Marco Mendoza - Exclusive interview ahead of his UK tour.
By Andy Rawll.
Best known as the current bassist for hard-rock supergroup The Dead Daisies, across a stellar career, Marco Mendoza’s elite-level skills have graced stage and studio with premier league artists including: Bill Ward, Ted Nugent, John Sykes, Neal Schon, George Lynch, Derek Sherinian, David Coverdale and Scott Gorham.
Not only does he have an impressive address book and a perpetually-packed schedule, he’s also somehow found the time to release three accomplished and eclectic solo albums, starting with Richie Kotzen produced ‘Live for Tomorrow’ in 2007.
2018 saw Mendoza release ‘Viva La Rock’ perhaps his most cohesive solo release so far as well as touring extensively with his solo band. Following a highly successful run of dates in May, Marco returns to the UK for five more shows, where great music and a good-time go hand in hand, as he reveals in his extensive interview with Andy Rawll (see below)
‘Viva La Rock’ (Mighty Music) is a barnstorming collection of original songs, written with producer/guitarist Soren Anderson, best known for his work with Glenn Hughes and Mike Tramp. The album also features nods to Marco’s past with pumped-up covers of Lizzy’s ‘Chinatown’ and Nugent’s ‘Hey Baby’, which are established live-set favourites.
The eight originals are diverse in theme and style, but flow with ease from start to finish. From the raucous celebration of the title track, the tender love letter of ‘Leah’, the badass, stomping groove of ‘Rocket Man’ (which relates to the case of murderous Danish scientist Peter Madsen), to the smooth groove of ‘Let it flow’, which closes the album, this is the latest career highlight from a man, who loves to rock and just cannot stop.
Indeed, Marco’s love of touring and playing for European audiences is legendary. No sooner had The Dead Daisies completed their nine-month long 2018 world tour in support of their last album ‘Burn it Down’, that this proud Baja-Californian steeled his boundless energy to embark on his most extensive solo tour ever of over 50 dates across Europe, Japan and Russia, including eight UK shows in May 2019.
With the Daisies’ new ‘Locked and Loaded’ covers album planned for release on 23rd August (via Spitfire), but with no supporting tour dates confirmed, Marco has seized the opportunity to return to road with his solo band for further dates in the UK and the US, enabling him to play venues and towns he missed last time around.
Exclusive Tour Preview Interview:
Andy Rawll spoke to Marco last week to find out more about ‘Viva Rock’, his latest plans as well as tales of Cranberries, Daisies, Whitesnakes, Lizzies, Schons and Guns.
Q: You’re a busy man, how do you find time for your solo career ?
A: Whenever I do my solo stuff or other projects, I do them based on my availability from the Dead Daisies, as that’s my number one priority. As soon as I started doing the solo dates earlier this year, the floodgates opened and people invited me to come here or go there and I was saying “thanks, maybe next year”. What happened was that I had committed last year to do Nozfest in Southampton for August 10th, which all based on my availability at the time. It just so happens that I now have more time available so I decided to do some of the dates that I wasn’t able to do in the UK, during that last run. So, one date turned into five and for me it makes more sense, as I’m flying that far to get to the UK and it opens up some more doors. What I’m doing is planting seeds for my solo career, that hopefully will become a long relationship between the fans and myself and it also helps to promote the new album.
Q: Unlike the Thin Lizzy album title, you really have built up a great reputation through your music and your live shows.
A: Yes, people really seem to dig what I’m doing. For me, and for anyone in my position, there’s no more satisfaction than to write your own music and get it out there and to be appreciated at any level. I like to be the front-man too. I love to entertain.
Q: Talking about the new album, ‘Viva La Rock’ (came out in March 2018) you’ve come to the UK a number of times to support the release, what can we expect this time around ?
A: If you ask the musicians that work with me, they’ll attest to this: I’m one of those guys that’s been in the business for a long time, I’m one of those guys that likes to keep myself on my toes. If it starts to get too comfortable or predictable and I end-up going into automatic mode, I really don’t like that. I like to be on the edge. I like to push everything to the edge. Some of the guys, particularly those that come from environments where the set is fixed and pre-planned, will tell you that it kind of freaks them out, when I change the set-list just before we go out on stage.
