“I don’t know if I’ll ever know my craft or if I’ve got my diploma on the wall or whatever, it’s one of those things I’m working all the time to just explore and get better at what I do or at least try to figure it out as to what I do.”
From album bio: After 25 years in rock n roll, the Artist otherwise known as Mark Lizotte has delivered an album that melds all the varied sides of his musical personality – and reveals a few new ones besides. World, meet ‘Let it Fly’. ‘Let It Fly’ is Diesel at his timeless best. An album of twelve new songs, ‘Let It Fly’ is a superb display of the diversity of the multi-instrumentalist’s musicianship working in harmony with his singing, song-writing and production skills. “Stylistically,” says Diesel, “it’s got the R&B DNA in it that’s very me.” That Diesel DNA, so familiar for 25 years, has sprouted new strands – new instruments, new friends, new stories, new insights and a glimpse at the next generation.
We chatted to Diesel about his new album ‘Let It Fly’ as well as touring and looking back at the album that launched his career some twenty four years ago now…
So, to start it seems like it’s been non-stop touring machine this year…
Just this year? *laughs*
Well you’re hitting the road again, this time regionally with the Velvet Curtain tour and then with the band on the album run where as you just finished another solo acoustic tour, do you have to prepare different mentally playing a band show compared to a solo show?
Well I guess the band instantly puts me in a different space, so I don’t really have to think about it, I think about more stuff with the solo thing because I’m so exposed *laughs* but yeah the band show feels really luxurious, especially when I’ve been doing so many solo shows, but having said that I really do enjoy the challenge and the space that I have when I do the solo thing.
I saw you at the Vanguard a few months back and have to say it was amazing, how much fun is it for you to let the crowd essentially choose your set for the ‘Solo and Select’ shows?
Well look, if I did that all the time I’d feel like I was missing out a bit on having my own choice *laughs* but it’s definitely a good thing to do, especially I think periodically as it gives me an idea of what people want to hear out of my catalogue as well, otherwise you’re just assuming or guessing. You can’t get a better indication than people coming to your shows and actually asking for songs, so it’s very direct.
What can fans expect on this upcoming band run in October?
I guess we always play a little bit of a new album when we have it, sometimes more than others, with a few of the records I’ve made they’ve been quite sort of tricky to get into at first and take a while to meld into the set, but I think this one is going to mesh in quite naturally, especially having Tim to come out and do this run, and he played quite a lot of stuff on the album and of course there’s a song on the album that we did together and that will really fortify things and amalgamate the whole sound I think.
You mention you worked with a good friend of ours in Tim Chaisson on a track, how did that come together?
It was just kind of by chance I suppose because he’d been doing some supports with us here and I’d made plans to go over to Canada to do the East Canada music week and East Canada music awards which all happens in the same week, and I guess it’s like the SXSW of that part of the country and actually a lot of people on their way to SXSW stop in at this one as it’s the same period. I’d already made plans to do that and I heard Tim was going and a mutual friend suggested that we write a song together for this songwriters breakfast thing that they do there, which is very early in the morning *laughs* and they get everyone down there into a part of the hotel where the whole thing is happening and you perform these songs that you’ve just written quite quickly or quite recently and the whole idea is that you smash two atoms together and see what happens or two artists in this case. So we did a writing session over Skype as we knew we didn’t have much time before we arrived and that was a bit of a weird idea to start with but once we got rolling and we could hear each other it didn’t really matter where we were, he was just driving back from New York and I was in Perth, twelve hours difference, that was kind of weird, I was having a cup of tea and he was having a red wine. We wrote a song in about five minutes, well it felt like that anyway, and we got to Canada and thought we better check out what we did a couple of weeks ago, so a quick rehearsal in my hotel room and bang, we performed it. It couldn’t have been much more of a fresh song, the smoke was still clearing, so we just kind of took the indication of what happened that morning, it was such a good reaction we thought ‘hang on, maybe we did do something *laughs*, maybe we should pay more attention’ and that’s what we did, we just paid more attention and next thing was that I wanted to put it on my album and the next thing to come out of it was that we recorded an EP that is coming out in October as well, so I’ve got an EP of just Tim and I doing one of his songs, that song, an old song of mine and a cover which is we also found out we’re both big Tom Petty fans so that was kind of cool. I guess when you grow up listening to radio you take it for granted a little bit, take him or his presence and then I guess now as the dust is clearing you start to see his brilliance and it was after the documentary I saw recently by sheer accident on an airplane, they really did come from ‘against all odds’ I think is the phrase, so yeah I’m even more of a fan than ever.
