Known for his soaring rock vocals, Mark Slaughter has spent the better part of his life creating good ol’ fashioned rock ‘n’ roll. With a plethora of hits under his belt from one of rock’s most memorable decades, he could easy spend his days underneath the glow on the stage lights continuing to thrill audiences around the globe with the songs he made famous. Let’s face it, its a good gig if you can get it but it takes a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get there. With that said, Mark Slaughter is not the type of artist content in resting on his laurels. In fact, he will be the first to tell you he won’t be fading off into the sunset anytime soon.
In early 2017, Mark Slaughter announced that he would release his sophomore solo album, “Halfway There,” via EMP Label Group, the U.S. based label of Megadeth bassist David Ellefson, in May of 2017. Produced and co-mixed by Slaughter with John Cranfield (AFI, Andy Grammer), with art by famed horror/album artist “Mister” Sam Shearon (Rob Zombie, Iron Maiden, KISS, Clive Barker) “Halfway There” is a stunning return to form for Slaughter. The album channels the familiar hard rock sensibility of classic-era Slaughter releases like “Stick it to Ya” and “The Wild Life” on “Hey You” and emotionally-charged title track “Halfway There,” with a mature, progressive, metal-bent, evidenced on cuts like “Devoted,” “Conspiracy” and “Reckless.” The record serves as an unrelenting showcase of Slaughter’s seemingly never-ending vocal abilities, but a glowing testament to his perpetually underserved prowess as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, handling all production, engineering, songwriting, arrangements, guitar, and the bulk of the album’s instrumentation himself.
Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently caught up with Mark Slaughter to discuss his journey as an artist, the challenges her faced along the way and bringing his vision for his sophomore solo album, “Halfway There,” to life.
Let’s start at your formative years. What went into finding your creative voice early on?
Growing up I was influenced by The Beatles. As I went into the ‘70s, I was listening to everything from Boston to Led Zeppelin to Peter Frampton. Everything that was hot back then is still cool today! Obviously, KISS had a big impact on all the kids of that time, along with Black Sabbath. Those type of bands are what influenced me greatly how I came up. I became a guitar teacher out of high school and then one day I got a call to put my guitar down and be a singer. That was where Vinnie Vincent’s invasion came in. That is kind of how it all happened and I keep going in that same direction. When I left Vinnie Vincent, we started the band Slaughter. Chrysalis picked up my option from Vinnie’s original deal and here we are this many years later, still out there playing those same songs and having a good ol’ time with it!
When you look back on those early years, a lot changed along the way.
Ya know, it was very different in the way that there was radio. Radio had a lot more impact on people. The computer age, so to speak, changed a lot of things. Originally, radio was your main way of finding music and your introduction to so many new things. Record stores were the introduction to what was cool and what just came out. A lot of that has changed. Record stores, for the most part, are gone and radio has lost its impact. People have more options with streaming and having the things they know they like on their iPods as opposed to being introduced to something that just came out. It’s the same thing with this new record I just completed. Getting the word out there is difficult. You just have to put it out there and see what happens. There is really no red button like there used to be back in the day where you could push it and educate people on new music. That’s all gone.
Where do you look for inspiration?
I will literally have music wake me up in the middle of the night. I make music because I love it. Inspiration really comes down to good songs and songs that have some type of emotional attachment to something that has happened either in my life or something that I know someone else has gone through in their life and can connect to. Songwriters are storytellers, so I find myself doing exactly that. Musically, as you grow, if you work at it, which I certainly do, I have gotten better with age because I’m trying to become a better musician, songwriter, producer and engineer. I’m really proud of this new album, “Halfway There,” because I think it has a lot of heart to it.
Tell us about the headspace you were in when you started to bring this record to life.
I did a solo record, “Reflections In A Rear View Mirror,” prior to this new album. I think it was one of those things where my band was out playing with Vince Neil and while they were doing that, I was at home writing and producing. It was just a natural progression of things and I felt the stuff I was writing was pretty good. I was writing for television and film and I started thinking about doing a new album and seeing how it would go. That is kind of how it went with this album but the difference is that I am doing it on Dave Ellefson’s label. It was a chance to do something with someone I have known for a very long time, along with working with a label with real distribution. It was just the next step up and it’s important to get the music out there and tell the stories. Again, music is kind of the reflection of where we all are in life. I think music is the soundtrack of your life and hopefully I have hit a few chords with people and it helps them reflect into where this thing is coming from.
