Mark Knight is making some remarkable music these days if you’re prepared to stray a little from the usual Hard Rock template and take a listen.
If you love music with an honest raw edge and a Seventies Stones meets Petty vibe, channeled through what I see as a distinctly Californian take on Americana then you’ll love what he’s doing.
Like the rest of us he’s struggled through lockdown, though the double-edged sword has been that not only is he far further ahead of where he thought he would be at this stage with the new album (he’s already past the demo stage and recording drums and bass to his demos) he’s had time to work the songs up a little more than usual.
Then of course there was the Bang Tango reunion show at a sold out Whisky in January 2020 with plans for Festival dates later in the year. Come March Covid knocked that for six before it really started. Who knows what could have been?
We caught up to find out about the new songs and what really happened back in 2020 with his old band.
Mark: Hi mate, so great to catch up again. It’s been a while. A nice early one for me it’s just hit 7.30.
Mark K: In the morning?
Mark: Yes, we’re in the future, you’re talking to the future (laughs).
Mark K: (laughs) You aren’t having any of your fancy beers right now then!
Mark: No it’s just little bit too early. the golden rule is to have at least a sip if coffee first!
Mark K: (laughs) Well I’ll have one for you.
Mark: Cool. Well it is gone 4 O’clock over there you deserve one. What are you drinking?
Mark K: Heineken.
Mark K: It’s my go to!
Mark: It’s a solid beer. But I’ve not got my beer reviewing hat on today that’s another story! It’s so good to see you, been too long.
Mark K: Yeah it’s great to see you.
Mark: It’s been a crazy few years for everyone I guess, but for musicians it’s been an incredibly difficult time. Particularly playing live which we just really got the internationals back over here, but we still get the odd thing cancelled because of a positive test here and there.
Mark K: Really? It’s a lot better in the States. People are out gigging and stuff – it’s been pretty good. It’s all back.
Mark: That’s great to hear. If I hadn’t been delayed this morning I would have had my new Raiders shirt one – it just came this week.
Mark K: (laughs) Damn Raiders man! We lost the opener, but we’ll get back next week!
Mark: It was a tough game, we’ll get there. Let’s talk about music, the most exciting thing for me is that I know you have a few tracks already laid down for the new ‘Unsung Heroes’ album.
Mark K: Yeah, it was a rough couple of years with the pandemic and all so I basically just took to writing. I wrote about 15 songs. and I was just going to demo them at my studio here, but I ended up just getting really into them and they were coming out really well, so I thought I’ll just do them for real. So from June till now, I just finished last week, I recorded eleven songs that are going to be going to the next phase.
Mark: Nice. What’s the last thing that comes to you? Is it the album title?
Mark K: (laughs) It came three quarters of the way through. I threw the title around in my head because I had a song that kinda felt like it worked for the whole record. (laughs) I’m not going to tell you now though because it’s too early and it still might change. But that came as I said three quarters of the way through and then I tracked the song I thought “Yeah, that’s it.”
Mark: What’s the vibe for this one? I know you’ve put a few bits and pieces out there that have sounded great, is it a more guitar-heavy album?
Mark K: No. As you know I wrote all the songs on acoustic as always, same kind of process. But I picked up a Martin, a really killer acoustic, so I got inspired to write some songs with it. And I ended up with six or eight songs just with that guitar. So I put it together with the Martin and the Guild, the two acoustics kinda split with vocal melodies and then I started in with the electrics and just built the tracks. And then I added backgrounds and lead vocals, I did it all by myself. But we’re only at a certain stage at this point – right now there’s eleven that are demoed and with all guitars and all my vocals, slide, dobro, all kinds of ‘acosuticy’ things, but no keyboards, no bass and no drums yet – that’s what we’re going in to do next.
Mark: Same band as the last record?
Mark K: No. Basically it’s gonna be Eddie Montez as my bass player and Tigg Ketler, you know Tigg, is the drummer. He’s going in on Saturday and he’s gonna cut seven songs, then were going to take those to a Producer/Engineer friend of mine – Adam Hamilton, great guy, he works with L.A. Guns, super talented guy.
Mark: That’s a lot of work for the day, nailing seven drum tracks?
