AN IN-DEPTH CONVERSATION WITH MARCO MENDOZA
24 April 2012
Marco Mendoza’s passion for what he does shines through in a massive way, not just when he is performing his works of art on the stage but when you are lucky enough to be able to spend some time alone with him talking about what he loves most.
We could have talked all night and probably would have done if the drum soundcheck hadn’t cut our conversation slightly short just before Marco’s London performance on Sunday night. And what a performance that was. You can read all about it when we publish our review later this week but in the meantime, here’s a unique insight into the great man himself.
“Four shows down and everything is good. All of them have had a great response and they’re already talking about inviting us back. We’re thinking next time we’ll probably do the UK, Ireland and maybe Holland, anything that makes sense really. This time if you look at the schedule it’s pretty insane because we’re doing five in a row coming straight from Italy so I would like to take my time, do it right and promote it right. The opportunity was there this time and we took it and I’m glad I took it and we’re going to have a blast tonight, have some fun, you’ll see.”
We most certainly did have a blast and a lot of fun and you will be able to read all about that when the MetalTalk.net gig review is published later this week. In the meantime, I was interested to know how the tour came about, especially as Marco was deep into and full-time Thin Lizzy when it was announced.
“The album ‘Live For Tomorrow’ has been out for three and a half years, ‘Casa Mendoza’, the second album came out in October/November 2012 and the reality is that I was so busy with Thin Lizzy and I’d been working with Lynch Mob on the ‘Smoke And Mirros’ album and we toured that, then I spent a lot of time with Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries on her solo stuff and I did two albums with her, ‘Are You Listening’ and ‘No Baggage’, and I’ve been on a rock n’ roll refresh course with Ted Nugent and we did four or five dates and I’ve done Daniel Carter’s album as well.
“You know, living in LA, I’m one of those guys who gets calls to go here, there and everywhere and that’s really cool. It’s good to be busy, especially in our business and especially when, like me, you love what you do.
Speaking of Ted Nugent, this was an opportune time to bring up the ‘spot of bother’ that he currently finds himself in. If you are not aware of this here’s our news report from last week.
“Ted has no reservations and I think he’s speaking for a lot of us and he’s representing a lot of us who are so diluted and pre-occupied with being politically correct and maintaining the status quo that we won’t open our mouths and we’ll keep it to ourselves. He’s reflecting the majority of the people in the US who are very unhappy.
“I don’t want to get into politics – I have my opinions and that’s what it is but Ted, he feels, he has the courage and the morals to get out there and say. He knows things are messed up so he spoke and it was misconstrued – I understand that but the funny thing is the Secret Service and the FBI, they’re all friends of his and they’re going to get together, have a beer, have a few laughs and it’s going to be fine you know.
“Yes, we’re all unhappy about what’s going on and you guys in the UK are getting a taste of it here now. Europe is going insane – what’s going on here happened to us in 08 and we’re just about starting to feel the recovery now. I think President Obama is doing an amazing job. It was a hard job for him and if you ask my opinion, he needed a little more time. I don’t know all the ins and out like Ted does – and he really does – and he said what he thought and I admire that.”
We decided to leave politics there as we would have needed another three or four hours and we wouldn’t have solved anything so we agreed that the world needs people like Ted Nugent. Knowing that Marco was born in Tijuana, I enquired as to whether he was actually a US citizen?
“Oh yes, I was born in San Diego which is a Californian border town and here’s a little history for you. California, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico all used to belong to Mexico. It was all Mexican land and it became the US. I won’t get into it but Mexico was inundated and there was a lot of politics and the residents of Mexico overnight became US citizens and you have two or three generations of bi-cultural and bi-lingual people. So I come from that line and we spoke ‘Spanglish’ which is a slang mixture of English and Spanish.
“So I am a US citizen and proudly so and I still believe that its the best country on the planet and as I get older, the more appreciative I am of living in the US.”
