Mark Slaughter Talks In Depth About Vinnie Vincent, Early Slaughter, Touring, Sin City & More.
Mark Slaughter does not do a lot of interviews but it’s not because he doesn’t have a lot to say. As one of the most successful frontmen of the “Dial MTV”, “Metal Edge” era Mark had the pipes and the drive but also secured an even rarer reputation by being one of the true nice guys of the music biz. He’s continued to be a force in the entertainment industry, not only with his band Slaughter (and all star side project Scrap Metal) but also as an in-demand voiceover artist for countless cartoons like Batman Beyond and Anamaniacs and as a composer for television and film work like Fox Sports. As a major fan of his work dating back to the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, I had a ton of questions and I want to thank both he and Kelly Garni for arranging this interview; read on……
Vinnie Vincent Invasion – Bobby, Mark, Vinnie & Dana
Legendary Rock Interviews: Hi Mark, thanks so much for doing this. I got in contact with you through my friend (original Quiet Riot bassist and author) Kelly Garni. How far back do you know Kelly?
Mark Slaughter: Oh man, Kelly and I go back quite a while. Right after Randy Rhoads joined Ozzy, Kelly moved to Las Vegas and after that move he joined my band, I had a local band called Xcusrion. So, we go way back.
LRI: Did you know of Kelly’s friendship and past with Randy at that point?
Mark: Oh yeah, someone had told us that he had played with Randy and then when we were looking for a bass player we had went to see him play with some other people and thought he’d make a great addition. We actually recorded an album that was never released with Kelly as our bass player. We went to San Fransisco and recorded it at the Automatt Studios where Journey and Y&T and many bands had gone to record in fact Paul Kanter (Jefferson Airplane/Startship) was there one day when we were there which was pretty cool.
LRI: How low key was the Las Vegas scene back in the early 80s?
Mark: Vegas in general wasn’t a really big scene at the time but there were rock bands around and little festivals and things that happened around the city. It wasn’t as high as say Hollywood which was just screaming at that point but it still had a nice little scene.
Vinnie & Mark pin-up from Rock Scene Magazine
LRI: Are you surprised at how much Vegas has changed since Slaughter broke big in the early 90s?
Mark: Yeah, its changed and in some ways it’s kind of like….not to sound like an old man (laughs) but its like the city that I know in my head has imploded and been replaced with these Supercasinos which are wonderful to visit but not at all like the city I grew up in. If you grew up in a certain city and everything you know, everything you remember was blown up and isnt there anymore it’s just a weird thing. There are certain things about the city that have stayed the same but there are a lot of landmarks that are gone which were there for so long. Mind you, there were probably 20,000 people at that time and now there’s like 2 million so it was inevitable that it would change a lot with that kind of growth.
LRI: I am a big Invasion fan so you’ll have to forgive me if I’m heavy on those questions but how did Dana get ahold of Vinnie Vincent originally?
Mark: Somebody told Dana “Hey, Vinnie Vincent is looking for people” and passed that on to him and Dana was like “Well, who’s he really?” and they were like “Well, he’s the guitar player for KISS” and Dana said “Ok, cool”. Dana wasn’t really a guy who had his KISSography, as Gene would say, down, he wasn’t that familiar. He really had no idea how Vinnie figured into KISS, what role he played or how long he was in the band or anything like that. To make a long story short, they took some of the demos that Vinnie had done and Dana went and added his 5 cents and they changed some things around. They did that ground work and ended up getting the interest of Jeff Aldrich who was the A&R guy at Chrysalis who had been behind UFO and Pat Benatar. Jeff was interested in the project and that’s when it kind of all took off
LRI: No matter how much I learn about the band and Vinnie there is still quite a bit that’s unclear so thanks for talking about this. I’ve interviewed (original Vinnie Vincent singer and ex Journey singer) Robert Fleischman who was a great guy but understandably careful in choosing his words about the experience. Vinnie himself didn’t talk too much about the switch. How did that all fall apart, was that a contract dispute or creative differences?
