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Interview – Diesel, August 2013

| 14 August 2013 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

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Story originally published in X-Press Magazine’s 14th August 2013 issue – read it HERE


Diesel – Mark Lizotte to his Mum – has been plying his bluesy rock n’ soul around Australia and America for many years now, ever since his debut self titled album with Johnny Diesel & The Injectors way back in 1989.

Since then he’s released records under the moniker Diesel and his own name, recently completed a TV soundtrack, and has a new record out now called Let It Fly.

With too many gigs coming up to list here, you can check them all out at his website – HERE

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100% ROCK: Hey man, how’re you doing – thanks for your time today

Diesel: No worries

100% ROCK: So – firstly, I’m not sure what the protocol here is – do I call you Mark or do I call you Diesel?

Diesel: Oh look, either/or. You’ve got two options there, they’re both right! [laughs]

100% ROCK: Is it a split personality thing here?

Diesel: Oh absolutely! I’d say there’s four – maybe a few more actually! I’m a Gemini born on the cusp, supposed to be a quad!

100% ROCK: Maybe I should direct different questions to different personalities – but that might get confusing hen I’m typing it up!

Diesel: [laughs]

100% ROCK: So Let It Fly is out next week – great record, man, I’ve listened to it a few times and it’s really cool

Diesel: Thankyou

100% ROCK: I believe it was recorded in bits n’ pieces over two or so years?

Diesel: Yeah. Well I made two records in that time in between doing some work on a TV soundtrack. And I mixed a record for someone else, my niece’s record. So yeah – two records, a TV series and mixing a record, that kind’ve kept me away from it to a large degree. But somehow in between I’d have these days or half days or sometimes maybe an hour when I would go at it really hard. It was so sporadic that sometimes when I came back to it I’d forgot the track so completely that I came back to it thinking I hadn’t done much on it, then I’d hear all this stuff on and go ‘ummm, I wonder who did it’!! [Laughs] Like, maybe the elves came in and did it, like The Elves & The Shoemaker. It was a bit like that, but when you work in little flurries like that it kind’ve happens. I think the record benefitted from it in some ways ‘cos I never got to the point where I was sick of it and just wanted to see the end of the tunnel. Sometimes when you do records all in one go like that, all in one studio, it can be really like giving birth or something. It’s a lot to take on, a whole record. EPs are a lot easier.

Diesel Let It Fly CD

100% ROCK: When you’re recording tracks which are gonna make up an album maybe two years down the track, and you’re recording bits here and there, is it hard to make it all sound cohesive? ‘Cos this record does sound like its one entity…

Diesel: Yeah, I think that all came with the instruments I picked, and there were a few songs written at the last minute as well. So there was this thread that went all the way through it. And to have Tim Chaisson come in and play some instruments on it which gave it a little flavour, things which I’d already started to develop. He came in and just added that extra level of flavour that just glued it all together. He was definitely a real sort of catalyst for me [to finish the record].

100% ROCK: I was gonna ask how you hooked up with him ‘cos he features The Mile and Last Shower…

Diesel: Yeah, well we wrote [Last Shower] together. We were at a music conference together in Halifax in Canada, and one of the things about it was, they like to pair off artists to write songs and then you perform them on this breakfast songwriter’s circle kinda thing. And the only way we could do it was by Skype, ‘cos he was driving up from New York to King Edward Island where he lives, PE Island as they call it. I was actually in WA, so we were exactly twelve hours difference – so it was 8am for me and 8pm for him. [laughs] He was having a red wine and I was having my Earl Grey! So we got on Skype and wrote a song within about half an hour and sort of forgot about it. It wasn’t until we performed it in Canada and we got such a strong reaction from everyone in the room, every one was coming up going ‘that was really good’, calling it the pick of the litter and all that, so I just took it all with a grain of salt – but that’s when we started thinking ‘well maybe we DID do something!’

And that’s where the idea of recording it came from. We’ve actually got an EP coming out in October with some other tracks that we’ve done together, it’s a four track thing and it’ll have that song, Last Shower, on it. I guess while I had him in the country doing a few support slots with me I’d be mad not to have him play – seeing what he does on stage I thought ‘I’ve got to get this guy in the studio and get him to play on my album’, so I thought ‘what can I get him to play on’? I coulda kept going but we were sorta stuck for time. I really loved what he did, especially to the last song on the album, The Mile. That was already going really nicely – I was happy with the environment and the feel of the song, but when he came and put the fiddle on top of it I just thought ‘wow!’ This song was just made for him – like I made the whole song just so he could come and put that fiddle on it!

