Interview with Kill Devil Hill guitarist Mark Zavon (Part 1 of 2)

INTERVIEW WITH KILL DEVIL HILL GUITARIST MARK ZAVON (PART 1 of 2)
Date: January 23, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden

IN 1988, I MOVED FROM A LARGER TOWN TO A SMALL RURAL TOWN IN ONTARIO, CANADA. THE TOWN WAS ABOUT AN HOUR EAST OF TORONTO, ONTARIO, CANADA. FOR A 12 YEAR OLD BOY, IT WAS QUITE THE CULTURE SHOCK. THANKS MOM AND DAD! IN SEPTEMBER OF THAT SAME YEAR, I ENTERED GRADE 9 AT A NEW SCHOOL. TALK ABOUT INTIMIDATING! I RECALL GOING HOME AFTER THE FIRST DAY AND PROCLAIMING TO MY PARENTS, “I AM NEVER GOING BACK!”

WITHIN A FEW WEEKS, I STARTED TO GET TO KNOW PEOPLE. THE FIRST PERSON I REALLY CONNECTED WITH WAS A YOUNG BOY WEARING A SLIGHTLY WEATHERED PAIR OF REEBOK HIGH TOPS, TIGHT FADED BLACK LEVIS JEANS AND A VERY STYLISH, YET CURLY MULLET HAIRCUT [REMEMBER THIS WAS THE ’80S]. THIS YOUNG BOYS NAME WAS ARTIE KILPATRICK. LITTLE DID I KNOW AT THE TIME THAT ARTIE AND I WOULD BECOME LIFELONG FRIENDS.

THIS PAST NEW YEAR’S, I WAS ABLE TO SPEND A FEW DAYS RELAXING WITH SOME FRIENDS. ONE OF THOSE FRIENDS WAS NONE OTHER THAN ARTIE. THROUGHOUT THE COUPLE OF DAYS WE SPENT TOGETHER, WE HAD A FEW BEVERAGES, A LOT OF LAUGHS AND GOT TO TALKING ABOUT BANDS WE HAD DISCOVERED IN THE LAST FEW YEARS. ARTIE WAS GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO INTRODUCE ME TO A BAND THAT FEATURED FORMER DIO DRUMMER VINNY APPICE, FORMER PANTERA BASSIST REX BROWN AND A VERY TALENTED, YET UNKNOWN TO ME GUITARIST NAMED MARK ZAVON. I QUICKLY TOOK TO THE MUSIC I WAS HEARING. THE NAME OF THIS BAND YOU MAY ASK — KILL DEVIL HILL.

FAST FORWARD TO A COUPLE WEEKS LATER, I HAD MADE A POST ON FACEBOOK TO WHICH FORMER BABYLON A.D. GUITARIST DANNY DE LA ROSA PUT A ‘LIKE’ ON. THE GEARS IN MY HEAD STARTED SPINNING AND I SAID TO MYSELF, “I SHOULD MESSAGE DANNY AND ASK HOW HIS SOLO ALBUM IS COMING ALONG!” WITHIN MINUTES, DANNY HAD RESPONDED AND THANKED ME FOR MY INTEREST. HE ASSURED ME THAT THE ALBUM WOULD SOON SEE THE LIGHT OF DAY. WITHIN THIS CONVERSATION, DANNY ASKED ME IF I’D BE INTERESTED IN INTERVIEWING HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW WHO HAD JUST RELEASED A NEW SOLO ALBUM. DANNY ALSO ASKED ME IF I WAS FAMILIAR WITH THE BAND KILL DEVIL HILL. I SCRATCHED MY HEAD AND THOUGHT BACK TO NEW YEAR’S DAY. THE LIGHT BULB FINALLY WENT OFF AND I REALIZED WHO THE BAND WAS. I THEN PUT TWO AND TWO TOGETHER AND OF COURSE REALIZED DANNY’S BROTHER-IN-LAW WAS KILL DEVIL HILL’S GUITARIST AND PRIMARY SONGWRITER MARK ZAVON. THIS WAS THE BAND THAT MY GOOD FRIEND ARTIE HAD INTRODUCED ME TO A FEW WEEKS PRIOR. I JUMPED AT THE CHANCE IMMEDIATELY. DANNY GAVE ME MARK’S INFO AND LOW AND BEHOLD, HERE WE ARE. THANK YOU TO BOTH DANNY DE LA ROSA AND MARK ZAVON FOR MAKING THIS ALL POSSIBLE.

Sleaze Roxx: Hey Mark! How are you man?

