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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
MARK-KNIGHT-INTERVIEW-2015

 

MARK KNIGHT INTERVIEW 2015

We caught up with Mark to talk all about his new eponymous solo album, just after it hit the streets. A mixture of fine tunes right from the heart it's an album that is surprisingly personal and resonant from the ex-Bang Tango man...

OCTOBER 2015

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Mark Knight has just released his latest solo album. After years of making music, most notably with Bang Tango the ground-breaking Funk-Rock outfit he led in the late eighties and early nineties. Then there was the countrified Blues of his follow up band The Worry Beads, but of late he’s been writing music closer to his heart both with has band The Unsung Heroes and solo.

 

His latest album sees him charting new territory: part roots, part Americana, all heartfelt, Mark’s latest self-titled album sees him in true singer-songwriter mould. Sonically it may be miles away from the sound he created on the Sunset Strip back in the eighties but its music that wears the honesty of years, the wisdom of time, and the world weariness and shining hope for the future that life brings.

 

It’s a fine album, probably his best yet and certainly right up there alongside such luminaries as Jason Isbell and Justin Townes Earl, or even Ryan Adams at times, who all seem to have caught the world’s attention whilst Mark has largely slipped under the mass media radar, so far.

 

The best thing about the music of Mark Knight is its simplicity, its direct ‘straight to the bone’ nature and the universal themes he weaves into intricate vignettes of everyday life. It’s colorful, it’s playful, at times mournful, at others glistening with hope. And it’s good, damned good.

 

The first thing that strikes you when you hear Mark’s music for the first time is why you haven’t heard it before, I mean Butch Walker used to be in ‘Hair bands’; and many other artists playing this kind of music have dabbled with shall we say less ‘authentic’ genres. I always wondered if the success of Bang Tango has been more of a help or a hindrance to him since he started off playing this type of music, it’s something I’ve surprisingly never really touched on before with him, but it seems like a good place to start a conversation about the new album…

 

Mark Knight is on the phone from his home in Los Angeles, it’s clear he’s excited to talk about his new record “Things are good, really good.  We just got the record out, I’ve been doing lots of cool interviews and we’re really excited”. He tells me.


As someone who’s known Mark’s music since his band Bang Tango released their first EP, and seen it evolve and change and grow stronger over the years with each new release, I wonder if questions about his long-distant past are now getting to be a bit frustrating? Not at all it seems: “Well you know it’s always going to be part of my history and I’m proud of it but I’m really trying to focus on what I’m doing now. I know that documentary is out and there’s a buzz about it but I just prefer not to talk about it”.


We quickly set to talk about the new self-titled album.  It’s probably his most personal album to date with the title (Mark Knight) the cover (a shot of Mark) and the subject matter (life and the feelings churned up during the period of Mark’s divorce) very close to home. It’s the culmination of a long post-Bang Tango story that started with his bands the Worry Beads then the Unsung Heroes and now see a third release as a solo artist. I wonder what made him release this as a solo record rather than the next Unsung Heroes album?


He tells me really it’s all about the songs themselves which are “super intimate” and that he “took a singer song-writer approach because of that”. He also felt that with the sound he wanted he had a feeling that he could pretty much bring in most of the guitar playing on his own, though he adds: “I did bring in Reeve and Tigg from the Unsung Heroes and they played on the four of the electrified tracks” and that his buddy Tony Marsico was on it too – “an amazing bass player”. But his intention was always to play it very bare-boned, very singer songwriter, keep it simple and play his stories out in such a stripped back way that “there wasn’t necessary the need for the whole band”.  


I wonder about the sound of the album and tell him that as well as the Americana and the country influences on the album there’s also maybe the feel of artists like Tom Petty?  He seems pleased with the reference: “Sure Tom Petty is an influence and Americana too, its timeless music influenced by the blues. There’s a really soulful feel to the songs that I hope comes through”.


Given the material was there a song that was particularly hard to write? Not really it seems, it was more of an outpouring: “Oh they’re all very personal, during Roadsick Eyes I was going through a real rough time, I had a major break-up with my wife at the time and I was in the process of trying to save the marriage which didn’t necessarily work out, so I was writing about a light at the end of the tunnel that was maybe brighter than I was living in and I needed to just rebuild my life and try to find a way out of my situation in my personal life, so I was writing a lot, and then when we separated and then there was a period of two years where I wrote the record and that was in that period that was in-between moving on. So they sort of same out, it wasn’t that they were hard to write just that they were personal stories of what I was going through.  Every song is pretty much written about my experiences and people that I’ve known in the past, it’s a personal diary almost of story”.


