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Between Rock And A Hard Bass

Marcus Blake with Katie Owen

Rolllins Band, well known for itís hard hitting, gut wrenching rock, has been dragged through the ringer and came out stronger than ever with the new album Get Some Go Again, released February 29 2000. Henry Rollins is accompanied by an all-new Rollins Band, consisting of the members of already established LA rock trio, Mother Superior. Bassist Marcus Blake, guitarist Jim Wilson and drummer Jason Mackenroth have joined Rollins in a passionate attempt to bring back the simplicity and purity of hard rock, amidst the sickly sweet pop groups of today. After recording for over a decade with Rollins Band, Get Some Go Again is the first self-produced album for Rollins, and may well be one of the most driven hard rock compositions of the year.

Henry Rollins, the self-confessed megalomaniac originally of Black Flag fame, admitted he had come close to giving up on writing and recording music entirely. That is until he befriended the members of Mother Superior in 1998 through producing their third album in five years, Deep. Rollins was instantly hooked on the raw vibe of Mother Superior, and knew that these particular musicians would succeed in fulfilling what he envisioned his next album to be. It was not until the album was finished that it was deemed a Rollins Band album. This new found inspiration led Rollins to disband with the previous members of Rollins Band, who he had worked with for over a decade.

One may describe the members of Mother Superior as being the collective savior of Henry Rollins musically. Had this union never occurred, the 1997 release Come In and Burn, may well have been the last official Rollins Band release. At their first rehearsal, incidentally at the same practice room Black Flag first rehearsed in almost two decades earlier, four songs were written in one night and the rest is history.

Get Some Go Again was written in a mere five days and recorded shortly after Rollins returned from his international spoken word tour. In January of this year the video clip for the single Illumination, was filmed in Calcutta, India and LA. One month later Rollins Band set off for a promotional tour through Europe and America for Get Some Go Again. Now comes our turn, with Rollins Band finally gracing the shores of Australia once again, kicking off their tour in Sydney on April 13.

I caught up with the rather weary Marcus Blake, third bassist for the Rollins Band, at his hotel in Melbourne on Easter Monday. I was a little hesitant to knock on the door of the ritzy hotel room, as a loud and clear ĎDo Not Disturbí sign hung from the door knob. However, I was greeted by a very warm and inviting, yet exhausted Blake. The room was a far cry from the old Rollins Band days of sleeping in the tour van, but the comfort is well deserved.

I ask Blake if his state was self-induced, did he possibly party a little too hard after the previous nightsí show? No. It is his first time out of the States and all the site seeing has finally caught up.

We begin our interview, settled around the coffee table, with the muted characters of Neighbors staring out at us from the television screen.

Youíve obviously been a fan of Henry Rollins for some time now. Is that why you asked him to come and produce the Mother Superior album Deep?

Marcus:  Yeah, thatís exactly why. Man, where does it start? Me and Jim, the guitar player, lived together. And he had worked at a record store, a used record store, that Henry came in to and Jim gave him a Mother Superior CD- a couple of demos, years ago. Henry called him back that night, actually, called us back that night, and said ďI love this stuffĒ. We have kept in touch since then. So we were friends first. Then he was having problems with the old band. Just, well, not problems, heíd just had enough.

Well, they were together for a long time...

Marcus:  Yeah, like 10 and a half years, I think. Yeah, so he was thinking of doing new stuff, and I guess him producing the Deep album was kind of like the test.

I heard that Rollins really dug your album Deep.

Marcus:  Yeah, he saw how easy we worked, and we got things done like in three takes. If it was more than three takes, move onto the next song.

Were you surprised when Rollins came to you and asked you to record some songs with him?

Marcus:  Oh Yeah! It was a good surprise though. We couldnít believe it. We were like Ďreally?í. But it was originally going to be like ĎIím gonna do a couple of tracks with you guys, and maybe some stuff with Goldieí. It was going to be a couple of people. And then he was like, Ďah, this is working out coolí.

Did you have any idea at the time that what you were working on was going to be the new Rollins Band album?

Marcus:  No (laughs). We didnít have...we didnít call ourselves the Rollins Band until we had finished the album. We were like Ďwhat shall we call this band?í, coming up with names. Then Richard, our manager, just said ĎAh, just call it the Rollins Bandí. So we said ĎSureí.