‘Let It Fly’ is out now, and amazingly it’s been five years since your last studio release, so why was now the right time for new material?
Well I guess I could’ve done one in the normal kind of space, two-ish years, I guess that used to be a really standard thing for artists, there are reasons, due to touring and needing a little headspace, that sort of thing, but in the meantime I made these other two record, so that’s probably why. When we started talking you mentioned the non-stop touring, and it’s really been because of the three albums in five years… that’ll kind of do it… *laughs*
What inspired you musically to create the songs for this record?
A lot of it was to do with the other two records we made which was a blues record and an album of my influences of guitar, they definitely influenced not only my song writing but the way I treated the songs when I’d written them and the style of instrumentation, and that’s probably why the banjo emerged on this album just because of Project Blues, that was my first kind of recording of banjo, and in the meantime Russel Morris approached me and said I could play banjo on his album and it was quite random, it was like I’d never thought I’d get call for someone wanting me to play banjo… but yeah I’d heard the track and I was delighted as soon as I heard the track and was quite honoured that he’d picked me to put something on it, this great song, so that was cool. So it was just a natural thing, I had this idea kicking around, I thought it was actually probably inspired a lot by a Neil Young track I think it was on ‘After The Gold Rush’, and I just love the way he plays, he’s got a dirty sort of laid back not caring approach to playing banjo that I really like, it’s a lot rougher around the edges than his guitar playing which is kind of nice. I just wanted to have something of a different nature, a different sound, it just gives the soundscape a real nice departure, especially after the opening track which is just a full on wall of guitars and then it’s not what you expect in song two which is kind of cool. *laughs*
Is there a story behind the album title and track you can share with us?
I mean it’s just a classic sounding title, it was actually Warren Costello who’s worked with me on the last couple of records from Liberation who just said something about ‘Let It Fly’ and I said ‘what?’ and he just assumed the album was called ‘Let It Fly’ I think so I thought I’m not going to argue with that, I think I was calling it by its working title ‘Album Thirteen’ or ‘Thirteen’ unlucky for some, and you know what this might be a title finally that people don’t get misconstrued or mispronounce it or put the words the other way around and jumble them up, so far so good, the three little words seem to work well. I just like the imagery or the connotations, it’s nothing meaningful or anything it’s just a clean simplistic image on the cover and the title fits nicely with it I think. Maybe that’s what’s about to fly off on the cover, the Gretsch Falcon…
I dig the ‘Wind Cries Mary’ kind of groove to it too…
Oh that song? Yeah! That groove was one of the ones that just kind of evolved, I know what the song was in terms of the chords and the melody and that kind of stuff but it wasn’t until we just started playing it that it came to life and I thought there it is, there’s the pocket, and it was kind of a just make it up as you go along kind of thing. It just kind of played out itself I found, and I love that kind of R&B old school, around that time actually when we were recording that song I’d just discovered one of my favourite bands at the moment which is Alabama Shakes so I just thought I’m going to go full tilt with my Memphis Telecaster and get as Steve Cropper as I possibly can *laughs* he’s one of my biggest influences…
I particularly loved the takes on some of your classics if you like, in particular ‘Soul Revival’ which got a revival of its own. Do you enjoy putting a different spin on the songs?
You know what? I just let the instruments that I’ve got at the time if it’s a band or whatever I’m holding, I sort of let that take the reins and with the solo thing it just makes more sense to try something different and have a go at a song, maybe add harmonica or something to take it out of its birthplace of the record where people get in scorched into their head. I think the song has a chance then to show itself even more, that’s what I feel anyway, with a song it’s like ‘OK guys, you’re really familiar with the version you know of this, you’ve got it on your iPod or a CD or whatever, but here’s something completely different, now you’re really going to hear the song as you won’t be distracted by the usual familiar things.’ I think that’s kind of a nice thing, it’s also a good thing for me that I’m not forced to do the same kind of version or try to muster up the same sounds, in one sense it’s hard, almost impossible for me to replicate myself and it just seems pointless as that was a moment that happened and you kind of move away from it. I’ve always loved when artists do different versions of their song that you know, having said that I’ve been known to get a little annoyed when someone plays something way too fast or way too slow and it’s like ‘what’s going on with that tempo? It’s throwing me right off’ but it happens with adrenalin and stuff and sometimes you’ve just got to go with it and accept it, it’s live.