Mark: Well, what had happened was Robert wasn’t gonna tour. I don’t think he ever thought he was gonna go do anything with Vinnie, I think he just recorded the record, took the photos and that was it. I think he just didn’t wanna go any further with it, work any more with Vinnie or take that out on the road to do that. So from there, Chrysalis was looking at a bunch of singers, a bunch of different people and I ended up being one of those guys in the mix to be that singer. Jeff Aldrich ultimately said, “This guy looks like our guy I think we need to go with him” so in essence the record company really made the call as far as who they wanted to promote or put their dollars behind.
LRI: I love Vinnie but the original story he always told and retold about how he always wanted you the entire time for the project sounded a little suspect. Was there any truth to that?
Mark: No, nope, no. That was just some Hollywood embellishment, bio and publicity story stuff. The true story is that I could have been the singer on that first album, I had actually auditioned for him before but he said no and then they made the record but of course Robert didn’t wanna do it after that. There was only so many people who could have done that, who could have sung that material the way it was done truthfully because everything was quirked up and punched together there were verses with no breaths in there whatsoever and I was the guy who could do it. They knew that and sent me into the studio to record some stuff, they heard that I could basically do that and therefore I ended up getting the gig.
LRI: In so many words Robert kind of told me that he never felt comfortable with the band or the direction…
Mark: And I think, ultimately, Robert sang a great record. I think they made a great record on that first one and I still listen to it to this day. Although, I made the video with Robert singing and joined after the recording that first Invasion record holds great memories for me. I mean, here I was a guitar teacher and then a month later I go from that situation to being on a huge stage with my guitar gone, singing and fronting a band in front of 20,000 people opening for Alice Cooper! It was a pretty big culture shock for me but absolutely I have great memories surrounding that first album.
LRI: Talk about that transition from guitarist/singer to frontman/lead singer. Was there a period of adjustment?
Mark: Yeah, it was different. I had sung as a lead singer before in bands in high school and stuff but never professionally. There was a huge difference and you felt it putting that guitar down, it goes through your head like “Ok, what am I gonna do??!” (laughs). It was a totally different thing than hiding behind that security blanket of having the guitar.
LRI: People can say whatever they want about the absurdity of it all but that “Boyz Gonna Rock” video exemplifies a time capsule of over the top 80s metal, it’s still in rotation on VH1
Mark: Oh it was so much fun! The director of that video Jeff Stein also did the Tom Petty video for “Don’t Come Around Here No More” which was such a well done video, he’s such a great director. I mean, we really had a blast on set. His whole thing was “Let’s just take this over the top, as far as we can take it and I really do think that his vision as a director was realized, he encompassed that vision very well with that clip. It is insane.
LRI: I talked to the guys from Vinnie’s band Warrior (ex New England members) Gary Shea and Hirsh Gardner and they both kind of indicated that Vinnie was a super talented guy who really tended to overthink and second guess himself in the studio to the point of insanity. Was that sort of the problem sometimes as you saw it?
Mark: I think that Vinnie is absolutely brilliant and I think that as much as he would slam me in the press, I would have to say that he is a genius in so many ways. At the same time, I think the second guessing that you’re discussing became his downfall because he is always thinking, “It’s gotta be better, it’s gotta be better”. The thing is, art is never finished, it’s abandoned and you have to have the right place to abandon it in order to continue doing it. When he’s in that place he becomes so engulfed in it that he just doesn’t stop.
LRI: There was so much mention of his business practices but I always gathered that there was a bit of creative differences between Vinnie and you and Dana. Is that accurate?
Mark: I don’t think the real downfall was the business no, I think Vinnie had a vision of where he wanted the Invasion to be and it wasn’t with the lead singer having so much….let’s put it this way; I don’t think I was his supposed choice so to speak, I think it was something that worked at the time. When we finished “All Systems Go” he was absolutely in love with the project and then after the band went sour he resents the day and I went back to being the wrong choice so to speak.
LRI: I have hours and hours of promo footage and have seen much of the press. You and Dana really got a lot more involved with the MTV appearances and promotional stuff around that time.