Was there any animosity at all with the previous members?

Marcus:  We havenít met them yet (laughs)! We had met Tao, the old sound guy, when we were playing in Amsterdam a couple of weeks ago, but weíre not afraid of them (laughs)! No, no. We had heard good things that they had said about the album, so I think it was pretty positive. Yeah.

You recorded at Cherokee Studios in LA.

Marcus:  Yeah. Legendary place. David Bowie recorded Station to Station there. And if you look on the ceiling in the sound booth area, thereís.. someone drew a big penis. And we asked Ďwhere the hell did that come from?í and Rod Stewart had drawn it while he was doing vocals there. So they just kept it there... as a big dick now (laughs).

Hmm. Nice. Something to look at.

Marcus:  Yeah (laughs)!

The tracks were laid down and mastered in a relatively short period of time. It took only five or so days to get everything down?

Marcus:  Yeah, yeah.

Compared to the last Rollins Band album from 1997, Come in and Burn, which took 18 months.

Marcus:  Yeah, ages. That was one of the good things about first playing with Henry, too. We had just gone to a rehearsal studio, the same one he first rehearsed with Black Flag at, by chance.

And we came out with four songs that night, the first rehearsal! So we had applied that to the recording technique. It worked out great.

As far as the line up goes for Rollins Band now, it is basically Mother Superior plus Henry Rollins. Did you find that a little strange? Like bringing someone into your band?

Marcus:  Yeah. Were still trying to get used to it in a way. But itís good. Itís easier for us (laughs)!

You guys have definitely bought a new element to Rollins Band. It doesnít have such an underlying blues feel to it anymore.

Marcus:  Oh, You think?

Yeah. Itís almost like you have taken it back to the basics of hard rock.

Marcus:  Oh cool.

Although, I hear thatís exactly what Henry Rollins envisioned for this album. He wanted something a little bit simpler, a straight out hard rock album.

Marcus:  Yeah, we go for here (points to his heart) rather than here (points to his head), and I think the other band went for here (points to his head again).

How was it working with Cliff Norell, the engineer for Get Some Go Again?

Marcus:  Oh, amazing. Heís a total pro. And he was quick too. Thatís what we like, quick. We donít like spending hours in the studio getting this sound, getting that sound.

Were you given creative freedom as far as writing your own bass lines?

Marcus:  Oh, absolutely, absolutely. Yeah, or I wouldnít be here right now. I would have bailed a long time ago I think.

Had Rollins written some material for you to work off before he approached Mother Superior or did you just jam out?

Marcus:  We pretty much jammed out, but at times he comes in with ideas, and we kind of translate. Heís like Ďoh, can you have like a feel like (mimes a bass line) you know, and weíll put a key to it, and it just comes from that. So itís all mutual.

Have you been playing bass since you were young?

Marcus:  Since I was ten.  Me and Jim, our guitar player, have been playing together since we were ten and eleven each.

So youíve known each other for years...

Marcus:  Yeah, were like the stones (laughs)! Playing forever!

You play the drums as well?

Marcus:  A little bit. Just for my own pleasure or for demoing.

So youíre pretty stuck on the rhythm section.

Marcus:  Yeah, I think weíre all frustrated drummers you know (laughs)! And I think it works well.

You used a Fender Jazz and a Rickenbacker for recording? Do you have any preference in what you play, over the two?

Marcus:  The jazz. Iíve been using it for years and years. Our sound guy still doesnít like it when I play the Rickenbacker. I havenít mastered it live, the trying to get the sounds on the Rickenbacker.

So you usually stick to using the Fender Jazz live?

Marcus:  Yeah. I bring out the Rickenbacker for a couple of songs. I just like the sound of it (the Rickenbacker), you know, and I want to get it on certain songs, but Iím still working at it.

The Fender jazz is a lot more versatile.

Marcus:  Yeah. Itís more meat and potatoes too, you know. Itís an all encompassing sound to me, whereas the Rickenbacker is more trebly, more high end.

Have they always been your preference, as far as basses go, or have you shopped around?