As you mentioned, the new album is titled “Halfway There.” What can you tell us about it and what it means to you?
The song itself, “Halfway There,” the whole principal of it is that when it comes to your life, sometimes you are halfway there from nowhere. The song starts off when I was young and it was a really simple time and then, basically, as life goes on and you start losing your parents and so forth … it’s about the whole dance of life and where things go. The next verse talks about when a child is born and then your child goes away for college. It’s about all of those things. The ending of the song, the singer/myself, is talking about when you are gone and you have passed away and I’m with my mother, so to speak. It’s then talking to the child saying, “You’re halfway there.” Life is very short and I think that is the whole message of “Halfway There.” Life is short and you have to really enjoy it and you have to take it all in while you can!
Tell us about your songwriting process.
Sometimes there would be a guitar riff that would set me off in a direction and the song would write itself. Other times it would start from a lyrical idea. I used to, back in the Slaughter days, the music came first. We would put the track down and I would see if I could put the bouncing ball to it and find the melody that worked with the song. Today, I approach songs from all sides. I think the most important part of it is keeping the believability and honesty in the music all the way across the board. On my solo records, I’m playing guitar and bass, orchestrating arrangements and engineering. I’m doing it all myself here and that’s certainly a lot different than when you are in a band and you decide to go in and make a record. Overall, the process takes a little longer but the labor of love is something you are really close to. When you do a record with a band, you kind of look at it as your child but as a solo artist when you do it, it becomes even more personal because it’s just you and that child.
Building on that, what was the biggest challenge you faced with bringing “Halfway There” to life?
As you know, vinyl is very hot right now. People are rediscovering long playing records. The most challenging thing for me is … usually I go on and on and on and get this ear candy and do all these different things. To put it in the sweet spot between the 18 and 22 minutes per side, that you can actually get away with, forced me to write songs in a certain way. With all that in mind, I would think, “OK, this song is not going to fit on this side of the record.” I really made it as a record as it played down. That is a totally different thought process than when you just record. Even back in the day, Vinnie Vincent was an album but Slaughter’s first record wasn’t even on vinyl. It strictly went to compact disc and cassette right out of the boot. At that point in time, they were phasing out vinyl completely because CD was hotter and louder than everything else. Now, vinyl is 25% of the marketplace! This is one of those things where I really wanted to get the artwork right and along with the EMP label, we have some artwork that really represents the record well. It’s set up as a vinyl record. That was very different for me and probably the biggest challenge because there were a few songs where I said, “That’s not going to work on the record.” I would just pull the plug and put them off to the side. I have other songs that aren’t on this record because they didn’t fit it and the timeframe.
I want to ask about the artwork for “Halfway There.” How did you cross paths with artist “Mister” Sam Shearon and what did he bring to the table?
Thom Hazaert from the EMP Label Group had worked with him in the past. He is a very well-known artist and he is phenomenal at what he does. A friend of mine came up with the original concept and I told Thom about the concept and the artist went forward. He did it in a very photo-realistic way as opposed to a paste-art style that many designers come up with. It’s a really striking image and I’m really proud of how it represents the record. I think it illustrates the in-between zone we are all trying to find where we are at our best. That’s pretty much what it is!
Getting back to the songs on this record, which came easier and which were harder to nail down?
Honestly, I can’t say that any of them were painstaking to nail down. The songs came very easily to me. The challenge came from getting the quality of the recording to the way I hear it in my head. That is what took more time than the actual songwriting process. A lot of these songs were written in about an eight-hour period. In fact, some of the original recordings are off the demo. Demos are basically now masters in the beginning because you are putting down a good quality performance right from the beginning and it’s not like you have to go redo it. As I’m singing things off the vocal sheet, that is pretty much what the vocal is. I didn’t sit around thinking, “OK, I’m going to re-sing that or redo this.” I really just kept it on a very down to the roots basis of doing it. As far as the songs coming easier or harder, they all came pretty easy. They tracked really well and it came down to getting the order of the song and the idea of what the album represents. That was the key point.
