Editor’s Note: It is a great change of pace interviewing some of my heroes from when I was growing up as a kid. I remember the song “Rock Me” by Great White, and how it is still one of my all-time favorite songs. That song brings back so many memories for me. Then, new heroes and new trends come along, but Great White still keeps on trucking as they released “Full Circle” on June 2nd. “Full Circle” showcases Great White as musicians and how they are picking up where they have left off since Jack Russell formed his own Great White entitled “Jack Russell’s Great White”, and Terry Ilous from XYZ fame came over to join the fray as the new frontman for Great White. Terry brings a bluesy, distinctive voice to the band. I really appreciate Mark Kendall’s down-to-earth demeanor and he seems to love talking about creating and making music. As a disclaimer, no word of the Rhode Island tragedy is mentioned in this interview. Madness To Creation is not like Loudwire or TMZ. We focus strictly on the music. We stay away from incidents involving the litigation process or the “he says/she says” garbage that “those other sites” like to post! We do this for the love of music and because we believe that our readers want to know about music, not about the gossip. I apologize for the digression, but I wanted to put that disclaimer in here. Without further delay, here is my conversation with Mark Kendall of Great White!
M.T.C.: I just want to thank you for taking the time to call in! Let’s start off this conversation by talking about “Full Circle”. Can you give us some insight on the writing process of “Full Circle” and how some of the material in the new album came about.
Mark: First of all, thanks for having me. Well, I met with Michael Wagener by accident on the “Monsters of Rock” tour and the second time that I spoke with him after we said our goodbyes and everything, as we were walking away, I was like, “why don’t we do something again”, so that’s how we attempted to do the record with Wagener, so we kind of kept in touch, when we sat down and said that we were going to do it, a few months kind of rolled by but we were staying in touch, and when we got an actual date, it was kind of last minute a little bit, and we had eight days to come up with stuff, and one of the days we were in the kitchen area, he was playing a little practice thing, on that day, we weren’t getting a lot done, everybody was kind of shooting each other with ideas, and the last four days, we got real serious, and we actually came up with arrangements for ideas. We had actually started writing a year before Michael and I, and we were having a lot of shows, and it just kind of got put on the backburner. Like I said, when it came to crunch time, those last four rehearsals, we got a lot of arrangements done and stuff. When we went to Nashville, we had chorus ideas and stuff like that, but not a lot of the lyrics yet. We didn’t even tell Michael Wagener, we just wanted to go there, rent a house, go to a studio, and start working, but we didn’t want to have him say, “you better wait three months”, so we just went there. We knew we would handle it, but normally he works for the preparation of the bands that he works with, but he finishes one song at a time. Anyways, we’re doing an in-studio documentary and we don’t have the lyrics for the songs, so we got cameras rolling, they’re capturing us writing the lyrics, they came to the house that we rented and worked also. But what made it kind of doable, was that we all played together like we always have in the studio. We keep the drums, because that’s what we’re going for, he does that as well, so the rhythm tracks are on there, the temporary ones, so the bass player has something to play with. He has the bass player finish all of the bass. Here is where the difference comes in. Instead of having the guitar player play four or five songs or finishing two or three songs, we all focus in on one song, then finish it. We are allowing ourselves two days to finish a song, sometimes it turns out to be three days, but for the most part, that way you have all of your energy into one song, and we can work on the lyrics because we know what song we are working on once we have the drums and the bass. We all work together on the lyrics the night before, and come in with that, and hand Wagener the lyrics.
Wagener wasn’t really used to working that way, but as the songs started to get done, he understood, he was like, “okay, this is fine, this is working”. I think that it was kind of a relief for him, I don’t know, I haven’t really spoke to him about that. Michael is pretty relaxed in the studio, he’s a high-end professional.
M.T.C.: Very cool! Does this approach change from how you all previously wrote material?
Mark: Not really at all because I haven’t changed anything that I have done since the early eighties. I’m still writing the way that I always have, then I show it to the band, and hope that they like it. Sometimes, I’ll just have the very start of a song or where Michael will have the very start of the song, where it’s not really a complete song. Sometimes, we might come in with an arrangement that’s already done, and say, “what do you think of this”, and we’ll kind of work on it together, and maybe make some subtle changes, or like on our last album, we went into the studio with no material at all, we paid daily for renting the studio with no music except for two ideas. We just go in during the morning, we each grab an acoustic, and we have those “what do you got” kind of moments, some guy will come in, and we’ll say, “hey, let’s work on that”. By the end of the day, we would have a song without lyrics. In the past, we might have been a little bit more prepared, we would have the songs, then rehearse them before we go into the studio. I kind of like, split the difference on this album, like we actually had songs, but just not the finished lyrics, but we had all of the songs.
