Mark Younger-Smith Interview
What's it like to write songs with, and play guitar for, Billy Idol? Ask
Mark Younger-Smith. That's what he does. And so we did.
Q. Mark, you and Billy must be preparing to go out on
the road in support of the "Cyberpunk" CD?
A. Yeah. I'm at the rehearsal place right now. I'm stepping away from the
band for a few minutes to do this interview, and we're right back into it.
Q. What are the tour plans?
A. We're going to Europe to do some stadium dates with Bon Jovi. Then, we're
corning back and starting our own tour in October.
Q. Has the recession affected the touring at all?
A. We're gearing down our show this tour. We're going to try and play more
places, because last tour we played nothing but the arena cities. But, we're
gonna play theatres this tour, and we're gonna try to hit some of the smaller
Q. You were out on the road with Charlie Sexton at one point...
A. That's right.
Q. So touring the world is nothing new to you?
A. No. (Laughs)
Q. How then will this tour be different for you?
A. Well, the last tour that I did with Billy, for the last album, we toured
almost as long as I toured with Charlie, but we played nothing but arenas.
Charlie played a lot of theatres. But, this tour will be a lot more fun because
Billy and I have been together for so long. We're kind of like best buddies
now. So, it's a lot more fun this way. We travel together. We hang together.
We do everything together. So, from that standpoint, it will be fun. Since
I wrote most of the songs on this album with Billy, it's more like I'm playing
something from my own heart.
Q. You had a pretty big say in the writing, arranging and production
of "Cyberpunk" didn't you?
Q. Isn't that unusual that someone like Billy Idol would bring someone in
and make them an equal partner?
A. Well, I'm not really an equal partner. But, on "Charmed Life" on
the last album we wrote our first song together towards the end of the project.
It became a real favorite of ours as far as songs, and then we ended up writing
a couple more, that we ended up postponing the record, to put on that
last record. So, I think the writing partnership kind of got really comfortable.
Consequently, on this album we just really wrote well together. We had a good
time writing songs together. We were both on the same plane as far as what
we wanted to write about. Everything is fair and all that kind of stuff, so
yeah, it's great. I'm sure he had Steve doing a lot of stuff with him, too,
Q. As we talk, is there an L.A. music scene?
A. I don't think there is one, if you want to know the truth. I think there's
a lot of people wanting to follow the Seattle thing. To me, I think the only
way you can really stand out in Los Angeles is to do something totally different
from everybody else. If there's a scene going on, or a trend going on where
there's four or five bands playing a similar type style, then you really don't
get anywhere here, whereas I guess in a city like Seattle or where I'm from
Austin, Texas you have a style of music that a lot of different bands will
play, and they still get recognized and heard for the talent they have. Here,
if you sound like somebody else, one of the bands get signed and everybody
else goes by the wayside. Here, people tend not to try like somebody else.
(Laughs) It's an unfortunate situation for Los Angeles. When, we were
making this album, obviously Billy doesn't have to think about that kind of
stuff. I think we've come up with something that is very controversial. It's
different from every record he's ever done, and it's not like anything
anybody else is doing out there, consequently we don't sound like the Seattle
sound. We don't sound like pop-rock. We don't sound like heavy metal. It's
kind of a whole new genre for us, I think, this record. We're making a lot
more heavy statements I think about what the world is like today, and I don't
know if too many people are prepared for that.
Q. You were working construction at one point. Weren't you afraid of an injury
to your hand?
A. Well, I didn't have much choice in the matter. When I was fired from Charlie's
band, to stay in Los Angeles I had to do everything I could. So, I got a job
that would pay enough money for me to pay my bills, 'cause I had some pretty
high bills. The only thing I could find was this construction job laying rebar
and building foundations for homes that had been ruined in the earthquake of
like ’86 or whenever it was. I'd come home. I couldn't even pickup the
guitar. It was terrible, but I had to do it. I'm one of those people who's
not about to say I'm not going to take a construction job because it's not
my style. I gotta survive. Maybe God was looking after me.
Q. One thing we always hear is how many great guitarists there are in LA.
Q. So besides talent, what else do you have to have to get to your level?
A. Well, I think experience makes a big difference. I've been playing music
for a living since I was 13 years old. My parents left me in the Virgin Islands
when I was a young kid, and I've played on cruise ships when I was really
young making money. I think you tend to look at music a different way. I still
want to play with heart and soul on everything I do but, at the same time,
you have to look at things realistically. I think I tried to make myself the
kind of person who would make everyone around me sound as good as possible,
rather than the kind of person that wanted to make himself sound as good
as possible. Really, in the guitar world, there's enough guitar heroes. There's
plenty of 'em to go around, and the last thing I ever wanted to be was
a guitar hero. I'd rather be remembered as somebody who was participating in
writing songs that people remember which is probably one of the things Billy
liked about me. I had a good sense of sound and tone and what sounded good
with each other, rather than how many notes I could play on the guitar. As
a matter of fact he said, 'I think on this album you should show off a little
bit.' So there's a couple of songs, like the very last song on the album “Mother
Dawn” where I show off my licks, but I'm not really fond of that because,
if the song is good enough you don't need to stop the song, to have a guitar
solo blazing away. (Laughs). If you're gonna put a solo in there, it better
be as good as the song is. (Laughs)
