Interview by: Mark Lacey
“When the original band left, I just wanted to retire after that; I was hurt so bad. My heart was so broken and crushed by all of the haters and naysayers that were saying these awful things about me. I took a lot of the blame for it. And I don’t feel that it was right that I did. But (our new lead guitarist) Ira said, ‘What if we put a group together that’s just undeniable? Let’s just work our arses off, play everything we can and take it to that level that no one can touch us’. He was really able to shake my tree, and so that’s what we’ve been trying to do”.
Spawned from the ashes of King Cobra in 1986, Marq Torien, Mick Sweda, and Lonnie Vencent joined together with drummer Jimmy D’Anda to form the Bulletboys, built on the foundations of groove infused hard rock. The resulting first three albums gained them international acclaim, and MTV success, before the core line-up parted company in 1993, leading to a heavy rotation of temporary players ever since. Occasional re-unions of the original band have been short lived; however, their current line-up may well be their best yet, and with an impending tour, and promises of new music on the way; 2024 could just be the Bulletboys’ finest hour.
MGM: You’re a bit of a sort of journeyman through rock and roll; from your tenure in Ratt, and playing with Touch who contributed to the Rocky IV soundtrack. Outside of your Bulletboys work, you also provided some vocals for Love Hate’s 1997 album “Livin’ off Layla”. It’s quite a journey, but how did you originally get into music?
Marq: I’ve been behind a microphone and in the studio since I was seven. My father and mother were amazing musicians, and that’s how I came into this whole business. My father was a trombonist, and played in several very big bands, including Stan Kenton’s orchestra. He played a bit with Frank Sinatra, and both of my parents were administrators for the LA City school district. My mother was also a singer, and would do a lot of different shows. I’ve been performing for many years, and it just all started with my family, and my mother and father being in this crazy business.
MGM: Being brought up in a home full of creative people must have been quite an exciting time?
Marq: It was. I always laughed, because my parents were very hard on me as a musician; they were more like the Hollywood stage parents. You either do this right and better than anybody, or don’t do it at all. I would never get a lot of praise from my mother and father, because I grew up with a tough love from them, but musically, they were always very hard, saying “Always be your best. Always strive to do the best as far as performing”, and I know that’s where I get my performance from. When we were really little, me and my three sisters would always try to perform, and think we were the Jackson 5; learning the steps and how to move. That was a big thing back in the day for us. But I come from a family of performers and musicians. It’s just something that I have in me. I’m very blessed that I’m still able to do what I do, still have my voice, and be able to perform at a high level, even at my age right now.
MGM: You started out with guitar before becoming a vocalist. How did you find that transition from being in the wings to being out front?
Marq: I really wanted to be the greatest guitar player in LA. I worked so hard at trying to take my playing to another level, and I did play in Ratt. I helped them write a couple of their first hits back in the day with Robin and Steven, and for a minute, I was working with Ozzy Osborne. I was chosen to be the guitarist for Ozzy’s band way back in the day. Everybody always told me, your guitar playing is incredible, but your voice is like wow; have you ever thought about dropping the guitar and just singing? I didn’t really want to do that. I had an opportunity when my best friend at the time, Lonnie Vencent was in a band called King Cobra and they needed a singer. I really wasn’t into their music at all. He said, “You got to come into this band. Just sing and drop the guitar”. I was like, “OK, I’ll try it”. I went in and started singing with them and this freedom just came over me. So, I started really working on that.
When we started the Bulletboys, I was the frontman, and it was great to be able to take off the guitar, be a little bit lighter and run around and do my thing and be able to perform. Now I’m playing guitar again; we’re a four-piece band with two guitars. I always thought it would be an added thing to our musical prowess. It’s really great because I get to drop the guitar sometimes and just front the band too.
MGM: You mentioned Lonnie, and of course, Lonnie and Mick Sweda and Jimmy D’Anda were in the original Bulletboys. You did those first three albums together, after which you’ve had a succession of temporary players. Do you still see Bulletboys as a band, or is it more of a Marq Torien solo project?
