Are you ready for a treat KISS fans? Well KISS ASYLUM is happy to deliver a big one for you! We were fortunate enough recently to be able to conduct an in depth interview with the one and only elusive Mark St. John. Though Mark has been slowly venturing back out into the world of KISS fandom from his self-imposed seclusion recently by attending a couple of KISS Expos, we were aware that most fans would not get the benefit of attending those Expos to see Mark in person. Therefore, we made arrangements to conduct a phone interview with Mark so that all the online fans would be able to read what Mark has to say after his 15 long years away from the fans. Mark was very gracious, laid back, open, and a real pleasure to talk with during the interview. He never shied away from any topic, instead seeming more than ready -- almost relieved at times -- to address all issues head-on. Mark seems to be genuinely enjoying getting back in touch with the fans, and had a great time during our interview relaying all kinds of stories about himself, both in and out of KISS. Don't be surprised to see more of Mark in the coming months and years in interviews, at Expos, and musically because Mark isback and he'll tell you so!
Of course, there were so many possible areas to cover with Mark that there's no way we were going to be able to cover them all. However, we're confident you'll find Mark's perspective on a variety of topics very interesting, including: memories of Eric Carr ("I thought, the best musician in the band. He was just always solid, he always played it right and he never really made any mistakes as I remember."); why he says his time in KISS was actually "the worst time" of his life ("Everyday was lies and deceit, all kinds of little weird things. Everyday was like a little test or mind games...."); the interesting story of the Animalize album back cover photo ("Oh, it is a total cut and paste job!"); what he thinks the realreason is he developed arthritis ("I never had arthritis in anywhere in my family. I was playing violin concertos on the guitar before KISS, you know? I think it was just the stress of the whole thing."); his feelings on being replaced by Bruce ("I'm thinking that Bruce is just helping, but which turned out to be that it was another plan in the big picture..."); how his KISS experience affected his music life ("Paul and Gene kind of wrecked it for music for me for the longest time, and it made me not like the whole thing anymore because of what I went through."); working with Peter Criss ("We finally did the big recording and all that stuff and we sent the tapes to all these companies, and all the companies would send us this little letter back and every letter would be the same: We really like what you are doing, but at this time we are looking for something different."); and, of course, his new CD the Mark St. John Project ("Now I am finding out that I have people who are really concerned about me and my music and the mystique of it all. People are interested in what I am doing, and I am playing more for the people, the fans."). Read on for the complete Mark St. John KISS ASYLUM interview.
KA: Mark, thanks for agreeing to do this interview with KISS ASYLUM. I know it's late, so I promise I won't keep you too long.
MSJ: Oh, that's alright dear.
KA: Cool. First of all, we are doing a November 2 Remember on the site this month for Eric Carr, and perhaps you could talk a little about your memories of him since you did work with him for a brief time.
MSJ: Yeah, I was in the band maybe 13 months and I got along with Eric probably the best in the band because he was a hired hand too, like me. There were some similarities there, where he had problems with Gene and Paul too. Not to be derogative, but they promised him this and that and then they never came through. But it was all business related and Eric was, I thought, the best musician in the band. He was just always solid, he always played it right and he never really made any mistakes as I remember. He was always fun. He was always cracking jokes, at himself or anybody else. He was always trying to laugh it off whenever the bad vibes were around. I remember him just trying to make everybody get along, even though it was impossible sometimes. I never had a problem with him at all.
He was a hired hand too, and he was there longer than me so I watched how frustrated he got and that got to me too. They would promise him things and at the last minute they would change their minds, and that is really upsetting when you have got your heart set on something. We would go out to dinner, it would be one of those type of dinner meetings, and Eric would give everybody a tape of his demos because he wanted everybody to listen. Nobody else would give tapes of their music to anybody, but he wanted it so bad, you know, he still wanted to put his music out there. Well, it was like a money thing -- if Eric got a song on the album he would make more money and people would like it more and yadda, yadda, yadda. It would be like a domino effect so they never let him do it. I am assuming this, this is all assumption, but that was why I never got a chance. I could see what was going on there. They promised him this, but they gave him that.
