2012 could have been a horrible year for Mark Kendall and Great White. The legal issues they and their former bandmate Jack Russell are involved in make headlines in the rock world, though none of it is easy on the bands, their families or more importantly, the average fan. Still, the guys seem to have a pretty good remedy for all that, which is simply to keep music the primary focus and keep moving forward. They’ve got a great new singer who respects his fans as much as his job and a great new album to tour and promote called Elation (on Frontiers Records). “Elation” has a fairly different sound than any of their previous albums but that’s okay. Jack and Terry have very different voices and if you were expecting Kendall and company to just go through the motions and re-write the glory days then you aren’t aware of their passion to create. We talked about the band’s past in previous interviews and were happy to catch up with him again and talk about what’s going on now. Read on…..
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hi Mark, thanks for talking to us again! You guys put in one summer of touring in 2011 with Terry Ilous singing and are now in the midst of another run including some great shows up our way. How is the chemistry doing between the five of you?
Mark: Great. It’s amazing what a burst of positive energy Terry brings to all of us. We’re just feeling free and having fun every night we step out there.
LRI: I’m a big supporter of Jack and didn’t know what to expect of you guys when I saw you last year but it’s a great show. The old stuff went over well but I immediately wondered what some new material from you guys would sound like. When did the idea of actually making a new record start to materialize?
Mark: Probably late last year. We had a few riffs actually. Frontiers Records offered us a deal after asking us to hear a few songs with our new singer. I had a riff kind of lying around and we kind of recorded that real quick at Audie’s (Desbrow, drummer) house and Michael (Lardie, guitars, keyboards) had been demoing a few ideas at the studio at his house that were sounding great. We played them for the label and they were really happy with what they heard and said “Go for it” so we started really writing. Then we got to the studio and really started writing and coming up with more stuff. We were all just coming up with ideas and material while we were actually recording which is something we’ve never really done before. We just went with it and it was working.
LRI: The studio can be a real good conduit for immediate results like that provided the vibe is right. Was any of the material comprised of riffs you’d kick around while you were on tour with Terry?
Mark: Some of my riffs were things I’d been playing around with at soundcheck. I don’t ever advertise it or say “Hey guys, listen to this”, I’ll just mess around and play it at soundcheck and see if anyone pops up and says “woah, that was cool”. We didn’t really have any concrete songs though because at that point Terry was just filling in for Jack. We weren’t planning on a record or thinking labels or studios or anything. We were just out playing shows with Terry and this just kind of came up after that summer of touring wound down.
LRI: I’ve heard that soundcheck riffing from so many guitarists, is it sometimes hard to mentally file away those riffs? Do you hum them into your phone or have little tricks to remember them?
Mark: Yeah, it can be really hard to keep them in mind unless you have a little tape player or something. You can try to just remember them but if wait to long or you don’t record them than the riff can change. You’ll still have it basically but it won’t vibrate quite the same as it did when you were first messing with it. I might not have the rhythmical part quite the same so the feel changes.
LRI: The most positive thing about Great White is how loyal fanbase has been for all these years. You’ve done shows with Jani Lane and even one show with Paul Shortino while Jack was recovering. Were you at all surprised by how well the fans have reacted to Terry?
Mark: Yeah, you can never be sure how it’s going to go over until it does. Terry has a lot of range and presence and can hit all of those old songs but he kind of puts his own little twist on them. The fans have been really accepting of him and I think some of it’s just the whole overall energy and spring in the step of all of us. It has really helped that Terry sounds great and really engages the crowd a lot but overall he’s just bringing a lot of positive energy and vibe to us every night, it’s contagious and the fans react as much to that as his performance. He makes you feel good when you’re around him because he’s a really genuine guy.
LRI: Great White is a blues based hard rock band so the bass, drums and keyboards really anchor a lot of that while the guitar and the leads often become like another voice or melody. Obviously, the singer is important in any kind of band but you think of bluesy bands like Led Zep or the Stones and it becomes clear that type of music requires not only a technically good singer but a singer who can project a lot of soul. Would you agree?
