By Thomas S. Orwat Jr.
Mark Slaughter, vocalist/songwriter of the multi-platinum, hard rock/glam-metal band, Slaughter will be releasing his second solo record entitled, ‘Halfway There,’ on May 26th. The first single from this release, “Hey You,” was posted last month, and has already received very positive feedback from both fans and music critics.
Mark Slaughter emerged from the ashes of ex-Kiss guitarist, Vinnie Vincent’s band, Vinnie Vincent Invasion (VVI). As the lead singer of the VVI from 1986-88, Slaughter was an impressive frontman with his great stage performances and vocal abilities. After, VVI record label, Chrysalis Records became frustrated with band leader, Vinnie Vincent’s erratic behavior, they offered Mark Slaughter, along with VVI bassist, Dana Strum, a new record contact to start their own band, which became, “Slaughter.”
Slaughter’s first record, “Stick it to Ya,” was a huge success, selling over two million units, and had two Top 40 singles, “Up all Night,” and, “Fly to The Angels.”
Slaughter went on to record four more studio records, and still continues to tour and perform to their devoted fan base.
What follows is an exclusive RMS interview with rock music icon, Mark Slaughter.
Rock Music Star: I obviously want to start off by discussing your new solo record that you have coming out on May 26th on EMP Records. This is your second solo record. What was the meaning behind the title, ‘Halfway There.’
Mark Slaughter: You know what, it’s, ‘Halfway There,’ in life. “Halfway There,” is one of the songs that I wrote on this record, and it’s kind of about going through the phases in life. Certainly, right now, it’s one of those things where I just felt that, it’s where I’m at. I think there’s a lot of people who have followed my music over the years that are in the same place. That’s ultimately what I’m trying to do- that relation of where we are in life.
RMS: The artwork for the record was designed by famed horror/album artist “Mister” Sam Shearon (Rob Zombie, Iron Maiden, KISS, Clive Barker). It has a, “Good and Evil,” type of vibe to it. What is that symbolic of?
MS: I think it’s really one of those things that’s in-between. I think everybody is trying to find the light, and trying to live life fully. There’s other things in life that are not so pretty, and not so easy to go through. I think that’s really what life is. When you’re halfway there in the struggle and every other side of it, I think it encompasses where everybody’s at. Life isn’t perfect; it’s difficult. But, there’s great energy, and there’s also times where you just go, “Man, this is tough.”
RMS: How would you describe this release? I’ve only heard the one track, “Hey You,” which, I think, is a good rocker. It’s very characteristic of the sound you had in Slaughter. How would you compare this to your last solo release, that you put out in 2015, ‘Reflections in the Rearview Mirror?’
MS: Well, this one was written for vinyl; it was written to be a long-playing record. It is a little bit different, on that side of it. The other record, I had a body of songs that I was just writing, and writing, and writing. This one really had the intention of, “This is going to be a record. And this is going to be a vinyl.” There’s a side A and a side B. A lot of people don’t realize, when in vinyl, you can’t exceed a certain amount of minutes. So, what I really tried to do was to write a record that could sound as best as it can on vinyl. It obviously still works on downloads and CDs, as well. But, ultimately, it was written for that format.
RMS: Were there any songs that you wrote for this record, that were older songs that you had written in the past, maybe for a Slaughter record, or were they all fairly new compositions?
MS: They were all new compositions. There was only one that was pulled out, that I wrote with a writer years ago; I think we wrote it in like, 2004. It felt good for the record- the record needed that song as a body of music for this. I really tried to have this really heavy music on this record. The results of where I come from with Slaughter, which is a songwriter- I write hooks; it’s what I do as a songwriter. I’m not running from that. I knew this was a good song. I never put it out, and nobody ever covered it, so I thought, “You know what? I’m gonna throw it on this record.” That is a song called, “Forevermore.”
RMS: You also played all of the instruments, except for the drums, on this release. Compared to your other records that you have put out with Slaughter and the Vinnie Vincent Invasion, was that a little more difficult, or was it easier because you knew exactly what you wanted?
MS: I think there’s an advantage and a disadvantage to doing everything yourself. The disadvantage is that you second guess everything. Is that right? Does that sound good? If someone else is there and you’re laying something down they can go, “Oh! That’s awesome.” It’s pretty much done right there. When you’re doing it all yourself, you’re just like, “Well, how was that? Was that good? Can I make it better? “ You’re always thinking to fill in the shoes of that other person, which is the bouncing board. So, that takes a little bit longer in certain ways, when you’re on your own. You’re trying to evaluate honestly and objectively if something is good or not.
RMS: This record is going to be released by a fairly new label that’s owned by Megadeth’s David Ellefson; on the EMP label. Did you shop this record around, once it was finished, or did he approach you? How did that work?
