INTERVIEW – MARCO MENDOZA, THE DEAD DAISIES – November 2014
By Shane Pinnegar
No-one can accuse 51-year-old bassist Marco Mendoza of leading an idle life. He’s played on albums and toured with a host of big names from Blue Murder to Right Said Fred, Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan to Thin Lizzy and their spin-off incarnation Black Star Riders, Whitesnake and Ted Nugent to his own Latin jazz funk trio.
His latest project – though, as you’ll discover, he always has many different things on the boil – is roving the world with rock supergroup The Dead Daisies, led by ex-Noiseworks singer Jon Stevens (55) and 58-year-old guitarist David Lowy, eldest son of Westfield billionaire Frank Lowy, one of Australia’s richest men.
The Dead Daisies are midway through their first full Australian tour right now:
Wed, Dec 3 – Adelaide – Governor Hindmarsh
Thu, Dec 4 – Perth – Rosemount Hotel
Fri, Dec 5 – Brisbane – The Triffid Bar
Sun, Dec 7 – Sydney – Oxford Arts Factory
When I get him on the line from New York, he’s spending time with some of his five children after two US tours with the band, including the KISS Kruise, a 5-day trip aboard a shipping liner out of Florida. Mendoza, who was born in Los Angeles, but raised by his grandparents in Mexico, agrees that the hardest part of his relentless touring schedule is being away from his kids.
“Yeah… I always say that’s the hardest part, you know, but when I get home then I’m with them 24/7, so we make up for lost time. The other side of it is that my kids and my family – my wife included – they don’t know anything else. It’s part of our lives. It’s what we do.
“I live in a neighbourhood where parents work nine to five every day, and then they have the weekends free, and they go bananas on the weekends,” he continues. “I come home, and I’m with them. I’m going to be here for a week before I take off to Sydney again. That’s because I had a trip scheduled – some recording in Moscow, but that got moved to January or February now.
“It’s because what’s going on in Russia,” the bassist explains, “they’re having a hard time in the economy now with all the sanctions and all that, so the rouble went from 34 up to 49, something like that – so you can imagine [the effect of that.] The economy is upside down, and the promoters are getting nervous and all that. It is going to happen, it just got postponed a little.”
Mendoza is no stranger to our sunny shores, having visited with Lynch Mob in 2008, and again with Thin Lizzy last year in support of KISS and Motley Crue in early 2013.
“That was a great lineup – it just worked really well,” he reminisces. “We had a blast. As a matter of fact, that’s how I met the boys. That’s how I met David Lowy and Jon Stevens and David Edwards, the manager. We’ve got him managing us now.
“I do remember travelling forever and getting to Sydney, and then we had a two- to three-hour layover to Perth, and that was another five-hour flight. We got there, and they had all these interviews lined up for me, and I’m like, ‘woo, baby, let’s go!’
“I do remember having a blast, and I definitely remember all the fans. They were just really cool, really real fans, and really passionate about the music and rock n’ roll and music in general. They were very happening. They were very well-educated and very up-to-date on what everybody was doing, so we had a blast.”
I remind Marco that not only is Australia pretty isolated, but Perth itself is the most distant regional capital in the world, hence rock fans miss a lot of tours and are extremely enthusiastic when our favourite bands do brave the expense and head down to play for us.
“There’s something to be said about that coming from the U.S., Shane,” he says with a tinge of sadness in his voice. “Living in L.A., we started to take everything for granted. You know, hip-hop took over, and the industry went that way because it was cost effective, and here we are now with no labels.
“Well, that’s another book, but I’m really grateful, man – without trying to be pretentious, every year that goes by I’m getting busier and busier and busier, and I’m getting requests to do this and that and flying there. I just got back [from the] KISS Kruise with Daisies, and then Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries called me from New York, and so I flew up there. We were at the Electric Lady studios recording, we did six tracks.
“I got home, and I’m going to continue that after I’m done with The Daisies, she’s trying to get an album together for a solo project. This’ll be [my] third album with her. And so on and so forth, and then I have the Neal Schon album [So U] that came out a few months ago. He called to ask if I could go on a little run [of live dates] – I hope we can make it to Australia, man, that would be nice.”
It was on the Thin Lizzy tour of Australia that Mendoza got approached to join The Dead Daisies.
“I was on the Lizzy tour with Motley Crüe and Kiss,” he explains, “and David Edwards Management approached me and said, ‘Marco, we love what you do. Would you consider maybe playing on a project that we’re doing. It’s called The Dead Daisies, and we’re looking to open up for a few bands here in Australia to get it going.’
“I said, ‘of course,’ so I got home, and I got another call – and nine out of ten times, bro, it never happens, it’s all talk, and that’s just the nature of the business. So, I was very surprised that I got the call. Then he mentioned the fact that they’re trying to get the opening spot for Aerosmith, and I’m a big fan. I said, ‘oh, yeah, cool. Send me the music.’