The better guys appreciate it, because they find it challenging and exciting. There’s a reason for that, having played for so long as a sideman for so many great bands, where you’re doing the same setlist for so long, the hardest thing to do is get out of that comfortable, automatic mode. For me, music shouldn’t be predictable, it should be on the edge, you be walking the high-wire, keeping your balance, because that’s when the magic happens and when the audience connects with you and appreciates it. It’s a ride that you do together. There’s got to be some tension and there’s got to be some releases.
You should expect a good show, absolutely. Entertaining. I like to connect with the audience and not only with the music. I always like to carry the message of positive energy, be uplifting and optimistic about life, because you and I know how life can get a little heavy. I always like to think that you come to my gig, you forget yourself for a few hours and have a good time. I insist, well around 9/10 of the time, on getting the audience to participate in the show. My belief is that the audience is the party. We’re the enablers, we’re part of the party. With our music, we’re enabling you to have a good time, so release yourself and forget your troubles.
Q: Who’s in your band for the August UK dates ?
A: Right now, I’ve got Micky Crystal (Tygers of Pan Tang), who’s an amazing guitar player and has played with me before, so we know each other really well. Kyle Hughes (Bumblefoot) is on drums. As a bass player, that’s the most important spot for me, to have a drummer that’s dynamic and understands the type of music that I’m trying to create and deliver.
They both sing and that’s very important factor. When we first start rehearsing, we learn quite a few songs, that we may end-up not playing, but if on the spur of the moment I feel like throwing a particular song in there, we’re ready to pull it off. I can guarantee if you came to three of our shows back-to-back, you would see different shows. Even with the same songs, we have different intros, different endings. We also have two alternative encores, sometimes we’ll do one, sometimes both or sometimes we don’t do either.
We’re very flexible, and that’s one of the advantages of being a trio. If you remember Cream, Jimi Hendrix and those historically famous trios, I’m a big fan of that. You can move around musically at the spur of the moment, and I love that. You can come and see me and my friends and we’ll paint a different picture every night. When you leave and I see a smile on your face, then I’ve done my job.
Q: Soren Anderson produced the album. He’s well known for his work with Glenn Hughes and Mike Tramp, how did you first get together ?
A: I can’t give Soren enough credit, he’s an amazing cat, we did the album in only twelve days.
Actually, how that all began was when Glenn and I were talking some time ago at the NAMM show and he asked, “what do you do when you travel to Europe ?”. To eliminate the cost factor and it’s getting harder and harder and more expensive now, I look for local talent and I originally found Soren in Germany at the Music Messe event, when I was endorsing PC Electronics there. He and I have such a great synergy and get along great. Talented. He can play anything, he’s a great producer, he looks amazing, he’s got the whole package.
So, I said to Glenn, I have a team in UK, and team in Denmark and a team in Italy and depending on where I start, I’ll go there and rehearse for a few days. It seems to work for me, it’s cost effective and as it’s different players it’s always different and keeps me on my toes. At that point, by chance, Soren walks by and I introduce him saying “Glenn, this is your guy”. It turned out great for him, although it meant that that I lost my guitar player, but that’s all right, because though I found some other great musicians, including Micky and also Tommy Gentry (Gun), who played the UK shows in May.
Just come out, open your mind, have a good time, listen to ‘Viva La Rock’ if you can. I’m extremely proud of that album, I think that Soren and I did a great job. I think we have some good songs, the production is great, the mix is great and the messages all around in the songs are positive and uplifting. I’m trying to, in my own way, bring a little light into this sometimes dark world.
Q: Most rock fans are familiar with your work with well-known bands like Whitesnake and Thin Lizzy, but many won’t be aware of your broader musical background that includes jazz and other styles which permeates your albums and live shows.
A: Yes, one example of that is my song ‘Sweetest Emotions’. It’s got a horn section, but it’s also a riffy kind of thing. When we go to the studio, we come with song ideas, but we don’t have the bigger picture in mind and don’t have any idea where we’re going to go. I believe that music should be like that. Let it go where it’s going to take you. Follow it, and if you’re lucky enough, you capture it as the magic’s happening. Music’s from another source that we don’t understand. I don’t need to understand it, I just need to be aware that it’s around, it’s from another realm and another place of energy. When it comes, our job is to capture that sound and that moment. We don’t sit down and say we’re going to do a soul album, jazz record or a funk thing. I think that every time I play rock n roll you can hear a lot of those factors because that’s how I grew up playing, influenced by all this music.