KA: You know, there are a lot of fans that think you "missed out" on a great chance to be in the band because of the way things turned out. But on the other hand, seeing what you saw, do you think that maybe it could have been a blessing in disguise as well?
MSJ: Well, it was a blessing in a lot of ways. Seriously, because after awhile you want to get out of it. It was actually the worst time of my life, but everybody thought, "Oh he missed a good chance." It was the worst time of my life! Just because you are in that spotlight doesn't mean things are going good. You play music with them a couple hours a night and that may be fun, but the other 22 hours you have to deal and live with people and if it doesn't work.... Your communication skills have to be better than saying, "You work for me and you know I'll fire you if say anything." That type of attitude doesn't work at all with me. Everyday was lies and deceit, all kinds of little weird things. Everyday was like a little test or mind games, you know what I mean? I don't know if they do it because that is the way they are, or it is because they want to be, I dont know. I don't mean it disrespectfully, and I could have it all wrong and they will probably sue me again, but I really don't care!
I talked to Peter on the phone not too long ago, and he said Ace will never play with the band again. Ace said he will never play with the band again. I don't know if him and Gene had it out or something, or Paul, but he said that on the radio. Personally I don't think they will get back together and play for a tour. I think Gene is doing his movies, Paul is doing his operas, and I don't know what Peter and Ace are doing.
KA: It sounds like Peter is just enjoying having had the second chance and now is just relaxing.
MSJ: Yeah, put some money in the bank, doing what he was doing before he got back in the band. I have never met Ace so I don't know what he is doing at all. But anyway, I signed a contract for five years and there was no escape clause. After awhile I was going, "God, I need to get out of this band!" So it was good in a way that the album did go good, it went better than I ever expected. And at the same time most reviews I saw, like 80%, were all about the new guitar player. They didn't talk that much about Gene and Paul during that little period of time and they didn't like that at all! Every time we would go to an airport they would get a magazine and they'd say, "It's about you again!" and they would throw it over to me. Well sorry! Sorry for helping you. It could be worse. The article could be about another band. We wouldn't be on tour except that this album in two weeks did what, a million? And the last two albums took over a year to go gold? I don't know if I am stupid or those guys are just fucking assholes. The arthritis thing was really a cover up for the other reasons, you know what I am trying to say? I think a lot of people might know that. I can still play guitar. The situation was a meeting of East meets West type of thing. We didn't hate each other, but they solved things "their way or hit the highway." I just wanted to do it right.
KA: You mentioned at one of the expos that a lot of the time during the recording of the album it was you and the engineers/techs and that was about it.
MSJ: Well, I don't know why they even booked studio time when none of them were there. Gene was doing a movie in a Canada, his Runaway thing, so his mind is on other things and he doesn't even care about doing a record. He is going to be a movie star now. Paul, on the other hand, is in Bermuda with Lisa Hartman that week, and Eric is in Florida fucking some girls. So I'm in the studio recording -- just me and a couple of engineers. We laid down a basic track and I just kind of took the guitar and went one way and then other way and filled up both tracks of different guitars. So when they came back they were horrified. It was like, "That doesn't sound like us!" And I was going, "It isn't, its me. Of course it doesn't sound like you, it's not you playing!" They got all kind of weird about that and decided that they had to be there all the time while I was playing guitar, watching over me. It was one of those dog on a leash things.
It got to the point where, this kind of pissed me off, it got like a game. It was like what I liked didn't matter to me anymore. As long as they were happy, I was happy to make them happy. You know what I am saying? It was like I couldn't care less anymore. And when it comes to that, you really don't give a fuck about what you are doing. All you want to do is get the fuck out of there and go home, knowing that the next day you are going to have to do it again. What kind of band comradery is that? Give me a break. That really wore me out because Gene would be in one studio and Paul would be in another studio -- they wouldn't record together their egos were so big. So Gene would ask to Paul, "Can I use Mark now?" So then Mark would have to get in a taxicab, go all the way across town to the other studio and record with Gene. Then Paul would call Gene, "Can I use Mark now?" So back and forth I go like a guy delivering pizza! That wore me out because I'm getting up early in the morning, doing that, going home late at night, and then still having to rehearse my stuff to make it sound good for me, I could feel my world shredding, and I'm doing it all over and over again for two weeks straight.
