Global Bass Online December 2001
Global Bass: Freedom Town, the title of your newest release, is that an actual place?
Mark Egan: Freedom Town is a fictional place. It's funny because my great friend, Bill Evans, the saxophone player had a dream one night that he was in this place called Freedom Town. He was in this town trying to get to a gig in a cab. Bill was telling me this dream one time when we were on the road and I said, "Freedom Town, oh I love that! Can I use it for a record?". He said, "Sure!". So that's how that came about, a dream from Bill Evans. I sorta liked the vibe of the way that sounded.
GB: Actually it would be a great name for an actual town! Isn't is interesting how some ideas, some creations seem to come into our mind fully formed?
Mark: Yes, when it comes, you just sort of know it and that is the way it is.
GB: The title track with its strong anthemic melody just seems positioned at the right pace to hook the listener. Did that take some experimentation?
Mark: Well actually, I had that (the beats per minute) right at the beginning. I had that groove in my computer with midi drums that I programmed myself. I wanted sort of an Eastern Indian feeling on top of that. I wanted to enhance it with real percussion and real drums, so we added onto that. The title track is actually the last track I put together, in the last week or so. I knew I had to have one more tune and it turned out to be one of my favorite tracks. It turns out when you are under the gun and there's a deadline, you just do it.
Then I had the idea to use Bill Evans and Lew Soloff (Trumpet) as the additional melodic guys.
GB: Do you find you work best
'under the gun' or in an open ended schedule? Do you have a preference?
GB: Does music ever come to you in
GB: Also the ego is not in the way, shaping, editing.
Mark: It's a pure state, stream of consciousness music. I wish I could dream that every night.
GB: Do you find your creative
ideas come easily or do you have to coax them sometimes?
I had the chords on the piano. I wanted to do sort of a ballad that would feature the 8 string fretless and soprano sax. I just kept that one on the sidelines until I worked through it and came up with another part for it. You can't force it. But it's funny, you know, a lot of times when I am working on one song and really focusing on it, thinking "I've gotta finish this, I've gotta do this!", I'll come up with one or two ideas for other songs.
GB: In your liner notes, you mention that
in fact it was Bill Evans that got you motivated to finish this album. Had it
been a long time in the works?
I started my own label, Wavetone Records, that 'Freedom Town' is released on. That took a while to get going. I was involved with producing Elements records and getting them out. Not so much being a business man but more as a producer and getting the projects done.
Then I decided to start building a recording studio. That took about a year and a half of work and planning.
GB: That's not the Electric Fields studio though, where you recorded this?
I knew that they did, I knew he was right and I just cancelled everything else. I just completely focused on it. That's what you have to do. You gotta do it. I will tell you, it's not going to be as long before the next project as it was this last one! I am even writing now for the next record.
GB: With the building of the new studio and starting your own label, was this from disenchantment or was it some other need you wanted to fulfill?
Mark: Well, first of all to start the record label Wavetone, I had been with a number of major labels. I always found a certain level of frustration in the freedom to do what I wanted to do. All of those projects were what I wanted to do, but I always had the feeling that I had to produce a demo and sell this to them. I wanted to keep doing records with other companies, but this let me start my own thing and put out some very creative things, that I know no one else is gonna go for. Such as Live Elements, Elements Far East, Volumes 1, 2, 3.
I re-released my Mosiac record, I got that back from Windham Hill. I just wanted more control of it, to do what I wanted to do and not be at the whim of another producer on another label. It took a while to get it going, but I established worldwide distribution.
GB: Do you feel you have a natural
business sense or do you try to find people that do?
And now, with technology in the sense that you can have a home studio for a
reasonable price (something that wasn't even possible ten years ago), I wanted
to be able to experiment at any time and have it be the master product, so
that's why I did that.
He also did my 'Touch of Light' record there and the designer of that studio was also John Storyk, to make a long story shorter. When I was thinking of doing the studio, Rich the engineer, recommended that I call John and have him 'suss' it out. I did, I told him what I was building. He came up with a great design plan.
GB: Is he still actively involved
in your studio?
It's great! I learned wiring from Rich and how to do it right. It was a great experience. Very time consuming and I will probably farm some of it out the next time I do it. But it's good stuff to know. As a bassplayer you want to be able to fix your cables...
GB: In speaking to Victor Wooten a short time ago, I asked him why he plays with Bela and the Flecktones instead of just pursuing solo career. He told me that besides being a great gig it also gives him the steady income so that he can release albums on his own that reflect himself truly, without having to churn out pop songs. The steady work you do with other people, does that give you the same freedom?
