Interview: Marco Mendoza

World-renowned bassist and vocalist Marco Mendoza is set to launch his latest solo album ‘New Direction’ on the 16th of September, via Mighty Music. Best known for his work with Thin Lizzy, Whitesnake, Journey, Ted Nugent, The Dead Daisies, and a spell with Dolores O’Riordan of The Cranberries, Marco is now stepping out and performing his own songs that he has built up over the years. Marco was on hand to talk about what went into creating the new album, as well as the message of positivity that the album serves up; tune in, drop out and let the smooth tones of a bonafide musical legend wash over you…

The rather-excellent new album ‘New Direction’ is sent to land very soon; it’s quite an intriguing album title that could mean different things to different people; but what does it mean to you?

Well, when you are writing songs…it is introspective. With Soren [Andersen, guitarist, and producer] and I, we don’t have any preconceived ideas or directions when we get together to write, we are just like a couple of kids who are enjoying the process of writing music. So the music pretty much writes itself. The title song itself, ‘New Direction’, it’s not anything that we haven’t heard before, it’s just trying to be positive, sending subconscious messages about being optimistic, and being as proactive as possible.

The first few singles for instance, ‘Take It To The Limit’…that was about remembering that we are only here for a minute so live life to the fullest, and take chances when you think you should….messages that I have heard my whole life through the music that I love and listen to. Then, ‘Shoot For The Stars’…that was about following your dreams and believing in yourself, and just putting that message out there…the lyrics are saying that when you think that you can’t go any further, you gotta strap your boots on and keep going. That’s just the way that I am, after everything that we have been through globally, as a community, it’s good to remember the good things and be positive and optimistic…

It’s a very positive album…

It is, yes. And so far, it has been well-received…it’s always good to get a pat on the back! It’s appreciated, and I appreciate everyone who has taken the time out to listen to the album, and also to want to talk to me…I’ve never done so many interviews! But it’s all good! Staying busy…actually a little too busy! But that’s okay! I’m just a few hours out of Barcelona, at the beach where I have been spending some time, but I’ve been really, really busy…it’s wacko, man! But the alternative would be worse…the pandemic and the lockdown…first it was three months, then it was six, then it was nine…and then it was a year. So, I welcome how busy I am with open arms.

The title track closes the album, is there any extra significance in that? That the last thoughts people take from the album are of moving on in a “New Direction”?

Yes, when you are writing a letter, you want to make a statement at the end of that letter….” Thank you for your time…love…respect…be kind to one another…” that kind of thing, so ‘New Direction’ kind of seals the album and maybe people that listen – I don’t know how many people listen to an album in its entirety now – to the album in its entirety from top to bottom will get the journey.

We started the album in September 2019 and reconvened in December 2019 as Soren and I were really busy touring all over. I think that by the time we left in December it was 85% done and the plan was to meet up in early 2020 in Copenhagen but then the reality was that no one could fly anywhere, so that was it. The last session to finish the album was in June 2021, so that gives you an idea of the rollercoaster ride involved in making this album. Once the pandemic hit we went back and listened to the songs that we already had and we thought “wait a minute, this is relevant…so maybe this should be a single, or that should be a single”, and so on and so forth. ‘Take It To The Limit’ was the title of the album that was supposed to come out in 2020 and never did, and because we had toured since then and played that song, we felt it was better to change the title of the album. A lot of compromising…a lot of obstacles…a lot of adversity from the top to the bottom, for a minute it was looking like we would just release a couple of singles and that’s it, but we sat down with the label and came up with…September 2022…a ‘New Direction’.

The title track is one of the standout tracks on the album, really cool and psychedelic and it even has a sitar on there…

You can hear where it all comes from, Soren and I are huge fans of “songs”, whatever you want to label them as, “pop songs” because everything needs a label, but you know, the Beatles comes to mind as an influence. I’m a big fan of ‘Sgt. Peppers’, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, the ‘White Album’, so when a guitar lick came from David Lowy [guitarist, The Dead Daises] during a warm-up with The Dead Daisies…I immediately heard a sitar…you know, like the meditative side of a sitar, then throw in some lyrics that are relevant…and yeah! It’s not screaming in-your-face rock, it’s another facet…another side.

On the subject of “screaming in-your-face rock”, ‘Scream and Shout’ is a killer out-and-out rocker…

‘Scream and Shout’, yes!

That is a killer weekend anthem that has “Friday Night” written right over it!

