Interview with Mark Kendall of Great White

Elation by Great White

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August 12 2012 – The love and passion for their music has never faltered. Re-charged and re-focused, Great White channels their raw, sweet and all-at-once dangerous sound into their latest record, Elation, that came out in May 2012. Elation thrives on Great White’s signature grit and blues-hued sound, only marked with a new synergy. Great White plays Toronto’s The Rockpile on Monday August 20th and we will be there to cover it! Make sure you enter our contest to win a pair of tickets or buy your tickets here.
Featuring co-founder Mark Kendall (guitar), and 28-year-veterans Michael Lardie (guitar, keyboards) and Audie Desbrow (drums), they are joined by lead singer Terry Ilous and bassist Scott Snyder the group emerged unscathed from late 2011 band member changes. Best known for the 1989 smash “Once Bitten, Twice Shy,” Great White’s worldwide sales are approaching 10 million. Their song arsenal also includes  “Rock Me,” “Save Your Love,” “The Angel Song,” “Mistabone” and more!

Great White photo by Shirley Ann Wilson Photography
We spoke to Kendall, one of rock’s most notable guitarists about Elation, the band, and the scene in LA these days among other things.

T-Mak: Today we chat with Mark Kendall one of rock’s most notable guitarists, ahead of the band’s Toronto gig at The Rockpile on August 20th. Mark, thank you so much for talking to us.

Kendall – Thanks a lot its good to get to Canada. I don’t know why we haven’t been over there more over the years, I think the last proper tour we did over there was with Alice Cooper. Our records have always done well there, we love it over there, and we played over there a bit. A couple of years ago we played with Ted Nugent in London Ontario and every time we play there we have great time.

T-Mak: Let’s start with the new album named Elation. Congratulations on Great White’s 12th studio album. This is the first album the band has made with your new singer Terry Ilous. How was the experience of making this album overall?

Kendall Really positive experience. At first Terry was just filling in for a couple of years for Jack (Russell), and when Jack couldn’t come back, Terry was the obvious choice. He’s just a positive guy, great to be around, and he vibrates at a frequency that is a little higher than the norm. He pumps you full of energy when you’re around him. In the studio we wrote a couple of songs for the record company, I had a riff and Michael (Lardie) had a song, and we went in real quick so the company can hear what we sounded with a new singer. They gave it a go ahead and we started writing some songs. We went into the studio and Terry has this great energy and we are excited about these new things we are coming up with. It eclipsed what we had prepared apart from 2 songs and we ended up writing 10 new songs in the studio – something we never did in the past. We went with the moment and let ourselves be free and recording ideas that were so fresh and new. It was really exciting to work that way. The entire band was present for the entire recording session which never happened in the past, everyone wanted to be there and it was a total group effort. We are happy with the album.

T-Mak: You co-produced the album, describe to us what that entails?

Kendall: You know, I just wanted to get involved. The last album I co-produced was Once Bitten and I had removed myself from the production so I could have been a guitar player. But this time I wanted to get involved because I do a lot of side projects, I produce other bands which is my hobby outside of Great White. I just wanted to get involved for an extra pair of ears for Michael. He welcomed and and said hey we haven’t done this for a very long time and we are a good team”. I had Michael to bounce ideas off of and he would bounce ideas of me. Its kind of a trip when you are producing your own band. If he’s doing something I stand over him and say why don’t you try this or that, and he would do the same for me. For the vocals for example, Terry had never had anyone produce his vocals – they just let him sing – he has a library of chops, he is like Paul Rodgers and I wanted those to be used for more of a surprise dynamic element to where it wasn’t overdone. So we got really involved with that and Terry said he loved the working process and it elevated him to a new level. Normally we write a song, rehears for days and we go in , this time we really just let ourselves be free and you can hear the energy in the record. For the most part the feedback has been “wow you can really hear the energy in that record” 

T-Mak: You guys are from LA and were in fact discovered at the legendary Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset strip. How is the rock n roll scene in LA these days? Is it alive, is it vibrant, or are we in a rock n roll recession?

Kendall:  I think it’s a lot different – it just seemed to be extremely electric in the early 80’s. Right past the new wave when there was motley crue, ratt, dokken. The  Hollywood nightlife was super electric. When you went down there it was wow, the bands , the energy. You could actually make a few dollars playing. Unlike these days, band playing in Hollywood are literally paying to play. They give you 400 dollars’ worth of tickets and then you have to go out and sell them – they want guaranteed people now. It’s a little crazy, but I don’t hang out there, I can’t really give you a detailed description what happened. It just seems to be a little quitter. My daughter had her birthday party and wanted to go to the Rainbow so we went down there and I was like “wow, this is a Friday night? This is so dead, it was exploding back when I used to hang out here”.

Great White photo by Jimmy Taylor @ Distorted Lens Photography
T-Mak: What can we expect to hear on the current tour? Will you play a lot of songs from the new album or balance out the new songs with the old favorites? 