I was doing the work load; they worked me. They worked me hard, and when it was all said and done I wanted to go home for a break before we started practicing for the European tour. They wouldn't let me go back! I kept on bugging them and finally they did let me go back, but they shouldn't have let me go because that was when I woke up one morning in California with the inflamation in my hand. It started all there. I don't know what it was. I think it was the stress, I really do. I never had arthritis in anywhere in my family. I was playing violin concertos on the guitar before KISS, you know? I think it was just the stress of the whole thing. And people only see the tip of the iceberg. "Oh he's in the band, he's the fourth member. They all get the same, everything is equal." There was nothing equal about it at all. I was a hired hand. Period. Think everybody got a piece of the pie? I got maybe some crumbs off a piece! That's all bullshit. My work is all over that album, but I don't get credit or paid for it. No type of royalties at all.
That was the agreement when I got in the band. They didn't want me to get any publishing, meaning I couldn't contribute any songs to the band. It's like, you can play guitar in the band but we don't want to use any of your music. If I had said no they wouldn't want me in the band because they wanted someone that they could control so they could make all the money. And at the time I am thinking to myself, am I going to be greedy or is this going to be a chance for me to get inside an actual band? Am I going to be stupid and say no and turn down what could be the best gig of my life? So, it was one of those type of things. I took the contract without the publications otherwise I wouldn't have been in the band.
So when it was all said and done, all the work I did and everything, I got fucked. You know, seriously. I spent all the money on attorneys and stuff and it really didn't do any good. So I said, whatever, I'll sign it. And I did the album and everything, and I still didn't sign the contract until I was all done, and that was stupid. It was a good learning experience. I will never do the same thing again, but when I think back at it if I had known more about the business it wouldn't have happened that way. But I was just a musician. It is funny being a musician and not knowing anything about the "business" and then jumping into one of the biggest business bands in the world. I got my feet got wet real fast..... real fast! Like, "Hello!" But it's all good, its all good. I mean, I wouldn't be talking to you or doing what I am doing at these conventions if it wasn't for them.
KA: I hear that there is an interesting story about the back cover of the album [inside CD booklet] -- that photo is not what it appears to be is it?
MSJ: Oh, it is a total cut and paste job! I went up to the KISS office everyday and would go by the art department, and every day it would be the same picture, changed just a little bit. There would be 20 arms and legs off on the sides and they would just paste 'em up and put which one looked best, which hair, heads. And I'm thinking, why did we even do a photo session, ten hours of pictures, if you are chopping it all up anyway?! But whatever. They spent so much money...... what a waste of money. If you really look at it now, if you really look at it, you can see where things are pasted in. That arm is too long, that leg is too short, his neck looks broken. If you really look at it, you can start seeing things. We did the photo shoot in New Jersey in a rock quarry. Some German guy did the production. You see all the smoke and fire? Well let me tell you, it was windy and that fire was either out or only about one inch! It was never like those big flames it looked like everywhere on the picture. There was no smoke. I'm not going to lie about things.
Now I am finding out that I have people who are really concerned about me and my music and the mystique of it all. People are interested in what I am doing, and I am playing more for the people, the fans. I want to do what the fans want to hear because that is what it is all about. I could really give a fuck about what KISS says any more, even if I'll get sued or get in trouble. After all, the fans made them. I look at it in a whole different perspective now, I turn the whole thing around. That is why I did the new CD. It's easy for me to do that kind of stuff, so that will get the ball back on track and hopefully get other things to start happening too. My musical background, you know, I have some schooling and a lot of foundation of fundamentals in music and harmony and theory.
KISS's musical backgrounds is, well..... it's like street, you know? Half the stuff they say they can't explain, and it's wrong. And I'd try to help them and they'd be like, "What do you mean that note is wrong? Do you know who we are?" They get into that type of thing.... "do you know who we are?" Stupid stuff like that. Ok, fine. Play that wrong note that's not in the scale, I don't care. They don't understand things musically. They don't hear things. Yeah, it's a red light but go through it stupid. But I got nervous about things like that because I was like on thin ice, thinking almost every day that I would be fired. Again, every other day it was something like, "Don't drink that Coke, get diet Coke or your fired." Whatever. All kind of weird little games. So you just kind of have to roll with the punches after awhile, just kind of try to do things to get fired!