“The music was kicking,” he continues with relish, “and one thing led to the other, and before you know it, I was in Australia, so it’s good – they know what they’re doing. We’ve been around, all of us, from management to PR, everything – the band [members], we’ve been around for a few years. We’ve experienced quite a lot. We kind of understand how to handle it. We’re getting some great opportunities. We’re knocking on some doors. We’re all calling favours with friends, people that we know. Everybody is really supportive, and that’s a big factor. To break a new band these days, Shane, is really tough, man.”
Since then The Dead Daisies have had a killer run, with a lap of Eastern Australia, the Uproar Festival tour through America, and supporting the KISS & Def Leppard tour in The States as well as appearing on the KISS Kruise. With Australia and New Zealand coming up, 2014 seems to have treated the band pretty well!
“Yeah, you know, it helps when you have a line-up like we have,” Mendoza concurs, “and then also great management, and then we have the resources to put it in the right place on the business side. That’s so important. That’s just not happening in a lot of instances with a lot of new projects and new bands. I see a lot of new talent that don’t get a break, don’t make it through first base or second base, but I think a lot of the attention that we’re getting is the fact that we have a couple of guys from Guns n’ Roses. We have Brian Tichy on the drums, myself. David Lowy, of course, was heading this whole thing and supporting it whenever he can financially, and then Jon Stevens.
“On top of that, you have David Edwards, who’s doing a brilliant job at managing. He’s got the vision. He knows what to do and where to go and how to deal with it, where to put it.”
With David Lowy’s family and corporate links to the Westfield billions, The Dead Daisies have had a leg up where they’ve needed it most – financially. I ask Mendoza if the band could have achieved what they have done without that monetary support.
“Well, I don’t know,” he ponders, “because a lot of the opportunity that we’re getting, the reality is because we’re knocking on some doors. We’re calling in favours with promoters, with agents. Let’s just be real – in today’s market you need to have that security, to secure the players [so we can] kind of let other [paying jobs] go by. We live off of this, you know? We’re supported by what we do, so I’m sure it’s a big part of it, a big factor to keep the machine going.
“Pretty much after the first run that we had with Aerosmith, the word got out that we had something to offer and the music was kicking, and the line-up was pretty impressive, and so then we started talking to all of our friends and all of our connections. That’s how the doors opened. Bottom line, Shane, opportunities can come up. If you’re not ready to throw down and leave an impression, then the doors start closing. That’s the bottom line. That’s the nature of the business.
“So far, we’ve been opening doors, and there’s more and more and more,” Mendoza enthuses passionately. “I mean: impressive! We’re all surprised. At the same time, we’re not – because we have the goods. That’s about as pretentious as it gets. We have the goods – the music is great. The machine is like a well-oiled machine. It’s moving forward, and so that’s not a bad thing, you know?”
Those opportunities almost stalled when, just before the Uproar Tour started, Jon Stevens broke his leg and hand. [Editor – Stevens himself told us more about this HERE]
“Yeah, we were really… everybody was, just for a moment, we sat back and thought, ‘whoa, what’s going on here? Are we going to cancel?’ and all that. I was really surprised. Jon is a tough cat, man. He knew the importance of continuing on that tour because that would’ve been the first run in the U.S., and the U.S. is still the biggest market on the planet, so it was very important that we got through it. Yeah, he got up. The singing never suffered. It never does. It was hard for him, but he got through it, and we all got through, and the reviews are great, and that’s what really started the snowball effect, you know? Then we started getting calls from everywhere, which is cool.
“You can’t deny the bottom line: you can’t deny the line-up, the credits and the credentials and the history and the legacy that we are bringing to the table. People are curious, like you. They want to find what’s going on. What happened? How did this thing get together, and what’s the process, and where do you want to go? We’re all in agreement. We want to take it as far as we can here, and so far, it’s been good.”
Jon Stevens is practically a household name here in Australasia, but he’s not as well known overseas, and Mendoza admits he only knew his work fleetingly before being introduced to The Dead Daisies.
“I knew about the INXS thing, and then before that, in all honestly, not really,” he readily admits. “I got on YouTube, and I did some homework, and then I was really impressed. I was like, ‘whoa, this cat can blow!’
“That’s undeniable, and with me being a singer – I call myself a part-time singer because I do my own lead singing whenever I can on the side on my solo albums. With [David] Coverdale, I got to sing a lot. With Ted Nugent, I got to sing a lot. But my main gig is as a bass player, so I appreciate good pipes, man, and that cat can blow. He’s just a great singer.”
The touring with KISS was especially important to raising the bands profile in The States. Mendoza is no stranger to the band, nor their fans.