Kendall: What we are doing is – a few jams, we go all the way to the beginning all the way till now.  We don’t really bombard people with just our new stuff. We have been doing what we call 2 at a time – so we take 2 songs from the new record and go with those – I got something for you and blow down. So we use that for now and we will change it up like feeling so much better. In the past we would record songs and never play it live and I always thought that didn’t feel right. I can envision playing all those songs live and it would be fun so we definitely we want to play more of our back catalog. Not too much at once though. So we try and bring the crowd into the show, and to make it exciting for us we have extended jams that aren’t the same every night. We have some songs we haven’t played in a long time, so we just try and keep it exciting for us to eliminate the risk of just going through the motions

T-MAK: You mentioned the lead single from Elation which is called I’ve Got Something For You. What was it like performing that for the first time live? Is there some satisfaction in premiering your new baby to the world?

Kendall: Ya it was a total blast – we debuted it in Switzerland. We hadn’t played the song live before and people just responded. Usually you have to have a song on the radio a long time, but at this festival people were singing along to the song by the time it got to the end. It’s a fun song to play, its up tempo. We did a bike fest a few weeks ago and people went nuts for it, so it appears to be a real fun live song. It’s real simple and fun.

T-Mak: Ya I agree, it’s a good party song. I don’t know your set list but to me it sounds almost like a perfect song to kick off the gig. Get the energy up right from the start.

Kendall: That would be a good idea. We actually don’t open with it and I think you’re right. In fact my son said that too, he said; “Why don’t you open up the show with that song that would be bad ass!”

T-Mak: Let’s focus a bit more again on the new album now. For anyone who has not heard it this record sounds great and has some apparent blues influences on it. Now usually when you ask any band what they think of their new record they always say it’s the best ever, but honestly what do you think of the new album?

Kendall: I don’t know if it’s the best thing we have ever done, but one thing I believe is that it’s a strong record. We were trying to come up with a lead single and everyone in the band had 2 different favorite song when asked to pick their favorite. I thought that was unbelievable because every record we ever did in the past, there were the obvious 2 favorite songs. I think it’s a very strong record overall, I don’t know we’ve written the classic hit of all time, but there are some really good songs that can be big songs. Its some of the most fun I have ever had in the studio – it was jovial, it wasn’t so serious. We just had a lot of fun so it was cool in that way.

T-Mak: The best work comes out of having fun doing it and not considering it work.

Kendall:  Definitely, when you’re too serious and your nervous it doesn’t bring the best out. I used to be nervous when I was recording. I was kind of tight in the past and now I was just loose. Having fun, cracking up having a good time.

Great White photo by Shirley Ann Wilson Photography
T-Mak: Great White marks 30 years of touring in 2012; tell me how your interaction with fans has changed over the years? Obviously we have all matured but how has the audience changed in their response to seeing you on stage?
Kendall – I would imagine there are some older people in the crowd now but backstage it was younger people, tons of girls, crazy mayhem situation and now its parents with 12 year olds wearing our t-shirts. The bands conversation is now “who’s your rehab guy, you should talk to mine”. Back in the day it was like swinging beer and having a swinging old good time. A lot of the bands we play with from back in the day, they are all playing better now, as they are more focused and it’s no longer just a huge party. As far as the fans, the instantaneous response hasn’t really changed, we play a song and we play our hearts out and that hasn’t changed. You can always get better, and you’re always trying to write that song that’s the best song you ever wrote, and that’s what keeps me going and gives me motivation. I always want to record something fresh and new. If we were just gonna be an oldies band and just play “Once Bitten Twice Shy” I would have to hide all the knives and bullets (laughing). I would go completely nuts. We obviously don’t have the MTV and massive radio play and all the magazine exposure that we used to have, now our MTV is YouTube. The industry has changed dramatically, but what can you do.
T-Mak: What’s your favorite record of the past 10 years not including any Great White releases?

Kendall: Whoaaa… You know theres a record I really like that’s flown under the radar. It was a ZZ TOP album called Rhythmeen and that guitar player Billy Gibbons is an amazing guy. I met him a few years ago. He is constantly working on his guitar sound, he tells me every city he goes to he is looking for a new pedal and stuff. Anyways in that album there is no real huge hit on it, but I am such a guitar fan that when I hear someone that’s been around as long as him and still working on his sound. That’s my inspiration album. Rock bands from the 80’s I really love the Scorpions, I just love their energy and their song writing. I don’t know if they have anything out in the last 10 years so I might have to go back further than that.

T-Mak: What about the last 50 years?

Kendall: That’s tough – right off the top of my head the first thing I thought of, was Still Alive and Well and well from Johnny Winter. If I could have two I would take Tres Hombres from ZZ Top. One of the best all time albums man.

T-Mak: You are playing Toronto’s The Rockpile on August 20th, how do the crowds in Toronto rate with other cities? Are we truly laid back and polite quiet Canadians or do we know how to rock out at shows? 

I always kinda considered Toronto to be like the Los Angeles of Canada – just an electric place. I know we’ve done some cool shows there usually as an opening act for like Whitesnake or Alice Cooper. Yes I do love Toronto, it’s a great city. I know that a lot of our records were sold in Canada particularly in Toronto so I know we have a fan base in Toronto. At least it was in the past, but I don’t know any more (laughing)

T-Mak: Mark thanks for your time man. I will be out at The Rockpile show in a couple of weeks and we have a couple of tickets to give away for that gig. I am sure our winner is gonna have a great time. All the best in the future both for Great White and you personally. Any closing thoughts.

Kendall: One parting thing is I want to thank the fans for all the years. We also do meet and greets and we don’t leave until the last pick is signed. We don’t run away right after the show like we’re the Beatles or something. So stick around and we will sign anything the fans want.


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