I just like the energy when an idea is brand new to us, but maybe we have gone over it a few times. There’s something about the electricity that happens when something is new to you. There’s a certain excitement that goes on the tape, I don’t know what though, but that’s my experience. Years ago, when we did our first album with Michael Wagener, we actually did a demo, and we actually had a song called “Street Killer”, and we had a demo for it, and the demo got on the radio. We played the song before we did the actual album, we’ve done the song probably 50 times live. From an energy standpoint, the song on the album never sounded the same as it did on the demo. There was something missing, I don’t know what it was. We played it exactly the same, there was just something missing, and I can’t really explain it.
We like to be prepared on the arrangements, but that got changed a little bit. It was really enjoyable though, Michael Wagener has got really good energy and he’s a complete professional. He knows how to make you feel comfortable with your recording, he’s just a really great personality, he’s just a great guy!
M.T.C.: What can the Great White fans expect from the “Full Circle” album?
Mark: It’s mostly a lot of big rock grooves. I feel like the songs are really good. It’s just classic sounding Great White stuff. We thought “I’m Alright” was going to be the first single from the record, that’s the one that Wagener really likes. We played it for a lot of friends and a few fans, just to see what they thought what we should put up first, and everybody kept coming back to “Big Time” because it kind of sounds like vintage Great White, it’s got the dynamics, the big chorus and everything, and had we had known that, we would not have put an age on the record, like they say, “don’t hide your edge”. We ended up going with that, we did a video and stuff.
As far as the album goes, we got a really nice ballad on there, nothing really sappy really. We have a couple of uptempo things, some good “stinky” grooves, where just the drum beat alone gets you to move, nice choruses good changes, and everybody plays their hearts out, so we’re thrilled with the album, I mean the production is top notch. I mean Michael Wagener has sold 98 million records, he’s done Ozzy, Metallica, Megadeth, Alice Cooper, Dokken, and Skid Row, a lot of bands from our era. When Michael done our first album, at the time, he only did Accept and a few projects in Germany. I think he did a Dokken demo record, he didn’t have all of these huge artists. He has all of those years of experience. He has workshops from where engineers from all over the world to attend his workshops, and they talk about his gear, he’s invented gear. He’s probably better than he used to be years ago. It was a joy. And the other thing is, is that it was a different environment for us, so that was exciting. In Nashville, there were no distractions whatsoever. We were still in the middle of nowhere, where you just hear crickets and that’s about it. We stayed on this lake, the studio was completely awesome.
It was state of the art, but I think that people are really going to like the record. I feel confident. They don’t have to, but our fans seem to have the same taste that we do. I’m not for questioning whether it’s good or not, because you never know how people are going to react. I think they should like it. Terry sang really well on it.
M.T.C.: Speaking of Terry, how did Great White hook up with him?
Mark: Terry’s first show with us was in 2009. We really liked him, he had to learn the songs the same day that we did the show, so that was kind of crazy, but I liked his voice, he did such a great job at such a last-minute notice like that. Our manager at the time kind of forced a couple of other singers, which I liked, but I really liked Terry. After he did 80 shows or so, with Jack not returning, there was no question that we were going to go with Terry. Michael noticed it and so did I, his voice and my guitar really melded together really well. Michael is of the old school English players, people like Glenn Hughes, Paul Rodgers, and all of those kind of qualities. He told me as he was growing up, he listened to nothing but R&B. He was really into these old R&B singers. We really have a cool way of pocketing where he sings. Terry is a total groove singer, he sings with the drums, he doesn’t rush, but he plays with some of the lines where it’s kind of unique, I’m not able to come with anything that global, I’ll admit it firsthand *laughs*. I’ll show him a couple of melodies now and then, and then he’ll usually twist it around and make it good. He gives us a lot of surprises in there and I love that! Instead of me just hand-delivering him a bunch of melodies and just have him sing it back to me, I’d rather give him some melodies, and he comes back at me with something that just blows me away, like, “whoa, I would never think of that”, and he does it all of the time.
M.T.C.: Have you listened to Terry Ilous’ cover album entitled “Gypsy Dreams”?
Mark: Yeah, he played me a couple of tracks off of it. It was really well done. I love the flamenco dude, Luis Villegas, he’s a wonderful, wonderful guitar player, he kind of reinvents the music flamenco style, it’s really sweet!
M.T.C.: Great White released the single and video for “Big Time”. What is that song talking about?
Mark: We were just thinking back to when we were teenagers and just dreaming about it, it’s about one day being out there and touring, making records, and playing arenas. It’s kind of about that. The video is kind of an actor thing, but we have performers in there as well. It’s about a kid that wakes up and just rolls out of bed and just grabs the guitar and starts writing everyday, you don’t really know him until the end where he has this dream that he fully makes it and he hits the “Big Time” and everything. It’s about that, a kid with a dream.
M.T.C.: Give me the moment where you realized that Great White made it to the “Big Time”.