Mark K: (laughs) He thinks Tigg can do it! He’s had the recordings for about three weeks now and he’s been woodshedding. We caught up over the phone this week and he’s ready to go. He’ll get ’em. but if he doesn’t we’ll just go back.
Mark: And I see you’ve been back out playing live again?
Mark K: Yeah, I put this trio together. It’s a three piece band now. We started gigging again back in March when we could play again, we did half a dozen shows and we did another last week.
Mark: Sounds like time to get back over again!
Mark K: I would love for you to see this rendition. You should come over and see it and hang out.
Mark: I’ll definitely have to get back out, it’s been four years now and I only just got back on a plane for the first time in three years last month!
Mark K: I haven’t been on a plane in three years either!
Mark: We do just have to touch on Bango Tango for a second. It’s 2022 now so we have an anniversary – can you remember what you were doing back in 1992?
Mark K: in 92? We want to go that far back? We did that live record ‘Ain’t No Jive…Live!’ and the first U.K. Tour for about a month. Then we came back and did our first arena tour with L.A. Guns and Ratt. Is that right?
Mark: You’re spot on that ‘Ain’t No Jive…Live!’ tour was the first time I got to see Bang Tango on stage on that first U.K. Tour.
Mark K: That was a great tour, all the original members. Then after that tour with L.A. Guns it was into pre-production for ‘Love After Death’.
Mark: Just after that tour I think. I must admit I don’t normally talk about Bang Tango with you as I’m more interested what you’re getting up to currently. But there was a time there when you played The Whiskey, and I was sadly locked down in Australia so couldn’t get over, when all the original guys were back on stage and it looked like more might happen?
Mark K: Yeah, we got it together in 2020. We did the one show, it went really well, we sold out the Whiskey and it seemed like the mojo was back, everyone was firing up, it was the old gang back together again. it was a lot of fun. And then the pandemic and that break kind of whacked a lot of things out of joint with the band. We had some dates booked but they got cancelled because we couldn’t tour, we weren’t really looking to tour but we had some Festivals, it was looking good.
Mark: I was ready to jump on a plane then it all seemed to just stop rather than there be a bid clash it all just seemed to fade?
Mark K: I’ll give you the breakdown on how it all dissipated again (laughs).
Mark K: So I went in during that time and recorded all of the stuff for ‘Days of a Dreamer’. I had all this material so I spent all those first six months of 2020 recording those tracks, mixing them and putting that whole record together. So then in late 2020 I wanted to get The Unsung Heroes rocking and do some rehearsals and ready to go out and play when we were freed up. So the band, all four of us who played on the record: Kyle Stevens, Ed Shemansky, Wayne Lothian who played bass and me were getting together, then Wayne left so Eddie Montez came in, but it just didn’t come together like I wanted it – I wasn’t getting the right feel. So the fallout of that was the band broke up, we pretty much disbanded. So that version of The Unsung Heroes kind of fell apart and I decide to focus in building a new version of the band. I kept Eddie Montez on bass and then i thought of Tigg, and of course Tigg has played with me off and on for years, he’s always been there for me. So I said to him “What do you think about us doing a three piece thing? We can go in and try and learn the record and see where it goes?” So we went in and we must have spent three or four months every Sunday rehearsing. I learnt how to fill all the holes with the guitars and round out the sound. And Eddie stepped up on bass and vocals and Tigg rounded it all out. By last November it was sounding really good. So come March this year we started playing. So that’s how that side of things happened.
Mark: Sounds good.
Mark K: Then in the meantime (laughs) with the breakdown of that version of The Unsung Heroes Kyle Stevens also quit Bang Tango. So he was the first of the original guys to go, and with him quitting a couple of the other guys weren’t interested if it wasn’t going to be all original. And I respected that but I was willing to find another guitar player, maybe ask Mark Tremalgia or someone and keep it going with the rest of us. But they decided to not do it. So that was the breakdown of the original guys and then about two months later I get a call from Joe and he’s like “Hey man, me and Kyle Kyle are putting the band back together with some other guys, would you be interested in playing?” But by then my heart wasn’t in it so I had to say I wasn’t.
Mark: It’s a shame how it all worked out, especially after The Whisky, but I understand. As a fan it’s always disappointing to hear but it’s like any relationship that gets revisited after a long time, it’s not the same any everyone has the right to feel differently. I’ll just keep the fingers crossed and wait for the 40th Anniversary!
