The Englishman Mark Thompson Smith is the former lead
vocalist of Praying Mantis. He released his debut album 'A far cry from
New Jersey' last year. The album was a mixture of pure AOR and some heavier
melodic rock, a little bit like the debut albums of PAUL LAINE and MITCH
MALLOY. We had an interview with Mark to learn more about him.
Can you tell us more about yourself and your musical career?
I've been singing for God knows how long …actually ever since my first
band in Portsmouth, who strongly suggested that I forget guitar playing
as a career as I was rubbish! I did the traditional local scene before
branching out to join England's Ratt, IDOL RICH that also featured Nick
Burr, later of LIONSHEART. I was with them for a year playing London, Cardiff
etc but they decided they wanted Snake from TOBRUK as their singer, so
they fired me! I went to Portugal for a couple of months and then linked
up with the Owers twins, Mark and Steve from the XS/AFTER HOURS fiasco
and we wrote, recorded and played as TOUCHE, winning a deal with Atlantic...but
the twins wanted Steve Grimmett from GRIM REAPER/ONSLAUGHT ...so they fired
me...and lost the deal! I'm a very loyal bloke and hadn't seen it coming.
Ironically I'd just turned down the opportunity to join Mike Gray's JAGGED
EDGE! Shame as TOUCHE were bloody good…copies of the demo seems to turn
up all over the place. Anyway they went on to form ...LIONSHEART...small
world, huh? Nick Burr joined them later when Mark and Steve walked out
just prior to their success in Japan. I then went on to work with the Gary
Flounder's band, FLIGHT 19 that was featured on the Metal For Mutha's II
compilation album. I then went to the States for a while recording initially
with Mike Walsh in New York. I'd met him at a party in North Jersey...how
I got there is too long to tell but a brilliant story! Fate is an amazing
thing…. Things were pretty good but I decided to go home and weigh up my
options for a while but eventually accepted a Mike's invitation to go back
and work with Dave Rosenthal of Rainbow/Red Dawn/Billy Joel …and so many,
many others…. His list of credits would take a page or two! That worked
out really well but I returned home again after a few months while they
sorted out the visa situation and pumped the tapes we did with Dave around.
There was some interest but nothing came of it. Mike and I finally formed
a band and played the clubs in NJ and NY, for ages, under my name...they
thought that it was a good idea capitalizing on the 'Englishness'. I wanted
a band name. We played with a load of great bands like SHOTGUN SYMPHONY
and EDGAR CASEY, who were the main members of PROPHET. We also supported
BRITNEY FOX and also PAUL DIANNO'S KILLERS at the Ritz in NY...Steve Hopgood's
the drummer, he's from Portsmouth also, so it was a buzz to see him....
especially as our fans outnumbered theirs by ten to one!! A brilliant and
memorable gig! Life became a little difficult for many reasons and the
music industry had shut the door on 'our kind of music'... it still amazes
me to think that multi platinum bands like White Lion and Winger were dropped
so quickly. I remember talking to Kip (Winger) about his frustration with
the way things were going as other bands were given priority status despite
their sales. A sign of things that were to come, as we all know… I came
back to England and it was a very depressing time seeing the record companies
gradually back away from 'rock' but 'out of the blue', my mate Gary Flounder's
called me and asked me to help out Praying Mantis who had just lost another
singer. He'd just produced 'A Cry For The New World'. I agreed to help
them out, as they were about to lose their tour and maybe their deal due
to Colin Peel leaving. We recorded an EP 'Only The Children Cry' and then
went out to do the tour. I found my time with Praying Mantis very difficult,
as the band and myself were very, very different in our approach to the
business. They have a very relaxed style to rehearsing, recording and playing...I
don't. I realized that a lot was counting on the band's performances in
Japan. So, let's just say I didn't party until the last night…I felt that
there was too much at stake and I didn't want to let the band down. That
said, I really enjoyed the time I spent in Japan. The fans were amazing
and the record companies, radio and promotion teams too. Bruce Bisland
was incredibly funny, many times he had me in stitches! I still have many
friends there who have come to England to visit me. I'm very honoured by
their friendship. Unfortunately the band fired me a few months after returning
home…. but I wasn't the first singer to go, which was the problem the record
company had with the band when I agreed to do the tour. It was always a
different singer… It was for the best really as we did not 'gel' at all,
but I do wish them well. I tried to get out to Europe with a band after
that just to keep playing but was very badly let down by a 'friend'...so
I decided to look for something else.... you can only put up with some
many disappointments in your life and vocalists need to feel that they
can have full confidence in the band behind them....I haven't heard from
my 'friend to this day!!
Can you tell us everything about your debut CD 'A Far cry from New Jersey'?
