Mark Macri Interview
(He’s a local guy who’s made good.)
Mark Macri Interview
He’s a local guy who’s made good.
He’s toured the U.S.
He’s toured Europe.
Celebrities are in attendance when he performs.
Maybe you’ll remember some of the bands he was in – the Allnighters, Train Wreck, Slim Jim Stew, The Brendan Van Epps Band, Mark Macri And Mother Funk.
We are talking about Mark Macri.
Q – Mark, you don’t call Syracuse, N.Y. home anymore. You now live in Celebration, Florida. Why did you leave Syracuse? What’s in Celebration, Florida?
A – Well, a friend of mine actually talked me into moving down there. When I used to travel back and forth to the Keys I would stop on my way back home and play a gig in say the Celebration Town Tavern. It was pretty well-received. Then again, new things that have never been seen before, when people spread the word usually you can get a pretty good turn-out. Do you remember the bar Hooligan’s?
Q – Yes, I do.
A – O.k. Well, the Ippoliti family all lived down in Celebration. They owned Hooligan’s. I played Hooligan’s pretty much from the year they opened, 1992, until they sold it, for like 12 years, 2004. The older of the two Ippoliti brothers, Jeff talked me into moving down here because basically I didn’t really have anywhere else to go in Central New York. I was pretty successful up there as far as my solo act and the bands that I had including Mother Funk. I was also playing with Slim Jim Stew at the time, Brendan Van Epps. I had like four SAMMY (Syracuse Area Music Award) nominations. Jeff said, you’re talking the largest tourist destination in the world. There’s liable to be more opportunity and more venues to play. So, it was more of a business decision. More of a career thing, ‘cause if you ever told me I was gonna live in Florida I would’ve told you, you were nuts. To be quite honest with you, I’m not a big fan of Florida, in some ways. I don’t find the people to be…..now I can’t make a blanket statement, I have met some wonderful, wonderful people here that I consider good friends. But, for the most part I don’t find overall the people to be as genuine as the people back home. I will just say that I’m very homesick for Central New York and all of my friends and the network of musicians and the friends that I have. I’m always very homesick for them. With more opportunity in Florida I think the standards become lower, if that makes any sense to you. If there’s more people working, playing music, you don’t have to be as good. See in Central New York the opportunities are far fewer, so the cream has to rise to the top.
Q – I recall Billy Davidson of Case And Davidson telling me, in Syracuse you have to be really good just to play for free.
A – Yeah, and that’s kind of part of the reason I left Central New York too. Central New York is an industrial town.
Q – It was.
A – But, when we were losing jobs by the thousands, I’ve seen the disappearance of a lot of factory jobs and Griffis Airforce base ‘cause I played in the Utica-New Hartford area every bit as much as I played Syracuse. People just left by the thousands in two of my main markets and this is a luxury job. And, if the people don’t have the disposable income anymore, then the jobs started drying up, up there. So, I was just barely getting by. I think it was just a matter of timing that someone would actually be able to talk me into moving away from my home. I really do love Syracuse. Jeff Ippoliti as a businessman didn’t approach this as ‘Itcy, I want my buddy to live down here with me’. It wasn’t that. He approached me more from a business sense. He said, ‘It would probably be a better business thing for you to do because there’s more opportunity and you’re probably closer to people who can advance your career’. You got Universal Studios. I play every Monday at the House Of Blues, in Downtown Disney. I play every Monday there. I have played the Hard Rock Orlando. I will, in a couple of months be playing the Hard Rock in Tampa. I’m playing some great venues that I would never get to play in Central New York obviously.
Q – Are you performing as a solo act or part of a band?
A – I do strictly solo work presently, but, I am in the process of putting a band together mostly to open for national acts.
Q – How do musicians you’ve met in your travels stack up against the musicians of Syracuse?
A – They don’t. Let’s put it this way, the concentration of I would say ‘A’ caliber musicians per capita if you will or in context of the population of the venues that are open for ‘live’ music is much lower than Central New York. I find that Central New York musicians are far and away a higher caliber than I do find in Florida. Now, please don’t misquote me in saying that I have not met very good caliber musicians in Florida, it’s just they’re fewer and far between.
Q – If Syracuse has the reputation for such great musicians, why isn’t the city recognized as a music capital?
A – I just think it’s location. What’s the draw? Central New York doesn’t really draw any recording industry people or movie production people. Some of the Ernie Davis film was made in Syracuse. But, that was kind of a flukie thing. I don’t think Central New York has any sort of draw to the industry, through no fault of their own. Yes, it is a city, but when I see the traffic jams here and you’ve got Universal Studios and the House Of Mouse – the whole Disney thing, obviously it’s two different worlds. It’s like somebody plucked me from Central New York and put me in a place where I just shake my head. I feel like a fish out of water here. But, through no fault of Central New York there just isn’t a media draw. I don’t think there’s a lot of industry people or movie industry people or network t.v. people that pass through Syracuse. What reason do they have?
Q – Have the industry people come out to see you perform? Have you seen famous musicians in the audience?