We start talking specific songs, though in truth the album is that good we could pick any one on there though ‘Just Go’ comes up as one of our favourites and one I remember hearing in his studio earlier in the year before it was mixed. He’s pleased we like it: “I guess it’s what everyone feels like in that situation. I vented a lot on this record, but it’s not all negative though, songs like ‘Better Days’ are positive songs – that there’s hope and light out there and there are apologies for some of the behavior – it’s both sides.  It’s not all on me, and I tried to keep as real as I could about what I was experiencing. To be honest I was a little nervous about putting this stuff out, but I went for it!”


So is this new record the sound of Mark Knight right now, and is it a sound he is completely comfortable with we wonder? “Sound wise yes” he tells us “I’m just trying to be true to my art and trying to be a musician. It’s a simple as ‘This is what I feel and this is what I did’. I mean I don’t know what my Bang Tango fan base will feel about it, it’s not big guitar lines and such, but it’s not as if I’m playing Jazz or something!” he laughs, “It’s still guitar and rock based, just with a singer song-writer approach and that’s where I’m at right now.”


The songs on the album are brought alive by the wonderful production of long-time collaborator Tom Lavin, I tell Mark that Tom has done a great job not only exposing the bare bones of the songs but also has brought a ‘crispness’  too that really captures the sentiment of the songs beautifully. He agrees “Yes, I really beat him up hard on this one! ‘Cause I think he’s retiring after this one, to start of course he’s all gung ho, but six or eight months in he’s like ‘I don’t know I think I’m ready to retire now!” Mark laughs “He’s supported me, he’s always done a great job on my records, he’s family, he’s got a great studio, you know you’ve been out here, and he gets great sounds. And he gets my music!”


Waning to dig a bit deeper as to how he came up with his sound I wonder what Mark grew up listening to? “Growing up I was a rebellious Rocker – I was listening to Metal, really over-the-top guitar playing, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and as you know I’m from Los Angeles so I was totally immersed in that early eighties LA scene, I watched Motley Crue in High School and the Sunset Strip bands like Van Halen, Quiet Riot with Randy Rhodes, so I came out of that scene. I put together Band Tango and we were right on the pulse with the scene at the time and I got my break with that band, but really just Rock”.


It’s almost unbelievable that someone so immersed in Rock could now be producing music with so much soul and feeling, but you realise that perhaps like Butch Walker the transformation in style was natural and organic rather than a regression to childhood influences.

 

I wonder f he’s planning to take this new record out on the road, but at the moment it seems like he’s comfortable with a low-key launch: “Right now I’m just doing some local shows, it’s kind of an intimate thing, but I did put my band back together for some of these songs that we’ve electrified. So no big tour this year, but plenty is planned”.

 

I wonder how the local launch went, and Mark seems genuinely elated: “It was awesome man, I wish you were out here you would have been stoked, it was killer there were people coming out of the woodwork from 15 years ago, old Worry Beads fans, old Bang Tango fans and we had a great crowd at this local spot in Calabasas called The Six. Couldn’t have gone better and I’m still buzzing off of it”. He goes on: “I opened with four by myself then six with the band, we jammed a bit then I came back out and did a couple by myself. I got a couple of encores and did ‘Roadsick eyes’ by myself but we played the whole record top to bottom.”


I wonder what it was like to play it all straight out of the box? “Oh it was great I’d never done that before and all strange songs to those that came to see us as the album wasn’t out then so it was a great experience!”
The big question of course is ‘Who will the new album appeal to? Mark is certain: “Anyone who has experienced life really, it’s all about the stories and the songs, no genre, just good music, timeless music that will appeal to everyone really.”
I want to drive him towards the songs: ‘Blood on the Hands’ is one of my favourites, I tell him, there’s a real story to the lyrics. He laughs: “That was a particular story about a time in my life during those two years when I was trying to work out my marriage; you know I was getting into mischief and getting into trouble that you can’t get away from…”


Apart from the trouble there are moments of real joy too: ‘Better Day’s a really uplifting song. He agrees: “ It was a terrible time for me, I was in a dark place after Roadsick Eyes, I was going through a whole family breakdown and looking for an inspiration to get me through and it came in that song.”


Best of all perhaps I loved ‘Pain Is Like a Radio’ and ‘Casting Judgement’? Mark expands: “‘Casting Judgement’ - Yeah that was about the judgment I was getting about some of the stuff I got myself into. ‘Pain is like a Radio’ is basically about tearing it down to the bones and planning to rebuild a life and washing away the dust, that’s positive song , and ‘Casting Judgement’ is about the people who were judging me but at the end of the day I did the judging.”