Mark: Definitely. I think it’s important in any band. If you think about a band that doesn’t have a really good singer, that’s a big problem from the start. He’s gotta go out there and not only sing but feel the songs and connect with the audience on a really direct level.
LRI: How involved is Terry in the day-to-day songwriting of GREAT WHITE?
Mark: The guy is always writing, no kidding, he is always working on something he’s writing. We all are though. Someone will come in with a hook or an idea and we build on it or sometimes, like during the recording of ELATION, we’d all get things rolling by just getting in the room together with some guitars. Sometimes myself or Michael would have a real basic framework of a song idea and we’d come up with it when Terry wasn’t around and then give it to him and tell him to take it home and see what he could come up with. More than one time he would come back the next day with a completely finished song, he’s really well-rounded, creative guy that way. That was never our format in the past, that just wasn’t the way that we did things. In the past we’d come up with songs individually and show Jack the melody and he or Alan would insert words.
LRI: I will never stop begging or pleading for “Angel Song” to be re-introduced to the set as an acoustic guitar spot, especially after talking with Jack and Alan Niven about its creation. It seems crazy when it’s not in the show. What are your particular memories about its creation or writing that song on guitar and transposing it to piano?
Mark: Well it wasn’t that complicated to just replicate that guitar line onto the piano to record it and it also wouldn’t be too hard to bring it back to that format and that’s one of those songs we’ve got that could make a return. It’s a little hard with to work in all the songs we’d like from the catalog but slowly we are interchanging some as well as keeping a few others that the crowd expects to hear. I wrote the music for that song and Alan wrote the lyrics.
LRI: The lyrics are really haunting and intimate. Does that song still hold a certain meaning to you?
Mark: Yeah, it does. I’m not totally sold on the idea of concept videos because a lot of times the director’s vision will imply a certain meaning whereas you could have a totally different concept of what that song means to you. You could have a totally different reason why that song connects with you personally. Again, Alan had the concept for those lyrics but I think he was really speaking about these people who come to L.A. to be a big star and then of course they realize it just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. They usually come from somewhere much smaller, where they feel like they’re never gonna make it because they’re not near all these entertainment headquarters. So they come to L.A. and sadly a lot of them run out of hope and money and turn to drugs or become homeless. We actually got involved with a charity that helps people who do exactly that and it helps shelter and feed these kids who for whatever reason had those dreams that just didn’t work out.
LRI: It’s been a long time now that Michael Lardie has been with the band to the point where most people can’t remember a time he wasn’t with you. In your estimation how crucial is Michael and what he’s brought to the band since joining?
Mark: He’s a big part of our sound. When we introduced the keyboards and a rhythm guitarist it really impacted the range of what we could do. When you’re a traditional bass, drums, single guitarist band there’s a limit to what you can do as a live band. I remember I used to break a string and almost have a nervous breakdown because our sound was reduced to the bass and drums. When we met him it was through a studio that we were working at. He was the second engineer on our first album and worked at the studio while also playing in a band at that time. He again worked with us on “Shot in the Dark” but by that time we knew we wanted to have keyboards on one of the tracks and we knew he was a great keyboardist. I saw him tinkering around and thought “Holy….this is pretty cool” and it really widened the sound and made us bigger and richer on the album. Then we went to play some live shows and we asked him if he’d mind being behind the curtain and helping us out on the keys. He said “Well, I’m a rhythm guitar player to so I could play on the other songs so that when you solo there will still be a rhythm behind it” and a lightbulb went off in our heads like “Yeah, that’d be great” and he did that, again all behind the curtain. Then he started doing a few shows with us where he wasn’t behind the curtain but was on this riser thing instead which was still kind off separated from the three of us but slightly visible. Then girls started asking about him (laughs) and he just kind of made his way into the band basically by getting a foot closer every couple shows (laughs). Michael has seriously become a very important part of Great White over the years, a major partner in songwriting as well as being someone we can count on as a producer and engineer. He’s always been important to us because when he writes songs he always tends to have great ideas. I might have the starting point for a song with a riff and he’ll be the one to say “Hey, what about something like this for the pre-chorus or chorus”. He’s made the band a better live band because we’re able to sound more like our records when we play shows. That was huge and a lot of the feedback we’ve gotten over the years has been that we’re really a better live act than our records in a way and I think a lot of that has to do with what Michael brings to us in terms of musical chops and energy.