“I don’t know if you know this, but that would’ve been tour number four with Kiss [for me],” he explains. “With Ted Nugent, with Thin Lizzy, and now with The Dead Daisies. As a band [they’re] very cool. I have a relationship with Paul [Stanley], and I know Gene [Simmons]. I’ve done some work with Eric [Singer]. With Paul, I’m on his list of bass players when he calls and he’s doing some things on the side. Tommy Thayer, I know him when he was still the tour manager for KISS! That’s when we were out there with Ted Nugent.
“So I know their camp, and I know their manager Doc McGhee, which is one of the factors that helped us get on that run. We had friends, and again, Doc McGhee is one of those guys that he’s your friend, but he’s also a businessman, and when he heard about the [Dead Daisies] line-up, he went in and did his homework and heard the music, and he dug it. That’s the bottom line. He said, ‘this would a perfect line-up for Def Leppard and Kiss.’
“I would say, yes, we won [the crowd] over, because we got invited to the KISS Kruise. After the first week out there, Paul came to us and said, ‘Marco, what do you think [about doing the KISS Kruise]? I said, ‘absolutely!’ and I talked to the manager, and one thing led to another, and we did it, and it was amazing. It was a great move.
“The simple fact that on the KISS Kruise, what happens on that thing is that people fly from all over the world that are KISS fans and rock fans, and you have them right there. It’s a built-in audience for you to showcase what you do. It was 25,000 or 30,000 fans, and they came to all the gigs. It was good.
“We won them over,” he says, radiating positivity. “There were a few promoters, a few agents there and managers that were really excited about all the possibilities. It was good, man – now, they’re talking about maybe us doing something with them next year.
“It’s all good. It’s all positive. What we have to do is keep making the music, and it’s what we’re going to do when we fly to Australia. We’re going to go into the studio and make some more stuff!”
Mendoza says he’s been writing with the band as they’ve coalesced into a slightly more stable line-up than the rotating, amorphous thing it was to start with.
“That was one of the understandings from the beginning. I’m at the point in my career where if I’m going to be involved with a project, a band, I really kind of make it very clear that I want to be involved in the writing,” he declares. “In my opinion, a real band is a real band, you know what I mean? Everybody puts their input in, and that’s what makes it so special, when you have four, five, six different cats putting their input in, and it was flawless for us. We didn’t even have to talk about it. We got into the studio, and everybody knew what they had to do, and we did it, and creatively, we’re all in a space right now in our careers where it’s really grooving. It’s really happening.
“Yeah, to be honest, Shane, I can’t find one negative thing to say about The Dead Daisies,” he realises. “So far, it’s been really smooth. It’s almost like you’re waiting for something to happen because it’s too good, but I’m hoping it doesn’t because I really believe in this project, in these players, and the musicianship level is just pretty high. Then, we have Jon singing like he does. It makes people turn their heads, you know?”
One thing is for certain: Marco Mendoza is committed to The Dead Daisies long-term.
“For me personally, absolutely,” he declares. “I’ll tell you what happened [in the beginning]: I got involved with Thin Lizzy. Thin Lizzy turned into Black Star Riders, and I gave my commitment to finish some dates with them to support the first album. I can’t remember the last time when I bailed out of a project to pursue my personal betterment. I’ve never done that. In this business, the word gets out. The only thing I have is my word, and when I give you my commitment, I will fulfil that commitment no matter what, even if it means compromising other opportunities.
“But I was very clear with management here with The Daisies and with the rest of the guys,” Mendoza continues, “that my intentions were to finish that commitment and I’d be able to give this project 100% commitment. So we had Darryl Jones [bassist with The Rolling Stones, no less] come over and [fill the slot] – The Dead Daisies were supporting Black Star Riders, which is the Thin Lizzy line-up, so I couldn’t do both. Darryl came in and took my spot, and there was 10 dates or 12 dates or something like that in the UK.
“I believe in this so much, honestly, that I’m in it for the long haul, and I’m in it for the rollercoaster ride. As long as things keep moving forward and we keep delivering on the music end, it’s going to be okay, you know?”
The bassist – who was born in San Diego, but raised from a young age by his Grandmother in Tijuana, Mexico – can barely keep a lid on The Dead Daisies future plans.
“We have a few things, exciting things cooking for next year,” he says excitedly. “We can’t really talk about it until it’s confirmed – and even when it’s confirmed, we want it to be a bang, so there’s some pretty exciting things going on in the camp.
“On the other side, because The Daisies have a very clear idea and plan and a pretty cool vision, the projecting what needs to happen, it’s going to allow me as well to do other things on the side because it’s very well planned and sketched out. I’m looking forward to doing that too. I mean, there’s a couple of things that I’m going to pursue on the other side. It’s all good. Everybody wins. It’s a good thing. It’s a good ride, man. I’m going to hang out as much as I can. That’s what I’m saying!”
Having played with so many artists, and in so many styles, over the course of his incredible career, Mendoza agrees that he considers himself more a student of his instrument than a one dimensional rock bassist.