A – I’ve played for celebrity musicians, Daruis Rucker (Hootie And The Blowfish), Mike Reno (Loverboy), John Cafferty. I’ve played for a lot of celebrities because I do various charity works that celebrities get involved with. I do get to jam with Michael Antunes who is the sax player for John Cafferty’s band. He’s just a great guy and a great player. He’s still playing his butt off after all these years. I have met one of the directors from Universal Studios. I’m not gonna mention his name because I don’t want to jinx what might be happening for me. This EP that I’m actually finishing tonight, ironically is called ‘Ten Hands’. That’s my new project. It’s a 5 song EP. I’m actually shopping this. It will be available for the general public, but I have more ideas of shopping it to like network t.v. and HBO and 20th Century Fox and things like that.
Q – You’re going to do this yourself?
A – Well, I do have some help actually. I’ve got a couple of private citizens who are trying to help me out any way they can. I don’t know if I should say their names or not. I’m not sure if it’s important.
Q – You don’t have to reveal their names.
A – I’m very superstitious. I try not to give up too much stuff before it happens.
Q – You filmed a get together with your old band Train wreck at Shifty’s…..
A – Yeah.
Q – For a DVD release. What did you think that would do for your career?
A – That wasn’t a career boost, it was more…..and unfortunately we didn’t have usable footage that night to make a complete DVD, but a video is being compiled 10-15 minutes long from interviews by me and some clips of the band. It will be up on my website. I’m not really sure when. But, it shouldn’t be too much longer. But, it wasn’t anything to do with advancing my career. That was mostly something that since I was recording the EP as well which has original material on it and then I was trying to do the DVD hoping that we were going to be able to have a product to sell. I was going to try and sell them together, a ‘live’ DVD and some original music as well. It was gonna by in one package, but unfortunately like I said, we didn’t have enough usable footage to make a 45 minute to an hour long DVD. It ended up we’re just gonna use a 10 minute video, more as a promotional tool probably on the website next year when I come up to bring the Train wreck to a few different venues, Shifty’s again and maybe Harpoon Eddie’s in Sylvan Beach and some places I have a good relationship with.
Q – I’ve noticed that once a Syracuse musician leaves Syracuse, for whatever reason, that person seems to get more press then when that person lived in Syracuse.
A – This sounds kind of strange, but, I’ve always had a good relationship with Mark Bialezak (The Post Standard). He’s always been good to me. His reviews of my stuff have always been favourable. I don’t mean to say that we’re bosom buddies and we hang out. He’s always been willing to listen to my stuff and always been willing to help me with some press. Again, I never try to influence anybody’s opinion on my original material. Any press is good press as far as I’m concerned – good or bad. It just happens that Mark Bialezak’s reactions have always been pretty favourable to my original stuff. I will say this, I think the good thing about Central New York is that because the opportunities shrank; ‘cause when I started out in the solo business I was turning away work. When we had a music scene I was doing great. I just didn’t worry about anything. I was complacent probably.
Q – What year would that have been?
A – I went solo in ’91.
Q – How long have you been a musician?
A – I started as a professional musician in a band called The Allnighters. That was a band that I basically toured Japan with. That was my first paying gig. I was 22. 1986, is when I turned professional.
Q – Where did you play in Syracuse with that band?
A – Not really play so much in Syracuse; we played Fulton (New York) a lot. We only played a handful of gigs locally before we actually went to Japan for like 5 months. Then we didn’t play anymore when we came back. We kind of disbanded and then a different version of The Allnighters went back to Japan like a few months after.
Q – How did you get from Syracuse to Japan for five months?
A – By plane. (Laughs).
Q – I know that, but, how did you get the gig? Through an agent?
A – It was a private agent. When I was working at Crouse Irving Memorial (Hospital) at the time Tico Helberg, a bass player from the area came to me and said, ‘Hey, this band is looking for a keyboard player who can sing and we want you to audition for it’. So, it was Dave Walker, Tico Helberg, Rick Raina any myself. That was the Allnighters. A four piece band and we went over in December of ’86 to May of ’87 and that was my first professional paying gig.
Q – Where were you playing over there?
A – Well, mostly military bases.
Q – Something like a U.S.O. tour?
A – We weren’t part of the U.S.O. We were private. We had a private agent. We were salaried, and our houses and most of our expenses. The only thing we had to pay for was food.
Q – Was the food cheap?
A – No. It was expensive actually. In 1986, a wine cooler cost $4.00 of American money. In 1986, I think that was a lot of money. You could drink cheap on the military bases. I will say this for Central New York, it’s also kind of a good thing because since the cream has to rise to the top and really only the higher caliber musicians can work on a regular basis it kind of prepares you to go anywhere else in the United States and almost be a stand-out. That’s what I’m finding here in Central Florida. The standards are lower here ‘cause there’s more opportunity. So, when I go there, being like I had to kind of pay my dues in Central New York and kind of work my way up to where I would consider maybe the top percentage of working musicians. I mean, there’s much better players than myself. Ed Vivenzio, Andy Rudy, all those guys are just way better keyboard players than me. I’m not putting out that I think I’m a brilliant player, but, I think I had a very strong solo act that obviously was recognizable and I was able to get work when you could. I think when you go to a place that has a lot of…..where the standards are lover because there’s a lot more opportunity – you tend to stand out when you come from a place like that.