When you look back on your career, how have you evolved as an artist? Are there clear milestones?
I think that some of the chordal arrangements serve as milestones. Again, as you get older, you get a little more complex. I really don’t think about them. I just kind of put the music down. I look where I have been and say, “That’s a good place and this is a good place as well.” I don’t overthink it. Art is never finished, it’s abandoned. That’s the hardest part of all this stuff! You have to call it a day at some point and then move on to the next song or project.
Where are you headed musically?
Musically, I think I will continue to write, play and grow as a musician. That’s what we do. I have obviously done the nostalgic stuff with Slaughter and we still go out and play the old songs people know and love. On my own, I still like to make music and to be an artist that is a current artist as well. I think that is really where I’m at with all of this.
Many young artists can look to your career in music as an inspiration. What is the best lesson we can take from your journey?
I think it comes down to keeping the believability in your writing, along with the honesty of who you are. At one point, Michael Jackson’s manager lived out here in Nashville and I got to know him and talked to him quite a bit. He told me, “Ya know what, man? You know what your problem is?” I said, “No, what’s my problem?” He said, “You’re too accessible.” After all the years he did Michael Jackson, he really had Michael stay away from people and made it so when he was around people he was a star. I never want to be that person. I just want to be the guy next door who loves to play music. I’m telling the blue-collar story. That’s just who I am and what I do. I think that is really where music is for me and how I look at my persona. I’m just a regular guy who loves to make music. Hopefully, my music and my songs impact the same way they have impacted me.
Speaking of your songs, you are known for a ton of memorable tunes. Which songs in your catalog would you like to be remembered for? Which songs should people just discovering your work hear to get an overview of you as an artist?
As an artist, your art starts in your early years. The songs that have stuck out, I can tell you by royalty statements what people are into! On the Spotify side of things, we are getting about 8 million plays a year on “Fly To The Angels” alone. I would say that is certainly a song that has somehow resonated with a lot of people and somehow found its way into a lot of people’s lives. That is one I would pass on just because I know the numbers don’t lie. With the new music, I would say to check out the new album. It’s a really good, old school rock record with a lot of heart in it. There are a lot of influences from the things that moved me as a young kid and made me the musician I am. Those influences came in and weaved in and out of my life. You might hear that and go, “Wow, that’s really like that and that is really like that … ” But to a young kid, they probably haven’t heard some of that. So, go find it and figure out where those influences came from because we are all connected and you can certainly hear that musically!
The album drops in May and I’m sure you have a busy summer ahead. What does your schedule look like at this point?
I’m playing with Slaughter live and we are doing a lot of fly-in dates. There will also be a few Mark Slaughter dates that will lean toward this new music that I’m doing. For the most part, I’m not running too far from where I came from. I like to play the new music and I like to keep that challenge of pushing myself as an artist, so that’s what I’m gravitating toward. You can find all the dates at www.slaughterusa.com and www.markslaughter.com.
Before I let you go, I have one last question. I know you lend your voice to some great charities. What can we help shine a light on?
There are a couple charities I support. One is St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, which is a really, really great charity. I have gone to the hospital many times. That is a charity where 86 cents of every dollar goes to the charity and doesn’t get stuck in administrative costs, which is something I really appreciate. I also support The Red Circle Foundation which helps out some of our vets and 100% of the money goes right to helping those people. Both of those charities are amazing, so definitely check them out and, if you can, donate for sure!
Thanks for your time today, Mark! It was a pleasure!
Thank you, Jason! I appreciate your time.
Mark Slaughter’s ‘Halfway There,’ which is now available for pre-order, will hit stores on May 26, 2017 via the EMP Label Group. For all the latest info on Mark Slaughter, visit www.markslaughter.com. Follow his continuing adventures on social media via Facebook,Twitter and Instagram.