Not to make you feel old, but it’s been 24 years since ‘Johnny Diesel and The Injectors’ released that iconic Australian album, looking back, tell us a bit about how the album came to be?
It’s twenty five years since we crossed the desert, from Perth that is, then we went to Memphis and made that record and put it out in 89. For what it is I’m happy we didn’t get over produced and turned into something else for a first record we definitely put our hearts and souls into it and the producer allowed us to just be us and I think that was a really lucky thing as there was definitely a lot of crazy over production going on at that time *laughs*with bands that were called rock and roll bands or rock bands or whatever it was like well if you rock you’re going to get turned into the stadium band over there that wears spandex and all that, so you know, we were just left to do what we do, I think going down to Memphis instead of maybe Los Angeles or somewhere else in the world for that matter, but definitely going down to Memphis to make that record was the right thing to do. The record producer was quick to tell us that nobody goes down here as far as the industry people go, that’s why he loved working down there because he got left alone *laughs* there’s no pesky A&R guys from the record companies coming down telling him how to make his records. So yeah, we were in the right place just to be ourselves and because of that I think there’s always those warts that you look back on and blemishes and looking at an old photo you wince and go ‘ahhhhh’ I’m just comfortable with the fact that the record is us and that we didn’t get turned into something we weren’t.
Ok, I have to ask as I have a friend when I said I was interviewing you asked me to ask you ‘what exactly is on the tip of your tongue?’ as she’s always wanted to know?
*laughs* well doesn’t it answer that in the song? Three little words that I want to say… I don’t have to tell you what the words are do I? *laughs*
Is there one song from your entire career that you feel defines you as an artist?
That’s really hard because I’m so all over the shop, some would say eclectic but that’s maybe too flattering *laughs* I really have a hard time with just being one facet of music, when I say a hard time, I’m just not what I’m good at, I love a lot of different types of music, so it would be hard for me to say one song as then I’d be closing off the doors to lots of different types of things, but I guess I don’t know, a bit of everything, an amalgamation of all of them… this record, there you go. *laughs*
The evolution of Diesel…
Well yeah that’s kind of what you do…
It has been a great evolution for you, different names, different styles has it been hard for you along the way to do that?
Well I guess the different name thing was just by default, I didn’t definitely plan it out or anything, the band was named after the bass player, and I think I’ll be explaining this for the rest of my life, I had to just go a long with it because I was in the middle of the stage. I was just Diesel for that period before I went to New York and that was fine, that just worked as a solo artist I thought that would work for that bit, and then the label I signed to in New York were worried about the clothing company of the same name, so putting up big billboards all over the city at that point, so I had to appease them and go under my own name for that record and they seemed to think that was fine and that was fine, until I put the record out in Australia and no one knew who the heck I was *laughs* I had a crash course in branding right then and there, but you know it is a work in progress the whole thing, I don’t know if I’ll ever know my craft or if I’ve got my diploma on the wall or whatever, it’s one of those things I’m working all the time to just explore and get better at what I do or at least try to figure it out as to what I do.
Latest Release: Let It Fly (Liberation) out now!
DIESEL ‘LET IT FLY’ NATIONAL TOUR DATES:
Friday Oct 11th THE BASEMENT – Sydney, NSW
Saturday Oct 12th THE BASEMENT – Sydney, NSW
Thursday Oct 17th FRIENDS RESTAURANT – East Perth, WA (Solo)
Friday Oct 18th FLY BY NIGHT – Fremantle, WA
Saturday Oct 19th CHARLES HOTEL – Perth, WA
Sunday Oct 20th RAVENSWOOD HOTEL – Ravenswood, WA
Friday Oct 25th THE GOVERNOR HINDMARSH – Adelaide, SA
Saturday Oct 26 & Sunday Oct 27 Sydney Blues and Roots Festival shows
Friday Nov 1st THE ABBEY – Canberra, ACT
Saturday Nov 2nd THE PALMS AT CROWN – Melbourne, VIC