Mark: We did but at the same time I think a band is so much stronger than an individual member. I mean, you noticed when Slaughter was coming up and starting to move forward we had Tim (late guitarist Tim Kelly) and Blas (Elias, drummer) involved and starting to do interviews and all of that stuff once they got the hang of it. Once they understood it, we let em loose and it was all good because they were a part of it too, it was a BAND. Invasion was kind of band with Vinnie’s name at first and then it kind of became a situation where he got uncomfortable with that and it became “It’s my band and I call the shots, you guys are nothing but side guys”. That was kinda his mindset as time went on. It was different, it was definitely different. Again, having said that, at the end of the day it really was his project and when it was done and over it was a situation of a “leaving member” agreement. The true story of what happened with the dissolution of Invasion and the beginning of Slaughter was that there was a “leaving member” agreement that the record label made everybody who was in any band sign. Because, when Steve Stevens left Billy Idol they lost a great talent when Steve went over to Warner Brothers to get the Atomic Playboys deal. Chrysalis really felt that they lost a very strong musical individual and therefore they made everyone from that point forward sign this leaving member agreement. What happened was, when Vinnie refused to do interviews and started ticking off quite a few people the end result was that the record label dropped Vinnie and picked up my leaving member agreement. What that meant was that we had to demo up some songs for them to say “Yes, we’re gonna pick up your option”. So, of course we did it, wrote some songs and presented them and then they picked up my leaving member agreement and that’s where Slaughter was actually born. So, it was like we walked right into his deal basically because they dropped him.
LRI: So when they picked up your option was it primarily your decision as far as picking your new bandmates in Slaughter?
Mark: The way it went was that it was Dana’s and my call. When Vinnie at one point went to Dana and said “Ok, I’m firing you and you’re not this and blah, blah, blah” the next thing that happened was he took me aside and said “Look, I’m firing Dana, where does your loyalty lie?” and I said “I’d rather be in the gutter with Dana than with you but I’ll see the tour through”. I mean, I was a professional but of course that didn’t sit well with Vinnie, that was like “Mutiny On The Bounty” and I was a bad person and all that as far as he was concerned but I think that also part of the thing with Dana was that it really was a friendship. We really stuck by each other through all that stuff in the Invasion. That was a big part of it.
LRI: I will put my neck out there always and often to say that I am STILL an unashamed fan of Vinnie’s playing, writing and over the top style. As a fan, my memories of you and Dana and the Invasion are VERY important to me. I still have that pink vinyl you guys signed for me on tour (laughs).
Mark: This many years later I still look back on those years and have great love for them and I don’t have ANY ill feelings towards Vinnie, I just think we’re just two different people. I think he’s a great talent, I think he should still be making records. I think instead of talking about the record we made in 1987 I think he should just make a new record and BE that person just making new music. I think he needs to take whatever he’s working on and finish it because if you don’t finish it, if you don’t abandon that art and you just keep laboring on it what happens is it becomes a hybrid of what it once was. Vinnie has plenty of music in him.
Mark’s earliest group Xcursion rare LP
LRI: You mentioned touring for the self-titled album on Alice Cooper’s tour. Was the Iron Maiden tour a total mind blower?
Mark: Of course! I saw Iron Maiden play their very first show in the United States with Bruce Dickinson, and he’s tired of me telling that story by the way….but of course, of course it was amazing, all of those experiences. I LOVED Alice Cooper, I love and STILL love all of that stuff, including the Invasion stuff.
LRI: I was SUCH a big fan of the Invasion that I was very skeptical and almost pessimistic until I actually heard “Stick It To Ya” upon which I was literally blown away by how COMPLETE it was. I was skeptical about it until I listened to it start to finish, were you aware that there may be people judging you based on their impressions of Invasion?
Mark: We knew that it had to be about the songs, ultimately the success had to come down to the songs. At that point Guns N’ Roses had done what they did, we had a pretty good vision of what had transpired as far as 80s rock. In my own personal opinion, we were really the last big part of that whole wave, of that whole genre. It was the last big wave and we were on it and I have great memories of that, those were really good times and I’m glad we were a part of it but you know, it was 1990 when our album was released, it wasn’t 1980-something and it was already changing. The whole scene was still there but it was changing a lot.
LRI: In other words, at the moment of releasing that album you were aware that it was gonna rely less on image or gimmicks and more on writing songs that were memorable.
