by Deb Rao
– Senior Columnist –
The wait is over. The Rock and Roll Pride of Maryland, Kix, is gearing up for release of Rock Your Face Off via Loud And Proud Records on Aug. 5. It has been two decades since the band has released new music. Kix take their high-energy bluesy metal rock to the next level. Sticking to the formula of in your face Rock and Roll AC/DC inspired metal; Rock Your Face Off is the perfect Summertime fun release.
Bassist Mark Schenker discusses the making of Rock Your Face Off and also pays tribute to the late Johnny Winter.
HRH: Mark, it has been two decades since the band released new music. Tell us about the writing process for the album.
Mark: When we decided to do a record, each of us had a bunch of songs written. Some songs that Steve and I worked on together. Steve and I live fairly close which performs an opportunity to collaborate. I had some songs I had written with other writers. Brian had some songs. So we looked at these songs and asked can these songs actually be Kix songs? We ended up with 30 songs to choose from. We refined them when we brought Taylor Rhodes into the mix. So that was kind of the process. We needed Taylor’s help to look through and see what had the potential to see what had the potential to be Kix songs.
HRH: The album reminds me a lot of AC/DC?
Mark: Yes, we always sounded like AC/DC for sure. It is for good reason. I think everybody in the band loves AC/DC. If somebody can blame AC/DC on your influence it is really a high compliment. We take that one as much as we can get it.
HRH: The new single “Love Me With Your Top Down.” It sounds like a real classic summertime song.
Mark: Right now there is a lyric video to go along with it. We don’t know if we are going to do a music video and if the music video will be that song. It is the first single that everybody agreed on. The label really liked that one. We were playing it live and the fans really responded well with it. That song was easy to work into the set. It is fun to play. That song came from one of those guitar riffs. We just put it together and thought it was a good summer top down cruising song. That is where it kind of came from.
HRH: How many new songs are you playing live on your tour?
Mark: Being a heritage act so to speak, we are obligated to the fans to play a certain number of songs that are their songs. It is very difficult to get through a set without playing “Cold Blood.” You could leave somebody upset. We still get that now and again. There are a lot of good songs in the Kix catalog. Like “Cold Shower” we played that for a long time. We left it out of the set for a while and the fans said I couldn’t believe you guys didn’t play cold shower. It is a double-edged sword. In order to play new songs in the set, we are going to leave old favorites out. Hopefully not. Hopefully, the fans will be receptive to the new songs because it does sound like a Kix record. We are not throwing something in out of left field. We have two new songs in the set now. Hopefully, we can get four. And not eliminate the bulk of the fans favorites.
HRH: You also have a ballad on the new release “Inside Outside Inn.” This song is really cool. Steve sounds great.
Mark: That was a bit unexpected. That is a song that Steve had. He had given it to me. I remember he had some music and I really liked the lyrics. I thought it was just very heartfelt. It is one of those honest type songs that weren’t filled with clichés. It is basically him talking to his wife. I just thought it was a beautiful sentiment. And worth building a really strong song over. And when we had brought that in to Taylor Rhodes our producer he kept going back to it going there is something else that needs to be with this song. He actually set up the tempo to match “Angie” of the Rolling Stones. One night in the middle of the night we were at the studio. It was just he and I and he said I think this is too slow. I am like really? So we listened to “Angie” and he said this is how fast it should be. So we took that time that night to five in the morning and changed the tempo of the demo that we were working on and played it for everybody the next day. And they said Oh my God that is it. So that ballad had a couple of very different formats before it became what it is. The message is in the lyric. It is really terrific.
HRH: The demand for Kix to play worldwide is pretty great these days. I used to see you perform at the Mohegan in Connecticut. But you are also the kings of the M3 Festival in Maryland. You guys brought the roof down there.
Mark: Well, it is our home turf. If we didn’t bring the roof down, we would be looking at ourselves going oh no! (Laughter) We are in trouble now. We do well at M3. We are very glad to play in a wonderful outdoor venue for all of our Mid-Atlantic fans that have stayed by us for thick or thin. So for the fans it is a wonderful thing for everybody to get together. That is an historic venue. Jimi Hendrix played there. Led Zeppelin played there. To get in a place like that is so right smack dab in our homeland. It is very special to us to play for our fans. We are glad that the fans get to go to that place and see their band.
HRH: You also played Rocklahoma. Tell us about this.
Mark: We played Rocklahoma in 2008 and 2009 and we played it again this year. Back in 2008 and 2009, it was only MTV era bands. This year it was a mixture of everything. Twisted Sister was there. Kid Rock was there. It was really a great mixture of the best of the old and the new. It was pandemonium. 50,000 people were a record crowd. Obviously they were not all there to see Kix, the people that were there to see Kix we were ecstatic about the size of the crowd there. We couldn’t ask for anything better than that. It is a very professionally run festival. The accommodations were amazing. We hope they invite us back next year as well.
