Mark Dawson is currently singing and playing bass in The Grass Roots. He also is releasing a new solo album entitled Making Noise. We had the opportunity to talk to Mark and he updated us on all the things he is currently working on.
Rock Show Critique: So tell us about Mark Dawson. Who are you and where did you come from?
Mark Dawson: I am a lover of pop rock music. I grew up in Chicago in the fifties and sixties. Like a lot of people I was a huge Beatles fan. My parents had a few records around like Herman’s Hermits and anything that was pop in the early sixties, Elvis Presley and Roy Orbison. Everything was about pop, I still just loved all the pop songs and to this day nothing beats a good pop song. As far as music I never touched a bass guitar until I was eighteen years old. I played a couple of chords on a regular guitar, and I was pretty lousy at it. Then one day a friend of mine said “hey you should join our band.” I said “well I’m not good.” He said “Well you try the bass its only got four strings its probably easier.” So I predicated my career on the fact that playing bass might be easier and its worked out pretty well (laughs).
RSC: What bands/artists were your main influences growing up?
MD: Music wise I always used to marvel at the songwriting of The Beatles both as a group and individuals. This may sound weird, but vocally my all-time favorite is Johnny Mathis. Just the thought of what he could do with the voice is the most beautiful instrument in the world. Can I sing like him naw not a chance. But something about his voice is just perfect. I would hear those songs and be pulled in to the way he sang them, expression and the feeling he had. I’ve got all the old recordings to refer back to. So he was my first big influence. Later on as I got a little bit older in the seventies, I was a fan of groups a little more progressive like Jon Anderson of Yes. As I got a little bit older in the eighties and nineties I think a guy like Chris Isaak is somebody who really has a lot of great expression in his voice, a completely different singer than the others. Those are the kind of guys that I certainly loved their style. It’s inspiring to hear those kinds of beautiful songs, its just the way they put their heart and soul into it.
RSC: Being from Chicago did you ever come across Styx or any other bands?
MD: Absolutely, Styx in particular. A band called Dreamer just recently had their thirtieth reunion. One of the members of Dreamer is a member of the Ides Of March right now Scott May their organ player. Well we shared a rehearsal space with Styx. We actually heard much of their music before it was released on record. Had some jam sessions with the guys things like that. It was pretty exciting times. They were getting big and famous and we were just neighborhood guys that we shared rehearsal space with. We got to know each other pretty well.
RSC: Current artists that catch your attention?
MD: Well I’m completely infatuated with a group called the Decemberists. Their singer and writer and leader is Colin Meloy. I don’t know if I ever heard anyone recently tell a story through a song and melody like the way he does. I’ve only discovered them the last five years or so. They were an indie group out of the Portland area. But now they are signed and have a couple of records on Capitol. As far as songwriting and its wonderful stories, the guy can write like crazy. On the other end of the spectrum I’m nuts over the Foo Fighters. They can’t do anything wrong. Their the perfect rock n roll band as far as I’m concerned. Dave Grohl’s a mastermind of rock and roll. So I love them as much as guys who just write a pretty nice song. The Foo Fighters are the rock band right now. They are like The Who of the early seventies, they got that kind of power going for them.
RSC: Tell us how you landed the gig with the Grass Roots?
MD: I actually knew Rob Grill as far back as 1978. A little gig we did together back then we sort of hit it off as friends. Over the years The Grass Roots had one incarnation or another. One point there was another group on the road that Rob was just sort of managing. We sorta kept in touch but never got together. He started having some health problems in early 2000. We had some conversation about coming back doing this or that but it just never worked. Whether I had it be my daughter being born or making a move here things didn’t work. Finally at the end of 2007 Rob had a serious head injury and was in serious condition. January 2008, I actually came in and filled a stretch of dates, played bass and sang. Rob came back two months or so later and asked me to stay. So January 2008 I became permanent. It was an emergency fill-in is how it started. A long long time to come into a real easy thing.
RSC: So was that the first time you ever played with them, when you filled in 2008?