LRI: I’ve talked with Terry and he’s told me that he’s sincerely happy that Jack seems to be happy and doing better. Terry has kind of made it a mission to take the high road whenever anything negative has come out in regards to the band. Do you think he’s in a difficult position in terms of what people expect him to say or how he has to maintain composure? The fans from both sides both tend to think he’s very accessible and speaks from the heart.
Mark: Absolutely. He is like a “Zen Man”. He’s very spiritual, prays every day and doesn’t want anything bad for anyone because he’s got a truly pure soul. I’m sure that Terry would be happy if Jack got really, really healthy because that’s just the kind of guy he is and he knows better than to tear him down or hurt the fans like that because he respects them. He came to us at a time when we really needed someone and was just the obvious first choice for us when Jack took off. This new album is really important to us for a lot of reasons but one of them is that I really wanted to make this record for Terry because of what he’s done for us. I wanted to make “Elation” so that he’d have new music to sing that he helped create and he’d be able to move forward rather than just be expected to only sing our old hits from the catalog. That was important to us. I even read something that Jack said directed to Terry along the lines of “Why don’t you sing your own tunes dude”. He was slagging him in the press and saying that so I’m just so glad that we’re able to do that and that it’s been so well received and people seem to generally really like it and we’ve gotten a lot of great reviews that we really appreciate. The few negative ones seem to be obvious haters that were not gonna like or even give anything we did a chance. I mean, if you really have a host of reasons as to why it’s not a good record than say so and put a little more thought into it than “It sucks”.
LRI: I like it but I will say it’s definitely a new chapter and it’s definitely a different feel.
Mark: Oh definitely John.
LRI: How cognizant of that were you while making it because it truly sounds like you were very aware and shyed away from trying to capitalize on the old songs or sound?
Mark: Every record we’ve done these last few records has been very different from the previous one. I don’t know what to say except I just write how I write and I’m not gonna repeat myself or retread myself over and over again just to be familiar. The sound of the band has always been a musical force and that band remains, I’m not a different guitar player, Audie’s not a different drummer and so on but at the same time we’re not going to just keep re-writing “Rock Me”.
LRI: Sometimes different can be good and exciting but for some fans there’s still a period of adjustment. I think most people who would slag an album from a band who changes frontman are really slagging the lineup change moreso than the record itself.
Mark: I love Deep Purple and I remember being maybe hesitant about them having a new singer until I heard “Burn” and then all I could think about was how much I loved the new record. I could NOT wrap my head around AC/DC without Bon Scott. I just could not do it but then they came out with “Back in Black” and I was like “Holy Cow, this is amazing”. So I agree there’s a period of adjustment but at the same time it’s not like it hasn’t been done before and it’s not like it hasn’t been done with wayyy more high profile bands than us. I mean Van Halen made a lot of records without David Lee Roth and it was still Van Halen.
LRI: As much as I’m talking to you about what’s interesting and different to me I should also mention that there’s plenty of those same bluesy styles and hard rock influences that are native to GREAT WHITE. In some respects it’s actually moved into a little more hard rock than the last few albums from you guys. There’s a lot of rockers on here.
Mark: Yeah, I think we just approached “ELATION” with a lot of energy and that’s what the result was. There are definitely a lot of slammin moments and burners on here. If that’s what we’re coming up with we’re not gonna shift down because we’ve got too much “rock” on the record (laughs). You know what I mean? That just ain’t happening. I guess a lot of it is our influences, I still love the Stones, I still love Zeppelin and I still love ZZ Top. Their last few records might have flown a little under the radar but Billy’s guitar tone just gets better and better and they keep making great records.