Mark: Exactly. When I look back on “Stick It To Ya” I remember how hands on we were. The way we did it was really just what was happening in our lives and we wrote the songs in the style that we liked as determined by the way we grew up and were a part of and where we came from. I think Dana and I were the only band of our genre to produce our own music, we had complete artistic control over every aspect of that album. We didn’t have to make it or tailor it to this producer’s idea or this A&R guy’s vision, we didn’t have to write this song or that song we just made a record and it felt great.
Slaughter original line up, Tim Kelly, Mark, Dana & Blas Elias
LRI: Do you realize how insane that is from a label standpoint? It worked out because the record but it just as easily could have not worked out. Chrysalis had a LOT of faith in you, no?
Mark: They did. They really did and the other side is they gave us the freedom to do that but we were also really smart about it, when everyone else was spending hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars on their record the actual recording costs on “Stick It To Ya” were about 15 grand. We spent the rest of our budget wisely on mixing, promotion and just doing things properly. We really went into it with a smart attitude instead of “Hey we’ve got a record deal, we’re stars, let’s just blow everything. Look at my new Harley and my new car and blah, blah”. We didn’t do that in Slaughter, we were focused on the music and the music alone. We wanted to put out a record that we were proud of so that at the end of the day we could look at it and go “Yeah, it was done right”.
LRI: There was some delay or time before your second album, “The Wild Life” and the music climate had changed even more so in that time. Was it just the fact that the touring went on for so long or were there pressures from the label?
Mark: No, we only took about a month and a half off after we finished touring with Poison and went right into recording “Wild Life”… it was just that the touring for the first album went on for so long. I mean, we were five singles, six videos deep on “Stick it To Ya”, we never really had a break.
LRI: I mean, god bless em, they’re my favorite band but your slot on the KISS tour was really a shot in the arm for that tour at that time. Slaughter’s appearance on the “Hot In The Shade” tour was a huge boost as you were cresting on MTV at the time…
Mark: Right, right, we were. You know what though, KISS, honestly, all the guys were just so cool to us, even with everything going on with us at that time it was just a wonderful time for everybody involved. We all had a really, really good time you know. It was all done very well. Again, I have great, great memories of that tour.
LRI: I was talking with (Eric Carr’s girlfriend and Playmate) Carrie Stevens about that tour and that’s how she described that time as well. Was it as much or more fun than the Poison tour?
Mark: With KISS it was almost like we were distant cousins in a way because of the whole Vinnie thing and all that. They were kind of like “Hey guys, welcome” but it wasn’t because of Vinnie. Eric Carr was actually responsible for those guys even knowing our music. Truthfully, that was it. He was dating Carrie at that time and Carrie had heard our music and turned him on to it. It was this situation of association, of this person knowing that person who in turn knew that person. It was one of those things were it was really good, he liked it and he turned the KISS guys on to it and obviously we had the swing of the fact that the video was doing very well and they offered us the opening slot for the tour.
LRI: I remember Carrie mentioning you guys but don’t think I knew all that. That’s very cool.
Mark: Yeah, I mean it was very cool. It was a chain of events, it wasn’t like it was some premeditated thing on their part or our part where it was like “Oh, that’s the Vinnie guys and wouldn’t that be great if we did this and Vinnie wasn’t here”. It wasn’t anything like that, it just worked out to be great. It was good for their tour and it was good for us and we all had a great time because we all had that association or root somehow.
LRI: I remember hearing people re-evauluating “Wild Life” after a few years and especially after the “Mass Slaughter” best of release that Chrysalis did. It debuted in the top ten and it went Gold but the songs on that album may have stood in the shadow of the success of “Stick It To Ya’ in some respects…..
Mark: You know it’s hard and everyone says it but when you make an album it’s like it’s one of your children and each child is different. You love them but it is what it is so….Is the one better than the other in my opinion? No, it’s just a different child.
LRI: I love that you guys have gotten back to playing songs like “Real Love” which has not been a part of your sets sometimes over the years. Did the promotion change for that album? Certainly the playing field had changed….
