Kermit Leveridge Interview
One of Manchester’s true groove innovators, Kermit Leveridge has made a vast contribution’s to the city’s cultural underbelly, working with Broken Glass, one of the UK’s first breakdancing crews, British hip-hop innovators, the Ruthless Rap Assassins and the idiosyncratic, chart-topping Black Grape, alongside former Happy Monday, Shaun Ryder.
His writing has always been prolific and his new material, both for Super Weird Substance, Black Grape and his poetry books is some of his finest. It was Kermit’s recent burst of creativity that sparked the beginnings of the label and his unrestrained energy has been driving it forward ever since.
With Super Weird Happening #6 just around the corner, Blind Arcade’s brand new single, Give It Away expected later this month, (18th Sept), and the second offering from the The Super Weird Society’s manic magic forthcoming (6th Nov), now seems as good a time as any to catch up with the man himself…
YOUR RECENT RETURN TO MUSIC WAS SPARKED BY A FRIENDSHIP WITH FORWARD-THINKING BASS-MAKER EVM128. HOW DID YOU COME TO KNOW EACH OTHER?
I met Luke through a friend – well this girl I was going out with at the time – she kept saying, “you should meet my friend Luke.” Then we actually did go round one day and we hit it off, talking about music – he was playing me something, I was playing him something. He was showing me a few things he’d been doing, we messed about a bit, put a couple grooves down and then we were up and running. That’s how it’s been ever since.
ONCE YOU REALISED THERE WAS SOME ALCHEMY AT PLAY IN THE BLIND ARCADE RECORDINGS, YOU IMMEDIATELY BROUGHT THE PROJECT TO GREG WILSON. WHY WAS HE YOUR FIRST PORT OF CALL?
Because he’s Greg haha… I like working with Greg, the Rap Assassins didn’t end right as far as I was concerned and we had unfinished business. We’d done Striving, me and Luke and Greg put that JFK sample at the beginning, he’s put it in a few of his mixes so I knew he had it.
That was one of the things that made me think of asking Greg. He was double busy at the time, supposed to be going to Australia and he couldn’t do it but the universe lent a hand and he didn’t go to Australia. So he had all this spare time and he actually sat down a listened to them properly and was like, “yeah I can work with this, this is cool.” Greg has good ideas man – Greg doesn’t have small ideas; Greg’s not like “let’s build a sandcastle” he’s more like “let’s build a cathedral.” I like that about him.
AFTER YOU BROUGHT THE PROJECT TO HIM, EVERYTHING FELL INTO PLACE. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH A TEAM OF GREAT MUSICIANS AGAIN WITH BLIND ARCADE AT THE AUTUMN HAPPENINGS?
It was nice man – The Reynolds, Cleve, Luke, BB. – everybody did exactly what they were supposed to and it was great to do it live and see the response from people. I enjoyed the happenings – it was just us finding our footing really – testing the water, seeing if we could make these ideas happen. People need a bit of culture, it’s nice to go out and dance but it would be nice to just go out and sit down and learn something, find out something. People swapping ideas, I love all that cross-pollination; it’s what keeps us going. Information man, that’s the thing – people love it.
THE IDEA OF A HAPPENING IS ROOTED IN SIXTIES PSYCHEDELIC CULTURE. WHY DID YOU WANT TO BRING IT BACK?
It is an idea from the sixties but people have always gathered and told stories – we’ve done it for thousands and thousands of years. Sitting round a fire telling stories, Joe Strummer was a big one for that. And taking that into a daytime environment is the same thing really. People come to the talks and fill their brains up, take in the sacrament and dance around the fire at the end when the bands and DJs play – it’s the same thing. We’re not doing anything different to what humans have done since the start of them being here.
THE SIXTIES MADE SOME HUGE CHANGES IN THE WORLD BUT IT ALSO TOOK A LOT OF PEOPLE OVER THE EDGE. DO YOU THINK ARTISTS NEED TO REACH THE EDGE TO FIND TRUE CREATIVITY?
I think you have to be a bit mad to be a true creative. You’ve got to think differently to create stuff. You can’t be mundane and create something like a Mona Lisa – you can’t! It’s impossible. What’s that Nietzsche saying, “Those who dance are considered insane by those who can’t hear the music.” That just sums it up for me. You just do your thing man, a lot of people were seen as crazy until afterwards. A lot of artists aren’t appreciated until they’re gone. There are so many artists who’ve died penniless…
There’s that point where great people seem to be accepted for what they’re doing, no matter how outrageous it is; like Tracey Emin, like Salvador Dali, like Picasso, like Einstein – there’s a point where it crosses over and becomes part of the culture – it becomes accepted. It’s just a case of education really, people opening their minds. I’m open to anything, as I’ve always said, I’ll try anything twice cause I might have got it wrong the first time. Obviously we can’t all live our lives like that, it would be like fucking Mad Max or something.
