From California underdogs as Dante Fox to the multi-platinum selling Great White, guitarist/founding member Mark Kendall has been there and has seen it all. He saw the humble beginnings, he saw the fame, he saw the crash, and has experienced the revival and lived to tell about it. Great White has released their latest album Full Circle and it’s hands down the best thing that the band has released since Once Bitten, in my opinion.
Getting to talk to my childhood favorites never gets old and Mark Kendall definitely didn’t disappoint. As a matter of fact, he exceeded my expectations. Mark was awesome enough to talk to me about the new album, Great White’s history, and what it was like working with legendary producer Michael Wagener again. Mark was a super sweet, humble, and funny guy and I really enjoyed talking with him. Hopefully you all will enjoy this one as much as I did.
Mark, thank you so much for taking the time out to do this interview.
Thank you, Don. I’m glad to be here. Things are going great here. We’ve got the new record Full Circle out, we’ve been playing some shows, and we’re getting some great feedback. It’s an exciting time for us.
Elation was such a great “comeback” album but Full Circle really has taken things to a new level. You guys sound like a band that’s been at it for decades with this lineup and I love the fact that the title says so much.
Thanks, Don. Honestly, we’ve never named an album in advance. We always wait until all the music’s recorded and then we sit around and throw things out there. It’s actually kind of fun to do it that way. At first we were trying to name this album after a song but nothing was making sense to us. The thought was that Michael Wagener was our very first producer who did our first EP and album and 30+ years later, here we are again with him so it was like full circle. That’s how the title got generated. Michael Lardie actually came up with that title and we all liked it right away.
While I loved Elation, I can’t help but feel like you guys were still figuring things out a bit with Terry (Ilous; vocalist) but this time around with Full Circle, it sounds like everything just clicked.
Yeah, thanks Don. Everyone was working on such a high level of excitement, to do another album with Wagener, and to be in a different environment. We were recording in this iconic studio in Nashville in the middle of nowhere [laughs]. The energy was really good and we felt really good about the songs. We kind of felt like almost how we did when we did Once Bitten. It was just like a do or die record. We just really wanted to deliver for the fans and we really wanted to come out with something that was the real deal. Everybody played their hearts out and we’re thrilled with the album. Everyone seems to be happy and we’re really excited about it.
I first heard of Great White when you guys were picked to support Whitesnake in ‘88. After seeing that show in New Orleans, I was a huge fan. What was it about the Once Bitten album that you feel opened the floodgates for success?
Well, the pressure of having to come out with an album that’s good was definitely part of why I think it was our best work to come out. I also think that there was nothing really out there like it at the time. There wasn’t a song like “Rock Me” with the blues overtones and the dynamics. Even though the song was over 7 minutes long, the radio just took to it and people liked it right away. It was a great feeling because we had been grinding for so long.
Yes. You guys were already hitting it hard with the self titled album and the EP for a while before the success rolled in.
Yeah, It just seemed like no matter what we did nothing was happening for us. We kept fighting. We did our first album for EMI and did two big tours with an early version of Whitesnake and then five or six months with Judas Priest. We came home and didn’t sell a lot of records and the record company wasn’t happy. We made our own record, Shot in the Dark, and it got us another song on the radio which was “Face the Day” which went to #2 on KLOS. That got us enough attention to where we got signed to another deal, a second chance so yeah, that really was do or die for us. We were very fortunately that we came out with a pretty darn good record and had some long tours. We were out on the road for a long time.
After the lengthy tour behind Once Bitten, you guys released Twice Shy and did that amazing co-headlining tour with Tesla. To this day it’s one of my all time favorite tours. Have you guys ever talked about maybe doing an anniversary run together and bringing that tour back?
Don, that’s a great idea. Tesla are really good friends of ours and we actually have some history together. When we were on tour with Judas Priest, on nights off we were playing clubs. When we were in Northern California we were playing with this band called City Kidd. They were playing Dokken covers and stuff like that. I just thought their singer was so good and that the band was good and I thought that they should be playing their own music. I thought they were such a great band and then a couple of years later they come out with this great record and I find out that Tesla used to be City Kidd. I couldn’t believe it and before you know it, we’re co-headlining a tour with them. Talk about upping your game. They went from being a cover band to being this really great band of their own. I was thrilled about that just right out of the gate because we had that history with them. I would be totally open to do a tour like that again.
When Great White first started, the band had a more metal, Judas Priest kind of sound. What brought on the metamorphosis into a more Zeppelin-esque direction?
Actually, we were forcing the issue early on. It was back when Judas Priest was kind of flying under the radar as far as LA goes. They weren’t a big commercial band at the time that everybody knew so we were trying to be something we weren’t and not being true to ourselves. When Alan Niven discovered us, we already had all those songs, we went with it, and we failed. We then decided to just be true to ourselves and play what was inside of us. Growing up I was more into the blues side of guitar playing and guitar players who played from the heart like Carlos Santana, Richie Blackmore, Billy Gibbons, guys like that. Alan Niven, our manager, really helped bring out our influences and helped shape the band. That’s when the blues element started to come in. In fact, when we were recording the first album, in between songs I’d be playing some Alvin Lee Ten Years After thing or some Carlos Santana lick [laughs]. Then we would be like, “Ok, let’s get back to the metal.” [laughs] It was always in me but it took someone like Alan Niven to see that and say, “This is what you should be doing” and over time and after writing a while, that’s how Once Bitten developed.