Mark: It was different, it was a different time. You have to look at it too. I think, the first week of “The Wild Life” we sold like 83,000 records. In today’s terms that’s a ton of records but it was just a different time and at that point I think that there were so many things that were on the market that were homogenized or pre-designed to try to sell rather than being legitimate bands. There were a lot of package acts, a lot of outside writers a lot of producers that knew how to push that certain button to make things go and the record labels would see it and go “This is great” but it wasn’t really the bands themselves doing it. It wasn’t like KISS when they were a band and they met Bob Ezrin and made a record way back when or Van Halen and Ted Templeman it was a totally different situation rather than a proper marriage between two very creative entities. Even now, it’s a wonderful experience to go play those songs now because we wrote those songs, we produced those songs and we played those songs so they’re very close to our heart.
LRI: If the business was changing it had really changed by the time you re-emerged with “Fear No Evil”. I saw you on that tour and you were great but that album was so against the grain of everything going on at that time. To fans of the genre it was a real breath of fresh air just because it was so unflinchingly hard rock.
Mark: Oh, thank you. That record was an emotion, like each one and like I said, each one is like one of my kids but that record was absolutely where we were at that time. It’s never like you look back on any of them like it was a negative it’s just a composite or a part of my life. It’s like when you date someone and it falls to the wayside, you still have some great memories and recollections from that era that were as dear to you then as what you have going on today.
LRI: Does it make you happy to see that new fans, younger fans are discovering those later records on CMC and reviewing them positively on Amazon or Youtube or whatever?
Mark: The thing about reviews is to me they’re none of my business…they can’t weigh on you too much, a good review is great but at the same time it is what it is and a bad review you’re like “Yeah, whatever’ because it’s just not what I’m about. You can’t worry about what people think, you just have to worry about being true to yourself and what you do and be happy with the end result yourself. If you start worrying about what people think too much then you become something you’re not. That’s actually a line on “Fear No Evil” I think….on the song “Get Used To It’.
LRI: Well, that sort of makes sense in terms of the chances you were willing to take on the last two records. With “Revolution” or “Back To Reality” it seemed like you really weren’t afraid at all to take chances stylistically or songwriting wise.
Mark: I think that there’s a different dynamic between the way that Dana and I write versus the way that “Back To Reality” was. Dana and I have a certain pop sensibility with the way that we write and at the end of the day, “Back To Reality” was a heavy record. We were in a different element, a different emotion and Jeff (Blando, Slaughter guitarist) had joined us after Tim (Kelly, original Slaughter guitarist) died and was a different guitarist altogether. Not saying that one is better than the other but they’re very different.
LRI: Tim’s final recording ”Revolution” record has almost a trippy type vibe to it true to the title.
Mark: It was and once again it was just a very different record, I think I was more involved…also we were recording differently. We weren’t recording on tape, we were getting into the newer age of recording and doing things at our own place and things like that. On the last album “Back To Reality” we actually recorded it in a TV studio, actually it’s Danny “The Count” Koker from the “Counting Cars” TV show, it’s his studio.
LRI: It’s been 14 years since the release of your last album and I know you and Dana are always making good business decisions. Some people would consider not releasing a new album a good decision in this day and age, others would disagree. Obviously you guys have plenty of ideas that have stacked up in that kind of time….What’s your take on that?
Mark: Oh I have a lot of stuff recorded, even on my own. The thing is, when it’s time to release something it should be good and it should be of what the brand represents. Also, you know, the record labels that are out there now, I don’t think that they can all do the same job equally as well as the next one. Its one of those things where if you put something out and it ships “cardboard” or doesn’t sell what someone decides it should then the promoters can give you less than what you’re worth because they think “Oh, you should sell this to equal X amount of money”. It’s kinda one of those things where it’s like “Well, you know what? We don’t NEED to make a record we have enough hits in our catalog to justify who we are”. Artistically, yeah it drives me nuts because I am a creative guy and I love to do the studio stuff but at the same time I am working with a lot of new artists, making music for television and other things that keep me quite busy to the point where I can still be creative but it’s not necessarily focused on Slaughter.
LRI: Having said that, you’re not opposed to making another Slaughter record?