Mark Zavon: I’m good man. All is well. How [are] you doing?

Sleaze Roxx: I’m good. I’ve been listening to your debut solo album and I really like it.

Mark Zavon: Cool. Thank you. I really appreciate that.

Sleaze Roxx: I was talking to Danny [De La Rosa] this afternoon and I was saying, “Man, that album is killer!” He agreed.

Mark Zavon: Well… thank you guys both! It’s been a labor of love you know. I was able to put it all together over here at my house. I had time to take my time with it. Since I was kind of doing it myself I didn’t have too much pressure. You get into the studio sometimes and it’s like, “Oh the clocks running. We only have the studio for two days. You’ve got to get whatever tracks done in ‘X’ amount of time.” Since I was sort of chipping away at it myself, I was lucky enough to just kind of do it at my own pace.

Mark Zavon‘s “Message At The Tone” song (from Mark Zavon album):

Mark Zavon

Mark Zavon – MESSAGE AT THE TONE.. From the abum MARK ZAVON, IN STORES 11/2.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s funny and I hate to admit this but I was not familiar with Kill Devil Hill until New Year’s and a buddy of mine said, “You’ve got to check out this band!” So he put on one of the videos and I said, “Holy shit man. These guys are awesome!” Then I was talking to Danny [De La Rosa] and said, “That rings a bell!” And here we are!

Mark Zavon: [Laughs] Yeah, we’re actually going to be putting the wheels back on that damn thing!

Sleaze Roxx: That was actually one of my questions, so go ahead!

Mark Zavon: Well, we had some time off because basically Rex [Brown] had decided to do his solo thing. The whole plan was to go out and tour. Rex sort of decided he didn’t want to tour. He wanted to do his solo thing. I was like, “That’s fine. You can do your solo thing, but a lot of people have a lot of irons in the fire nowadays to make ends meat. Why not? Just do both! Do your solo thing. Do some stuff with Kill Devil [Hill] and we’ll kind of make it all work!” He just wasn’t having it. We waited and waited. I’m kind of a loyal sort so I was waiting him out hoping that he would come back. He finally just recently decided once and for all he was going to make his exit. As much as I’m going to miss Rex — he’s my buddy, my brother and all that stuff — I think it’s for the best. I’m glad the band is going to reform because I’ve missed playing those songs a lot! I know there’s a lot of fans out there that want to hear that stuff, so I’m looking forward to getting back to that.

Sleaze Roxx: I was on Wikipedia and I noticed that. I was doing some research for this interview and I noticed that he was no longer in the band.

Mark Zavon: Yeah, he just announced it this week [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: Wow, they are quick! It said 2019. I was thinking, “Geez, it’s just 2019! So this must have just recently happened!” That’s wild!

Mark Zavon: Yeah, his interview came out on Livewire yesterday. And I was like, “Well there it is! Finally, in black and white!” Like I said, I love the guy and I wish him all the best, but as much as I support him doing his solo career and all that, I don’t support it to the end that I’m not gonna get anywhere. You know what I mean? I don’t want to shoot myself in the foot so that he can be successful or at the expense of Kill Devil Hill fans. There’s all kinds of people that still like that stuff. Like you said, you just checked it out for the first time and you dug it, so that’s says a lot right there!

Sleaze Roxx: My buddy, he keeps up with so many bands. I try to keep up with as many bands as I can, but sometimes it’s really hard. Word of mouth is still so good. If someone says, “Hey man, you gotta check this band out!” We were just sitting around watching videos. That word of mouth thing is still out there.

Mark Zavon: Yeah, definitely. It’s not like we’ve sat totally idle. I’ve been writing songs for not just my solo stuff, but also for Kill Devil Hill this entire time. We’ve got a record of stuff demo’d and ready to go pretty much. If we can get some business things together, hopefully we can put a record together here shortly. Put that out and get out this year doing some touring.

Sleaze Roxx: I wanted to ask you. I read something and I think it may have been on Wikipedia about the actual origin of the name Kill Devil Hill. I thought it was really cool. It mentioned something about a town? Is that correct?

