Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Never Givin' Up: Mark Slaughter on Supporting the Troops, Life on the Road and Vinnie Vincent

Photo courtesy of Carol Anne Szel 

Its rare for an artist to produce one of his or her greatest songs after 30 years in the business, but that is exactly what Mark Slaughter did with the March release of his first-ever solo track, “Never Givin’ Up.”

A huge-sounding, instantly classic Hard Rock song, “Never Givin Up” features Mark on vocals, bass and guitars, with drum duties handled by Mark Goodin. Mixed and mastered by legendary producer Michael Wagener, the track salutes the military and all who have served. A portion of the songs proceeds are going to the Red Circle Foundation, a group that assists families of the US Special Operations Forces. In addition to the Red Circle Foundation, Mark actively participates in other charities including St. Judes Hospital.

The release of “Never Givin Up” is the latest chapter in a decades-long career already boasting considerable highs. Before hitting the big leagues in 1990 with his namesake band, Mark fronted the Las Vegas band Xcursion before joining former KISS guitarist Vinnie Vincent, bassist Dana Strum and drummer Bobby Rock in Vinnie Vincent Invasion in 1987, later providing vocals on the bands second album, All Systems Go (1988). Despite scoring a hit with the track Love Kills thanks to its appearance on the Nightmare On Elm Street 4 movie soundtrack, the group imploded in late 1988. Wasting little time, Mark and Dana recruited drummer Blas Elias and guitarist Tim Kelly for the first lineup of Slaughter. The band went on to sell more than five million records worldwide in the 90s, with songs like Fly To the Angels  and  “Up All Night” becoming MTV staples during the early part of the decade. The bands extensive work on the road during this period included tours with the likes of KISS, Poison and Ozzy Osbourne. Although it has been 15 years since the release of the bands most recent studio album (1999s Back To Reality), Slaughter -- currently comprised of Mark, Dana, guitarist Jeff “Blando” Bland and drummer Zoltan Chaney -- maintains a steady international touring schedule to this day. The current lineup (sans Mark) also serves as the current backing band for Motley Crue singer Vince Neils solo act.

In addition to fronting Slaughter, Mark has worked as a voice-over actor and composer for television, movies and sports outlets. His credits include music compositions for Fox Sports, along with voice-over ventures in productions like Batman Beyond, Bloodsport and Animaniacs. He is also a member of Scrap Metal, a Hard Rock tribute group that also features (among others) Matthew and Gunnar Nelson (Nelson), Janet Gardner (Vixen), Kelly Keagy (Night Ranger) and Eric Martin (Mr. Big).

Currently based in Tennessee, Mark recently took a few minutes out of his always-productive schedule to not only chat with me about “Never Givin’ Up” and life in Slaughter circa 2014, but also offer some thoughts on KISS most reclusive former member.

Congratulations on “Never Givin Up.” Great production, great sound – definitely a powerful Hard Rock song.

Thank you! I appreciate that. It’s crazy that the world of recording has changed so much. Basically, that was all done at my studio in my house. The drums tracks were cut by a friend of mine [Mark Goodin] out in Las Vegas; we were never in the same room. We just bounced tracks through the Internet; we actually recorded that track through the Web. It crazy when you think about how you can do things yourself. It’s empowering

You and Mark Goodin have a history that goes back several years, correct?

[Mark] and I went to high school [together]. He was a couple of years ahead of me, but we were in rival bands. At just about graduation time, he broke both his legs and kind of got out of drumming for a while. Then a mutual friend of ours said, ‘Hey, Mark’s playing drums again.’ I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding!” I always thought he was an incredible drummer. Lo and behold, I got in touch with him and we started talking about it. I started sending some tracks to him, and he said, ‘I can throw some great stuff on this,’ so we started working together. He did all the drums; I did all the other instruments on [the song]. Like I said, it’s empowering when you can play every instrument and just do the whole thing yourself, because then whatever’s in your mind’s eye can actually come through.

Which came first, the song or the desire to help to Foundation?

It started with an idea; I started with the ‘wounded warrior’ in mind. I’ve seen so much adversity that these guys have been going through. I talked to a gentleman named Brendan Webb, and he’s got the Red Circle Foundation. One-hundred percent of all the proceeds go to military gap funding. There’s no administrative costs; a lot of charities take huge amount of administrative costs. Usually, by law, it's only 30 percent [of the proceeds] that a lot of charities will give to the actual cause. St. Jude is one that’s true, and the Red Circle Foundation is true also. I just wanted to write a song that was about anybody – not just military – who’s faced adversity and has a hard time with things, and that they can overcome that and know that there’s still people who are behind them in whatever they do.

For those who might be unaware of what the Foundation does, what might be some examples of the work they do to support the families?

There are multiple sides of it. It’s basically whatever it is that the government doesn’t help. Let’s say a mother’s out in Afghanistan and her daughter wanted to do ballet…this gap funding might pay for ballet lessons for her little girl. One of Brendan’s friends was killed over in Benghazi; the government basically didn’t even send the body home for over a month because it’s their funding and the way they do it. If the funding is there, it allows the families not to grieve and to go through all that hardship and be able to move on. It’s just pretty much everything that’s needed by the Special Ops soldier. That’s what it’s really about.

The song’s been out a little over a month at this point. How has the feedback been? Have you heard from people from the Foundation as far as how it’s been affecting people there?