Mark: It does, yet I don't consider my work to be exceptionally commercial. I think it's viable in a certain market, that there is a certain following for it. But it's small relative to the whole music scene.
Yes, I think my work with other people affords me, allows me, to be able to do my own projects and be creative. I couldn't just make a living doing my own solo recordings. I supplement it. But a good by-product of that is that I love playing with other people. It's not just about going out and working to make money. I love playing many different styles and getting to play and record with great people in New York. It actually allows me to bring a lot of music back from that, ideas and inspiration back to my own music. I would get bored just doing my own music, to be honest with you.
I am a Baby Boomer, I grew up listening to Hendrix, Coles, Miles, Ravi Shankar and the Beatles. It was great times. I enjoyed playing a lot of different styles. It's a trade-off in a way. I remember going to the University of Miami and studying music. I was such a purist. I thought, "I am only gonna do creative music". But when I got out of there I realized I've gotta make a living and do something. So there are compromises. I think if you can still keep your craft going and integrate into the musical society, you gotta keep your eyes open and be consistent with it.
GB: Michael Manring loves nothing more than to drag three basses, a small amp and his clothing on to a plane and go on a solo tour. Does this stuff appeal to you at all?
Mark: I do. I haven't done it in a few years, but especially when my first record 'Mosiac' and my second record 'Touch of Light' was out I did a lot of solo concerts. I opened up for Michael Hedges and Alex Degrassi. I did quite a bit of it, at that time I was bringing a sequencer. I got tired of carrying a lot of gear so it made me write solo bass songs. So I could just go out with my basses. That was a good thing. I enjoyed that and I am going to be doing more of that.
Bass, I love the instrument as a solo instrument as well as I love just
laying the pipe down with the band. I love being involved in the rhythm section
and playing with drums. It's like drums and bass become one entity. As much as I
am into playing solo and fretless and melodically in my own type of music, I am
equally into playing grooves with great players like Danny (Gottlieb) and Steve
Jorden and Steve Gadd. I've been so fortunate to play with such great drummers,
it's amazing. It's just phenomenal!
Mark: Yeah, when I am sitting there with the headphones on and I am playing with them, yes! Matter of fact a couple of years ago I did a tribute to Jaco Pastorius and I played with Steve Gadd. We played two songs "A Remark He Made' from Weather Report and another of Jaco's songs called "Dania"
Steve Gadd played on it and I was just holding onto my seat!
GB: Speaking of hanging onto your seat, a lot of people over the years who knew him, some very closely, have told me some somewhat unknown aspects of his untimely death. When that happened, did you have any idea it was coming?
Mark: I was shocked and just so sad
that he had to go out so soon. It was terrible. I was talking to a good friend
of mine today and he reminded me it has been almost 15 years that Jaco's been
gone. I was on the scene in Miami when Jaco first came on the scene. Before
Weather Report was even known I was already being very influenced by him. I
think everyone was. It think every type of musician that came into contact with
him was. He was just so strong. In a way, I was surprised, yet he was living so
on the edge in the final days. The stories were so wild that I figured something
was going to happen.
GB: You yourself strike me as a very placid person.
Mark: Oh, I am. I'm intense, but more on the calm side relatively speaking.
GB: Sometimes with extreme creativity, there is a price to pay. It can take a great toll out of an artist. It can also be hard on the physical self. Has it taken a toll from yourself or has it remained a gift?
Mark: Well, it has definitely remained a gift. What has it taken out of my life? Well, I always aspired to playing and being the music, so I never settled down and had a family or did any of the 'normal' things that people do as far as raising a family. That wasn't a priority to me. The priority to me was always being where the music is, making it happen. What's the next project, how can I make it happen, playing great tunes, playing with a million people. As you can probably see from my discography on my web page, you can see that that is what I have been doing, for the last 25 years. When I look at it I can say "Oh, that's why I never got married!"
Yet now I am engaged.
GB: And now you are almost 50?
Mark: I am 50!
GB: Isn't that a strange way to be.
Who would have ever dreamed we'd see 50?
GB: Have you noticed that as the years pass you adjust your idea of what 'old' is?
GB: Do you feel the same way you did when you were 35?
Mark: In some ways I do, in other ways just from repetitive things over the years that you learn you can say "All right, I am NOT going to do that again!"
GB: So what do you do to relax?
