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A Dirty Dozen with MARK JOHNSTON from KNELT BEFORE – November 2022

| 15 November 2022 | Reply

According to a recent press release: “Knelt Before is a Positive Mental Attitude Hardcore / Pop Punk band featuring former members of Second Coming, LoveHateHero, What Lies Within and Divide the Day. After leaving music for many years, Mark Johnston and Don Rossington got together through a mutual appreciation of straight edge hardcore, positive thinking, and strong moral values (Don is a teacher, Mark is a firefighter). After searching for months to find like-minded individuals, Mark and Don connected with Shannon Eoff and Derek Woodard. Having known Mark from a previous project, Shannon was an obvious choice, and on her recommendation Derek was added as a second guitarist. Expanding upon a cache of songs that Mark and Don had written, the group went right into recording and producing their debut album, Be Nice. Being that 3/4 of the band are parents (Shannon is a proud new grand mom!) the group adheres to a no cussing / PMA approach to songwriting and life in general. Mark elaborates, “Throughout my career I have pushed to make positive, accessible music. Refraining from cursing, and having positive messages in our music is a tenet that I hold firmly to.” With this release, Knelt Before are making music on their terms in a time when it seems most people are creating for social media more than themselves. Knelt Before doesn’t pander to what’s popular, they make music for themselves. They’re too old to care about what other people think of them.” We get singer Mark to discuss new music, influences, and more…

1. Tell us a little about your latest release.  What might a fan or listener not grab the first or second time they listen through?  Are there any hidden nuggets you put in the material or that only diehard fans might find?

Our latest release Be Nice was written and recorded between January 2022 and July 2022. A large chunk of the album was written while I was convalescing after sustaining an ACL and Meniscus injury, jumping out of a second story window while firefighting. It was recorded at Mark’s studio Atwye studios (named after his son, Atlas) and was mixed/produced/mastered by Joel Otte (of Brothers / Worst Self) at Studiotte in Michigan. Some interesting points of note from the album are the influences that were drawn throughout the album – there’s a song that has a decidedly heavy Dag Nasty / 90’s Revelation Records influence, one that pulls from Madball / Life of Agony / 00’s Roadrunner Records, and one that draws heavily from Factc (Japan) / Shadows (obviously the one in Japanese, but still…). We tried really hard not to relegate the album to being a hardcore throwback – I’ve never felt connected to a singular scene or genre and I think the music reflects that. Something interesting that you might get from the album – the lyrics are basically a conversation with my son about things that arise in life, and how I’ve dealt with them (anger, having difficult interpersonal relationships, having to go away to fight fires and being unsure what will happen to me, learning how to cope with various emotions and turn them into something positive…) – I think if you listen to the album with open ears and an open heart, you’ll really get something positive from it.

2. What got you into music, and can you tell us about the moment you realized you wanted to be a musician?

First and foremost – my uncle. My uncle, Lee Jackson, is an amp designer that made amps for Zack Wylde, Eddie Van Halen, Paul Gilbert… everyone! Being around him, going to the NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show in Anaheim, seeing his band perform. That began my love of music.

3. Building on that, is there a specific song, album, performer, or live show that guided your musical taste?

I’d say my first influences were Steve Vai and Page Hamilton. Steve Vai has all this amazing talent and yet remains such a grounded and beautiful person. Page is a jazz genius, and is such a friggin’ ninja about it. At first glance – listening to the simple yet powerful music of Helmet, you wouldn’t know the truth behind their frontman. “The Audience is Listening” by Steve Vai, and “Unsung” by Helmet were the ones that really resonated with me and got me interested in exploring more. Steve Vai led me to Marc Bonilla, Paul Gilbert, Ottmar Liebert; and Helmet led me to Life of Agony, Rollins Band, and Dag Nasty. I have always been around “rockstars” and the ones that have struck me the most were the ones were so nonchalant about it. My most cherished memory was having my uncle and a famous buddy of his asking if I could help get them into Disneyland for free (my friend worked there). They could afford it, but they were so giddy about being able to get in for free. It was great. Since then I have had my time in the spotlight and enjoyed a decent amount of success – but that success was the fulfillment of loving what I was doing and accomplishing my goals (which included being signed to large indie and major labels).