I had some issues with the last album (2010’s ‘Casa Mendoza’) because it was a little eclectic. The label and the magazines didn’t know what to do with it. With this one, I wanted to simplify things to the root of who I am and get some songs together. Also, I wanted to pay tribute to some of the bands I’ve played with, like Ted Nugent with whom I spend a lot of years, thanks to Tommy Aldridge who brought me in. In my opinion, he’s one of the ultimate rockers, but because of his outspoken views, political and otherwise, he’s not got the right level of respect from the musical community. So, I ended up choosing his song ‘Hey Baby’ spontaneously, to include on the album, when we were in the studio. That opened the door to playing tribute to one of the biggest bands of all time from Ireland, that I also got to participate with for years, by including my version of ‘Chinatown’. In fact, I could do three or four albums, based on songs of bands that I’ve been in. This time, I just wanted to say thank you to two of those for the time and the opportunity.
‘Chinatown’ was a good one, because I’m a recovering alcoholic addict and I wanted to identify a little bit with that by choosing that song. I called my friend Richard Fortus when I was in Copenhagen and he was in St Louis and about to leave for some shows in South America with Guns n Roses. So, I sent him the track and he recorded an amazing solo right away.
Then, knowing that he was a big Thin Lizzy fan, Soren asked Mike Tramp (White Lion) to sing on the track as well. These are the sort of things that you can’t anticipate, they’re the type of spontaneous and cool things that happen in this business and that’s one of my favourite tracks. I love my original stuff, especially ‘Viva La Rock’, which was the first song that was recorded. It was a saying that I had, when I used to say hello or goodbye to my buddies when I was travelling. There’s all this rap around in the business that Rock n Roll is dead, but I’ve never been busier in my life.
One night, there was a riff in my head, that I thought would be a great hook, a great chorus to have the audience sing, like another way of singing ‘Long live rock n roll’.
Q: Viva La Rock is the first song of the album, but on your most recent shows, it’s the final song
A: I’ve started putting it at the end to say ‘hey, remember’, it’s all about rock n roll and we’re here because of rock n roll and to refresh the message that we need to support live music. Right now, it’s suffering and if we’re not careful, in ten years it might be gone.
That’s why I do what I do. A lot of my friends say to me “Marco, why are you playing these stupid little joints. You’ve been doing the big arenas, the festivals, you belong in much bigger venues ?”. I just say “music is music, man” music. If we go back, the biggest bands that we know and we still listen to came from these little rooms. This is where the real music was born. Now that I’m travelling more and more, I’m realising that every time I come back to a town, another venue has closed.
It’s for the love of the music. All ego aside, it’s a long journey and it has different roads along the way. If your sole purpose for playing music is for the lifestyle and the other benefits, then you’re headed in the wrong direction, in my opinion.
I’ll say this until the day I die. I started playing music because I fell in love with playing it, not what it brought. I was your typical ADD, dyslexic boy that couldn’t fit-in anywhere. Every sport that I tried, I was terrible at. I had a Grandmother that was teaching piano at the house, but for me it was too much of a precise discipline and I didn’t like that whenever I played everyone in the house could hear me. So, when my elder brother got a guitar as a present, a bell rang in my head and I would grab the guitar and hide in a little room and that was the beginning for me. I found my sanctuary and started to learn chords and soon I could play all these songs. Things happened and the rest is history.
That’s what music means to me – it’s deeper than what it brings. It’s something I’ll probably be doing for the rest of my life.
Q: You do appear to see music as a force for good, one example is how you acted as mediator between John Sykes and David Coverdale, having worked with both separately, whereas both of them are somewhat estranged ?
A: I did. I don’t want to take too much credit, but at some point I was the vehicle for that. This was more the case when I reconnected Tommy Aldridge with David, after they hadn’t spoken to each other for ever. Being such a fan of both John and David and what they accomplished with their music, I had always hoped that they could bury the hatchet and continue where they had left-off. It came close one time, but it didn’t happen, but that’s how life is sometimes.
