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

Date: January 23, 2019
Interviewer: Tyson Briden


Sleaze Roxx: The title of the song, “South of the Border”, is funny for me as a Canadian because automatically, it means something different. You’re “South of the Border” to me so that reference is to the US. At first, I wasn’t connecting the dots, but after I got my head out of my ass, I would assume it was a reference to Mexico?

Mark Zavon: It is! My wife and I, we like to go down to Cancun or Cabo. Whatever we can do vacation wise down in Mexico. We’ve had some really good times down there. It was basically the inspiration for that song. It was basically just getting away. When shit gets too hairy, it’s time to go and just take a vacation. Let it all hang out and head “South of the Border”! I guess it could be the same in the US. I mean in Canada you can head “South of the Border” to L.A. or New York. For me, as far as what I’m thinking of — in Europe even — for some people, it could be “North of the Border” — those in the Southern Hemisphere or the other side of the equator. I don’t know. Basically for me, it was getting down to a tropical location. Toes in the sand, drink in the hand. That kind of a vibe.

Sleaze Roxx: So that Jimmy Buffet/Sammy Hagar type of a vibe? Just a little bit heavier!

Mark Zavon: [Laughs]

Sleaze Roxx: I want to ask about the guitar tracks themselves. The guitar is big and heavy. What approach did you use in terms of recording the guitar?

Mark Zavon: Well, I tracked an amp — basically a live amp here at my house that I’ve got in a separate room. Then I use that with a couple of mikes. Then I also have a Kemper, which I use to layer with. I didn’t use the Kemper for the main tracks, but I used it for different layers and textures. The guitar, I had a Bogner, an Engl and an old Marshall. Between those three, I got the tones I was looking for.

Sleaze Roxx: It’s very in your face. I can imagine what it was like without the vocal. Just hearing the guitar in the playback on your speakers. It must have sounded huge.

Mark Zavon: Yeah, I was really fortunate to get the tones I wanted. Like I said, I had a little time on my hands. I wasn’t rushed. That really helps because if you can take a day, set up mikes, set up a cabinet and set up amps, whatever, you can track some stuff, listen to it and say, “Okay. That sounds pretty good!” Then the next day, you can come back. You sit on it for a day, then come back the next morning and say, “Maybe it’s not as good as I thought it was! Let’s try moving those mikes around a little bit!” I’d come in with a fresh ear. I was able to do that a couple of times. I’m lucky enough to have some good equipment and some awesome sponsors that are really cool too! The guys at Engl have been hooking me up completely. They make some amazing amplifiers. That’s what came in handy.

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: I noticed that you have a Hip Shot endorsement as well?

Mark Zavon: Yeah, definitely. Those guys are awesome man! They make some of the best tuners and obviously the drop tuners are amazing. Especially in a situation that I’m in, not only in my band, but in Kill Devil Hill, the songs are almost a 50/50 split between standard tuning and drop D. It’s so easy to grab the ‘D’ tuner and you’re done. Just one flip of the switch. You don’t have to tune and keep moving. It’s one of the best inventions for guitar ever.

Sleaze Roxx: I have a Richie Kotzen Telecaster, I had the Hip Shot put on it and I friggin’ love it. I love the guitar to begin with. It has a big huge fat neck, but putting that on it makes it so easy.

Mark Zavon: Oh yeah. It’s so great. I love those things.

Sleaze Roxx: I love — and hopefully I can get this right — you’ve applied the chords as the structuring of the songs, but at the same time, you’ve made them melodically appealing with a distinct flavour. More or less what I’m trying to convey — it’s your fingers, it’s your sound, etc. but the playing really stands out even if you’re just playing chords. I really caught onto to that. I think that’s an art in itself to be honest. That could be what makes this style of hard rock that you’re doing so great.

Mark Zavon: Oh thanks Tyson! That really means a lot. I try to put some thought into the chord progressions so they’re not super repetitive or predictable. That just means a lot. Thank you.

Sleaze Roxx: You are very welcome.  I just thoroughly enjoyed the album.

Mark Zavon: I wanted to mention something as I was thinking about. When I had a bunch of time off from Kill Devil Hill, I was trying to make ends-meat. I was picking up part-time work here and there, doing what I could do. One of the jobs I picked up was engineering for the latest W.A.S.P. record. I was over at Blackie Lawless’ studio, over at his place. We were tracking some rhythm guitars and we were on a break. He asked me, “What are you up to?” I started to kind of bum out about the fact that I wasn’t touring and we weren’t recording. Nothing’s happening with the band. He’s known me for a while, so he asks me, “Well you write most of that stuff anyway. Why don’t you just sing?” I looked at him and I was like, “Well… I don’t know!” He looked at me and he almost looked right through me. Like a lion tamer looking at a lion. He was like, “Can you do it or not?” I swear to God, that was the moment I decided I was going to do a solo album and sing! So I went home and started practicing. That’s when I seriously started putting things together. “Okay, what songs do I have? What can I sing? How can I make this happen?” I don’t know if it would have happened if he hadn’t asked me that question. I sort of owe him a debt of gratitude for that you know what I mean? It was really inspiring. Not only is he super successful as a musician, but he’s got one of the best voices. He’s right up there with Ronnie James Dio as far as quality of his voice. For him to ask me that, it was just so inspiring for me to go do it and make it happen. I thought that might be good to add.

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah, I’m glad you did. That’s wicked. They reissued a bunch of the early W.A.S.P. albums and I was listening to ‘The Last Command.’ “Wild Child” was on. I could not agree more with you about his voice.