Mark Zavon: Yeah. Well, I came up with the name. I was an aviation major in college. In one of my classes, they were going over where the Wright Brothers flew their first plane and it was Kill Devil Hill. That was the name of the town. I thought, “Oh, that’s a really cool sounding name!” I wrote it down and kind of put it in the back of my mind. Then I thought, “I’ll use that for something later on!” That was in the ’90s. That was a long time ago. Then we were looking for band names and it came up. Really it was just because of that. Then, after it became one of the finalists as far as the band names were concerned, I started digging into finding out what it was all about. It turns out that the name — there is a lot more to it than where the Wright Brothers flew. The pirates used to call their rum “Kill Devil” because it was strong enough to kill the devil. It was named after basically — in the early days when pirates used to run their rum up and down the coast, it was illegal bootlegging. The British Crown would try to sail up and tax you if they found rum on your boat. So these ships that they saw — the British sailing up on them — they would run barrels of rum off in skiffs and bury them in the sand dunes so they didn’t have to pay taxes on them. So this particular spot in North Carolina was a favorite spot for burying your rum essentially. So they would bury their “Kill Devil” in the hills of North Carolina in this particular spot. So it became known as “Kill Devil Hills”! So that’s where the town got its name. I thought that was an interesting story in itself outside of the whole Wright Brothers thing. It just stuck and I remember Vinne [Appice] and Rex [Brown] both liking it. Dewey [Bragg] loved it and he’s still super into it. Dewey’s a pirate at heart, so it really goes well with him.

Kill Devil Hill‘s “Strange” video (from Kill Devil Hill album):

Kill Devil Hill – Strange (official)

“Strange” – taken from the album “Kill Devil Hill” out on Steamhammer/ SPV www.killdevilhillmusic.com

Sleaze Roxx: You were in WWIII? I didn’t realize that until I was checking out your bio.

Mark Zavon: Yeah, that was fun. I got to play with Jimmy Bain in that band. That dude was awesome man! I miss him, I swear. I shed a tear when I found out that he passed away because the world’s a darker place without him. He was really a great talent and a super sweet guy. He wasn’t always completely together [laughs], but I remember one time, we were playing a show at the Key Club in Hollywood. They had the curtain drawn and everyone’s all warmed up to go onstage, they’re running the intro tape. We’re standing there and he’s like, “Mate, mate!” I’m like, “What?” “What key is the first song in?” I was like, “Oh my God, this guy doesn’t know what key the first song is in? It’s Jimmy Bain from Dio and Rainbow!” I said, “It’s in G!” I was so freaked out by it. We kicked the curtains open, we start the song and he was fine! He was in his element, but I was disturbed by the fact that he didn’t know what key it was [laughs]! Then I was thinking, “Oh my God, does he know what key the next song is in?” I mean, he was a great dude! He was an amazing bass player too! You tell him the key to the song and then even if he didn’t even barely know the song, he would play some stuff that would blow your mind. He was just that talented of a cat. Super cool guy!

Sleaze Roxx: I guess getting to play with Vinnie and Jimmy at that time. I can imagine what it would be like getting on stage with those two guys.

Mark Zavon: Well, you know truthfully, Vinny wasn’t in the band when I got in there. There was a guy named Jamie who was playing drums at the time. Vinny had already made his exit. Jimmy actually wound up making an exit too! Then Michael Devin who’s playing with Whitesnake — I got him the gig. He came in and played. It was kind of a revolving door sort of a situation with Mandy [Lion]. It was a lot of fun. We played some big gigs. It was pretty cool. I definitely enjoyed it! Mandy’s an interesting individual for sure. He’s definitely one of a kind.

Sleaze Roxx: He had the WWIII thing originally, than he worked with Jake E. Lee I believe for a while.

Mark Zavon: Yeah, we did some of those songs. Some of the stuff that they wrote together! What was the name of that one song I remember? Ah man, I wish I could remember. “Blood…” Damn [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: I’m not familiar enough with that material to say. I haven’t actually ever heard it. Was it ever released?

Mark Zavon: I don’t know if the stuff with Jake was ever released.

Sleaze Roxx: Was it called Wicked Alliance?

Mark Zavon: Might have been! That sounds familiar!

Sleaze Roxx: I might be talking out of my ass. I can’t remember exactly.

Mark Zavon: He’s definitely jammed with some amazing cats for sure.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, no kidding. I wanted to ask a bit about Kill Devil Hill first, but we’re pretty much going to go into your new solo album. I think it deserves to be talked about to be honest. Besides the drums, you did everything else on the album right? Bass, keys, guitars, vocals?

Mark Zavon: Yeah, absolutely.

Sleaze Roxx: The album is released on EMP, which is David Ellefson’s label. In terms of marketing for the album, is there a plan? Are you going to tour it? Radio station promos? In-stores? Wait, that was “back in the day”! There’s a pun in there, but we’ll get to that song eventually. So what is the plan?