LRI: There’s kind of an argument out there that the band has been demonizing Jack for his struggles and not owning up to your own issues with addiction but you’ve always been on your personal Facebook page offering help and speaking to people about your own history. I don’t know the extent of your issues, how long you’ve been sober or what your lowest low was but are you still open to trying to help people who have issues?
Mark: Absolutely, I might not be available to actually be a sponsor to each and every one but I can still be available and be a sober friend. I’ve had a some slip ups over the last twenty years but I’ve been sober since November 2nd of 2008 and this time I told myself I was just really going to get involved with helping people. I think that’s really helped me in my own path of sobriety and hopefully I’ve helped a few other people along the way. I really like to help people who are truly wanting help themselves because if someone actually does want to get sober but just has never done it before it can be helpful to talk with some other people and find out what worked for them. I don’t wanna sit around on my high horse in my sobriety and be all self-serving, I want to actually talk to and help people.
LRI: You’ve certainly known your fair share of artists who’ve struggled as well and that’s interesting to me. Do you think that the party lifestyle on the road or performance anxiety or pressure makes it especially difficult for musicians to not fall into addiction?
Mark: Yeah it’s interesting and I think with me it really wasn’t either one of those things. I think some people can just have addictive personalities and that’s really how I feel. I think that it’s different for a lot of different people but no matter what it’s always horrible to see really gifted musicians destroy themselves with drugs and alcohol. What blows my mind with some of these bands is that they fight their heart out to get to where they want to be in their careers and then blow it all away. That speaks to how dangerous this is. When you get to where you want and you get the position on the sales charts and you get the touring and then you O.D…….it’s like….a bit of a mystery as to why it’s happened to the degree that it has. I don’t know if they start believing their own press and taking themselves too seriously which becomes a pressure or what but it blows my mind. I’ve known a couple of singers who I’ve gotten really killer gigs and they just become afraid of it or something. I’ve heard everything from “I don’t like the bass player” as an excuse to “I don’t wanna be ripped off” and it’s like, “Wait a minute, you mean to tell me you’re complaining about things in advance that haven’t even HAPPENED yet?”. That’s just insane to me.
LRI: It was personally devastating to you what happened with Jani, especially since you were working with him and trying to help him at that time. The guys from That Metal Show were shocked that he could be seem so together and so in control and even Bobbie Brown told us that the moment he died was the one moment they didn’t think something like that would happen. Does any of it seem any clearer now as we’re approaching the one year anniversary of his passing?
Mark: This is really just a guess on my part but I think from talking to Jani that one of the things that was a big trigger for him was down time. Everybody has different triggers but for him being at home or not being busy seemed to be his biggest trigger. You have to wake up every day and pray to be sober that day, you have to take it one day at a time and be thankful for that day. I think he just hit a period of inactivity and a light went off. You know a lot of people don’t know but he told me all the time that he wanted to be sober more than he wanted anything in his life, he literally told me “Mark, I want to be sober more than ANYTHING”, that was what he was striving towards. It’s just that the demons overcame the guy during one of those moments of inactivity. That’s part of what’s so frustrating about addiction is that sometimes you lose a person who really does want it and really is trying.
LRI: So the plan for the rest of 2012 is more ELATION?
Mark: Absolutely. More ELATION, more touring, more promotion and videos. Anything we can do to get the public to actually hear our music is a good thing. In this day and age the business has changed so much. It’s almost just as important to keep that awareness up and get the new music to just be heard as it is to generate sales. There’s so much out there competing for your attention and we just want everyone to hear our new stuff because we love it so much. It would be so easy for us to just go out there and play “Once Bitten Twice Shy” and cash it in and make the fans happy by only playing the catalog but the real beauty of the new album is that it really reinvigorated us and recharges us. If I were only going out there and playing those same songs and not moving forward as a band it would be so much harder. This new album has really helped us in so many ways because I don’t know if I could go up there night after night and not play new music. It’s in our blood.
To read our interview with Terry Ilous click here:
To read our previous interview with Mark Kendall from Nov. 2011 click here:
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