KA: You were a guest at the Toronto Expo earlier today. Bruce was there too, right?
MSJ: Yes, he was.
KA: Was that difficult in any respect?
MSJ: Oh, no. Originally he knew he was temporary and he was just happy to be in that position. I worked hard to do the album and beat out hundreds of guitar players to get the gig. When this thing happened, they needed somebody like that day almost, not even in a week. They didn't want to go through all that preliminary shit to find the right guy. So Bob, who was like a friend of these guys, hooked up Bruce. It was going to be temporary and just going to be in Europe. They thought nobody will know who it is, they still put my picture on everything, people will think Bruce is me and all that bull shit. And then I didn't mind, because it's big business to spend a lot money on the album's success. I'm thinking that Bruce is just helping, but which turned out to be that it was another plan in the big picture, you know what I am trying to say? But I don't have a problem with Bruce, it's not his fault. I mean, just because my girlfriend is fucking another guy it's not the guy's fault, it's my girlfriend that the problem is with.
So I had to be mature about it and kind of let it go. But still, you know when you are in that position there is some degree of animosity because it is a threat or a competition thing, but we were never like that. And he ended up being in the band longer than any of the other members besides Gene and Paul, so that tells me a lot right there. You know what I mean? He had the same problems I had, he didn't get any publishing royalties, at least at first. I think the last couple of albums he did maybe. But he went through all the same things, made the same money and all that stuff. I really don't know all of what happened, but I don't have a problem with him.
Now he is in the situation that I was in before. I am sure he is humble about a lot of things, because the bigger you are people always want you to top what you are doing. It is going to be hard for him to top the KISS stuff, you know what I am saying? He probably knows what I felt like now. He just got off the big circus ride, where I have been off for 15 years.
KA: You've gone through de-tox already. (Laughing)
MSJ: (Laughing) Oh, you know it! That movie is a rerun for me. Been there, done that. I guess a lot of KISS fans were wondering what the hell is going on with that Mark St. John guy? Where is he? And so now I'm slowly getting back into it, doing the expos. I came to the first one and you know, I was nervous as all hell! What do you mean talk in front of people about KISS? Are you crazy? What about the lawsuits? Are you crazy? Because remember, "technically" I can't use their name and all this bullshit. They like to threaten people and stuff. I mean, I was in the band and I'm not going to lie about that.
KA: Well, it might be their band, but it is also part of your life.
MSJ: That's right. That's correct. They don't understand that. To them it's like I don't have a life. That's what it is -- if you are in that band you don't have a life and then you can't use their name any way or form to work. Oh, o.k.. So what do I do? It is all bullshit. I was talking to so many lawyers about it, you know, and they can't do any of that stuff! But they still try to stop you. You know, they have called up all kinds of people that I have done ad endorsements for who said that I was formerly with or used to be with the band, and they go, "You can't say that, you can't use our name." What the fuck? Why not? They threatened and their lawyers called the companies with the old scare tactic and it is screwing things up for me. Really. Back when I first got out of the band it really screwed things up for me and being able to work. So I kind of like said to myself, I don't want nothing to do with these idiots. But now it is not about them, it is the fans I am connected with.... if that makes any sense. You know, if it wasnt for the fans, they would still be fucking teaching kindergarten and driving taxi cabs! Enough said,
KA: Well, at some point after you got out of the band you and Peter hooked up and did some writing, and now some of that stuff has made it on to the new Mark St. John Project EP.
