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by Trevor Reekie

Ex-Pat Files: Levi Tecofsky

by Trevor Reekie

Ex-Pat Files: Levi Tecofsky

His CV includes working with David Bowie, Roxy Music, Rickie Lee Jones, Smashing Pumpkins, Hole, Placebo, Suede, The Breeders, Dinosaur Jnr, My Bloody Valentine, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, That Petrol Emotion and more and more.

What are some of your memories of NZ before you relocated?

My most lasting impressions of home are of the 80s club scene and the music scene in general in Auckland while I was there between about 82 and 85… Dole Day Afternoons, gigs at the Windsor Castle with local Kiwi bands and then seeing international acts at Mainstreet or Logan Campbell and the club scene at places like A.C.B., Quays and Zanzibar. Just the whole vibe was amazing, lots of different musical genres and experiences, great people and made all the more enjoyable for me by having just moved up from Taranaki which was not exactly the most happening of places.

I either worked directly with Laurie Bell (RIP, lovely man sadly killed on a Commodores tour) and Phantom Productions or through my predecessor Phil Bailey who handled all the shows for Ray Channon and ATS. This meant I was responsible for the power side of the international acts coming in at the time. My last show in NZ was for Queen in April 85 at Mt Smart. My fee, $1200 I think it was, actually bought me my one way airfare to London. I was also a fledgling sound engineer but only for small bands and I was a bit part house engineer at Mainstreet some nights.

After this show I was offered a world tour with Meat Loaf as electrician but I wanted to get the feel of London and particularly wanted to follow my sound engineering path, so I politely declined and got a job as a despatch rider (Greg Carroll lent me the money to buy the motorbike), and I also worked as a barman at BAFTA in Piccadilly.

I went on tour with The Very Things for a time and then met another band called the Young Gods at an amazing festival that used to be held annually in Rotterdam called Pandora’s Box. I met That Petrol Emotion through the Young Gods and also My Bloody Valentine and Test Department. It was while I was mixing the Valentines in the US on the last ever tour they did that I met Billy Corgan and James Iha of the Smashing Pumpkins. It was at the Vic Theatre in Chicago in the dressing room and they had a picture torn out of Guitar Player of Kevin’s feet and his mass of effect pedals and were quizzing me on which ones were what, because they were guitar geeks. A few weeks later Billy called me and asked me to mix the live shows for the Gish tour in Europe.

Is it a case of who you know followed by what you know or vice versa? Your wife managing Placebo would suggest you have some serious “ins”?

It was all very organic in the late 80’s. I did struggle for some time, London was not very welcoming I would say. I wasn’t exactly a known soundman either when I arrived in the UK. The break of Greg putting me on the list for the U2 gig and meeting Minoux was the start and from there it was just meeting people and word of mouth – one band led to another. It was always a band member or singer calling to say, “Hey, blah blah says you’re good at this, will you do our tour”.

I continued to work for Placebo for at least six years straight (Alex and I married in this period, Placebo playing an impromptu Life on Mars on the jazz band’s gear at our wedding…) going from doing everything to ending up just as the sound engineer as they got bigger and we needed more hands on deck. I finally left them after doing sound for Bryan Ferry between Placebo albums and getting the call from Bryan to do sound on the Roxy Music’s first proper reform tour for 20 years in 2001. I was nominated for best sound engineer of the year in Total Production magazine in the UK for this tour and it is still one of the tours I am most proud of my work on.

 You still have to have your wits about you regardless of the size of tour though, especially in moments of crisis. I remember having to pay off the mafia once in Moscow after a vodka session while tour managing the Bad Seeds. Blixa decided to jump up and down on the roof of a Mercedes that just happened to belong to a local mob guy. Suffice to say we would not have got out of Moscow in one piece if it wasn’t for a large wad of cash I produced, some swift talking (after the interpreter butted out as he said I didn’t want to know what they were saying) and a big cigar…

With the Young Gods in the late 80s we used to set off from Geneva in a split screen ex-Swiss army VW combi campervan, middle of winter with snow on the floor, and drive to Vienna for gigs. It used to be so cold we had some metal clothes dryer tubing coming from the heater up front directly to the two guys in the back.

Friends in other international bands probably help but a good name and a half-decent rep must be the first things. It is tough over here, the small gigs are pretty rugged. I am lucky that most of the bands I have worked for were successful already, but I have been round the so called “toilet” gig circuit before many times in the early days. The combination for success over here is probably as much luck as being in the right place at the right time and getting a few breaks, as much as anything else.