Marcus:  No (laughs)! Iím stuck, yeah. Once I get into something Iím loyal, you know, but I would like to, once I get more money! No, no (laughs).

Are you endorsed?

Marcus:  I got some offers, but, Iím not endorsed right now. Just strings.

I read that you had some problems with the manufacturing of Get Some Go Again as far as the track Illuminator being left off?

Marcus:  In America, not out here in Australia. Yeah, we found out on day of release too! That was a nightmare. We had a remix called Illuminator, for the one here on video called Illumination, and that was gonna be a bonus track and it didnít show up on there. So the people that write in to a certain address or email in America, get this bonus CD, a one song CD. So theyíre taken care of.

Youíre promo tour through Europe was pretty brief, are you going to head back there now that the album has been released?

Marcus:  Weíre going to do some festivals. A lot of European festivals in the Summer, so, were rounding that up now. Were going to stay out till probably early Autumn late Summer.

Whatís the reception been like over in Europe, does it differ much to the states?

Marcus:  Ah, it differs a lot in the States too, so itís kind of hard to answer that question. Yeah. I mean every town has a different reception. All of itís positive though, amazing. We havenít had anybody say, ĎYou suckí, so thatís a good thing. We havenít had any rotten vegetables thrown at us either! Yeah. Itís been positive.

Rollins Band has a very strong fan base here in Australia.

Marcus:  Yeah, I heard we made the top 40, woohoo! We sold out man (laughs).

Whatís your touring schedule been like with Mother Superior? Have you done much?

Marcus:  No. So this is our first time, the three of us in Australia. We just gone towards the west coast of America and thatís about it, so weíve been branching out for sure. Itís been exciting. Lack of sleep, cause we want to see everywhere we go too.

Have you had someone taking you around?

Marcus:  Yeah. Hitting all the record stores. But itís like food for us. Cause it influences further songs. Weíve been writing, we wrote a couple of ideas yesterday in the hotel room. Because we plan on going back into the studio, like in June on a break, working on the next Rollins record.

Already?

Marcus:  Yeah. Why not? Weíre inspired. Weíre all still inspired. Everyday at rehearsals it seems like we have new ideas come through so. Like we have 15 songs already. We recorded like 35 to 40 songs last time and like the best 12 or 15 made it.

What are you going to do with the songs that didnít make it?

Marcus:  B-sides in various territories, like Japan gets a few, et cetera. CD singles and stuff. Soundtracks. Itís all going to get used.

Have you guys gotten into playing the older Rollins Band stuff?

Marcus:  Oh yeah! Cause theyíre the ones that we really like anyway. Yeah, but I have to admit we concentrate more on our own stuff, but we like the reaction the old songs get too, so thatís kind of fun. And we kind of make it our own as well. We donít copy it, you know, we donít clone it.

Yeah, I noticed that last night in Tearing.

Marcus:  Did you like the show last night?

Yeah, it was great.

Marcus:  Oh cool!

It was the first time Iíve had the chance to see Rollins Band live. Iíve only ever seen Henry Rollins spoken word. It had an amazing energy. Really intense.

Marcus:  Oh yeah. We did that just to warm up (it was ridiculously cold at the show). We stand and stare at our shoes most shows. No.

Oh really? I couldnít imagine that ever happening!

Marcus:  You canít not get into it!

What was the deciding factor in releasing Illumination as a single?

Marcus:  Wasnít up to me. Iím the last person to know about the single. Yeah. I couldnít choose a single if my life depended on it. Let somebody else do it. I like them all, all the songs. I think it was management that chose it.

I like the slow groove of On the Day. It would be good to see that as the next single.

Marcus:  The girls seem to like that song! Iím not trying to be sexist or whatever, but itís true.

That and Brother Interior. Those two tracks really stand out for me.

Marcus:  Oh cool. I think the next single is going to be Get Some Go Again (the title track).

How was it working with legendary MC5 guitarist, Wayne Kramer?

Marcus:  Cool. He actually produced a Mother Superior song that is yet to come out. But we had met him through the Rollins thing, him adding a track we had written in like under an hour and we recorded it in like an hour, so he was in and out in two hours! We had lunch together and he told us all of his MC5 stories, and weíre like Ďwhat about Iggy?í you know, and all that! It was great, worth the price of admission. Real easy to work with, heís like got the same mentality too, as far as Ďjust get it doneí. If you canít get it done, what are you doing in the studio?