Marq: The original band had our run. We got back together a couple years ago with all original members. I really believed that Lonnie was ready to do this, and, of course, I was. I’ve been out on the road for so many years without them, but I don’t think they came in ready to really do this. I don’t say this as a bad thing. I’m constantly on the road. I’m constantly writing. I never stopped. So, it was really hard for me and Lonnie to pull those two other guys and go “We really got to focus on this”. Some people don’t have that. But I was very fortunate and blessed to put together the band that we have right now. For the past two years, we’ve been all over the world, just touring, playing everywhere, and we released a single called ‘Holy Fuck’. I love the fact that myself, Ira Black, Brad Lang, and Fred Aching have the essence of what the Bulletboys was; this fun-loving criminal type of band. We’re just having a good time, and not trying to keep everything so serious all the time. When we’re on the road, we play with these amazing bands, and some of them are so serious. By the end of the show, they’re in our dressing room going, “Hey, can we come in? Everybody’s laughing, everybody’s having a great time”. But I’m just really blessed with these fellas right now. I know I’ve had some guys in the past. Some guys, they just don’t have that drive to continue to do what we’re supposed to do. It’s not easy when you’ve got families, you’ve got children, you’ve got other lifestyles.
I just happen to be very punk and roll, and I’m just constantly working on music; that’s what I do. We’re getting ready to release our first single from our new album which comes out in March. We are working with one of my mentors as executive producer, Kerry Ashby Gordy Jnr. I love him so dearly. He signed me to Motown when I was a kid to a project called ‘Kagney and the Dirty Rats’. To have him back in my life again and working on this album is just incredible. Kerry comes from a school of perfection and working very diligently. I learned my musical prowess when I was signed to Motown, and saw how hard they worked, and how you have to put the song together. Take it apart, put it together, take it apart. That’s how you get a smash hit. And that’s what we’re working on right now. In this world, the way we are right now, there needs to be something uplifting; something that’s F-U-N. Sometimes in rock n roll, we’ve lost that a little bit. Everything’s too serious right now. I always tell people, “Don’t talk to me about politics. Rock n roll is my politics”. I’m here to spread light and love to people.
MGM: You mentioned the current line-up of Ira, Brad, Fred and yourself. You’ve now been together 2 years, but how did that all come together?
Marq: I’ve known Ira for many years, and his wife, Jessica Chase, is also our manager. When the original band left, I just wanted to retire after that; I was hurt so bad. My heart was so broken and crushed by all of the haters and naysayers that were saying these awful things about me. It was just really hurtful, and I took a lot of the blame for it. And I don’t feel that it was right that I did. I tried everything I could to come back for the fans and do something special with the guys and sometimes things just don’t happen, and I felt really bad about it. But Ira, in his amazing way of always bringing positive light, said, “What if we put a group together that’s just undeniable? I got this, but you got to be willing to go out there and really do it. You’ve got tonnes of music. We can release a new album. Let’s just work our arses off, play everything we can and take it to that level that no one can touch us”. He was really able to shake my tree, and so that’s what we’ve been trying to do. We’ve been playing with some amazing bands, a lot of our friends, and they’ve just been backing us and they’re proud of what we’re doing. The guys that I picked for this are a little dangerous and they come with some things in their background that maybe are a little unsavoury, but it’s good for me. I like that. We’re a rock band. Sometimes that little bit of danger or being a little bit anti is really good with me.
MGM: Many fans will be really familiar with your two earliest albums, your debut and follow-up ‘Freakshow’ but may now be aware you now have nine studio albums to your name, including 2018’s incredible album ‘From out of the skies’. Your sound has understandably changed over the years. How would you describe yourselves now?
Marq: I’ve never been a metal singer. My roots are in R&B, soul, hard rock, and punk rock music. I grew up in a city called Montebello, California and the essence of growing up here, is if you’re not into punk rock music, you just basically get chased out of the city. The very first band I ever saw was Black Flag with Henry Rollins, in a backyard in Pasadena when I was 13. Even with our original band, we used to break all our equipment, every show. We would dump things over; Jimmy would pick up his kickdrum and slam it into the stage. We were busting up shit all the time. We had that essence of being very destructive in our early ages. But I keep that essence in my head when we play on stage, and we bring a lot of fire and a lot of energy and I’m still able to do that. It’s a show.