Mark: Not at all but again, we really don’t feel like we have to make a record to justify our existence. When we do, it will be right and it will be equal sonically to what we’ve already done and better… it will be phenomenal but we’re not just gonna throw something out there because we’re bored or because we wanna get a few quick thousands, whether it’s 3 thousand or 15 thousand or some stupid amount of money. That’s not what it’s about.
LRI: You guys are always super cool to your fans. You were doing meet and greets before they became the norm and you were signing autographs because you had that relationship with your fans. Do you understand the longtime fans desire to get new music from you?
Mark: I do, I do but at the same time we’re not going to throw something out there half-baked. I wouldn’t wanna give somebody something that’s not done correctly or deliver something before it should be out. It should be something that at least has the quality of something as good as or better than anything we’ve done. I have not closed the door to releasing new music nor has Dana, nor has anybody it’s just a matter of timing. I mean, we all have a lot of things going on, we all have kids and have this or that going on. Quite honestly, to make a great record it has to be guys getting in a room and committing for four months at least to really dialing in and focusing on making a record from start to finish.
LRI: You also do the smart thing as far as touring. You don’t throw yourselves out there in vans or cars touring places or paying all kinds of overhead for big bus tours but that averages out to less dates overall. At this stage in the game, each show is definitely an event. Including the Monsters Of Rock Cruise you are slated to do this year, how many shows are you averaging a year?
Mark: We average about 30-40 a year and its all fly-in dates, there is no bus. We’ve been doing that since 2001. We’ve been doing it for over a decade, before other bands were even thinking about doing it and they all told us we were crazy. They said “You have to have a bus and you have to do this and that” and we were like “No, no…no we don’t”. If you do it properly you can be better rested, better across the board and you can have more quality shows at the end of the day which is really what matters.
LRI: Thanks again for doing this Mark, really appreciate it.
Mark: No problem, hit me up when we come through your area and I’ll put you in touch with Dana too. You should really talk with him too, especially about the VVI stuff for the definitive record. There is like you said, a cult following of people who really love that stuff and it absolutely is the same with Dana and I. We carry those years with the same regard, regardless of our breakup with Vinnie, we had some great times of our life and some great stories from our life during that time. I love where we came from, we’re not running from it and we never have to be honest with you. Again, in regards to Vinnie, I hope he’s doing well, I wish him well. I always hold him in the highest regard just as Gene does, just like Paul does, nobody, nobody is going to discount the man’s talent.
LRI: Vinnie….if you are reading this…myself and many other people are going to buy your next release on iTunes, just put it out….
Mark: Yeah, I look forward to his next record. I look forward to him making more new music, I mean even if he were to turn around and make a country album or a jazz ensemble record it would be great. I’m telling you, the guy is one of the most brilliant guitar players I have ever worked with, it’s just that he has to commit to whatever it is he’s going to commit to doing as an artist or have a producer whose job it is to say “Ok, that’s good enough” and see it to the finish line. Like that record he had, I had heard he had completed a full record for Enigma and then just decided it was garbage and recorded over the entire thing. I mean, he’s just too hard on himself as an artist. Would Amadeus have ever stopped composing if he would have been able to just keep endlessly revising? I don’t know and I think that some of that same artist way of thinking is what’s probably going on with Vinnie.
Slaughter Tour Dates 2013/2014
16: Uncasville, CT – Mohegan Sun Casino (This is a SCRAP METAL Show!)
01: Las Vegas, NV – Eastside Cannery Casino (w/ Great White)
29: Miami, FLA – Monsters Of Rock Cruise
30: Miami, FLA – Monsters Of Rock Cruise
31: Miami, FLA – Monsters Of Rock Cruise
01: Miami, FLA – Monsters Of Rock Cruise
02: Miami, FLA – Monsters Of Rock Cruise
04: Etobicoke, ON – The Rockpile West
05: Toronto, ON – The Rockpile East
19: Calgary, AB – Deerfoot Inn & Casino
04: Uncasville, CT – Mohegan Sun Casino
For more info on all things Mark go to Mark’s Facebook page HERE
A huge thanks to John Parks & Legendary Rock Interviews For The Above