The song you do with Wayne Kramer, LA Money Train, is a lot funkier than the rest of the album. It is more reminiscent of past Rollins Band material, which has more of a funk edge to it. I donít know if that was Melvin Gibbsí influence, the previous bassist for Rollins Band?

Marcus:  I donít either (laughs).

Do you get into the jazz and funk style of playing much? I heard you like Miles Davis and David Bowie.

Marcus:  Yeah. If you see our record collection it encompasses everything. You know like, Parliament, Funkadelic. Iím not a poppy kind of player though. Iím more of a melodic player. Like, Paul McCartney is my biggest influence as a bass player, because heís melodic. If you take his bass playing out of the song, it could be like a separate song within that. So I think, more along those lines. What was the question (laughs)?

Have you ever wanted to get into the funk and jazz style of playing?

Marcus:  Yeah, I think actually we play more like that in Mother Superior. I love that stuff, funk stuff. I hope we can do more for the next Rollins Band record. Weíre like Band of Gypsies, you know, the Hendrix stuff, we just like a groove, you know.

To be honest, I havenít heard much of Mother Superior.

Marcus:  Alright, well Iíll send you a copy.

I donít know how easy it is to get out here in Australia.

Marcus:  I donít either. Weíre working on something, trying to get some stuff out there.

So Paul McCartney, heís the main influence on your style of playing. Is there anyone else, when you were younger, that you idolized musically?

Marcus:  James Jamerson, the guy that played on all the classic Motown songs. Bootsy Collins...

Ah, definitely!

Marcus:  I donít know who played on it... I guess for like on Pet Sounds (Beach Boys), Brian Wilson did a lot of the arranging, I guess Carol Kaye did the actual playing though. The session girl! But I could go on and on. But, I like me too. Am I allowed to say that (laughs)?

Marcus:  Oh, Ron Carter, heís another influence. I like Kate Bush too!

I used to love Kate Bush when I was little!

Marcus:  Really? What happened to her (laughs)?

I donít know! You know Tori Amos reminds me a little of Kate Bush.

Marcus:  Yeah. I donít get into Tori Amos because of that. You know what I mean? Maybe I should, since thereís not enough Kate Bush albums (laughs).

She just sort of disappeared off the face of the earth didnít she?

Marcus:  Yeah. And then every five years she used to come back out. Itís been like 7 or 8 years now since her last album.

So obviously this isnít a one off line-up for Rollins Band?

Marcus:  Nope, thereís more to come. There is more to come. Yeah, definitely.

Great. So when you get back to the states, are you doing some more shows around the US ?

Marcus:  Yeah, weíre going to go to the states and work our way all around through both coasts and then do the summer festivals. And weíre going to try and hit some weird places after that. Maybe like Israel and Greece and Italy, which is eye candy for me. ĎLetís go!í, you know.

You never been out of the states at all?

Marcus:  No. And Henryís like ĎOh, this is my fifteenth time in Australia.í And Iím like ĎGood can you show me the nearest record store then?í

Finally, I read that you once wanted to be the President of the United States...

Marcus:  Where did you read that (laughs)?

Havenít you checked out you Mother Superior web site?

Marcus:  Nah, that was an old running joke.

So, do you still want to be?

Marcus:  Hell no! Who would (laughs)?

After a little more chatting about musical interests, Bill Laswell, record stores and an invite to the Rollins show later that night, I left Marcus Blake to catch up on a little rest. His bed was waiting, and so were his Easter eggs that sat on the bedside table. From the performance later that night, it was clear that no matter how much had been taken out of the members, they were ready and willing to give everything they had.

© Katie Owen 2000

     Katie Owen is our Australian contact.  She reports the bottom lines from down under.  She can be reached at katie@?.com whenshe not out attracting attention.  

     Rollins Band can be found at http://www.dreamworksrec.com/ , and the Mother Superior site is http://listen.to/mothersuperior .

Read this article in Spanish as translated by Sebastian Alejandro Caffini

 

 

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