Mark Zavon: [Laughs] Yeah, right? He sounds just like that in the studio too. It’s so funny. We were tracking vocals. He’s actually tracking his own vocals lately. It used to be that I’d go over there and track vocals for him. I’d swear he’d track something and he’d say, “What do you think?” I’d say, “Well, it sounds like W.A.S.P. [laughs]!” That sound comes out of his fucking head. It sounds just like that. It’s amazing man! He’s really talented.

Sleaze Roxx: It would be amazing to be in that room just to hear him do it.

Mark Zavon: He’s got it man. He’s got it to go! There’s something to be said for that. All the years touring and beating up on his throat. That kind of singing trashes your throat if you’re not careful, but his voice isn’t trashed. His voice his still just as pristine as it was back then. He’s really still got it.

Sleaze Roxx: There’s so many guys that don’t have it anymore. They’ve blown their voices out years ago and still continue to sing. I can think of a few guys off the top of my head that I’m not going to say but it is what it is!

Mark Zavon: [Laughs] Yeah, I’m not going to say either, but I do know some too!

Sleaze Roxx: You see YouTube stuff and you’re thinking, “Man, I bet he doesn’t want this on YouTube!”

Mark Zavon: [Laughs] Exactly!

Sleaze Roxx: Before I do let you go, I didn’t compliment you on the vocals, but they are fantastic as well.

Mark Zavon: Oh thanks Tyson. I appreciate that. I’m a novice and I’m still learning, but I’m gonna keep working on it you know. It’s like learning a new instrument. But thank you!

Sleaze Roxx: You did a great job. You know how sometimes a guitar player decides he’s going to sing, you hear the album and you say, “I don’t know if that’s working!” There was never that thought when I heard this album. That’s a definite positive. I hope the album does really well for you and I hope people hear it.

Mark Zavon: [Laughs] Yeah, so do I!

Sleaze Roxx: It’s so hard today. There is so much great material out there. It’s not like it used to be. Back then, if you heard a great album, you’d think, “Oh, this is destined to be huge!” Now, it’s great, but no one hears it. We used to only hear a single first. You had to wait for the album to arrive. You’d wait in line at the record store for it to be released.

Mark Zavon: Like tape trading was the only thing you could do back then if you were lucky. Now with the internet, there’s no money in the fiscal product anymore. I just read some rapper guy topped the Billboard charts. With his fiscal sales, he sold 832 or 834, whatever it was physical CDs. 800 and he was top of the Billboard charts. That’s because he had 80 million streams. It was the equivalent album units or whatever that he had shifted. And you’re thinking, “That’s not real man!” I guess it’s real to them, but it’s just not the same. Things have changed.

Sleaze Roxx: Remember when an album would ship platinum?

Mark Zavon: Yeah, right? Now nobody’s even going gold!

Sleaze Roxx: Up here in Canada, gold is only 50 000 units sold.

Mark Zavon: Oh yeah?

Sleaze Roxx: When you figure our population is 36 million people in the whole country.

Mark Zavon: Oh right, okay!

Sleaze Roxx: A million copies is 10 time platinum. AC/DC is 10 times platinum on ‘Back In Black’ in Canada.

Mark Zavon: Wow!

Sleaze Roxx: Yeah. Isn’t that wild? When you think of how many people live in this country and they sold a million copies. In California — you’re in California right?

Mark Zavon: Yeah!

Sleaze Roxx: You have more people in California [39.54 million] then we do in the whole country of Canada.

Mark Zavon: That’s crazy!

Sleaze Roxx: You’re lucky you’re not here right now because it’s so freakin’ cold right now!

Mark Zavon: Yeah, not a good time to be there. I love up there though. When Kill Devil Hill toured up there, that was my favorite tour. We played Ottawa and it was my favorite show of the entire tour. One of my favorite shows we ever played. We had a great time touring up there man! We really did!

Sleaze Roxx: Do you recall what bar it was in Ottawa? Was it a bar ?

Mark Zavon: Brass Monkey — that place was killer. The crowd was amazing. Oh my God, it was so cool. We did a bunch of dates. We did Red Deer and bunch of smaller places too! We did like four weeks in Canada. We went all the way over into Quebec City I think, through Montreal, Ottawa!

Sleaze Roxx: You must have done Toronto?

Mark Zavon: Yeah, we definitely played Toronto. What was the name of that club? That was a good club too! We had a good gig at that place too.

Sleaze Roxx: Was it The Rockpile?

Mark Zavon: Yeah. It was! The dressing rooms are downstairs right, in the basement. Yeah, I like that place. That was a good gig! I love it there in Canada. In fact, the guy playing bass in my solo band, Daniel Spree, from Phil X’s band, he’s from outside Toronto.

Kill Devil Hill playing at The Rockpile in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in 2012:

Kill Devil Hill @ Rockpile

No Description

Sleaze Roxx: I was going to ask you about that. I figured if he was with Phil X, he was probably Canadian.

Mark Zavon: Totally! He’s always putting on the accent fucking with me and shit [laughs].

Sleaze Roxx: Eh!!!

Mark Zavon: Yeah, yeah. Totally!

Sleaze Roxx: A boot!!!

Mark Zavon: He’ll even text me with the accent. It’s funny. He’ll spell out the accent. It’s great man.

Sleaze Roxx: We have to do something when it’s this cold! We have to be funny to keep each other entertained. Yesterday it was minus 26 Celcius in the morning. Regardless, it was friggin’ cold.

Mark Zavon: Oh man!

Sleaze Roxx: Anyways man, thank you very much. I can’t thank you enough!

Mark Zavon: Thank you so much Tyson for taking the time and making this happen. I really appreciate it.

Sleaze Roxx: No problem. It was my pleasure.