As far as the album as a whole goes I see it up there with artists like Jason Isbell (who I think Mark originally introduced me to), but also Butch Walker, Ryan Adams, Jeff Tweedy even… Mark is typically self-effacing in his response: “Thank you. There’s a lot of this going on here for that kind of music, there’s a scene for it, it’s a certain sound and it’s very different to my background, but this is where I’ve been going since Bang Tango broke up and I’ve stayed on this road for 17 years now. That’s how long I’ve been doing this kind of music!” 


But it’s surely only just a matter of time before you can add Mark Knight to that list? “Well let’s hope so, with help from you and everybody else I just hope people get a chance to listen and make their own minds up, it’s a lot of hard work to get it out there, but we’ve just got to expose it and there’s all these tools to do it now with the internet and social media and everything”.


I wonder if with his music today so different from that of his youth maybe the legacy of, and his association with Bang Tango is as much a hindrance as it is a help for an album like this?  “That’s a great question.” He starts “You know; I think some of the Bang Tango audience has maybe grown with me a little bit and can appreciate it, but some just want me to rip out on guitar, and for some it might be a little hard to shun that image and take grasp of what I’m doing now. But I think it works both ways.”  before adding: “You know I’ll always get back to Rock at some point in time, and you’ve always really got what I’ve done, and it’s not that I want to knock that genre of music and those fans, but part of me feels that they’re not going to get it and yet surprisingly sometimes they do, and when they do that’s a great feeling.”


When I ask Mark about the albums that he’d have loved to have been a ‘fly on the wall’ for their creation I’m expecting his answer to reference , I don’t know, either a timeless singer-songwriter classic or a dusty, obscure rootsy gem, but his answer is again surprisingly ‘rock’.  


“I would have loved to have heard the French sessions for ‘Exile on Main Street’ that has to be the epitome of how a band makes great bluesy music in a giant house in France, I would have loved to have heard the sessions for ‘Physical Graffiti’, Aerosmith ‘Rocks’ – now would have been great to see how that went down, there’s so any great records… I mean those are the great Classic Rock records I’d have loved to have been that fly for…”


It makes me realise that the music he makes now is from the heart, how he feels, what he believes in, so I push a little asking him what he models his music on now? Would it have been an old Dylan album or something more contemporary?
He pauses “I like a lot of records by a guys that are a lot younger than me, these troubadours that are out there now, I mean I like Jason Isbell and Mike Cooley from the Drive By Truckers, they do great stuff, I like Ryan Bingham, Hayes Carll I like, I love these kind of Rock Roots Country guys who are out there. I like Ryan Adams but he’s a bit ‘pop’ for me. Then there’s the Tom Petty’s and Bob Dylan’s of course, anything with heart and soul.  I don’t lean towards the Bruce Springsteen’s and John Cougar’s as much, not to knock them, but I like a little more depth, not so commercial”.


The of course there is the man outside the music, I ask how’s the surfing going? He laughs: “The surfing’s going great, it’s part of my life, I still go three or four days a week, that’s my medication. I surf Malibu, the County line all the spots out here where I am in L.A. , I don’t go on those surf safaris as much anymore, and I’ve yet to surf Australia!” 
I wonder if he’s written any songs out there alone in the ocean? “There’s a lot of songs I’ve written in Baha, in Mexico for sure, and I lived on the beach in Malibu for ten years so that’s a big part of my trip, surfing”. He goes on: “I do reflect on a lot of song ideas when I’m out there on the board, I’ll come in and think about lyrics, I come up with stuff all the time out there. But I don’t write about sharks coming up and biting me! It’s just a peaceful space for me”.


A real calming place, I add? “Yeah like therapy, I go out there and clear my head, I’ve surfed my whole life”.
Traditionally of course we close all our interviews with the same question, the big one: “what is the meaning of life’?” Mark laughs “What is the meaning of life! Jeez, that’s a good one! I think we are all put on this planet to be part of a bigger thing, to contribute to mankind and to help each other along, to contribute to life and make a better life for all of us”. It’s not a bad sentiment to close with.


So do yourself a favour and pick up a copy of ‘Mark Knight’ now…

 

 

MARK KNIGHT IS AVAILABLE FROM:
Downloads: Amazon.com. and I-tunes; and
Physical copies from www.musicbymarkknight.com and CD Baby

 

    

 

Mark spoke to Mark Rockpit

 


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