I took a break, from the music fortunately picking up a new career in Networking, far removed from the music industry but hey…if I hadn't I probably wouldn't be talking to you now! The music bug was still there, I think it is with every musician and I returned to NJ to play with my band, supporting XENON at one of their Thanksgiving Eve shows…now that is a great band who deserve far more attention than they receive. I'd helped them out a bit when Joey left for a while. Whilst I was there I discussed with Mike and the guys about putting out a CD so they let me run with the idea and eventually after another couple of visits to NJ I finally fulfilled my promise to them. The guys on the album are incredible musicians...Mike Walsh is a genius, a real fireball to work with. I included his instrumental 'Joyride' on the CD as I love the track, it's simply brilliant and it demonstrates Mike at his best. Mike hadn't anything released at that time, it seemed a great way to introduce him to a greater audience…. little did I know that he'd be releasing the Departure and the new Message album within a few short months of mine! Like waiting at a bus stop for ages and then all the buses coming at once! He's an amazing character to work with and can be so enthusiastic that he can be overwhelming. It took us a little while to adjust to each other at first. I saw him and Dean Fasano not long ago. I'm very happy that he's finally getting some well-deserved attention. The keyboard boys Dave Rosenthal, Joe Mclaughlin and John O'Connell are great guys...Dave needs no introduction and has a pedigree as long as your arm. John is a quiet guy who just loves music…good golfer though! He picked up where Joe left off. He preferred to pursue his career in the Jersey Shore club scene…nothing wrong with that…loads of money and rather a lot of lovely Jersey girls! Bob Cordes is a wonderful bloke and has a great easy way about him, quite simply the best guy to have by your side on stage. Steve Pozzelanti is a human dynamo on the kit, his whole life is drums! He was on the Message album but the tracks were wiped at the mix…shame. Everyone involved are part of a special time in my life and every one in this business, UK and Europe-side dream of taking their music to the States and succeeding...I didn't do that...but I came out of it with far more than I went in....a wonderful set of true friends and unforgettable memories. I think that it's obvious that it's a very 'live' CD. Nothing fancy in the recording and basically if you saw the band on stage that's what you would hear.... only louder and more fun!!! Mike and I produced it apart from "Lay Down your Guns" and "Joyride", which he did himself with the assistance of Mike's studio partner Bob Quinto. We all had different approaches to the production but all wanted it to be very honest and I think we succeeded in that. My favorite songs are "Wait for you" for the sentiment, "The Real Thing" for the lyrics and "Lay Down Your Guns" for the way we changed the song. The original was sung by songwriter, Peter Bliss and the song was originally meant for Eric Clapton so it had a slow 'reggae' backbeat...so we got rid of that very quickly! You may have heard of Shelly Pieken, the other writer. She co-wrote 'Bitch' with Meredith Brooks...it was a massive worldwide hit last year. I like singing 'Guns' as it has great dynamics and the lyrics have a message, which sadly will always have some relevance in the world.
How is your CD been distributed
at the moment?
The CD is selling pretty well through Cargo Records and Frontiers in Europe and the Japanese market is picking up which is great as the style is very different to Praying Mantis, that's for sure. There's talk of an official release in Japan in the near future, which is exciting. The USA is always difficult oddly enough but the way things are I'm more than happy. The biggest buzz is talking to people who have found out about the CD through magazines like yours and through the Web…..…I'm being played in Brazil…amazing!
What does the CD title mean, what is your connection with the American state New Jersey?
'A Far Cry from New Jersey' has two interpretations…the music being recorded in New Jersey and my voice being the 'Far Cry' …and the fact that my life is very different in England, as depicted by the cover, very English and the complete opposite to the 'rock 'n roll lifestyle in the States!
How do you describe your music?
It's very awkward to describe your own CD as every one who listens will
have their own opinion but the songs are very powerful, dynamic and very,
very 'infectious'…. or so I keep getting told. They either hit you straight
away or sneak up on you…either way they seem to get people in the end!
It is definitely 'straight down the middle' commercial rock with a little
sprinkling of Diamond Dave, Bon Jovi and Journey scattered through
the songs and arrangements. A couple of the reviews have described the
CD as an American album that is definitely British…get your head around
that and you're a better man than me…but I suppose the album is not sugar
coated as some US bands can record and the stripped down production
does go hand in hand with other British bands that play this AOR
What are your musical influences?
I've a lot of influences, some rock and some not, as I like a variety of music. I just like the energy that rock music has and vocally I feel more at home there. My favorite vocalists are Ann Wilson, Steve Perry, John Farnham, David Coverdale, Danny Bowes….and the main man…Tom Jones !! I'm going to see him again in a couple of weeks…he is awesome! As far as frontmen go, the ultimate showman and one guy I've admired is Dave Lee Roth. ' There can be only one!' Full of fun and smiles all round!
What are your plans for the next coming months?
Since releasing the CD I've helped out with some backing vocals on the new NEWMAN CD due for release soon. It's really powerful, quite a bit harder than his first one. Steve Newman (leader of Newman) has already written most of his next album too! Steve and I have been talking for some time about putting something together and finally it looks like this will happen so hopefully the creative juices will start to flow soon. I'm really looking forward to it. I've also talked to Mike Walsh and we are talking about recording a couple more songs back in New Jersey so the next year seems pretty optimistic. I think the songs for the next CD will be a really interesting mix but for now everyone will have to be content with 'A Far Cry…' I'm deeply flattered by those who have already got it…Thank You!!!
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A far cry from New Jersey (Mainframe Records/1998)
Mark Thompson Smith -Lead vocals
Bob Cordes -Bass
Mike Walsh -Guitars
Steve Pozzelanti -Drums
Joe McLaughlin -Keys