Q: A happier reunion has been how Deen (Castronovo) has been rehabilitated and is now working alongside both yourself and Neal Schon again in his ‘Journey Through Time’ side-project ?
A: That’s an amazing project. Deen belongs there, he just kills it. I tell him “You’re an amazing singer and a musician. You’re a great human being with a great heart”. Having 32 years of sobriety myself meant that we had that thing that he could identify with. We started back in Soul Sirkus and we hit it off, playing-wise, just wow ! We could really identify with each other musically. Unfortunately, he had some issues and ended-up not touring and we got Virgil Donati to fill-in at the last minute.
Ever since, we’ve remained in touch with each other and have ended-up in the studio quite a few times with Neal and other projects. So when Neal called and said he was putting together ‘Journey Through Time’, we put the time aside and did one show in 2018 and five more this year (2019) and there’ve been a lot of requests for it to happen again. Will we bring that show to Europe ? Never say never. People are busy. I’m busy with all my stuff, Gregg (Rolie) is with Ringo Starr and Neal’s doing some stuff in Vegas with Journey. Most of the time it’s a logistical nightmare, but all we need is three or four weeks, so you never know. With requests that I’ve had personally from all over the world from Japan, Russia and South America, saying ‘please, please, bring it, we’ll see what happens with that
Q: Coming back to the forthcoming ‘Viva La Rock’ dates in the UK
A: Yes, I just want to tell everyone that reads this, especially in the UK, to know that I appreciate them. My relationship with the UK has been a long one. I’ve been there with so many bands. The love and support that I feel from my friends in the UK is overwhelming and that’s why I can’t stop coming.
People say, but you were only just here in May. To be honest, promoters and agents advised me against it, “you can’t go back, you’re working against yourself, it’s too much”. But my reply was “well, what is too much ?” If you have fans that support you, you have to keep it alive. Can anyone tell you what is too much ? Nobody can. If people buy the tickets and show-up, I’m not doing it for the money, I’m trying to build a fan-base as a solo artist. My mission is to let people know I write songs and sing and this is another side of me, so come over, we’ll have a good time.
The fact that I would be in Southampton and London is only two hours away, Sheffield is a few hours away from that and then I found some new venues, like Cannock and Dundee, because I’m excited to play in new places to new audiences and meet some new fans.
I’ve a had great relationship with the UK, since I first started coming there with all these different bands and every chance that I get, I want to keep that relationship going. I’ll play in just about any venue that will have me. I don’t have any problems with that, as far the image is concerned, I know who I am, where I came from and where I’m going and it’s not a disadvantage and I think the fans can see right through that and understand.
I wish I had more opportunities to go back to Ireland, as I feel very much at home with the Irish fans and not only because of my time with Thin Lizzy. One thing that we didn’t mention was my work with Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries and the two albums we did together. We were working on the third, when the tragedy of her death happened.
So, I have very deep roots in the UK and Ireland and I’ll continue coming with every opportunity that I’m given. It always helps when you have a nice group of people turning up and having a good time. That’s what matters to me
Marco, Kyle and Micky are playing the following UK shows:
10th August 2019 – NozFest, The 1865, Southampton
11th August 2019 – Mulberry Bar & Venue, Sheffield
14th August 2019 – The Station, Cannock
15th August 2019 – Camden Underworld, London
17th August 2019 – Beat Generator, Dundee
Marco and his US band (Jimmy Degrasso and Conrado Pesinado) already have seven US dates lined-up for September. For more details, visit: HYPERLINK "http://www.marcomendoza.com/shows.htm" http://www.marcomendoza.com/shows.htm
HYPERLINK "http://www.marcomendoza.com" http://www.marcomendoza.com
HYPERLINK "https://www.facebook.com/marcomendozaofficial/" https://www.facebook.com/marcomendozaofficial/
Video: ‘Viva La Rock’ HYPERLINK "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=92CJ7C5ScVg"
Video: ‘Leah’ HYPERLINK "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDbNo_tp9Hc" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fDbNo_tp9Hc
Video: ‘Mexico’ HYPERLINK "https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oPNwmfYTzI" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oPNwmfYTzI