MD: I actually played with them in ’78. Man I was probably twenty-two years old or something. We were at I wanna say Western Illinois University the college out there. My group was opening for them, we did some soundcheck. Rob said why don’t you play a song with us later. I said wow sure. I was a big fan. Here’s Rob Grill asking me to come up to play with them. That was actually the first time and it was just a couple of tunes. It was fun. I wish I could tell you more details it was too long ago. It was just a thrill for him to say why don’t you play a couple of songs. I was providing the equipment for Rob and he was using my gear. We were having a discussion about amp setting, which guitar, that was our first encounter. I’m pretty sure it was Macomb, Illinois.
MD: Tell us about your new solo album coming out?
MD: Making Noise is the name of the album. Its my second solo album the last one was in 2009 called Chapter Two. This one I approached with more confidence. I never looked at my self as a solo performer. I love the element of having a group and being part of a group. I really had to approach this with a different mindset. So I wrote ten new songs and a couple of bonus tracks as well. I got a couple of all star players as well as some of the Grass Roots members. I have a nice duet with Carl Giammarese of The Buckinghams. We’re singing sort of an old school, almost R&B sort of duet. I got some players from down in the Orlando area, that I work with some real heavy hitters that work for Disney. But for the most part its me doing all the instruments. The only thing I will never touch is the drums. You don’t want me near drums but give me any other instrument and I’ll give it a go. So I got everything from guitars, banjos, ukeleles and basses, trumpets and harmonicas. I do all the other instruments and I also do all the vocals with the exception of Me and Carl doing the duet. I went in and approached it like this is my project here it is, this is what I do. I will tell you this, this is part of it, I wanted to make sure I captured a feel. So in doing so, I recorded all of this in my own studio, not one use of computer for the entire recording. I made a point of no use of computer. Everything I did was live as it was recorded, if I made a mistake I did it again. If I didn’t like it I did it again. All vocals none of it is processed in any sort of way, every single bit of it is me singing on a microphone into the recording units. No mixing on a computer, no processing, whatever they do, none of that, I wanted old school. If I could have done it on analog tape I would have. I did have to digitally record. So I hope doing it that way captured what I really do. I won’t make every excuses, every note is what I put in there. I feel good about all the tracks. I’ve been doing all the production myself and I’m excited about it.
RSC: Do you know if there are plans for another Happy Together tour next year?
MD: There is a 2013 tour on the board. This year The Grass Roots decided and we talked about it with the management company and we chose to skip this years tour. There are two reasons, one is the Happy Together tour we have been on three years as well as The Buckinghams and they chose the same thing. It gives the Happy Together Company, that would be The Turtles and Rock and Roll Promotions, where they can switch it up a little bit, Mickey Dolenz won’t be on it either. So they’re going to bring in three new acts this year, but we’re already booked to come back in 2014. But having said that Paradise Artists have been putting together a package called American Pop and it will feature The Grass Roots and The Buckinghams and will rotate another act. So we will be touring with three acts. Same idea but instead of twenty-five minutes each of our acts will play more like 40 minutes. They plan on rotating the third artist. I’m looking forward to doing that it’ll be fun.
RSC: So what does the near future hold for you?
MD: Of course we’ll continue with The Grass Roots and 2013 is looking real good so far. I’ve been approached to do some solo shows in the central Florida area and I’m giving it great consideration. Like I said I’ve never done the solo artist thing. There’s a couple of venues in particular that I like around here that are small theaters. I’ve actually talked to a couple of musicians one is the drummer who played on about ninety percent of the album. He would be a guy that would play dates for the solo shows. The other part of it Joe, my wife has me writing a book. Of course its all funny. I don’t know if you follow my Twitter or Facebook posts, I have a page that’s not about music. All the whacky, funny bizarre things I say she’s linked to a format. I’m calling it toilet humor because that’s exactly where you want to read it when your sitting on the toilet. We want to tie it in somehow with my BassEyeView which is a collection of photographs I’ve taken the last couple of years from behind my blue bass in all the venues I play. We’re hoping that will be out spring or summer of 2013. So as soon as this CD is done I go right to work on the book. It could be a busy year, I love being busy.
Thanks to Mark for taking the time out of his busy schedule to talk with us.
For more on Mark and his projects check him out at www.markdawson.us
Also check his Facebook page at www.facebook/themarkdawson