Interview : By Robert Cavuoto
Mark Slaughter will be releasing his sophomore solo CD, Halfway There in May via EMP Label Group, the US-based label of Megadeth bassist David Ellefson. Halfway There is the follow up to his 2015 independently released Reflections in a Rear View Mirror. This CD is a true return to form for Mark as he channels his familiar hard rock sensibility from the classic-era Slaughter albums like Stick it to Ya and The Wild Life.
Halfway There showcases of Mark’s never-ending vocal abilities, but a glowing testament to his perpetually unheralded prowess as a songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, handling all production, engineering, songwriting, arrangements, guitar, and the bulk of the album’s instrumentation himself.
I caught up with Mark to talk about his newest CD and to take a look back at his days in Slaughter and Vinnie Vincent’s Invasion.
Robert Cavuoto: How did you get connected with David Ellefson and his record label?
Mark Slaughter: I’ve known David for about 30 years now. We recently did a Rock ‘n Roll fantasy camp and he told me about his label so it was really a no-brainer to sign with him.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me about the writing and record process for Halfway There. Are you always writing songs and stockpiling riffs?
Mark Slaughter: I really write for the album, I wake up at 2:00 am and hear a song in my head and start to track it. So I’m really not a guy that’s writing riffs all the time.
Robert Cavuoto: Some of your biggest hits with Slaughter were about love, loneliness, and longing. Has your writing perspective changed since the 90s?
Mark Slaughter: On the song “Halfway There” in the second verse it talks about a child being born, raising that child, and then watching him drive off to college. It’s part of my life right now. Lyrically it’s more about real life.
The third verse is basically “…now I’m gone and with her.” I may be dead but at the same time “your half way there.” It’s the reality of what’s going on and things we don’t always want to think about.
Robert Cavuoto: Do you have a favorite track on the CD?
Mark Slaughter: Surprisingly I don’t as I jump around all time on that. I have songs call “Conspiracy” and “Reckless” which are really heavy; “Halfway There” and “Forevermore” are very Slaughter-like. The last track on the record is “Not Here” the lyrics start off “…I watched you take your last breath tonight” that pretty heavy. You can see where I was at. Dana Strum said the CD was a little dark. I don’t think it was dark just where I am in life. It’s what we are dealing with and what we see. “Up All Night” is what happens on the weekends but this is the truth on what else happens.
Robert Cavuoto: You play guitar, bass, and sing on all your solo CDs.
Mark Slaughter: For the most part I wrote all the music. It’s been a joy for me to do it all. I had a bass player work with me on this CD.
Robert Cavuoto: When did you start to put on the producer hat?
Mark Slaughter: I did that when I was 17 years old and producing my own stuff. In fact, Slaughter was all produced internally. Dana and I are the only people from our genre that wrote and produced our own stuff and still out doing it. Maybe other people did it but we are still doing it. Its music and what you do. I always saw, “Those who do, do, those who don’t bitch!”We are doing it and getting it out there.
Robert Cavuoto: What guitars did you use to record the CD as the guitar has great tone and attack?
Mark Slaughter: I used a guitar I built along with a Bluesman guitar. For amps, I used a Kemper amp and Shaw amp. I have all these pedals and just start plugging it in making the tone I think the song is asking for. I’m such a gear slut
Robert Cavuoto: Do you tend to stick with just two guitars when recording?
Mark Slaughter: No, I have a wall of guitars. As we are speaking I’m building a guitar right now. Who knows what it will sound like? I’ll play and if it has Mojo, I’ll keep it and if it doesn’t I’ll sell it. I’ve always had a love for instruments. I build more of the Telecaster and Strat bodies. I tend to go with the bolt on necks and the assembly is what I love. It’s more the Lego mentality.
Robert Cavuoto: What guitars do you take out on tour?
Mark Slaughter: Lately I’ve been taking out Strats. Jeff “Blando” Bland has a thicker guitar sound as he uses a Les Paul. It’s like Aerosmith or the Stones mentality, one guy has more meat the other has more of the potatoes. That who it works and what fits within the scope of the music.
Robert Cavuoto: Was there ever a song in your career that you were confident would be a hit but didn’t take off.
Mark Slaughter: “Days Gone By” should have been a bigger hit but the record company executives basically said, “Were Done!” The album cycle started with “Wild Life” as the token rock track which was how they broke music back then. “Real Love” was a track they thought could get radio play. We thought “Days Gone By” was the hit and people would really get behind it but it never got the chance. I thought it was the best song on the album. Not too long after that, the label was gone. EMI ended up just a couple of accountants paying royalties.
Robert Cavuoto: At what point when you were in Slaughter did you see the trend in music start to shift towards Grunge and what was the band’s reaction to that shift?
Mark Slaughter: Grunge really wasn’t the death of our music. It was just a movement or musical climate. Just like rockabilly turned to rock n roll and The Beatles turned into Hendrix. It’s changing, when the climate changes then everyone wants to try and categorize things. Nirvana songs might be categorized as Grunge, but they’re good songs. There was a reason why Nirvana and Soundgarden became successful, they wrote good songs. Like our type of musical genera, the record companies went out and signed every garage out there. The record companies were chasing the wrong rainbow. The music industry has also changed with downloads and file sharing as the climate in music is always changing.
We saw the change coming when the President of MTV who was the former alternative radio station programmer in California called KROK said in Billboard Magazine, “I will no longer play Motley Crue, Slaughter, Def Leppard, and other bands like them!” A climate change happened and people were at the helm. We continued on and here is the truth we are still out there playing and touring because we are writers and producers. We are still doing what we do because we did it, not a record company making us who were are.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you get the opportunity to enjoy your success in Slaughter? So many bands when starting out say they killed themselves touring and recording and never really had a chance to stop and enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Mark Slaughter: That was the enjoyment of it all. That’s what I longed to do as an artist. Why wouldn’t I be excited about where it is going? I’m all about it.
Robert Cavuoto: Vinnie Vincent has disappeared off the grid, have you spoke with him or heard anything about him?
Mark Slaughter: No, I walked off the stage with Vinnie in 1988 and never saw him again. I don’t think he wanted to be a touring musician. I love it and hanging out with people. Slaughter used to drive KISS crazy when we tour with them as we would have 300 people backstage. They would say “Who the fuck are all these people?” We would say, “Their friends!” [laughing]. We loved the meet and greet side of it.
Robert Cavuoto: Are there any touring plans for you as a solo artist or with Slaughter?
Mark Slaughter: For Slaughter, we will be touring a lot of festivals like Rocklahoma. There are no plans for a solo tour as of yet but that doesn’t mean that I’m not ruling it out. Obviously, if the right show came up I would do it.