Tijuana brought back evocative memories of the brass sound that originated from that area and the mention of the name Herb Alpert brought back memories for Marco.
“He was the founder of A&M Records and he had a band, Herb Alpert And The Tijuana Brass, and they were a band who had pop songs on the radio way back in the 60s/70s and they had one hit after another and it was some beautiful stuff and very trippy. The first concert I ever went to was his at Tijuana Bullring when they were shooting a TV show and they invited the whole school because they wanted an audience and it was such an amazing experience.”
Which begged the question, how did Marco gravitate from the Tijuana sound into Heavy Rock?
“I grew up in a home where music was constantly being played. My Grandmother, who came to raise us because my parents divorced, was a piano teacher. My Mother had a little run with her singing career with her sisters. They had singles, 45’s, in Mexico and on my Father’s side, we had a clarinet player and then his brother Alejandro Mendosa was a piano player and so was his sister, my aunt, so my Grandmother really exposed everyone in the family to music and I tell everybody that I owe her for my appreciation of music.
“When I was a kid she would play all these concertos, heavy stuff, so she opened that Pandora’s box for me and I loved it. The only fear I had about classical music was that it was so technical and so strict. My sister became a really advanced concert pianist but me, they bought a guitar for my brother and I identified more with that than the piano. The guitar had a book that taught me all the chords, or most of them, and I could be alone and learn the chords at my own pace and once you learn the chords you start applying them and you can play songs and it becomes fun and I started doing it more and more.”
And the rest, as they say, is history. But some parts of that history were not necessarily as well publicised as they should have been, namely Marco’s stint with Neil Schon and the ‘Soul SirkUS’ album.
“Neil is always doing something. He’s a real musician and he really digs playing music and when he goes out with Journey, they’ll work for a year, a year and a half, and then they have down time. And he’s like me, he’s always looking for the next project – let’s do some music together. Music lives in his heart and it’s a big part of who he is as a human being so him and I got together a while back and it was Deen Castronovo on drums and Jeff Scott Soto who is amazing.
“I totally fell in love with the guy [Neil]. He’s such a great guy in every possible way and we had fun and we got to know each other really well and spent a lot of time together. Let’s just say that he doesn’t have the need to go out on the road like he does but he does it because he loves it.
“So we hooked up right away in the Bay Area and he said he asked where he could hear me play and I just happened to be going onstage in twenty minutes and I played with my trio and it was fire man. We played an hour of in-your-face funk and Latin grooves and rock n’ roll and I got offstage and he called me up. I was still sweating and he said ‘Marco – you’ve got to come up. You’re the guy, man. Can you fly up next week?’
“So the next week I flew up, on the Thursday, and we all threw our ideas in the melting pot and came up with six tracks on the Friday and then I went up there again the next week and we did another six tracks and that was it – the album was done.
“We made a video and did some interviews and there was a lot of interest so we thought we should take it on the road. We got a tour booked, twenty-five dates I think it was, and the press just ate it up. We did four days in rehearsals and on the fifth day Deen got sick and couldn’t do it. We almost cancelled but we put our heads together and we ended up with Virgil Donati. He came in and nailed it so we did go out on the road and did a run.
“And let’s just say that Neil decided to pull the plug on it and not continue with that project, without going into details. He called me again later for another tour and we did another run so it’s all good man but it’s a project that I wish had got a bit more exposure.
“Neil and I have done some other stuff in the studio. I’m not sure what’s going to happen with that project. I think there’s a plan but right now he’s real busy with Journey but I have a feeling I will be hearing from him real soon and then I’ll find out what’s going on with that album. It was a blast! Every day we looked forward to going in and that’s how it should be and that will be reflected in the music.”
Talking of Journey, they got their new singer Arnel Pineda from a YouTube video which is a classic demonstration of how the way things work in the music business has changed. I always ask my interviewees how modern technology has affected their careers and Marco gave me one of the most positive answers to this question I have ever had.