“I do. I always like to say I always want to remain teachable. I always want to learn more. I’m always open to picking up ideas and challenging myself, and when I do my [bass] clinics, that’s something that I talk about. I sell it – I’ll play a salsa groove and a Brazilian groove and talk about the difference, and then I’ll do a bebop straight ahead groove and some funk and the whole thing.
“With all the respect in the world, I think I’m a bass player: I’m not a rocker!” he continues with a flourish. “There’s a difference. I’d like think that I’m a bass player, that I play bass. I’ll bring to the table whatever is required in all these different genres. It’s exciting, man. It keeps you on your toes to learn new styles and all that. I think a lot of it comes with the fact that I grew up in Mexico. When I grew up, I was getting bombarded by Brazilian grooves and Afro-Cuban grooves and boleros and bossa novas and sambas and then I discovered the English [bands, like] The Beatles, and of course that took me to another place.
“It’s really interesting, if you allow yourself as a bass player to get inside the music and what’s required of you for different genres, it’s really cool. I’ve experienced that. I get the satisfaction of saying, ‘I played that bass line for that type of music the way it should be played.’ That’s really rewarding that way. Having said that, different energies, different colours – Rock n’ roll is where the fire is – and hey, you’re always looking to get burned a little bit!”
Marco Mendoza is many things, but solely a sideman he is not. Along the way he’s also recorded two solo albums he is enormously proud of.
“Yeah, I’ve had two solo albums – Live For Tomorrow, with the song Frontiers, and then Casa Mendoza, with Mascot. The fact is that I haven’t really been able to spend a lot of time pursuing and promoting that. It’s something that I do after I have some time available. I’m lining up some things for next year. There’s some possibilities of me coming to Australia maybe next year with my rock trio.
“If you have a chance, check it out. Live For Tomorrow, it’s on iTunes. Live For Tomorrow is the name of the album, and so I’ll keep moving forward. I just did a tour with my Latin jazz funk trio, with one of my favourite cats to play with in that genre, Joey Heredia and Renato Neto. We did Central America and Mexico, and I was even invited to do a run next year at the jazz festival, so we’ll see if it works out. The bottom line is there’s not enough time to do everything. You know, priorities are priorities.”
Now 51 years of age, Mendoza is more youthful and energetic and positive than most people half his age, which he ascribes – infectiously – to simply looking after himself.
“Well, let’s just say I don’t drink any alcohol. I don’t do any drugs. I just celebrated 27 years of sobriety December 20th. I try to eat right. I’m very conscious about my diet. I’ll get off it here and there, but I’m very conscious about what I eat, my fuel, how I fuel my body. I try to exercise. I try to stay in tune and take care of my body so my body can take care of me.
“Energy-wise, I’ve always been very ambitious, man, and the older I get, the more I realise I have little time, so I want to do as much as I can. It comes from within – you know that. I mean, I’ve been [on tour] now for three or four months. I came home – I got here this weekend, and my wife knows what I need, and she lets me crash. I totally collapse, I sleep, I recharge my batteries, and then I try to spend as much time as I can with my kids and my wife just to allow me to get out there and start working again.
“It’s the desire where the energy comes from. If you really want to accomplish something, you know you find the energy. I’m really, really excited about the possibilities for The Dead Daisies, to be honest. I’m like, ‘this is really cool, man. This is happening. It’s moving.’ That, in itself, inspires energy. That’s what it is.
“My trio, the run that I did with my trio, again, I felt re-energised. It’s very challenging for me as a bass player to sing. I front the band, I put it together, and there’s a lot of soloing and a lot of rhythm, and there’s a different animal altogether, but it’s very rewarding if you do the work. On the other side of that tour, I came home, and I’m going, ‘wow, that was amazing!’ and then the reviews were good. That’s another pattern. That’s how you get your energy. You just get out there and do what you love doing, and if it’s well-accepted, then wow, let’s do some more.
“As we get older, we need to take care of our bodies. We need to be really conscious of how we fuel our bodies so that we can go as far as possible.”
Mendoza jokes that his passport may have him at 51, but he’s planning on staving off the half century milestone in his head at least for a while longer.
“I’m 49 and holding – I’m not 50 yet!” he says with a laugh.
“That’s it, man. Tell your body what it is, and that’s what it is. I’m 49 and holding, and I can’t even say the 50 word, ‘F-f-f-f … No!’ It’s a great time in my life, a great time in my career right now and things are moving. A lot of exciting things going on. I just got a call for a couple other projects here for next year that when they’re confirmed, I’ll talk about. It’s pretty exciting. Things are moving. That’s where I get my energy from. You can put it in front of you, and you show up and do the best work you can, and people call you back.”
This interview first appeared in edited form in X-Press Magazine’s 3 December 2014 issue
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