It’s doing really well. This is a process in motion here. We’re working on a video right now; I’m sure that when that video goes out, there’ll be a lot more [attention] here. The single’s doing great. Nowadays, it’s different…I am the label; I am the guy who put it out. The monies can go exactly where I want them to go instead of into some fatcat’s hands who basically doesn’t do anything for the Foundation or for the artist.

This is a digital single, and we’re in a very different age now than when the last Slaughter album came out in 99. What are your thoughts on how music is distributed these days? Do you even see a need to put out CDs or vinyl at this point?

It depends on what artist you’re dealing with. I have a fanbase there, so there are people who would pick it up. For a new artist, it’s harder to find that fanbase. But lets say that an artist signs with a record company; the most they would get would be a dollar a record. If they get any advances to make the record, they have to sell a lot of CDs to just make up for what they’ve spent on recording it. [Releasing music digitally] is a process that you invest in yourself; when you put the music out, you can do whatever you want with it. For a new artist, I think it’s better, because at least it has a better chance. And it’s the same thing for a heritage artist; I think it’s empowering because you don’t have all the headaches that go along with it. Record label do promote, record labels do spend money – but their spending your money to do exactly what you would do if you would just allocate those funds for yourself.

Slaughter still maintains a very prolific performance schedule. I can still remember watching Headbangers Ball in 1990 when they focused on the KISS Hot In The Shade tour, which was your first time on the road with Slaughter. It’s been about 25 years since then. How has touring evolved for an artist like Slaughter, who clearly still has a market you can serve on the road?

We’ve never been an ego-based band; we never had three buses. We always did things very conservatively, and that’s how we’re doing it now...We fly in, do the show and fly back home, so it’s not like this giant expense of doing things, and it makes it so there’s less wear and tear on the band and it’s a lot easier for a better performance because you’re not spent...Flying in and flying out is not that difficult unless there are shows in a row. To me, I’ve always looked at [the performance] as we play for free and we get paid to travel. The travel is what’s the pain in the rear. We always love performing; we love to make music. If I wasn’t doing this for a career, I’d still be making music on the weekends. You have to have a love for it, first and foremost.

We’re here talking about your new single, Slaughter’s very busy and KISS just went into the Rock Hall. This extended family of musicians is obviously still very active, but we’re still waiting for Vinnie to do whatever he’s going to do next musically, if ever. Because you worked with him and gained some insight into his character, what do you think it might be about him – either in his personality or creative process – that has led to the fact that for basically 20 years now, we’re still waiting for him to come out with his next thing?

Vinnie is a very talented individual. I have not seen him since 1988. We walked off the stage in Anaheim, CA, and I never saw the guy ever again. What’s funny is that you’re saying ‘neither has anybody else.’ He’s done a couple of Kiss Conventions and things like that…I think that Vinnie’s absolutely brilliant to the point where hes a perfectionist who will not let art be abandoned. Art is never finished; it’s just abandoned. You get to a point to where you just have to walk away from your art and go, ‘That’s good enough.’ I think that he's just re-painting and re-painting and re-painting, and that’s what he gets in. I hope he does do some music; it’s long overdue. He’s an incredibly talented musician, writer, guitar player. I think a lot of the stuff I’ve seen him do hasn’t even been recorded properly. In fact, [guitar maker] Grover Jackson and I were talking about this the other day. People don’t know how talented he really is, but it is what it is. For some reason, he just hasn’t put something out. I don’t know anybody who knows him; I’m not at all in his circles. He’s just in his own world, so who knows?

One creative relationship that seems to have worked very well for just shy of 30 years now is the one you have with Dana Strum. The music industry isn’t really known for stability in personnel, but you guys have worked together for decades. What it is about your relationship that has enabled both of two to weather this industry for as long as you have and still continue to work together?

Obviously, you start with friendship, first and foremost. The other thing is respect. I respect who Dana is as a musician and as a person, and likewise. I know where I stand with him, and he knows where he stands with me. The fact and he has been working with Vince Neil, and that the rest of my band’s been doing all that stuff, is great. What’s a better example of how talented these guys are then to be able to go and do that? That’s when I got into my [solo] recording process; I thought, ‘Well, they’re doing that. I’ll just stay home and write some songs and record,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing. Slaughter still plays about 50 shows a year, which is quite a few. As far as us having this relationship for such a long time, I think it’s because you get to point where basically we remember the things that people want us to forget. Both Dana and I have very good recall with people, places and things. We were able to do the [first] Slaughter record [Stick It To Ya] without having anybody else tell us what to do. We had complete creative control. Everything that we did was from us. When you have music that wasn’t written by an outside writer and it’s something that comes from your heart, I think it’s a little bit different than something [where] you’re going through the motions and doing somebody elses songs.

It’s great to see you still doing it.

It is. I’m glad that we do; I’m glad that we have that relationship to where we’re able to continue to make music. Again, I think that starts with the friendship. It’s the same thing with me putting out the single. To [Dana], it was like, ‘That’s great!’ There’s no weirdness; there’s no freaked-out thing. Paul Stanley does records away from KISS all the time. It’s just being an artist; we’re artists and we make art.

Order "Never Givin' Up" on iTunes

Buy "Never Givin' Up" on Amazon

Official Mark Slaughter Facebook Page

Official Slaughter Website

Red Circle Foundation

EMAIL JOEL at gaustenbooks@gmail.com

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