Mark K: (laughs)
Mark: As someone who has listed to your ‘other stuff’ since the days of The Worry Beads, it’s been a long and interesting ride, but I must admit as far as The Unsung Heroes go it just gets better and better.
Mark K: Thank you.
Mark: ‘Days of a Dreamer’ now that the dust has settled I have to say is my favourite so far. Are we looking at a very similar vibe for the next record?
Mark K: Yeah, you know I did two songs and I sent them to Wyne Lothian, he did all kinds of stuff added bass and some drum loops and he sent them back and I thought “Wow! This sounds so huge!” I loved it but it was almost too much. He’s such a great producer and he really blew up the sound! It was like the next step from ‘Days of a Dreamer’ but as I went into the recordings with the rest of the material I kind of realized that I needed to keep it in a Rootsier direction, I want to get back to that more, ‘not so produced’ style, more raw like maybe ‘Roadsick Eyes.’ The songs are a little more storyteller, they’re not quite as personal as the last one. I kind of like took a step back in the Roots Rock direction I think on this, but I won’t know yet till we get the finished product. But I think it’s going to be hat little bit more raw, a little less produced, a little less instrumentation. Not so much going on. But once we get Tigg and Eddie on it I’ll know a little bit more, but the sound to me seems a little bit more organic on this one. It’s still got the edgy guitars and that acoustic blended thing, kind of like a Zeppelin III vibe going on.
Mark K: I kind of got into that because of the Martin like I said. But I’ve absorbed so much music in my life it all just flows out of me and I just let it flow. I donlt try to sound like anybody in particular: the songs just kind of come to me and I build them. But what’s really been a lot of fun Mark is doing these recordings and taking them from the grass roots acoustic and building them on my own with no one here. My wife leaves me on my own for hours. Every day for the last few months I’ve been in here recording on this computer we’re talking on now! It’s been eye opening to do it all by myself. I start out just beating myself up doing take after take with the guitar, same with the vocals, then you start finding cool stuff and you think ‘Hey a Tele would sound good here” then “A Les Paul here” you know and you try this and this and then all of a sudden you’ve got this song out of nowhere. And that’s been really fun.
Mark: Are you your own worst critic?
Mark K: I’m am, but you’ve just got to let that go. Nobody’s producing me, no band members are here, it’s just me in this room (laughs). But now I’m finally gonna get it to the other guys this weekend and I’ll finally get some feedback! (laughs) But every time I do something new I’d send it off to the guys and I’d just get “Sounds great Mark, do whatever you want to do, sounds great” (laughs)
Mark: So no one’s saying leave that verse out here, add another chorus!
Mark K: (laughs) No just “Sounds great!”
Mark K: So I’ve been talking to myself a lot in here “That wasn’t good enough, do it again!”
Mark K: It’s been fun, like painting a picture. You go in and you throw down the sketch and then you add some color, but sometimes you get lazy and just noodle around, but that’s when you’d find a part a get back into it! There’s a lot of cool guitar stuff.
Mark: It’s always the hardest thing knowing where to stop. I still love that raw sound, I know it’s a complete cliche, but that ‘Exile on Main Street’ vibe.
Mark K: Absolutely. I am trying to approach it more like that. I put down two bed acoustic tracks and I put down a vocal, and then I go from there. I don’t want to go crazy. You can overproduce the hell out of a good song – you bring in the background girl singers, you bring in the string section! Then te pianos! You can turn what are essentially cool rock songs into these giant monster beasts that just get away from you and away from the essence of what you wanted to say!
Mark: That’s the art I think – knowing when to stop!
Mark K: I’m trying not to color them up too much, just good enough. Just focus on the melodies and the lyrics, with minimal musicianship going on. I use the capos a lot, I’ll capo on the 5th fret on one guitar then I’ll open tune the other guitar and try and spread the acoustics real wide with the two of them. And then blend in the electrics and then hopefully a good solid lead vocal, which is always hard to get! And that’s where I do get hard on myself because nobody is telling me if it was good or not. So I do three or four takes till it’s good enough to give to Adam who’s going to mix the record. I don’t know how it’s gonna come out, but it feels good and I’m enjoying the songs. So I’m liking it!