MGM: That last album in 2018 seems to have been a catalyst for you going out and playing a lot more shows, including your last UK tour. It’s great news to see you’ll be back in the UK again in March for a run of ten dates, including a performance at HRH AOR. Why do you think your music resonates with UK audiences the way it does?
Marq: Because it’s real and it comes from the heart. I’m a tenacious dude, man. I love performing. It’s just in me. It doesn’t matter what size the venue is. I just love to bring smiles and a real positive healing light to people, especially these days; we’ve got to lift people up. People are down right now and I get it. But as a musician and as an artist, I really want to lift people up with everything that I have.
MGM: Your setlists over recent years have leant on your first album, but you’ve also been playing a mixture of songs from the latest album, as well as Elephante, Freakshow and 10c Billionaire too. What can people expect from these shows?
Marq: We have a smorgasbord of songs that we’ll be playing. We’ll be drawing from every album and our sets are going to change maybe every other night. But we have a special surprise and we’ll be playing a song for everybody that’s very special to me to be finish with at the end of our set.
MGM: Your show at HRH AOR is the centrepiece date for your UK tour. You mentioned your tenure with Ozzy, which would have seen you playing alongside Rudy Sarzo. We’ve also discussed your time singing with Love/Hate. Both Jizzy Pearl and Rudy Sarzo will be playing at HRH with Quiet Riot. Will you plan to see each other’s sets?
Marq: Oh, yeah, always. I’m a big Love/Hate fan. I’ve been friends with Jizzy for many years. I hold him in very high regard. He’s an amazing singer, and amazing performer. He is still out there doing it and just kicking ass. And of course, Rudy’s just amazing. He does his thing and just has a blast doing it. I’m really happy for Jizzy, and that he’s in Quiet Riot. But it was really awesome to be able to sing a couple of tracks with Love/Hate, a band I really loved from back in the day.
MGM: After you finish your UK dates, you’ll head back across to the US. You’ve already got a couple of dates announced in the US and you’re making plans for the new album. Do you have plans to play more widely into Europe too?
Marq: Absolutely. We haven’t been in the UK in many years, but we’re going out to refresh people about who the Bulletboys are, and what we do. God willing, we’ll be able to come back during summertime and play Europe and the UK again and get out there for the festivals. We’ve got dates filling up for the rest of the year, but we want more. That’s the battle cry for this year. But we’re going to be putting out some amazing singles, and then close to summer, we’ll be dropping the album.
MGM: Good to hear things are progressing with the album. Are all the songs now written and recorded?
Marq: Most of the stuff is recorded and we’re getting really close to finishing it. Me, Ira and the band were all ready to drop a double album; 20 songs … boom. And then everybody’s like, wait! So now one album is going to be dropped in the summer, and then the other one will be dropped later on in the year. We have almost 50 songs. We’ve been really working in the studio, and Ira is just an incredible genius. His work ethic is amazing and so is mine. I’ve gone through a rebuilding process in my personal life, and it’s been a little difficult for me. I lost my father two years ago, which still weighs very heavy on my heart. We lost him to Covid. He was the rock. He was the guy that I went to about different things. I trained to be a professional tennis player. I was number one on my team in high school, and our team went all the way to the national state championships and I was supposed to go to USC. That’s my father trained me for. But I ended up going into the music business, and he wasn’t very happy about it. But I miss him. He was 92, but still out there hitting balls and playing tennis; he was just an incredible athlete. I’m very fortunate that I have an amazing family that is very loving and very supportive of what I’m doing still.
MGM: Any parting thoughts?
Marq: To all our friends, family and fans out there, we’re coming. Get ready. Get your drinking stomachs ready. Get your dancing shoes ready, because we’re going to blow the roofs off a lot of these places. Let’s go.
For more information:
The Bulletboys will be touring the UK in March:
6th March: Underworld Camden
7th March: Ghost, Nottingham
8th March: Hard Rock Hell, Great Yarmouth
9th March: Queen’s Hall, Nuneaton
10th March The Patriot, Crumlin, Wales
12th March: Eleven, Stoke
13th March: Nightrain, Bradford
14th March: Trillian’s, Newcastle-upon-Tyne
15th March: Bannerman’s, Edinburgh
16th March: Hard Rock Café, Glasgow
17th March: The Deer’s Head, Belfast