Q – So, you’re touring as a solo act?
A – I am.
Q – What are you playing onstage?
A – I’m playing keyboards. That’s my primary instrument. I also play guitar and sing obviously. I do program all of my own back-tracks. All the bass, all the drums is all programmed by me. I don’t buy any Karaoke tracks. I don’t use a looping machine. I’m kind of somewhat anal when it comes to trying to get the song as detailed as possible. What I think sets me above a lot of different people is that every instrument I have has it’s own channel on the mixing board and that’s very important. The kick drum, the snare drum, the toms, the cymbals they can all be EQ’d and have their separate channels and you’re not just turning the drums all up as one thing up and down. It sounds like a band because everything is more separated. My dynamics I think are a little more accurate than a lot of guys you see playing in Florida just using a little drum thing that sounds like it’s coming out of a radio.
Q – Are you playing songs that a band would normally do?
A – Oh, sure. Sure. My song list is all over the place. You can see that on my website and I actually have to update it because I’ve added more songs to my show that I haven’t put on my Artists list. I basically have an Artists List on my website that again does need some updating ‘cause I have added some different artists. I do a country version of an Afro man song ‘Cause I Got High’ that I always thought Willie Nelson should do that song because he’s such an advocate for pot. So, I do a country version of it. I mean to B.B. King to Todd Rundgren to Elvis Costello to Nickleback to Radiohead to Squeeze to Oasis to Dave Matthews to Jack Johnson to John Mayer, to Hall And Oats. I’m like all over the place. I also hooked up recently with Dennis Bailey management co. out here as well as some private citizens who are trying to help my career along. He’s more of an agent and he’s been so cool. He’s based out of Tampa ‘cause I’m gonna expand my market out to Tampa a little bit.
Q – Does he represent anybody famous?
A – No. I think he’s got a group he’s kind of putting some money into now that I think he sees some potential in. Do I think he represents anybody famous at the moment? No. He’s like a management/agency co. He’s a retired musician as well. He was a touring musician. He gets it. He treats people well. He tries to get really fair money, and he’s a real cool guy. This is just a connection I’ve made recently. I just started working with him like within the past couple of weeks. He handles accounts like The Hard Rock and a bunch of other places I’ve been wanting to play. I think its obviously gonna be a lot easier to do now that I’m working with him. He’s a believer and really likes what I do. He had a lot of nice things to say.
Q – How many nights a week do you work?
A – Pretty much 4-6 nights a week. As time goes by and the options get better I will probably try to work a solid 5 nights a week because Dennis seems to be getting me better paying gigs. The House of Blues obviously pays pretty well, once you get in there. It’s hard to get in there. It’s a great music venue. It’s probably my favorite one so far. In Central Florida I would say House of Blues, hands down is my favorite venue right now. I’m also playing a chain, Tilted Kilt, which I don’t think has made it’s way up there yet. It’s a franchise, but, I’m playing the one on International Drive. I’m their featured entertainer on Wednesdays and Fridays. Basically Hooters owns this franchise. I find it to be more of an upscale Hooters if you will. It’s not nearly as tacky and the girls wear. I find it to be a much better atmosphere, but they get it, they get the fact when they have the ‘live’ entertainment they get raising the energy level and trying to promote a fun atmosphere. They get that ‘live’ entertainment is not supposed to be muzak it’s suppose to be entertainment. It’s supposed to add to the fun level. It’s really cool. I think from here on in after hooking up with Dennis, I think my venue choices are going to broaden and I’m going to actually just be able to pick and choose some really nice venues that I want to play. I do feel like a fish out of water down here. I can’t stress enough to you how homesick I am. One of the things I loved to do was go see other Central New York musicians play. I have so many musicians I’m great friends with up there. It’s like a laundry list as long as my arm. I miss it so much. I miss the music scene so much up there. We don’t really have that here.
Q – And here’s another thing, people scream for entertainment in Syracuse, and then they don’t go out to support it.
A – Now here’s what I think the climate has an advantage over Central New York. Smokers have a lot to do with that, being that you have the Clean Air Act and you can’t really smoke inside the bars anymore. I think that might have something to do with it. If you play in Florida, most of the time it’s decent out and people don’t mind hangin’ outside, but, when a smoker has to go out when it’s zero, I think that might have something to do with it. But, when I come up there for the Summer, the work comes to me. Everybody has entertainment in the summer time. But, unfortunately summer is very short up in Central New York. But, God bless ‘em. The Retreat is a great venue for live entertainment. I have a phenomenal relationship with The Retreat during the Summer time, and places like Shifty’s, Borio’s, you name it.
Official website: www.markmacri.com
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