BEFORE NIKOLA TESLA USED TO INVENT SOMETHING, HE’D GET INCREDIBLY SICK. DO YOU THINK CREATIVITY HAS A PHYSICAL TOLL?
Oh yeah, yeah. I’ve got a great book called Creativity And Disease by a guy called Phillip Sandblom and it goes through everything he talks about. That whole manic depressive cycle; a crazy burst of creativity for like two, three weeks and then there’s this deep depression that follows. I go through that myself – my missus will tell you that I’m fucking hard work to live with! I’ll stay up for like a week or so and I’ll just be writing, for no specific purpose – just because it’s happening in my head. Then after I’ve put all this stuff down I’ll be really grumpy for like a week or so after.
A lot of people that do this sort of thing are sometimes seen as a bit of a problem when they’re younger, they have trouble in school, they get told they can’t concentrate, they’re not putting in effort, they’re daydreaming, they’re angry, it’s because we don’t let our kids have this outlet.
I was lucky I went to a school that was like an experiment in Manchester for like 20-30 years, Manchester High School of Art. It got all these creative kids and lumped them together with some crazy, maverick teachers! We all didn’t get the best exam results but the majority of us are doing very interesting things now. A lot of these people that are seen as leaders and mavericks; they’ve all been accused of being crazy. You have to be a bit detached from reality. You have to see the things laid out in front of you in a different way.
DO YOU THINK DRUGS FIT INTO THAT?
Exactly! It’s like I said, I think now I took drugs because I needed to quiet my mind down – I had so many thoughts and complex concepts flitting through my mind all the time and I’d be thinking on so many levels at a time that I’d have to try and quieten my brain – I couldn’t handle the things coming through my head, I really think that I had to it. Some people have other ways; some people drink, some have sex, some people have anger. You need an outlet for these things but sometimes there are people who can turn the pain and the spit and the shit into something that’s actually quite majestic.
LETTING GO OF NEGATIVITY IS AT THE HEART OF THE MESSAGE IN SUPER WEIRD SUBSTANCE’S SIXTH RELEASE, BLIND ARCADE’S GIVE IT AWAY. FOR YOU, IS IT A CASE OF LETTING IT OUT THROUGH A PEN?
Yeah definitely… Wow! I’d like to say that I use my pain as an ink engine – that’s what I do; I take all the bad things that have happened and try and make them positive. That actual track is about my heroin addiction. It’s about trusting heroin for so long to keep in certain state of mind, then, “how dare it betray me!” So that was the way I looked at it, like in a relationship: “I don’t need you anymore, you’ve broken my heart too many times – I’ve got my pride.”
HOW BIG A PART DID WRITING PLAY A PART IN YOUR RECOVERY FROM ADDICTION?
Honestly I just spent all my time writing. Writing, smoking weed and reading; reading comics, watching movies and playing PlayStation – seriously that’s all I did! I never used to go out that much, all I did was just stay in and smoke weed and just cook things in my head. It was good – me and Greg have this saying ‘going into the monastery’ and that’s what it was. It was a case of going into a monastery, back to the basics that I need for my soul.
It worked; I got a lot of stuff written down. That’s when I got Lies & Other Fools, I’ve got reams of stuff – that’s just a small piece of it that people have heard. Using that pain as an ink engine to drive my pen and get it out. Once it’s on the paper it’s not in me anymore. Sometimes I’ll write things and I don’t have a conscious thought about what I’m writing, it’ll come out pre-formed. Not all the time but it does happen a lot. I used to question it and I used to wonder about it but now it’s just part of who I am and what I am.
DURING THAT TIME, YOU TORE DOWN ALL THE PERSONALITIES YOU’D ACCUMULATED OVER YOUR TIME ADDICTED TO HEROIN AND DISCOVERED YOUR TRUE SELF. WAS THAT A SCARY PROCESS?
Yeah, I got into reading a lot of strange stuff. Esoteric stuff; Crowley, Anton LaVey – they go on about getting rid of all this – I don’t want to put it too simplistically – getting rid of all the shit inside of you, purging it. Facing the worst parts of you, and realising that they are a part of you and you have to accept them. It’s hard to admit certain truths to yourself. It’s very hard and it can fuck your head up. You can get depressed… It’s a very difficult to rebuild your soul – that’s the only way I can really put it. Mine’s still a bit leaky…
BUT THAT TIME IN THE MONASTERY CERTAINLY HELPED. YOU NEEDED TIME FOR YOUR SOUL TO RECOVER.