“For me personally I think it has helped me a lot. I’m really into writing music at the moment and on this run I am especially plugging ‘Living For Tomorrow’ so the YouTube thing, well how many iPhones will be in the audience tonight? We’ll be all over YouTube tomorrow and that’s a cool thing. So I appreciate it and I embrace it.
“Yes, it does affect album sales but listen, when someone buys a CD of mine, I tell them ‘I want you to burn it!’ And you know, a few people have come up to me and said they really like the music but don’t have the money for a CD so I just give them it. You have to move on with the times.”
Marco is big into connecting with his audience and one of his main aims on this tour is to do just that. He told me that the artists who had made the biggest impression on him were those who made an effort to make that connection with their audience so we went deeper into those influences. He’s played with a whole host of amazing names and they have all had an influence on him.
“I’ve had a great journey and it’s only just beginning. I’ve learned from all of those influences and they’ve all inspired me in so many ways but going right back to the beginning and that first album I had, ‘Abbey Road’, I learnt every word, every lyric, every lick and looked at how they evolved from album to album, what they represented and how they changed the world. I’m a big, huge Beatles fan and I really think they were the major influence in our industry, on how people write music and were the major model for how bands are today.
“I think they were so successful because they were so deep. I could go back and listen to ‘Abbey Road’ ten times. When I was doing things I wasn’t supposed to be doing and experimenting here and there, ‘The White Album’ was my mantra – oh yeah! So influences, I have to say that one.
“Then shortly after that the southern rock thing came around, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Grand Funk Railroad and even Ted Nugent way back then and then the English envision, Deep Purple – David Coverdale and Glenn Hughes – and it’s all cool because I got to work with them and I consider these guys friends. We just did some shows last year [with Whitesnake] and he’s a very affectionate guy and so am I and it was very cool.
“I did miss that first year, not being there, but no regrets because the body of work I have done since has been amazing and that’s what happens in life – you make decisions that take you to… you come to forks in life and I’m glad the DVD is there to document what we did. It’s amazing – the band is slamming and David is on top, top form.”
Marco is truly appreciative of being part of the legacy of one classic band but as you are almost certainly aware, Whitesnake are not the only classic band that he’s a part of. One hot topic at the moment is whether Thin Lizzy will record a new album and this interview would not have been complete without touching on that. In the bginning of the reformation, people were sceptical of Lizzy with no Phil but Marco agrees that Ricky Warwick is now starting to be appreciated the way he deserves to be.
“Ricky – it’s in his DNA. He was such a fan since he was a kid so he lived it. From the outside looking in he knew the phenomena of Phil Lynott, Scott, Brian, Darren, Snowy and Robbo and Gary Moore (may he rest in peace)… he grew up with Lizzy and so when he got the call, he was amazed.
“I really believe in this line-up and we’re here for the right reasons and we’re here for the long term as well. It’s going to take us to the studio and we’re going to come out with the best songs we possibly can to carry the flag on to the next phase so I’m really excited about it. I’m part of something fantastic and that has influenced me so much.”
Marco was incredibly enthusiastic about how Thin Lizzy had come together and the part he played in that and especially about what the future holds for the iconic group, so as he had stated earlier that his journey was only just beginning, I had to ask what the future held for him personally?
“I’m involved in a couple of projects that I’m not obliged to talk about right now and I got the call to go work on Daniel Carter’s album. Those songs are amazing and they are going to hit the charts. When you live in a place like LA, these things pop up but right now, I’m writing…
“I would like to come to England to do my jazz thing at Ronnie Scott’s.
“It’s a clear canvas and there are more pictures to be painted.”
The gig was truly outstanding and there were a couple of surprises in there too which you can read all about when we publish our review later this week. In the meantime, ‘Living For Tomorrow’ is crying out to be listened to and you should not leave this page until you have done exactly that.
Here – I’ve made it very easy for you so no excuses – just hit play, turn it up and enjoy!!