Michael Wagener produced your latest album and he really managed to capture a more classic sound from the band. Did this come natural and how much of a role did he play into this?
it wasn’t intentional at all because we just wrote like we always do. We didn’t change a thing. Obviously the production is top shelf stuff. When you walk into Wagener’s studio you’re just blinded by platinum records. He’s worked with everybody. One thing he did do was made me feel at ease. When he’s recording with you he makes you feel so good. We got really good performances. Maybe you’re just feeling a bit of the production from the early albums? I’m not sure. It wasn’t like he was trying to bring the metal out of us or anything like that[laughs]. He just made us feel really comfortable.
I’m sure his old school way of doing things probably gelled with you guys a lot more than say the new way of a younger producer.
Exactly. He doesn’t use auto-tune or anything. He just tells you to play it again until you get it right. He’ll say, “Don’t sing flat!” [laughs] I like to believe and trust my ears enough that when I listen to something, if it sounds good than it is good. If the computer says it’s not good, then so what? We’re not computers. We’re human beings and we like the way music sounds. If it sounds good, it’s good. If you start judging things by what it says on the computer, you’re going to wind up sounding like a machine. What works best for us is when we all play together and everything usually works out. It has nothing to do with computers.
Do you like recording digitally vs. analog or vice versa?
I have no problem with recording on computers. I actually like it. It’s just a quicker way to record for me. When we were working with 2” tape, it took so long to do the simplest edit. Now, with the click of a mouse it’s done. You can make records so much quicker now. It keeps things moving along and you’re not stopping and starting so much. I hate taking these huge breaks for something to happen. I like to keep the momentum and the energy up.
As a veteran of the scene, you’ve seen the music business change, digress, come back to life, and all in between. What is your take on the current state of the industry?
Well, you really need a lot of people on your team that know the internet really well. It’s a lot more difficult to get your music to the people because we don’t have all the mediums we used to. We’re not on the radio and we’re not on MTV every five seconds all over country. When you take all of that away, we still have the fans and they still come to the shows but a lot of them might not know that we have a new record out. I’m just totally into making new music because we’re always challenging ourselves to get better. That’s our whole momentum and the whole reason we’re still here. We just want to keep writing and keep doing something good and maybe even a little better than we did the last time. There’s not a lot of forums for new music but when people hear the latest album, we’re getting great feedback from it. We’re just doing the best we can to get our new music heard. We still have our history that we’re proud of and grateful for but to keep our energy where it needs to be, we need to keep making new music.
The new album comes packaged with a DVD that is a Making of… kind of documentary. What inspired you to do that?
I got the idea from Deep Purple. I was at a friend’s house and we watched The Making of Machine Head. It was done like 25 years or so after the album was released and they told the whole story about how they recorded it. Being such a fan myself, I just loved it. To be able to go behind the scenes of one of the greatest albums that I love and to hear the story of how it was made was wonderful. When we got the opportunity to record this album with Wagener, I knew that we had to roll cameras so the fans could see how we make records. It’s something that we’ve never done. We’ve never even let anyone in the studio before much less film it [laughs]. We hired a production company to just come in and film every day and it was really cool.
Looking back on your long, 30+ year career,, is there anything you wish you could un-do?
[laughs] There’s just some pictures that you look at and you just cringe over and say, “Oh man, why did I do that?” [laughs] Man, it was all really just a learning process. I wouldn’t really change anything because we really did learn a lot and we can share it with up and coming bands on what to do and what not to do. If there was anything I would change I probably would’ve toned it down a little on the partying [laughs]. I used to drink beer like a crazy man and I quit drinking 9 years ago. I see these younger bands partying like they’ve just gone #1 and they haven’t even been signed yet [laughs]. They should be focusing on the songs and getting really good instead of acting like they’ve been on top of the charts for 10 weeks [laughs].
What is one Great White song that hasn’t been in a setlist for or while (or at all) that you would love to see make a comeback?
There are so many deep tracks that I’d love to play intermixed with the stuff that we have to play. One song that we haven’t played in years is a song called “Get On Home” from the Psycho City album. I think we played that song twice. I don’t like it when we make records and we don’t play some of the songs live. It’s kind of weird but we 13 studio album so it’s tough to try and play them all.
Looking back on your extensive discography, what album do you feel best defines what Great White is all about?
I think Psycho City got pretty close. I think part of Once Bitten was just so close to ourselves but this new album I feel like, as far as song for song, is one of our best efforts in a long time. The first single “Big Time” people have been saying just sounds like vintage Great White with the dynamics and the big chorus. You always like to think that your latest album is your best album ever but I am really happy with it. We have so many snapshots in our career of what we were doing and the time. It’s tough to pick one but there are elements of every record that I feel that we nailed it as far as representing who we are.
What are your tour plans for 2017 in support of Full Circle and you better say you’ll be coming to Atlanta.
[laughs] Oh absolutely. We’ll definitely hit Atlanta at some point this year. Shows are coming in every day. We’ve got about 40 shows lined up already but you can check out www.officialgreatwhite.com since dates are being added constantly.
Thanks so much, Mark for doing this. This was a real pleasure and you were a blast to talk to. Hopefully we can do it again sometime.
Absolutely, Don and thank you for doing this blog. We’ve gotta let people know somehow that we’re still here and still playing. You guys that do these blogs and these podcasts are keeping the music alive and I really appreciate it. It’s just awesome. Keep up the great work, my friend.