Mark: I don’t know about making it to the big time, but at least breaking out and having an opportunity, I think when we used to have to make our own records, and shopping it to labels until somebody says that we’ll take a chance with them. It was after the first album, although it was for a major label, there weren’t any big radio hits. I think after “Rock Me”, we were sitting in the studio and the record company was in there, and when they first heard that song, and the way they looked down on everything, I kind of had a feeling that something good was going to happen, but again, your stars have to align up, but I don’t know, I just got a different feeling than I ever had before, but this song, “yeah, you can tell that it’s good”, and that’s what happened, so I think that song got our foot in the door and broke us out nationally to where people can deal with that song and like it, it reached a lot of people and all of that stuff, I think that we had an opportunity to do that when that song happened.
M.T.C.: Any big touring plans in support of “Full Circle”?
Mark: Yeah, we hired a really good promotional team, they’re doing a great job, and we’re going to be out there playing it. It’s a different time that we live in, it’s not like we have all of the mediums playing in heavy rotation all over the country, and we don’t have MTV playing it every five minutes. Those days are over, so it’s a little bit more work to get our music to the people and that’s why we hired such a big team, but that’s really our goal, is just to get our music to the people and see how they like it when we play it live, get it on all of the satellite radio and everybody else, a podcast, whatever, just so people can check it out and dig it. This is why we are still here because we love making new music. There’s a lot of bands out there right now that I can tell you that are making great music. I just heard a Night Ranger thing, they have a new album, awhile back I heard a Winger song that was killer, Deep Purple has something new, I think Warrant just came out with a new record. It’s not like everybody forgot how to write, just because the industry kind of crashed and burned doesn’t mean that we forgot how to write songs. Our fans are still there, they’re still loyal, they’re still in front of the stage, they’re still rocking, so obviously we’re not out to sell millions of records, those days are over and we know that, but we like to get our music to the fans.
M.T.C.: I’m going to give you the floor to say whatever you need to about Great White, where people can find you guys, and a message to the fans.
Mark: Pretty much, the fans can always see when we are going to be playing near them, just go to our website. We got a brand new website, it’s www.officialgreatwhite.com, you can get “Full Circle” there, which is accompanied by “the making of the album”, which is a DVD that is recorded at Michael Wagener’s studio. There’s 35 stores online that you can pick up the album, it will be available coming up at Best Buy, Target, and Wal-Mart, you can get it on any download site such as I-Tunes, Amazon, all of them have it. They got samples that you can listen to, if you want a physical copy of the album, go to our official website. Keep checking back if you don’t see it. Thank you to the fans for all of the years of loyalty, buying the music, and for us hanging out with them. On the Monsters of Rock cruises, we really get to hang with the fans. It’s amazing that we’re still here and still making music. As long as we are making music, we’ll keep it going as long as our legs will carry us. We just didn’t want to become an oldies band, that was our whole thing. I don’t want to go out there and sell the same old painting every year. We’re always going to play our hits, the big songs will be in the set, but we don’t want to go through the motions, that’s the one thing that I never wanted to do, and that is to just go out there and get this horrible thing over with. I want to love what I’m doing, and by us coming up with new things, and it’s the chance of having a set that is never the same from night to night. It keeps our excitement level up. The fans will pick up on it if you’re just hating what you’re doing. We love what we do, so we just want to keep the excitement level up.
M.T.C.: I want to thank you so much for taking the time to interview with me!
Mark: Thanks man and we will talk soon!
And there you have it! Go “like” Great White on their Facebook page at www.facebook.com/greatwhiteofficial and go pick up a copy of “Full Circle” with the bonus DVD at www.officialgreatwhite.com. Here are the tour dates listed below!
Friday, June 9th at San Manuel Casino in Highland, California
Saturday, June 17th at Little River Casino Resort in Manistee, Michigan
Thursday, June 22nd at Proof Rooftop Lounge in Houston, Texas
Saturday, June 24th at Funtastic Fourth Festival in Spring, Texas
Friday, June 30th at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in Santa Cruz, California
Friday, July 7th at Turning Stone Resort Casino in Verona, New York
Friday, July 14th at Roar On The Shore in Erie, Pennsylvania
Saturday, July 15th at Penn’s Peak in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania
Thursday, July 20th at ABATE of Indiana in Springville, Indiana
Saturday, July 22nd at Chene Park in Detroit, Michigan
Friday, July 28th at Hard Rock & Casino Hotel in Sioux City, Iowa
Friday, August 11th at Wisconsin State Fair in West Allis, Wisconsin (w/Vixen)
Saturday, August 12th at Umatilla County Fair in Hermiston, Oregon
Friday, August 18th at Boji Bay Fun House and Event Center in Milford, Iowa
Friday, August 25th at Tropicana in Las Vegas, Nevada
Saturday, September 2nd at Septemberfest at Century Link in Omaha, Nebraska
Saturday, September 9th at Grand Rocktember Music Festival at Grand Casino in Hinckley, Minnesota
Saturday, October 21st at Rockingham Festival in Nottingham, England
Saturday, November 4th at Magic City Casino in Miami, Florida
Sunday, February 11th, 2018 at Monsters of Rock Cruise
Friday, February 17th, 2018 at Coral Head Music Fest in Marathon, Florida
Here is the music video to “Big Time” by Great White