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100% ROCK: And I read that he pretty much comes in to the studio and just goes – BANG!?

Diesel: Yeah he’s very much… I guess we’re very much the same when it comes to that. He doesn’t even bother asking what key the song’s in or anything. He just sort of starts playing. I could have just been happy with one take but I thought, ‘geez I better get two just in case’, but I ended up using just the one take. I thought ‘Geez he’s gonna think I’m really unprofessional if I don’t ask for another take!’ [laughs]

100% ROCK: That sounds like it was really collaborative – you’re not a dictator in the studio saying ‘this is exactly what I want, do it just like that’?

Diesel: Nah, well look, y’know. Sometimes it gets a bit like that with certain things, you have to do it bolt by bolt, screw by screw to get to where you need to get to. But it’s not my favourite way of working, put it that way [laughs]. I much prefer to just play and everything’s good straight away, and as long as you’ve got the mic and the pre-amp and everything set up so you’re not going to go back later and go ‘damn, I recorded and it’s distorted’, you know what I mean. You [just have to] capture it right – the art of capturing, y’know? It’s definitely the type of recording I prefer – just walk in, play, you play what you feel and that’s it.

100% ROCK: You stretched yourself on this record too didn’t you – you picked up the banjo and mandolin. Are you a bit obsessive when it comes to mastering new instruments?

Diesel: [laughs] It’s funny ‘cos the banjo – I mess around with it onstage. ‘Mess around’, that’s what I like to call it – I am by no means Bela Fleck [famous American banjo player] or anything! Or even Steve Martin the actor comedian, see him play banjo – it’s pretty frightening! You wonder if it was really a banjo career he was after and he happened to become a comedian/actor by accident.

100% ROCK: Billy Connolly is another one who can rip on the instrument, isn’t he?

Diesel: Yeah! I just use it for my own purposes, really. A bit like Neil Young, that record After The Goldrush where he pulls out a banjo, and it’s got that really low-fi effect that I like. Russell Morris actually called me up for his album that he just released recently [Sharkmouth], there’s a song he wrote about Squizzy Taylor, and he called me and said ‘I’d really love you to play banjo on it’, and I nearly fell over – that’s the first call I’ve ever gotten for BANJO!!! [Laughs] That’s like the height of optimism: the banjo player that waits for the phone to ring!! Definition of optimistic [Laughs] I couldn’t say no, and I was very flattered, it was like, well, if he thinks enough of my banjo playing then I should probably step up to the plate and put a banjo track on my album! And it just so happens that I had been fiddling with an idea, I thought, I really like the idea of combining the banjo with sounds you never hear with it, which is why I went for the 808 electronic drums, kind’ve beatboxey thing. I think they go really well together because they’re both really short, in their sound. They’ve got that really percussive nature.

100% ROCK: You’ve also got your daughter Lily [aka Lila Gold] singing throughout the record, doing backing vocals. Having your daughter sing on really personal songs like Let Me Give and Navigate, does that intensify the emotion for you as a songwriter?

Diesel: Yeah, it does. Just the sound of her voice, it’s always amazed me how I could get her in to sing something and [I always] end up thinking ‘Wow, that really changed the track’. Usually the female voice does change the soundscape of my sound quite a bit but I guess – maybe it’s a genetic thing or something, but on every occasion it just always really surprised me. I guess I was going at it so hard I wasn’t really paying attention – certain tracks I always had little notes going – ‘note to self, get Lily to come in and sing on this’. So I guess with the duet, that happened right at the end. And it was [in my head], well, if I asked her, ‘do you wanna do a duet’, she might go ‘hmmmm, I dunno…’ [laughs] I just really underplayed it and I said ‘you know, I got this track, you maybe want to sing on this verse?’ And she didn’t bark at all, she just said ‘yeah, sure Dad’. I think by then I’d sort of lured her into a sense of, she was kinda cool with the idea of singing on the record, and that song, I probably wouldn’t have even bothered trying to get it onto the album if it wasn’t for her making it complete like that!

