Canadian Music Week, but that he needed all three of us, and asked if we’d do it. Eventually he just beat everybody down to the point where he brokered a meeting where we all got together in a coffee shop. We all looked at each other and were like, ‘So, how ya been?’ And so we decided we would do it. We all had such a good time doing interviews together, went for lunches and dinners and just laughed our heads off. It started there. Then we’d get together through email or talking and eventually it came around to, ‘Well, do you think you want to go play some dates?’ We kind of said, ‘Ooookay, what will we play and where?’ We decided we’d play some festival dates over the summer just to see how the band is. Can we still play together? Will we still like each other on stage? Can we travel together? And can we come out of this alive?

KNAC.COM: I heard that Rik’s brother kind of helped foster this when he was dying of cancer, and urged him to make amends with both you and Gil and to reform. Has there always been kind of a sense of lost brotherhood during that period of separation?

LEVINE: I’ll tell you, I knew Rik’s brother very well, Russell. It was really sad to see him go at such a young age. It was just horrible. And it really affected Rik a lot. Gil and I spent some time with him, just supporting him through that period. The long and the short of it is that Russell was always putting the pressure on Rik to make amends with Gil and I. And Rick finally, I guess, thought this would be a good thing to do. And he could tell his brother before he passed-on, that hey, guess what, we’re all friends again.

KNAC.COM: What a gift to him, to be able to put the past aside. As a positive thing it’s turned around and obviously this is going to be a great thing for all of you.

LEVINE: Definitely, yes.

KNAC.COM: So, you and Gil were able to purchase and acquire Triumph’s entire album catalogue from MCA, and ultimately launched your own label TML Entertainment. Is that exclusive for Triumph or do you have interest in other bands?

LEVINE: It’s still a functioning entity, I guess. I know we still sell albums. It’s strictly Triumph at this stage anyway. We may build it out into other artists. But, I really don’t like the music business the way it is today.

KNAC.COM: What music industry? It’s dead!

LEVINE: (Laughing) I am so glad that I’m not really involved with the day to day machinations that go on there. Because it’s a mess, I think. Not that the record companies are all to blame for it, but I think it just be way too much work to try to establish an artist in today’s world.

KNAC.COM: Well, in thinking about you guys, regarding longevity, that you’re able to go out after twenty years and do a reunion tour, is pretty much a novelty in itself right now. There are not many bands that are coming out today; I can pretty much guarantee that in twenty years will be able to do the same thing.

LEVINE: I tend to agree with you. When we were starting out, there was this thing that record companies had called, Artist Development. You didn’t have to have a hit on your first album, or your first recording. If you did well, that’s great and if you didn’t, you strived to do better on your next one. You were given like three albums, and now you’re given like three minutes. And it’s over.

KNAC.COM: I guess Warhol’s ten minutes of fame should be revised to three, huh?

LEVINE: (laughing) Yes, definitely.

KNAC.COM: In recent years you’ve released several live and compilation Triumph DVDs & albums. Have you received much success from sales & support?

LEVINE: Yeah, they’ve done very well. The DVDs especially, which is an opportunity for people to see Triumph live. We really have the only good footage of the US Festival. It’s really a fun DVD; there are lots of good features on it.

KNAC.COM: Do you think you’ve compiled & released these DVDs and albums in the past few years with a deep-down feeling that there would be an eventual reunion? Or was it all just business?

LEVINE: You know, we had a song called ‘Never say Never.’ I’ve always believed in that. Do I miss playing? Sure. We had a lot of fun. And a lot of success, too. I always thought there might be a chance. But I also didn’t go to sleep every night going, ‘gee, I wonder if tomorrow it will happen’. I think everything has its time, and this is the time. I think we’re kind of the last band standing after the Police and Van Halen. I don’t think there’s anybody else left.

KNAC.COM: I understand that Gil has Metalworks Studios in Mississauga (which takes an educational role in training new engineers and sound technicians for Canada's music industry). With his full-time career at Metalworks, plus the fact that he has not performed as a drummer since 1993, are you all a bit nervous for your upcoming live reunion at the Sweden Rock Festival this June?

LEVINE: We’re all pretty nervous. But you know, Gil set-up his kit and played on his own a few times, and I went up and played with him a few times and he was feeling pretty good, other than he couldn’t walk or move his arms for a few days. He’d go into the gym and work it out and then play every day. We’ll be in full-time rehearsal very soon.

KNAC.COM: So it’s going to be taken past just the two festivals, right?

LEVINE: Yeah, there’ll probably be another three or four festival dates, or more or less, nothing that’s actually confirmed. I expect we’ll have more dates confirmed soon.

KNAC.COM: Will there be any more recordings, new material?

LEVINE: Playing live and playing in the studio are two entirely different scenarios. I think we have to get past the going out and playing and see how we’re doing and then address the issues that come out of it. We could go out after the first date and realize that this is never going to work. Or work incredibly well, and when we finish, we may want to do some writing and go into the studio. But I can’t even address that until we get to the next step.

KNAC.COM: As a business savvy musician, and given your feelings of the music industry now, would you want to put yourself through that grueling competition?

LEVINE: If we did do something, our attitudes would simply be that we’d be doing it for the fans. We wouldn’t care if it sold a lot or a little. It’ll give a little snapshot of where Triumph was twenty years later.

KNAC.COM: Now that it’s all coming to fruition, is it a bit surreal that you’re actually playing in a band again and have a huge festival date?

LEVINE: Yeah. It’s a daunting task. Forget about the music, it’s all the other crap that goes around it too. Just getting the road crew together. Who’s going to do what? We don’t have anybody. We used to have guys that were around all the time. It’s like starting from scratch again.

KNAC.COM: Have you recruited any of your old crew?

LEVINE: It’s funny. Our sound guy, he’s like president of the biggest sound company in America, and he wants to come out with us. And our lighting director for the last three or four tours we did is going to plod up with us and work. His name is Paul Dexter, he just did the ‘Heaven and Hell’ tour.

KNAC.COM: That’ll be an amazing production. He did a phenomenal job with that tour. Will you guys be using any pyro, which you were known for?

LEVINE: Because we’re playing festivals, we’re pretty limited. It’s tough with pyro these days to get that going with all the issues. But we’ll have a few bells and whistles that we’ll add onto it. If all goes well, we’re going to do a full blown tour in ’09 which will be big and it will be mind boggling.

KNAC.COM: Can’t wait to see you guys!

LEVINE: Thank you, and so glad to see KNAC is still in business there in Los Angeles. Please send a really warm hello to all the fans out there.

For more information and tour dates, please visit: www.Triumphmusic.com

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