MS: Well, I talked to some other labels. There’s some other labels that are good. I think really, what it was, is that it just made sense to go with Dave’s label. He was really fired up about the record. He really was excited about the record. It’s one of those things where, when somebody’s excited about what you do- that’s half the battle. You want people to really get it. Both Thom Hazaert (EMP A&R director) and Dave got it; they saw where I was going with it, and they understood it. It was just kind of a natural fit, so to speak.
RMS: Do you have any set plans, at this moment, to go out on the road to promote this record?
MS: Nothing set, but I might do a few shows here and there. I have a lot of shows with Slaughter, and that’s certainly taking a lot of my time right now. But, it’s good. It’s good stuff.
RMS: Is it possible, you may throw one of these songs into the Slaughter set?
MS: I’m certainly not going to say, “No.” But, as it sits right now, it’s not something that myself or the band is planning on. If there was some type of a radio hit going on, I don’t know why we wouldn’t capitalize on it.
RMS: Was there ever a thought of making this a Slaughter record?
MS: No, those guys are kind of doing the Vince Neil thing; they’re out doing a lot of shows with Vince. Quite honestly, that’s why I’m doing the record. So, it really didn’t fit in to that side of it. They’ve got their time doing that, and I’ve got my time doing what I’m doing.
RMS: Does the fact that they’re playing with Vince Neil ever interfere with plans for Slaughter? Has it ever become an issue over the years, that they’ve been doing that?
MS: No. At this point, I think I kind of have just reconditioned myself in that, when they’re out doing that, I’ll just write songs and make records. It’s just a change of artistic platform. Instead of just playing live and doing it that way, it’s me doing records, and getting my music out in a different way. So, I’m still completely satisfied, and they are, as well. So, there’s no headaches there. I have no issues with Vince, he’s a good guy.
RMS: I always thought that maybe, that could be a good co-headlining bill; you going out with Vince Neil, sharing the same band. I always thought it would be pretty cool to see that. It would be hard for them.
MS: It would be hard for them. Vince and I would be having drinks on the side (laughs). It’s all good there. We have done it a few times, where they’ve done double duty. For the most part, we’re all just focused on being entertainers. We entertain.
RMS: Are you encouraged by the way some hard rock bands from the 80s and 90s are doing right now, as far as concert business? I mean, you have Def Leppard and Poison out there doing great numbers. It just seems like, within the past few years, it’s been pretty decent for some of the older bands that had struggled during the 90s, when grunge was in.
MS: Yeah, it’s been really good. It’s really positive. I think people are rediscovering that this music is a lot of fun. There’s some really good times to it. It certainly is a reflection of where we’ve been. I think a lot of people are discovering that, or kids are discovering, “Wow, this is fun! I like that band!” It’s been really good, and it has been on an upswing, no doubt.
RMS: One of the things in going back and checking your past history, I was kind of surprised at the fact that Slaughter has recorded five records; I thought you guys had more than that. But, going back and listening to them, one of the things that really stuck out was the quality of all five of them. They’re all very solid records.
MS: Well, thank you. They’re all produced in-house, so we were always in control of those records. Much like my solo record, right now. I’m in total control over it. Artistically, it’s what I was to say, as an artist. I think that’s what we’ve always done, as a band, whether people like us or hate us, we’ve been responsible for what we’ve done. It’s nice, at the end of the day, that you are driving your own ship, regardless of where it’s at out at sea. We are actually driving that ship. We’ve had a lot of great memories. The music has been great; we’ve won an American Music Award, we’ve sold millions of records, and we continue to tour nostalgically off of those five records.
With me doing the record that I did last year, and this is really- more so than anything- I’m still an artist, I’m still going to create art, and I’m still going to put it out there, because that’s what artists do. I think we kind of just got to the point where we stopped making records. I still like the process of it. I still like to write songs, and that’s why people are seeing what they’re seeing from me.
RMS: I think, what separates an artist from a performer, is that an artist will continue to create. Artists, like yourself- you’re still going out and creating new music, whereas, there are some other bands out there that just rely on their past and play the same eight songs over and over again for years and years on stage, and don’t do anything else.
MS: Well, again, some other acts don’t have the luxury of being a producer in-house, or of being the people that created it. Dana and I are the only guys from the inception of the band to the end, right now, who have written, produced, and still perform that music, today. There are a lot of other people that might have written it, but they didn’t produce it, and they’re not still performing it. Between those three things, we are, pretty much the guys from our genre who are still doing that.
RMS: That says a lot. Would it be okay if I asked you a few questions about your time in the Vinnie Vincent Invasion?
MS: Sure, absolutely. Go ahead.
RMS: Well, basically, what was it like working with him? We’ve all seen what he has become. At the time, nobody thought he was as off-the-wall as he has turned out to be. What was it like, working with him during that time period?