Mark: I think that’s the main thing. One of the things I most liked about the last album aside from the sound and the vibe of the songs was the lyrics especially when you did get into that singer songwriter mode a little more. You said this one is a little less personal so I’m looking forward to some cool stories.
Mark K: There are some cool stories Mar, some cool songs about touring in the Sout. I kind of went back in history a little bit and talked about some of my experiences. And there’s some darkness to it too because I wrote the songs during the pandemic. I was basically in my back yard every day just writing songs like I always do and they weren’t the happiest of songs. I wasn’t trying to write a hip pop feelgood record, I was just writing stuff that came from whatever I could grab for and it wasn’t always happy.
Mark: So that’s the negative side of the pandemic, was the positive that you had more time than you normally might have?
Mark K: Well I had nothing but time. I wasn’t planning on getting this far in 2022 at all. I was thinking that I’d maybe have them demoed by the end of the year. Then maybe early 2023 go in with the band and try and work them up. But I had so much time that I could really concentrate on things like tones: getting the right tones for the right parts and working them up. I spent so much time writing them and getting things right, finding teh right lyrics that when It came to cutting them it was pretty much etched out. I pretty knew what I was going to do, so I got them good enough, I think they’re fine, I may have to cut a few new vocals but lyrically and arrangement-wise they’re pretty much there. So yeah the time worked for me. And my girls are grown up now so I didn’t have to be a Dad anymore full-time and my wife is super cool she lets me do my music. I do my jobs to make ends meet but I’m usually finished around 12 or 1 so I could hit the studio till 5 or 6. It was a good routine.
Mark: Do you ever get asked to collaborate or play on other Projects? I remember years ago finding that Journey Tribute CD where you did version of ‘Separate Ways’!
Mark K; (laughs) I needed the money! I approached it like Springsteen would and sang it an octave lower!
Mark: (laughs) I still have that somewhere!
Mark K: Yeah, I do some stuff. There’s this band called ‘Ten Cent Revenge’ out of Phoenix, Josh Decker is the singer, he asked me to do a solo on one of their songs, so I did that. I played on that ‘Ghosts of Sunset’ record – did a solo on that. I get asked to play lead guitar on stuff quite a bit and if I like what I hear I’ll do it. But as far as collaborating and writing not a lot of that. Me and Oni Logan always talk about doing something, but we just talk we never do it! (laughs)
Mark: That was my roundabout way of asking about that one! (laughs)
Mark K: (laughs) What is ironic I guess is that I was talking to Joe Leste when we had that break about maybe writing some stuff together for Bang Tango so I sent him like four or five song ideas and he never really got back to me so I ended up using it for this new record, and they’re probably the best songs on there. So they went to good use, I took them and made some solid songs out of them!
Mark: (laughs) Cool! I’ll try and spot them when I hear it. It would have been interesting if one of them had gotten some legs, it would have been interesting to have heard what Bango Tango 30 years on would have sounded like.
Mark: It’s always great to catch up, hopefully before the album comes out I’ll get a nice sneak preview!
Mark K: As always! (laughs)
Mark: When are you aiming for?
Mark K: Definitely some time in 2023, maybe Spring or Summer, I’ll have to see how it all comes together but it’s definitely ahead of the game. I’ll send you a couple of things when we get the rough mixes together but I don’t want to give you too much as I aways like to hit you with the whole thing! (laughs) Then you can take it on your drives.
Mark: That’s what I love about your albums I can put them on and listen a the way. They are albums, I love to take in the whole thing not just a collection of singles. I love the journey.
Mark K: I do try to keep it that way, that might be my old school mentality, rather than put out singles like my daughter does, which is great. But for me I love the idea of building this whole thing up to see what it looks like. If I put out singles it’s over in two months and then you start again. That works I know for some people and attention spans are short, but I hate when I find something I really like and it’s the only thing i can listen to and the next thing’s out like six months from now! Dang!
Mark: That’s great to hear mate, I can’t wait.
Mark K: I’ve gotta keep it rolling, keep it creative, keep it coming in.
Mark: And long may it continue, take care mate, stay safe.
Mark K: Alright Mark you too!