Exactly!

Have you been able to road-test it live yet?

It’s mostly just been the singles that we have played live so far, we are keeping the rest for the forthcoming tour. We are playing new music, but I’ve actually been getting a lot of requests to play tracks from [2007’s] ‘Live From Tomorrow’, so we are adding some of those…I have four albums that people don’t know about!

It’s a funny process doing what I am doing as a solo artist…people know you from all the other bands, and all the other music and they kind of expect you to play that…and I do a little bit. On my last album ‘Viva La Rock’ I paid tribute to Thin Lizzy [‘Chinatown’], and I paid tribute to Ted Nugent [‘Hey Baby’], and the reason that I did that was so that I could play them live. I forgot to do that with this album, I wanted to include a Dolores track, or even a Cranberries one, from my time with Dolores, maybe even a Whitesnake track…I don’t know, there are so many bands that I have been part of…one by The Dead Daisies maybe. But because of the pandemic, our focus got deviated and it became…” let’s just finish the album!” [laughs]. I always try and take my time to give thanks to the bands that I have been part of over the years…they have really enabled my career to move forward. I could play four or five different shows and not repeat my music! A lot of my music is not known…and how do you change that…by playing them live! And I have really been enjoying playing live, there is so much to look forward to now after the pandemic, the shows are going great, and I feel the love from all the different countries…the UK, Scotland…I’ll be back in Scotland later this year at Monsterfest in Inverness, which will be great. It’s exciting times, especially coming out of the lull that we had where we didn’t even know what was next.

The album is very colourful, the cover artwork jumps out at you in an explosion of colour…it’s very Santana-like, who created it?

Well, this is Mark Allison, my guy in Scotland, Inverness actually. He’s a dear friend who I met when I was working with The Dead Daisies, and we just hit it off on so many levels. He’s been with me through all these changes, and he’s that guy where you might be struggling with what to do next…and he comes up with one hundred things! His graphic design and his artwork is just out of this world…and I said to him…”Mark, I need colours!” I’m that guy, I need colours, they stimulate me…I grew up with my Mom and she loved plants, she had a green thumb so we grew up surrounded by all different colours…and that became part of my DNA. And with music, it’s the same thing. You mentioned Santana, well, being that I’m Latino, Mark figured what would be better than going in that retro Santana vibe, he’s one of those guys that really listen to who you are, what you like to represent, where you live…and then BOOM! he comes up with something.

As a solo performer, the responsibilities must be huge because there is no hiding place when it is only your name on everything…

Yes. And you take the brunt of it. Yes, you take the accolades, but you also take the hits, and the reality is that it is not for everybody. I get a lot of compliments about my singing, and if I had one main goal then that would be it. People know me for background vocals, or for sharing vocals, and now I am playing my music, and singing my songs… it’s my main focus to represent these songs and sing them as well as possible, so if I get that kind of feedback then it is mission accomplished. You would be surprised how many people think that I just do bass solos at my shows! I’m trying to cultivate a following for my music, and if you dig it, then God bless you, and if you don’t dig it, then God bless you also. But being a solo performer is full of surprises, to say the least…good and bad, you just have to learn how to navigate through them.

Everything about you is positive; the way you talk, the way you conduct yourself, and your music are all about positivity – as are your live shows – but when you are such a positive person, does it stick out more when you are having a hard day, is it more noticeable?

Yes. And the first one to notice is me, and I get down on myself about it because I am a human being. This lifestyle of being on the road and taking on a solo project is much, much deeper than anyone could imagine…and that also includes me. When the wheels started turning I went “Whoa”…I don’t have a manager, I have a lot of peers and a lot of friends that help me out…but at the end of the day I am handling a lot of facets of my solo career. You travel a lot, play a lot of shows, don’t eat right, don’t sleep right, but still have to try and stay positive, and sometimes you cannot and then it usually comes out in a negative way to someone who is close to you, unfortunately. I catch myself a lot, and my closest friends understand that, and they forgive me and accept my apologies, and then we move on. I try to keep on top of my stress levels, especially around the people that I work with, they are out here giving 100%+ for very little compensation. But hey, that’s the journey of a journeyman! A solo career is pretty trippy, but at the end of the day, I couldn’t do it if I didn’t believe in my music. I’m not doing it for the scratch! If I told you the money involved, you would just say “Why?”!

‘New Direction’ is available September 16th, here.

Interview – Dave

UK tour dates:

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