By Jeb Wright
Great White will release a new album on Frontiers Records on May 18, 2012 titled Elation. The band lineup features founding member Mark Kendall, as well long term members Michael Lardie and Audie Desbrow. Missing is front man and vocalist Jack Russell, replaced by XYZ vocalist Terry Ilous.
Russell has been in an emotional downhill spiral for years. Now, claiming to be clean and sober, he has chosen to front his own band called Jack Russell’s Great White, a fact the other Great White learned on Jack’s Facebook Page.
In the interview below Mark talks openly about the new album, what it is like to work with his new singer and how he feels about Jack Russell, both as a singer and as a lifelong friend.
Jeb: Before we talk about the elephant in the room, named Jack Russell, let’s talk about getting Terry Ilous in the band. He has a good pedigree. How did you sucker him into being on the new album?
Mark: Terry helped us out in 2009 when he filled some obligations when Jack had to cancel shows, and that worked out well. It wasn't really a case of suckering him in, as we all got along and he was just killer in our live shows. The feedback we were, and are, gettingÂ from promoters, fans and radio people has been quite favorable. I think Terry really loves our music and work ethic.
Jeb: I have not heard any tracks yet. Tell me what this album will be like? Will Great White fans eat it up?
Mark: This album is very uplifting and just drives from start to finish. I can't remember having a record with this much energy and strong material. I would love to get your take on it. The fans should be very pleased with this effort.
Jeb: Great White was lumped into the Hair Band era but you are a great blues/rock band. A lot of that, to me, is due to your style. Would you agree with that?
Mark: I think every era has had fashion. The ‘60's was long hair, hippies and tapestry. In the 70's, it was long hair and bellbottoms. In the 80's, they were calling it Hair Metal, or Hair Bands. We were kind of lumped into that a little bit, but I felt our music went a little deeper than to just be written off as Hair Metal, or whatever. I think it just made it easier for journalists to be able to categorize the music, I guess. We are a blues/rock band, plain and simple. If you want to call us a Hair Band, then more power to ya.
Jeb: Jack is a HUGE part of Great White’s past. He is the voice that everyone knows and has been the face of the band. Why couldn't it work with him anymore?
Mark: We had been waiting for it to work for the last thee years, and then, we heard, by a Facebook post, that he had a new band.
Jeb: On That Metal Show, Jack said he is clean and sober. To your knowledge, is that true?
Mark: I didn't actually see that yet. What did he look like to you? I hope so, and I really mean that. I would love to see him healthy again.
Jeb: He also claimed you will basically do whatever will pay you the most money. In my dealings with you I have not seen that side of you. What do you think he meant by that?
Mark: First of all, I am a guitar player. I play in the band Great White and that, and the fans, have always been my priority. I can't speak for him, so I am not sure why he says some of these things. In this case, I have no idea, whatsoever, what he is even talking about.
Jeb: Remember when there were two Foghat’s and two Steppenwolf’s? That hurt everyone. How will you handle this stigma with there being two Great White’s?
Mark: We are just in this to make great music for the fans, period. I doubt they will be hurt by that.
Jeb: At what point does integrity come into the game? Is there a point where one side, or the other, should say, “This isn’t the way to do this? It is not right for the fans and it is not right for our legacy.” Is there a point people should walk away from this?
Mark: I am pretty sure that we just made the best record we've madeÂ in 20 plus years, and that's the only integrity I hold on to. It's always been a priority to make the best music we can make, for the fans, and we just did that. I have no control over Jack, or what he does. In this case, it wasn't a “we” situation. I am in this band to kick maximum ass...the end.
Jeb: In your opinion, will Jack ever recover from the tragedy of the fire, and the legal, and financial issues, that came from that horrific event?
Mark: I can't speak for him, but for me, I would like, out of respect for some of my very best friends, to this day, who were survivors, to go to another subject.
Jeb: Is there anything Jack could do that would change your mind and have him rejoin Great White?
Mark: Time can be healing, and you never know what can happen. I don't, however, envision it happening soon, if it does. He is suing us, and it probably could have been worked out, but now we have to respond to his case.
Jeb: I would love to pick your brain about some of the highlights of Great White’s history, but I just don’t think that belongs in this interview. I am worried about Jack, as he has had mental problems, substance abuse problems and health problems. Aside from the BS, do you worry about him as a person?
Mark: Of course, I worry about him. I sponsor four people, who are struggling addicts, and my sober team is 24 strong and everyone is doing very well. We have only had one guy slip this year, when his wife died, and he is back doing great again.
Jack's health, and well being, is a big concern of mine. Because, whether he like's it or not, he is a friend of mine, who I have known more than half my life. Just for a minute, forget my guitar, and forget that he's a singer. I am talking about the person, not the singer.
Jeb: Back to the upcoming new album…Rank this with the classics. Is there a song or two as strong as the biggest hits?
Mark: Two days ago, Michael Lardie texted me and asked me what my top two picks would be for potential singles, as we are doing a video. I told him that they didn't match his two picks for potential singles. We, then, we asked Audie [Desbrow], and he had two different songs. Three people in the band, when asked what they thought was the best song for the first single, came up with six different songs! We haven't even asked Terry or Scott [Snyder] yet. My idea, now, is to let the record company pick the first single. This record will hold up to anything from our past.
Jeb: Are there plans to hit the road? If so, will there be any cool things in the set that may not have been played for a while?
Mark: We have been bringing a lot of songs back like “Big Goodbye,” “All Over Now,” “Back to the Rhythm,” “Lady Red Light” and many more. With Terry we can bring anything out of our catalog we want.
Jeb: Is Terry a paid sideman, or is he a full fledged member?
Mark: Terry is a full member of the band. I am not a fan of the sideman thing.
Jeb: Does the turmoil help the creative mission of the band or does it take away from it?
Mark: When we get together, the creative energy is so insanely high that if we had two more weeks, it could have easily been a double album. We scrapped 90% of the material after going in the studio and we wrote nine new songs from scratch; we only keptÂ thee of the songs we had, previously. We recorded the album in 28 days. The energy is completely electric, and totally positive, when we are all in a room.
Jeb: While Jack’s substance abuse problems have been public, you have had your share of issues back in the day. How grateful are you to be living a different type of lifestyle today?
Mark: I am extremely grateful for the way I live my life today. I try to be giving and help people all I can, in almost all of my spare time. I have never had any regrets and I am completely trusting in God's plan for me. I have learned something from every mistake I have ever made. I am a loving husband and father to my children. My compassion for others has really grown and I will continue toÂ walk in the light and do God's will.
Jeb: Last one: What does being the guitar player in Great White mean to you, personally?
Mark: Just being a guitar player, period, is something I have never taken for granted, and I always try to improve. I am the single biggest guitar player fan on the planet. I have had the pleasure of meeting almost all of my heroes, who play guitar, and they all treated me wonderfully. That, in turn, really made me want to be encouraging to up and coming guitar players, who are young. I love to give young upstarts direction to help them improve and make solid decisions.
Jeb: Okay, one more…I want to end on a lighter note. Do you have any new guitars in your collection that you need to brag about?
Mark: I don't want to brag, but I have brought the shark guitarÂ back. A wonderful guitar maker named Michael Risinger, from Ed Roman Guitar's in Las Vegas,Â Nevada,Â has built me a shark guitar and it plays and sounds killer! Mike is a master craftsman and has built me a couple of other guitars calledÂ Quicksilver, which are my own line. I am excited to be working close with Mr. Risinger.
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