Yeah, I needed time to find out who I was again. To find myself under all this personality debris that I’d accumulated over the years. I had to scrabble through all that; lifting old girders and moving bricks out of the way – it was like a crumbling building. You’re digging through the rubble after an earthquake, then all of a sudden you hear the voice and you get them out. It was a case of that, going through the rubble of my life!
I had a really strange experience; I sat down on the floor and the football scores were on. I had my head down but I was guessing all the scores before he said them – I wasn’t looking at the screen or anything. Then as I lifted my head up, it was like my whole body sunk into the ground and I was connected to everything and it really affected me for months afterwards. I wasn’t on drugs or anything, it just happened. I felt like Jesus, I felt like the Buddha, I felt like Allah. It blew my mind.
It got me reading about prophets who’ve had visions and I found out about Temporal Lobe Epilepsy – about what happens in the brain and how they can induce it and make people ‘see god’. That’s what I think it is, the scientific part of me does anyway. The other part of me says maybe I did touch the Godhead. That had a lot to do with me changing the way I was. I realised there was more than what goes on in my head. I had an awakening lets say.
DID THOSE EXPERIENCES HAVE MUCH INFLUENCE ON YOUR WRITNG?
I have to write how I feel – it’s too much a part of me to leave out; it’s gonna show through.
AT THE MOMENT YOU’RE WRITING MATERIAL FOR SUPER WEIRD SUBSTANCE, BLACK GRAPE AND LIVE POETRY PERFORMANCES. HOW DO YOU KNOW WHICH MATERIAL FITS WHERE, AND IS THERE MUCH CROSSOVER BETWEEN THE THREE?
Wow… Well I ‘graze write’, I’ll have a few pads around me and words usually find their own outlet. I’ll put them on the paper – sometimes I’ll be writing for something specific like a groove Luke’s sent – but most of the time I’ve got stuff written all over the place. I’ll find a page and re-read it and then two lines will leap out at me and I’ll take them and make them into something else. Bits come from all over the place and they find their own medium.
I don’t make a conscious decision unless I’m writing for something specific. I never know if something’s gonna be a song or a poem – I think that would restrict what I’m doing. I’ve been writing stories as well, for the past year and a half or so. I’ve got threads of stories and I’ve been finishing them off – little human tales, the gamut of human emotion.
WHEN YOU WERE WRITING STUFF FOR BLIND ARCADE’S MIXTAPE THERE WAS ALL KINDS OF INFLUENCES COMING FROM ALL DIRECTIONS. WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN DRAWING FROM IN YOUR WRITING AT THE MOMENT?
What have I been vibeing off? Wow… I’ve been listening to a lot of Rotary Connection and The Peddlers as well – I’m digging them. It’s hard because the way I listen to music is so random…
NOT NECESSARILY JUST MUSIC.
Grant Morrison’s The Filth has been kicking my head for a while. Yeah it’s just the same things that I always do. I just listen to what I listen to and read what I read and it just comes through naturally. How did Elspeth put it…? You make these mind sausages with all the stuff in your head! You know like The Wall, Pink Floyd’s video, but instead of kids, stuffing books in, all these ideas; books, records, photographs, sounds and smells – itches and sneezes, anything. It all comes out as a little sausage haha.
WHERE DID THE IDEA TO UPDATE DERRICK MORGAN’S SEVEN LETTERS COME FROM?
It’s one of the tunes that I remember from being a kid and because my folks and everyone around them used to talk about ‘going back home’, that stuck in my head. With Seven Letters, this guy spends a week just writing these letters to this woman telling her how much he loves her and how much he wants her but at the end of it, it’s the case of, “you haven’t got back to me this time, that’s it, I’m gone – it’s not happening, I’m going home.
So I think there was a link there with my folks loving Jamaica but knowing that they needed to leave there to better their lives. Every time I hear Seven Letters, I instantly feel like a kid again. I’m in that space again; physically, spiritually, mentally.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WANTED TO MAKE A VERSION OF IT?
It’s one of those things; we’ll all have tunes, every now and again when you’ve had a few drinks and it’s late a night, you stick it on and I’ve had that for years with this track. I had a rough idea with it for a long time. I spoke to Luke about it but Luke was busy, then one night I was sat in the kitchen, drinking my red stripe, smokin’ my spliff, and I thought, “You know what I’m going to send it to Peza.”
He sent it back like the next day! Then on the train going to Greg’s to record it, I was furiously scribbling down new ideas because he’d taken it somewhere different I would never have thought of before. He’s good like that, he’s very quick and he really good at what he does.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST IMPRESSION WHEN GREG ASKED YOU TO COVER I WANNA BE YOUR DOG?