MSJ: Yeah, we hooked up. I don't remember the year, but it was long time ago. For about a year we hung out and were best of friends, we were buddy-buddy. Peter was going through hard times with his wife Debbie, I think they were going through a separation or whatever. He spent a lot of time over at my place, we rehearsed at my place, he ate at my place, he slept at my place and you know, we recorded at my place. We didn't go to Peter's place as Debbie wouldn't allow that stuff, no way, forget it. Peter wasn't working a job, he was just getting his little kicks over here and Debbie was working at Nordstroms bringing home the bacon, so it was one of those situations. And Peter was being Peter, you know. I will take this pill and smoke this pot and snort this, and the mood swings would be bad. I mean, he either likes you or he wants to kill you. Ok, straight up. So it was like everyday it was a little drama. But at the end we were bouncing these songs, some from his past some from my past, and we did some new ones and we recorded about 10 of them. I think we spent like $13,000 - $14,000 at Sound City recording doing a demo. The demo was going to be our chance to send to the record companies to try and get a record deal and do this little thing we were doing, and this was before he did all these other Peter Criss projects. This was the first one and it wasn't called Peter Criss, it was essentially my band and his band. I had my brother playing bass and I think Michael McDonald was singing, we auditioned a lot of people.
We finally did the big recording and all that stuff and we sent the tapes to all these companies, and all the companies would send us this little letter back and every letter would be the same: "We really like what you are doing, but at this time we are looking for something different." It would be a turn down, every one of them. But it would be like a patronizing thing. And I am thinking, oh my god. I had to tell Peter, you know, I passed up a lot of offers to play in other bands and make money and quite frankly the whole situation has put me way back and I gotta go out and work. And he took that so wrong. He though that I was like saying, "Fuck you Peter. I'm quitting the band." He took it like I was stabbing him in the back. It was just a reality check, realism. But he took it like I fucked him around or something and he and I had bad terms on that. I don't know what the hell he was thinking about. After all, if it wasn't for me he wouldn't have done all that stuff and he was doing, drum seminars and stuff because he didn't have any music. Or he didn't have a format. I went out and did all that for him, 'cause he can't play rock and roll that well. He is a better Latin player, like bosanova, rhumba, sambas, and all that stuff. He is really good at that stuff. I was surprised! I said, "Peter, what the fuck?! You can play that good. You play that better than rock and roll!" He plays like surf beat rock and roll from the old school.
But now he is playing polyrhythms and stuff and playing all this Latin jazz that I know and put together for seminars like guitar shows and stuff. And he's making money from this stuff and I got no credit from him for my part and that really hurt me, you know? It's about that time the demos came out and everyone turned us down and I said, "You know what, let's see how things are going here.... it's me, myself and I." Then and I felt like it was another Paul and Gene angle, you know? In a way it was, 'cause he was the same thing. So I said I gotta make a dollar. I don't care if it is working at McDonalds, or playing in a guitar band or teaching again, you know? I just gotta go out and hustle. I just can't wait for that big check in the mail or that big opportunity -- no one's gonna come knock at my door, I gotta go knock on theirs! Peter took that wrong. He did his thing for about 4 or 5 different versions of the band for about 4 or 5 years. My brother stayed with him for about a year and then he finally quit. He couldn't handle it. But three of the songs from during that time are on the CD. Two I did with Peter, and one the singer that we used here, Phil Naro, did with Peter. I also did two instrumentals, that I wrote -- five songs total on the CD. That's how that all happened.
KA: Very cool. It's really good to talk to you. Us fans are all really happy that you are starting to talk about your experiences and share with us again. Is there anything you want to say in closing to all the fans who have been waiting for so long to hear from you, both personally and musically?
MSJ: Yeah, it is good for me too. It is good for everybody, but for me it brings a little more blood in my system and makes me believe in myself a little more, which is good. Paul and Gene kind of wrecked it for music for me for the longest time, and it made me not like the whole thing anymore because of what I went through. I got to where I thought it would be all like that. But it is different in every different situation. KISS fans are still probably the best fans in the world, but you know Gene and Paul don't seem to get that anymore. I do. I'm nothing without my fans and I appreciate that. They made me, and they also those guys! They need to remember that the fans made them too. It was really nice talking to you, my friend. I hope to be keeping in touch much more with everyone from now on!
MSJ: Bye now, take care.
The limited edition (only 5000 pressed) five song MARK ST. JOHN PROJECT CD EP can be ordered by sending $9.99 US plus S&H ($3.00 in US/Canada - $5.00 International) to: Loch Ness Monster Records, P.O. Box 39253, Etobicoke, Ontario, M9P 2M5 Canada.