HRH: The music industry has changed so much since the heyday when Kix first debut. It seems today that bands really depend on touring. Making records is great but getting to the fans is through touring. Do you agree?
Mark: I agree. It is where ever they have you. Particularly nowadays. A couple of weeks ago, we played in Idaho Falls, Idaho. The Kix guys who have been around since the beginning couldn’t ever remember playing there. You get an offer like that to play out very far away from the big city. You got to go for it. It is fun and interesting. It is bringing something to those people that would have a very difficult time to go see. For us, when we get offers like that it is amazing for us. To go into those pockets of the country, you get to bring it to them. It is our pleasure to do those things.
HRH: I think too with the album coming out you are going to make a bunch of new fans. The quality of the record is amazing. You have old school Kix mixed with the new. There are no filler tracks.
Mark: Thank you. I appreciate that. We worked really hard. I am glad that you noticed that. Hopefully, it will come on the radar to people who really weren’t paying attention to Kix back in the day. Maybe newer hard rock bands will bump into stream and us somewhere us on you tube.
HRH: The rhythm section is really strong on this album too. As the new guy, what did you want to bring to the plate?
Mark: I am the new guy. I have been in the band 13 years. But I will always be the new guy. So no matter what happens I am the new guy. Back in the day Jimmy has always been one of my favorite drummers. I would go to see Kix and I always thought Jimmy was amazing. And I look back and said I can’t believe I get to play with this guy. That holds true for all the guys in the band. I look over and say Holy Crap it is Steve Whiteman. What I am doing up here? Some thing for Ronnie and Brian. They are amazing guitar players. They have great tone and stage presence. Once in a while I have to pinch myself. And wonder how I got myself into this situation.
HRH: Brian does an excellent job on this album. I love his guitar riffs. You have some blues going on there too. It kind of reminds me of the Black Crows on the song “All The Right Things.”
Mark: That was a funny song. That was one I had written basically not to have a guitar solo in it. It was kind of challenge to myself. I said could I write a song that I feel is good enough that doesn’t have a guitar solo. I didn’t know if it was going to be a Kix song. I didn’t write it for anything in particular. It was my usual songwriting exercises. I had a title and a riff. So I let Brian listen to it, we were sort of talking about Lynyrd Sknyrd and said why don’t you put a slide intro on to this? Brian is a fantastic slide player. I seen Brian playing slide once just hanging out and it was amazing. I remember him and I messing around with the song after I had written it and thought this would be a great song to highlight Brian’s slide playing. Everybody will get to see what an amazing multi-faceted guitar player he is. So it ended up being the slide-playing tour de force for Brian. I love it when that song comes up on my Ipod. It is just the Brian song to me. It so much of his style.
HRH: How did you come up with the title, ”Rock Your Face Off?”
Mark: That was actually Brian’s song. He had the title for that song. He had the main riff for that song. He and I worked on that together. And had most of the lyrics written. So we had the chorus and one verse and I think Steve wrote the rest. It was Brian’s title. He had this idea from back in the day when Kix toured with much bigger acts, they would go out there and totally kick ass. Brian said those guys had to be on their game to put out as well as Kix just done. They would try to set the bar very high. So Brian had this title bouncing around in his head “Rock Your face Off.” The label people really liked the title for a record title. It just kind of what Kix tried to do from when we go out onstage. Without having a cliché. “Rock Your Face” is a little bit distinct of saying that without being cliché.
HRH: Kix kind of has a bluesy edge to their music. Recently we had some news that Johnny Winter passed away. Were you influenced by Johnny at all?
Mark: Well it is funny that you mention that. Our soundman worked for Johnny Winter for 10 or 16 years. Ronnie and Brian are huge blues players. They are educated blues players. So they know Johnny Winter inside and out. I am a big blues fan. I have seen Johnny Winter a bunch of times. I am sure our soundman to catch that news is sad. He worked for Johnny. We all have an affinity for a talent like Johnny Winter. For somebody to go out there and forge their own way in the music world and not be beholden to anybody. Johnny was a pure blues guitar player. He didn’t really care what anybody else thought. As long as he was out there playing blues guitar. He was one of the best at it. He was 70 years old. At least he passed away doing what he loved. He wasn’t stuck in some old folks home. He was on tour, as I understand it. He died doing what he loved doing.
HRH: It was such a huge loss. On a brighter note, the future looks amazing for Kix. Is there anything else you would like to say regarding Rock Your Face Off?
Mark: I hope people like it. For me being a Kix fan before I was in the band, I am excited like any Kix fan to hear new things from my favorite guys. These guys are amazing players. They are exceptional recording artists. It comes through on their recording. It is just good to hear new guitar playing from Ronnie and new drumming from Jimmy and new words coming out of Steve’s mouth and new leads from Brian. It is great to hear the new stuff from them. I hope that the fans are keyed into that. I think that is the most important thing about this record.
HRH: Well you couldn’t have done a better job. We wish you the best of luck!