Mark: Being with friends, just hanging, I love fishing, I am an avid fisherman. Being in the moment, I know that sounds so cliché. But I get the same type of buzz when I do a little painting. Artist painting, I get a similar feeling I get when I am playing and I am really involved in it.
I've studied a lot of Eastern philosophy's and Yoga and meditation. Being in the moment is what that is all about.
GB: Now you have taken a bit of a break from touring with other artists while you have been finishing up this project...
Mark: Yeah, I did for August. I was actually traveling in Europe with the Gil Evans Orchestra this summer. Also my father passed away this summer so that was really tough. Since then, I've been around New York doing session work and getting the CD out there and working on that. Right now I have some monthly recording projects and no traveling for the time being until around April. Although I am gonna try to line up some jobs to promote 'Freedom Town'.
GB: With Danny?
Mark: Yup, with Danny.
GB: Most of the others on the album as well?
Mark: If they are available. Hopefully Clifford Carter but I don't know if Bill Evans is gonna be around but, that'll be the nucleus of it.
GB: With the passing of your father, was there a creative need to write something that spoke of him? Was he integral in your becoming a musician?
Mark: Oh absolutely! My father was very supportive. He used to bring me around to see big bands play in Junior High School. I was a trumpet player originally and he was also a trumpet player in the Navy Band when he was in the Service. He loved being around bands and that whole 'hang', so to speak. He got me a trumpet and got me lessons in school. I played Jazz in the local Jazz band in Brockton, Mass.
Just always very supportive. Supported me through lessons, would always come to gigs that we would play. He was also very supportive of the local band in terms of helping raise funds for what at that time was Expo 67 (Montreal). I played with the Brockton Youth Stage Band. There I think I went with the trumpet section to the beer garden! When you are 16, getting a beer was a big deal!
He supported me when I went to the University of Miami too. I called my parents from Florida after a year there and told them I was going to switch from trumpet to bass. See, they didn't know me as a bass player. I was sort of a star trumpet player, I went away to school to become a professional trumpet player.
GB: But what brought you over to
When I was 15 I used to go to the music store in Brockton on Saturdays and just look at these Fender Jazz basses in the window. I loved them! When I would go to see the band I would always watch the bass player. Even though I was an active and professional trumpet player at 15. Already I was doing gigs in a rhythm and blues band around Boston.
GB: These past few years, was your dad aware of the fact that you had become a successful bassist?
Mark: Oh he was, very much, he was very proud. I kept him in touch with everything that was going on. He always had a pulse on what I was doing, he used to come to a lot of things in New York, with the big band of Gil Evans.
GB: Thanks for talking about him, I hope it didn't upset you.
Mark: Oh, not at all. I love talking about him! To me it brings him to life, you know.
GB: Earlier you mentioned some of the current things you are working on...
Mark: Yes, I am working on a duo record, just drums and bass with Danny Gottlieb. We had a session about 2 months ago at Electric Fields and we laid down most of it. Then we are going to go in and look at what we have and what we need to work on. That's one project. Another is a trio with Danny and Joe Beck. We've got almost a CD's worth of music. Also another project that is about to come out is with Jeff Ciampa, called 'House of Mirrors'. It's gonna be on the Wavetone label. That's another trio with Danny, myself and Jeff the guitar player.
I have been enjoying the trio format and I think for my next solo project (at the moment) I want to do something that is real 'exposed'. I would say 'raw' but it actually going to be refined.
GB: Then in what way do you mean 'exposed'?
Mark: More chance taking, maybe not as produced as 'Freedom Town'. I like doing that, I like producing with synth pads and colors, but I want to show a side of my playing...I have been playing a lot of trio lately and I like really soloing and stepping out a lot. So it might be something like that.
GB: So you've used Midi a
fair bit as well?
GB: So you play piano as well?
Mark: A little 'arrangers piano', I wouldn't really be able to do a gig on piano, but I write some compositions on it. If I do it slow enough, (laughs) quantize it enough it sounds okay. I am definitely not a piano player, but I have studied harmony quite a bit. I think the more you can play on piano the better you can write music, because it is a total orchestra. I am convinced of that. I just got a beautiful piano here, a seven foot Masan Hamlin double B concert grand.
It's a remarkable piano and it records amazingly.
GB: Do you consider yourself a 'gearhead'?
Mark: Yeah, I think I am! My fiancé would definitely say I am a 'gearhead'. I am trying to simplify and really spartanize. Trying to get rid of dead weight, but I am such a collector. I don't mean to be a collector, but I guess I am.