MS: It was difficult. What did I learn? I learned that it was about songs. I learned that we could have done, “Lick It Up,” and had as good as, if a not better reaction, as doing Vinnie Vincent stuff. I think it really comes down to, if I learned anything out of that, it was the power of a song. Vinnie is a good writer; he’s a great writer, a great talent. But, to him, it was more about trying to showcase his guitar-playing, and what he thought he was, instead of what people wanted to hear. That also was the same with KISS. KISS was out there to do it, and they turned into a long guitar solo. Dude, you gotta dial it back. This isn’t all about your guitar soloing. With him, that was kind of where his head was.
RMS: With the two Vinnie Vincent Invasion records, the one that you are on is much more song-oriented and less guitar-driven, as far as solos go. Was that something that the record company insisted upon?
MS: I think it’s a combination of it all. We left a footprint in that record, and it carries right over into Slaughter, to where, look- he hasn’t made a record since. I think that also says something. I think he’s a great idea person. I think he’s a great artist. I think some of the best playing that guy did was in a dressing room, and nobody ever heard it. Hands down. Some of that stuff, I’ll never forget. We were backstage, I think in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and he had his amp set up in one of the dressing rooms. Next thing I know, everybody from Iron Maiden is sticking their head in and listening to Vinnie play. One of the guys said, “Hey, why don’t you play like that?” And he said, “It’s boring.” Again, it’s like Clapton or Jeff Beck, who is a major guitar hero to me- it’s about the song and what the song requires, not what you can stuff in it. If anything I learned out of all of that and what we carried into
Slaughter, is that it wasn’t about somebody getting their ego out of playing a solo because they think that’s their moment. This is where it’s all going to make a difference, and everybody’s going to realize that you’re a phenomenal guitar player right now! Well, guess what? Nobody cares. It really boils down to that, it’s about the song. Look at the Rolling Stones- do you really think any of those guys were out there being some great virtuoso? No. But, they wrote great songs. That is ultimately what this is. Even Eddie Van Halen, who is an incredible guitar player- it really boils down to this- which songs do you like? Not, which riff is your favorite Eddie Van Halen riff? No, not many people really care.
RMS: It’s a good point. You went from the Invasion to, ‘Sick It To Ya,’ which is just a phenomenal record. You guys were just firing all cylinders at that point.
MS: Yeah, but it was also written in a way of- this is where the climate of music is right now. We wrote to what would fit in that time, as writers and producers. That’s really what that record represents. It’s like this new record that I just did- ‘Halfway There,’ is not running from where I came from. At the same time, it’s just so satisfying to where music is today.
The thing about it is, unless people know about it, it’s only going to do so much. Again, it’s not about- “If this doesn’t succeed, I don’t know what I’ll do.” It’s art. Whether your art becomes worldwide and amazing, and everyone is freaking out over it, or if just a few people listen to it and go, “That really is amazing.” That’s what art is. It’s up to the individual and their perception and how they take it.
RMS: That’s a good way of looking at it. That really is a good attitude.
MS: If it ships millions, or if it ships cardboard, I really don’t care. I made my art. I’m honest to what it is, I have no excuses for it. It’s what I think that that art should be.
Now, it’s time for me to make more. As we’re talking about this, the next step is to write new songs, and to continuously make music. That’s what musicians do. If you’re an accountant, don’t you account? (Laughs)
RMS: Mark, the last question I want to ask you is, are there any plans in the future where you will put out another Slaughter record?
MS: Well, I’m open to it. I would like that. It’s really getting everybody else to slow down, and to step into my world, because I’m doing it. It’s more about them stepping into my world than me stepping into theirs. They’re doing Vince Neil shows, and I really think it has to be everybody saying, “You know what? Let’s do a record.” I’m ready to do it whenever they are, but in the meantime, I’ll just keep making music. I’m not going to stop to wait for others. That’s kind of like waiting to walk across the street. Don’t walk! Walk! Don’t walk! Walk!
If I’m sitting there waiting for them, no one’s going to walk across the street. When they’re ready to join me on the other side, I’ll be there.
RMS: I’m really looking forward to hearing the rest of the record. Like I said, I love the first track. If that’s any indication about how the rest of it sounds, it’s going to be fucking amazing.
MS: Well, please let me know what your thoughts are on it. You’re familiar with what I did before. I just want to make it to where, as an artists/producer, I can understand where I’ve been on it, and where I’ve missed the mark. I’m looking to create my art, and hit it to all people. Everybody has their opinions. Some people say, “This is amazing.” Some people say, “I don’t get it.” But, the bottom line is, as long as you’re true to it, and you keep listening to it, then that’s the honesty that artists use to move forward.
For more on Mark Slaughter, please visit www.markslaughter.com
Special thanks to Shauna O’Donnell for setting up this interview, and Dana Kaiser for transcribing it.