Mark Zavon: You know, honestly, we’re still discussing exactly what to do. It came out in November, which is kind of a difficult time because the industry shuts down for the holidays. I did a couple of gigs during the CD release the week of or the week after. I did a couple gigs in Hollywood. Just one offs. I put a band together with Mike Dupke from W.A.S.P. on drums, Daniel Spree from The Drills on bass. Phil X’s band The Drills. It’s a good band. We all get along great and those guys are amazing. The two gigs went really well. We played the Whisky [A Go Go] and this place Lucky Strike, which has an all-star jam thing that they do on Wednesday nights once a month. We’d like to go out and tour for sure. Just try and figure out what the logistics are going to look like and what the label wants to do. What they want to do as far as marketing and getting us out there. I want to go out and tour. That’s definitely been the main thing I was after and the reason I put the record out was so that I could go out and play. I’m hoping that vehicles will present itself because it’s the kind of thing in today’s day and age where you can’t just jump out there and hope that it’s gonna work. I mean you wind up maxing out a credit card and being lucky to get home alive. It’s expensive and you gotta make sure all “T’s” and the “I’s” are dotted before you’re driving down the road waiting for some terrible mechanical issue to come up on your transportation. If we have everything all set up and we’re in the process of setting up all that, but yeah, I’m looking forward to going out and touring. Go out and push it hard this year for sure.

Sleaze Roxx: Logistically it has to be right as well?

Mark Zavon: Yeah, exactly. It shouldn’t be that tough because it’s not hard to fit in. There’s a lot of bands where we’d be a good opener essentially. You could really put us up front of a lot of different types of bands and it would work out. So, I’m really thinking that we’ll find an audience for it. We’ll just pay attention to the details of it.

Sleaze Roxx: I’m sure being on EMP helps. There are quite a few bands on the label. There’s heavy bands. What I mean there are just a lot of bands that fit within the same type of format.

Mark Zavon: Right. Definitely. So hopefully we can put together a little package and get that to work.

Sleaze Roxx: In terms of format for the album itself, I’m a huge vinyl guy, so I have a bunch of releases from EMP on vinyl. Picture discs. They’re great at putting out different formats of the vinyl release. I always seem to ask this question. Is this album available on vinyl?

Mark Zavon: Not yet. I’d like for it to be though. It’s something I definitely want to talk to those guys about. You’re not the first person to ask that. I would love to get it out on vinyl. The first Kill Devil Hill is available on vinyl. I remember really digging that. When I was a kid, that’s what I went out and bought. To me, that’s sort where the 16 year old me thinks of a new record coming out. Holding the vinyl in my hand is when it’s real. Not that buying it on iTunes isn’t just as real in today’s day and age, but for the kid in me, there’s that vinyl satisfaction of holding it in your hand. So hopefully we can make that happen.

Sleaze Roxx: I’m kind of in the same boat. I grew up buying vinyl as well.

Mark Zavon: It sounds better.

Sleaze Roxx: In terms of the drums on the album, Brian Tichy did a good portion of the album? Vinny Appice made a guest appearance as well?

Mark Zavon: Yeah, so basically Brian played all the drums except for one track. So I would go over to Brian’s. Brian had a studio in his house and I would go over there. We’d chip away at it — three or four songs at a time. So he did all the tracks — the one track that Vinny did drums on was basically supposed to be a Kill Devil Hill song. It was one of a run of songs we wrote for the first album, but it was just sort of a cast off. It just never got used. I always liked the song, but neither Rex or Dewy, whoever it was, were shooting it down. They didn’t like it or there was something wrong. Maybe they liked the other songs better. Whatever it was, it just didn’t get picked. So it sat there and I thought, “Well, we’ll use it on the next record!” Then we did the second record and it still didn’t get picked. Then I said, “Well, you know, it’s gone through two records and it’s not getting picked, it’s probably safe to use it for something else!” That’s what I chose to do. So I talked to Vinny and he still had the original multi-track drums from the session that he had done on the demo. So I said, “Dude, can you hook me up with those drums?” He said, “Yeah, no problem!” We figured it out, he sent me the files and I put it on the record. It’s great to have him involved because he was such a big part of it. Basically, that song was written off his drum track. A lot of the stuff on the first ‘Kill Devil Hill’ — at least six songs I think, were written to Vinny’s drums. When I first met Vinny and he wanted to put a band together, he gave me a bunch of drum tracks that he recorded. He said, “Here, write to these!” So I did. I took them and wrote songs to those drum tracks. That’s where a lot of the original Kill Devil Hill’s stuff came from. That song was one of those. It came from his drum track in a lot of ways. I wrote the chord progression, the melody and the lyrics but the original drums were his. It was great to be able to use those instead of having to re-record them. Mike Duda from W.A.S.P., he played bass on one track. He’s a cool cat too. I was really lucky. Everybody involved with this was cool. Josh Newell, the guy that mixed it. Super cool guy. Amazing talent. I was just really fortunate to work with really great people.