Q. You knew Stevie Ray Vaughn?
A. Oh yeah, sure. I used to see him play in clubs all the time.
Q. When he was coming up, not when he was famous?
A. Oh yeah, sure.
Q. Did you ever think he was gonna go places?
A. Well yeah, I mean his brother Jimmy and his group the Thunderbirds had
more success early than Stevie did. But, you could tell that eventually something
was gonna happen. There's a lot of people coming out of that city ( Austin,
Texas) like that. That's the funny thing about Austin is people always talk
about Seattle and really Austin has been going for years with turning
out people, but they're all diversified. There's so many different types of
musicians. You got Willie Nelson, Stevie Ray. There's country, and there's
R and B, and blues. And, there's some great jazz players. For pop music, there's
Christopher Cross. He must've sold what, 5 or 6 million records. But, it's
a real diversified market there. I think if a city gets locked into one scene
or one sound, it can kind of hurt itself, more than help itself, 'cause
after a few years that style dies away and then what are they left with? A
bunch of bands that still sound like something that happened six years ago.
I'd hate to see that happen to anybody. I think the stuff coming out of Seattle
is really cool.
Q. You made your living for awhile by building guitars. How did you know
you could do that?
A. That kind of goes back to when I lived in the Virgin Islands. There were
no music stores there, so I had to work on my own guitars. I literally learned
myself how to fix 'em. Then I got a few books and started learning how to tear
them completely apart. Once I got over that part I had to remember how to put
'em back together. (Laughs). Eventually I got good enough to where I started
repairing guitars for a living down in Texas. Then I got this job working with
this guy who built guitars. We built like 175 guitars.
Q. For some of the most famous guitarists in the world.
A. Oh yeah. That's something I used to be really proud of. I'm still really
proud of it; it's just that I don't really talk about it anymore, because it's
just so long ago. It was like 1980, 1981.
Q. Do any of the people you built guitars for keep in regular contact with
A. Well, no. Basically, when I built the guitars they would come in. There
were 3 people who worked there, the owner, I built the guitars, and there was
another guy who did all the finishing work, you know, that painted ‘em.
So basically the owner would meet them and greet them and they’d walk
around and shake our hands. They’d sign the guitars under the neck. They
never knew me. They wouldn't remember me if they saw me now. Tom Petty is managed
by our same management. It's funny, he remembered me when I was playing
with Billy. He goes, "Hey, don't I know you from somewhere?" I said "yeah,
you know me from Austin, Texas." He said "Oh yeah, man." I built
him and Mike Campbell some guitars. He said, "I remember you. You built
some guitars for us. What are you doing out here?" I said "I'm playing
with Billy." He goes, "Oh wow." So, it was nice that somebody
Q. You were friends with James Honeymoon Scott (Pretenders) weren't you?
A. Yeah. He was a good friend of mine.
Q. Did you or anyone else ever try to discourage him from taking drugs?
A. You know, the funny thing was I just recently in the last year and a half
have stopped. So, the hardest thing for me to do at that time although, I wasn't
doing cocaine then. He had inherited a liver problem that nobody knew about,
except him and his widow Peggy Sue. I guess what had happened was Peggy Sue
was staying with me and it was kind of a weird situation when he went back,
and Pete, the bass player was fired. Pete was the one that got him into the
band. So, they were kind of partying together. Then, he had, from what I understand,
4 drinks and a couple lines of cocaine and his liver failed, which is how he
died. He didn't really overdose, which is why they didn't say he overdosed,
but the lifestyle he led, definitely contributed to the deterioration
of his liver. I would get mad at him, because we would go out drinking and
he'd mix wine and port. He'd take 2 or 3 drinks, and he'd pass out. I used
to tell him, 'hey man, you're no fun. Come on. You can't do that kind of stuff.
Just don't drink if it's gonna be that way.' That was a long time ago. I was
a lot younger then. It was the rock 'n' roll scene. He'd come into Austin and
we would hang out. He actually worked with me on a bunch of music that I did.
It's sad. Sure it would be great to say I tried to talk him out of it, but
I'm not gonna regret that now. Back then, I don't think people were as concerned
with drug abuse and drug use and alcoholism as they are today. I smoke
and I'm starting to feel like I should move to another country. (Laughs). Wow,
I smoke and that's bad. I'm clean. Because I'm smoking I'm looked at like what's
wrong with you? You smoke? Pretty soon they're going to say any addiction is
bad. So, don't drink coffee in the morning. Don't have a cigarette. You're
exercising too much. You're addicted to exercising, you oughta stop exercising.
(Laughs) I'm sure they'll figure out a way to kill you, no matter what
you do. Life ends eventually. He was a great guy. I can't say whether or not
somebody should have or shouldn't have. He was a really great guy. It's a big
loss to the music world. I still think about him all the time. I have pictures
of 'em up with us together, in my house.
Q. I imagine you could write a book.
A. Yeah, probably, but I won't. (Laughs)
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