100% ROCK: But is it hard when you’re the artist…

Diesel: It’s pretty hard to sing a duet by yourself [laughs]

100% ROCK:…yeah! Is it hard, as the artist, to look at it from a technician’s perspective when you have got your own daughter there singing your song which is about some really personal emotions?

Diesel: Well, I guess when you’re making music you just… [pauses] separate yourself to some degree. She just becomes an artist, working with me in the studio. Thankfully, that’s something I’ve got to enjoy because any parent, their son or daughter, there’s a certain amount of struggle, conflict, whatever you want to call it [laughs] Thankfully I get to share this playing field with her, where everything just gets pushed aside and we’re just two musicians side by side, working together. Then we go back to, you know, like, yelling at each other [laughs again]

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100% ROCK: [Laughs] Teenagers, eh!

Yeah, we’re almost through that now!

100% ROCK: There’s a line in The Miles which really struck me as important – the line “Nothing familiar but our LPs”, about when you first moved over here with your folks. Is that where your love of music came from?

Diesel: Well yeah, that was kind of… we migrated over here and we didn’t really bring an awful lot at all. In fact, we brought nothing – we just had our clothes and a few records of my Dad’s and for Christmas we had a newspaper cutout of a Christmas tree on the wall of the immigration hospital we were in – it was like quarantine for humans! Where they make sure you haven’t got any terrible diseases before they let you go into society. I dunno if they do that any more but that’s what they did back then. There’s photos of me looking like a biafran – I lost so much weight ‘cos there was only one meal that I liked, which was on Fridays we had fish n’ chips and jelly and ice cream, and the rest of the food was SO BAD… I couldn’t eat it – it just scared the hell outta me! There’s photos of me in a tree somewhere in the Australian bush, and every rib is sticking out like you wouldn’t believe. But we survived, you know. That, and everything smelt like lamb. Back then a lot of products were made with sheep fat, like all the soaps, all the detergents, were all sheep based. And that was the smell – quite a few books have been written about that era by people coming to Australia and they all mention that Australia had quite a strong sense of sheep! It really permeated through everything. It’s well and truly faded now but in the Seventies that really was the smell of Australia. That and eucalyptus. It was a very strange land to us – but we adapted really quickly. As soon as my Dad came down the Hume Highway, he found a band to play with – he found a band of guys who were ex-Australian Navy, he was ex-US Navy, so they all got on. He was playing his sax within weeks of heading down the highway, so when I think of it like that we integrated really well. My Mum got a job working in a hospital ‘cos she was a nurse. But I guess my memories are of going to school and having different clothes, and my hair was like, way longer than anyone else’s ‘cos we were from America where it was okay to grow your hair out a little bit whereas it was still pretty conservative here, believe it or not. My brothers had hair down to their arse. And I remember bringing friends home from school and them going ‘geez your brothers are really huge, what’s up with their long hair?’ ‘It’s called growing your hair out – you guys’ll be doing it soon!!’ This was small country town Australia – and I didn’t want to stick out at all, but I did – maybe it was the purple polyester flares that my parents dressed me in? That would not have helped! [laughs]

100% ROCK: I’m just about out of time so I’m gonna have to cut you off ‘cos I have one more question I really wanted to ask you…

Diesel: No worries

100% ROCK: Considering how personal a lot of these songs are, does Let It Fly mark a sort of coming of age moment, or a tying up of loose ends from your past?

Diesel: Um, yeah, a little bit. I think this record, probably more than any other record I’ve made to date, is a real kind of coagulation of all the records I’ve done so far. I think my last one – the blues record, and the guitar record definitely, influenced it as well. It’s gonna happen I ‘spose. I just really felt on this one, a sudden crystallisation – or a distillation, I like to call it. ‘Cos all the records prior to this, gawd I don’t know where I’m going to be going from here, but its definitely helped that, on this one.

100% ROCK: Well it’s been cool man, thanks for your time and we’ll see you in Perth in October.

Diesel: Yeah I’m looking forward to playing in Perth – and to bringing Tim (Chaisson) to town too.

100% ROCK: Yeah! That’s gonna be awesome, man.

Diesel: Oh yeah, he’s incredible, just on his own he’s incredible. Thanks for your time too.

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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