GB: It's hard to also let go of something that works.
Mark: Yeah it is hard to let go of old midi things, that you're not using but you can't really sell because they are not worth anything.
GB: It says on the bio that own 30 basses at last count...
GB: You are an endorser for Pedulla still.
Mark: Yes, I have a number of configurations, an 8-string fretless doubleneck and an eight-string fretless and a 14-string fretted, a lot of different things. I have a classic Fender Jazz 1964. Something like that I played on the Joan Osborne record.
GB: Aren't the necks on the 8 and 10 strings monstrous?
Mark: Well, actually no, the 8 string is set up like a 12 string guitar, root/octave, but I have tuned them in 5ths, just to come up with some wacky tunings and things. I designed them so they would be playable. They are still a bear to play `cos you can't play as fast as you could on another instrument.
GB: Do you do any particular thing with your hands to prevent carpel tunnel or other hand injuries?
Mark: Yup, and it's something I've always told students of mine: If you are ever feeling any kind of strain in the left or the right hand, STOP and RELAX.
GB: In my own experience I ended up having the surgery to end the problem of carpel tunnel in both my hands.
Mark: My fiancé has really bad Carpel and you recommend the operation?
GB: You mention students. You have taught at various times, do you still work in that medium?
Mark: Yup, but I don't have that much time to do it because I am so busy. But I will get together with some people on a consulting basis for a couple times. I enjoy that and I always learn a lot.
GB: Describing in simple terms, complex ideas, is truly a task.
Mark: It is, you have to suss out what a person needs and try to help them. Try to be as ego less as possible and get to whatever is needed. That's one of the reasons why I did an instructional video. It's called 'Bass Workshop' and I did that on DCI. It's still out there. So that was good to get that out there.
GB: Sometimes it's as hard to get
the students ego out of the way as it is to get the teacher out of the way.
GB: Then they also bring in the infamous "I'm not worthy' attitude, where they have forgotten that this love for music is bigger than all of us. That we are all always just starting, that it's not about the ego.
Mark: And then there are the students who are cocky and they just know it all.
GB: Could you summarize 'Freedom Town' in the way that you would like it viewed, how would you word that?
Mark: It's a collection of songs that I have been working on over the past few years and I feel for me it's my most mature playing, composing and production work so far. It's that because of the long gap between my last record and this one.
It's meant to be listened to, I wanted it also to be something I would enjoy listening to myself!!
I wanted to do something musical. That is my whole thing: to be musical. That's a very subjective word, to be musical. (laughs) I enjoyed playing really intense themes, I enjoyed playing beautiful ballads, I enjoyed playing completely avant-garde, completely 'out' material too. That's just like letting it all loose. And I love playing funk and...everything, and so, it was good to draw on all those things.
GB: The immediate future consists of what?
Mark: I am doing a big band tour in Europe in April with George Gruntz. That's with Danny Gottlieb and a number of great Jazz players.
GB: Now with 'big band', do you mean in a formal big band style?
Mark: Very informal, more like the Gil Evans Orchestra. Very experimental and a lot of fun.
I will mostly be playing around the North East (U.S) for the next few months because after the whole World Trade thing, I just don't want to travel that much.
GB: Every one I speak to has found something that has changed there lives from that event.
Mark: The way I feel about it is that the world governments are doing whatever they are going to do, I don't have any control over that...whether I agree with it or not with regards to the War Machine and all that. I'm not that political but I am glad they are taking action, but I sometimes wonder where it is directed.
Will it mean that all we will be able to do is get more oil from Afghanistan? For me, all I know is that I have to make music. Music is a powerful medium. If I bring positive music into the world then that's what I can do and it's all I want to do. I don't know about anything else as far as politics!! Music is really a mood affecting medium. It's just the way it is physically. The vibration that is created and the way that if affects people. They don't even know how it affects them!
The sound of Nature itself. Not just even the blatantness of a bird singing, but the wind, the tone of even a truck going by. I am always checking out relative pitch and harmonies.
GB: Would you say you have Perfect Pitch?
Mark: I don't have perfect pitch, but I have Relative Pitch. I think if I am playing a lot and I hear a pitch I can probably relate it to what I am doing. A lot of relative pitch is if you know where it is starting, you know what intervals, well if you hear a starting note, you know where it is.
Marks newest release, Freedom Town, is an brilliant perfect weave of technique and song writing. You can find it on Wavetone records at:
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