I remember he called me up one night and he said I’ve got this idea for a track, I Wanna Be Your Dog. I love Iggy and The Stooges and all that but I hadn’t listened to it in a long time so I went and checked it out again. I was listening to it and thinking, “Oh my god, how am I gong to approach this? How am I going to do it?” I was kind of scared to do it because I’ve got so much reverence for the track.
It wasn’t until I actually sat down with Greg at his house recording the track, he was saying, “try it like this, and try out his.” He was coaching me basically; he could hear it in his head. That’s what happens when you make music, you can hear things in your head and it’s a case of conveying those ideas across to people. That’s what he was trying to do; make what he heard in his head come out of my mouth.
By the end of the session I was fucking convinced man! It’s just such an iconic track that I got the fear but yeah, Greg talked me through it, showed me what to do and I just translated it. It worked! There’s been loads of people who say they really love it. I’ve had a few people say, “How can you touch that, bla bla bla…” But someone’s always going to complain, if you cured world hunger someone would say, “well now I’m too full.” That’s just the way of the world.
YOU JUST FINISHED A UK TOUR WITH BLACK GRAPE. WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH SHAUN AGAIN AFTER ALL THOSE YEARS?
You know what, I have to say that it’s been a pleasure working with him; it’s been awesome. And with the band as well, them guys fucking kick man! It’s been good doing that as well; meeting some of the musicians and turning them onto the Blind Arcade stuff. They want to get involved and that’s what we want to do at Super Weird Substance; get that whole Stax/Motown thing going; where we’ve got our in-house musicians and no matter what it is, we can mix it up. Yeah!
We’re getting closer to our goal. I was talking to Greg about it a few weeks ago and I was like, “fucking hell man! You think back to a year ago and now the box set is out and the mixtape has had I don’t know how many thousand plays and all the new releases are coming out. It’s good, thinking to – as you said at the beginning – getting Greg involved and how it’s turned out, it’s not been thought out – it has to a point but it hasn’t. The universe has taken over.
NOW YOU’VE GOT THE BLACK GRAPE TOUR BEHIND YOU, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO FOCUS ON NEXT?
Being a good dad, a lovely husband and a nice person basically haha. That’s what I’m doing. If you mean music, just doing what I’m doing, working with the people I’m working with at the moment. We’ve just started; we’ve just scratched the surface of the potential, there’s more, I see it in everybody. They all just glow so much – they’ve got these ideas and a generosity of spirit. Doing things for the right reason! If your heart’s pure and your mind’s righteous… The sky’s the limit man!
FIRST RECORD… The Charlie Daniels Band – The Devil Went Down To Georgia
I bought it for my mum – that’s the one record I remember going out and getting. I probably bought a few before it but that’s the first I remember going out and getting on my own.
WISH YOU’D WRITTEN… Jimmy Cliff – Many Rivers To Cross
It’s fucking perfect! It gets me every time; the lyrics, the music, everything – I love it! It stops me in my tracks when I hear it, it’s just such a beautiful sentiment – where his head was when it was writing it – it gets me every time, it nourishes my soul.
MOST PROUD OF WRITING… Lies And Other Fools
It was a step that I took from one place to another and it’s got a lot of significance for me. As a body of work and a piece of writing I think it’s got something; I practically peeled the skin off my flesh to write that one!
TAKES YOU BACK TO CHILDHOOD… Derrick Morgan – Seven Letters
It’s one of the tunes that I remember from being a kid and because my folks and everyone around them used to talk about ‘going back home’,
GUILTY PLEASURE… Rick Springfield – Jessie’s Girl
I love it! Haha! I liked it before I saw it on Boogie Nights and when I saw it on Boogie Nights it just made me laugh. I don’t know what it is about it…
RED STRIPE, A SPLIFF &… Miles Davis – Kind of Blue
Oh it’s got to be Kind of Blue – that song really mellows me out!
NEVER FAILS TO GET YOU DANCING… Funkadelic – One Nation Under A Groove
Put it on anytime and I’ll bop my head. I love that groove – I love that tune so much! I think the first time I heard it, I was in the backyard and my sister came how with it. I remember thinking, “What the fuck is going on!” Wow, just wow!
NEVER FAILS TO GET YOU SINGING… Bob Marley – One Love
It’s one of those tunes, if it’s on I have to sing along to it; such a wonderful statement. You go to Jamaica and it’s like the national anthem – you hear it everywhere. On the Jamaican coat of arms it says, “Out Of Many, One People.
NEVER FAILS TO PUT A SMILE ON YOUR FACE… The Specials – Stupid Marriage
Something that’ll make me grin? You know what, when I hear some of The Specials’ tracks, you know the one, “naked woman, naked man…” – what’s it called again? Whenever I hear that I get a huge grin on my face, I can see it all happening in my mind, it’s creates these images in my head that make me smile.