Sleaze Roxx: I’d actually like to now dive into some of the material on the album. Let’s begin with “Message At the Tone”, which is an interesting title. At first, when I put the song on, I thought, “What does that mean?” Of course as it got to the chorus, I figured out it meant a telephone call. With that said, is there an underlying message within that or is it pretty self-explanatory?

Mark Zavon: Well, it’s just about when you want to be left alone. I’ve had situations personally where you’ve got somebody that won’t let up. They just push and push. You’re just like, “Oh man I’ve had enough!” Sometimes there are songs that you have an idea for, than you sit on the idea for a long time. This song was the opposite of that. Basically I was driving down the 101 Freeway and I pretty much sang the whole chorus just like it is on the record out loud. I was thinking, “Whoa! What was that?” So I pulled my car over to the side of the road and I typed it into my phone so I didn’t forget it. Then I went home and wrote the rest of the song. It just fell out of the sky. It was written in 15 minutes. I didn’t even have to try. It was just there like it dropped out of the sky [laughs]. Some of the songs on it took a long time to write, but that was the shortest one for sure. It just sort of materialized. I was grateful for that. It was about just being done with somebody. “Please, leave me alone! Leave a message!” It’s just those people that you don’t see eye to eye with. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. “Just give up already!”

Sleaze Roxx: A track like “Back In The Day” — that is something I can totally relate to. Sometimes, I have a hard time with a lot of the changes that have occurred in the last 20-30 years. A lot of the lyrics are in relation to my feelings of the changes today and how more simplistic things once were. The point in the song, talking of paying for television now — Netflix, Prime, etc. I guess more or less what I’m asking is that pretty much the premise of what you were going for?

Mark Zavon: Oh yeah. Absolutely! Times have changed. Everybody remembers what it was like when they were growing up. Simpler times like you say. There’s a lot of people that have gone through the same kind of stuff. I talk to friends of mine and they’re like, “Yeah, I remember that! Who ever thought bottled water would be thing? Who’s going to pay for a bottle of water when you can still get it out of the tap?” I mean, leaving your doors unlocked at night or not having a cell phone. When I was in high school, “What’s a cell phone?” No one could have convinced me that you were going to carry a phone around in your pocket or be able to call all over the world and not even pay long distance for it. It’s just insane how things have changed. So it’s just a look back at what things used to be like. It used to be a corded phone and you’d say, “How long is this cord? Can I take the phone in the other room?”

Sleaze Roxx: Sometimes I just want to go back to that!

Mark Zavon: Exactly, kids today don’t know what a pay phone is. They see it and they’re like, “What is that thing?” It’s crazy man!

Sleaze Roxx: There’s still kids that see vinyl and they’re like, “What the hell is that?”

Mark Zavon: Right! There was a buddy of mine — you know the 45’s they used to have with the little inserts for the hole? He had a plastic one of those and he was trying to find somebody who knew what the hell it was [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: Really? That’s so funny.

Mark Zavon: Yeah, I was laughing so hard. I was like, “Oh man. I know what it is! I must be old!”

Sleaze Roxx: That’s hilarious. Getting to the next song, I’m starting to see a theme of reflection within the content. “Remember” is another fantastic track and again I can relate. I think there are so many of our generation that will love this album just for that simple fact of that lyrical content. Just the topics alone, on those two songs. In terms of that song, give me your general feelings. I think I may have already hit it on the head and I may have over exhausted the topic, but if you have anything else to add…

Mark Zavon: Yeah, it definitely came from the same train of thought as far as remembering the good times and days gone by. Stuff that a lot of people shared. I remember particular instances. Particular memories. Like the street lights. Having to be home when the street lights came on. That’s just something that when you’re a kid and your parents tell you that stuff it sort of sticks with you. I know a lot of other people that had the same situation going on. I know there’s common ground there. The commonality of growing up that way is important. In today’s day and age, there’s just too much division. We all come from the same place. A lot of us have a lot more in common than we think. These are just a lot of the things we may have in common.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of the interview by Tyson Briden with Mark Zavon!