4. If you could call in any one collaborator to do a song with, who would it be, and why?

I will always want to do a song with Pete Kowalsky. Since we were label mates in 2005 that guy has been such an influence and someone I have always, and will always, admire. Amazing frontman, songwriter, person. Everything he writes is nothing short of amazing, Remembering Never, xBISHOPx, Ether Coven, Heathen Prayer – how can you not be absolutely amazed by this guy. He survived cancer! Even though he was not a fan of my band when we were on Ferret, he still was welcoming and a solid friend.

5. What is your favorite activity when out of the studio and/or not on tour?  What do you like to do to unwind?

Firefighting is the most fun you can have without dying while simultaneously having the possibility of dying. It combines screaming, running, fire, power tools, fire… Being able to support my community, be a positive role model for my son, and do something REALLY fun is the best way to unwind I can think of. If anyone has any interest in getting into firefighting (volunteer, career, wildland) I encourage you to seek out opportunities, or contact me and I’ll help find somewhere. I can’t speak highly enough of the pleasure that I get from serving my community.

6. How would you describe your music to someone who’d never listened to you before? What is the one comparison a reviewer or fan has made that made you cringe or you disagreed with?

I’d say we’re like if Blur were a hardcore band. The thing I love about Blur is that they aren’t beholden to a genre. I know we aren’t quite there yet, as our latest release definitely is heavy on the hardcore and pop punk tinge, but I hope to be able to branch out and do whatever the heck we feel like. Don and I are 90’s / 00’s hardcore and pop punk, Shannon is 90’s rock / indie / grunge, Derek is 2010’s – current metal and tech. Derek is a little under-represented but I hope to fix that on the next album cause that guy has some awesome ideas! As far as an unfair comparison – I don’t think we’ve had any that are too far off. Someone said there was a Sick of it All sound in our music and a buddy of mine was shocked by that, but whatever people want to liken us to – I’m happy with it.

7. When your band is hanging out together, who cooks, who gets the drinks in, and who is first to crack out the acoustic guitars for a singalong?

Being that we are all older and have families, getting together is often difficult. I do say though, that we all enjoy the opportunity to hang out and just decompress. We all live hectic lives, and playing / recording / just being around each other really helps ground us and bring us back to our centers. Don and I probably hang out the most. We enjoy going out for vegan vittles.

8. When was the last time you were starstruck and who was it?

Since I’ve been around it all my life, I don’t really ever get starstruck. I will say that I did pay to get to chat with Page Hamilton during Covid. That was someone I never got to meet for more than a moment here and there and I just felt that I had to speak with him and thank you for what he has done for me. To the same end I also donated lessons to a student that he had that was struggling and that felt really good being able to do that for someone else that looked up to him as I did.

9. What is the best part of being a musician? If you could no longer be a musician for whatever reason, what would be your dream job?

Prior to being a firefighter I was a teacher for 10 years. That was a direct result of me being a touring musician. The BEST part of being a musician is having a kid come up to you and say, “I’m learning how to play guitar because of you…” The exact reason I became a musician was because of Page Hamilton and Steve Vai. To have a kid say the same thing to me was the most overwhelming thing – indescribable what I felt. I was so overcome, I gave the kid my guitar. The exaltation – jumping up and down, screaming, running to his parents, having his mom come over to make sure he didn’t steal the guitar, her crying, him crying, me crying – THAT is why I do it. That is why there is no cussing in our music. That is why we promote Positive Mental Attitudes. I don’t have an ESP endorsement this go around so who knows if I’ll be able to give out guitars left and right again… but if I could…

10. What is one question you have always wanted an interviewer to ask – and what is the answer? Conversely, what question are you tired of answering?

I don’t know if there’s a question I want someone to ask me. I’m just happy that someone wants to find out more about our band. As a musician, it’s my responsibility to share my truth and be a positive influence on people. People turn to music to help explain the good and the bad in their life by sharing experiences. I’ll never get tired of answering questions about that because I love telling our story and sharing our message.

11. Looking back over your career, is there a single moment or situation you feel was a misstep or you would like to have a “do over,” even if it didn’t change your current situation?

I was always too trusting when it came to helping people in one way or another. When I was in Lovehatehero I was the bankroll, I was the responsible one. I often times sacrificed something for myself for the benefit of the group, and came to realize that I was mostly along because of how I benefited the band and not because they valued me as a person in any way. I got love from the label, endorsers, other bands on tour, but never my own band. I felt that in a lot of the bands I played in. I don’t know if that was a consequence of being part of the Orange County scene… but I was definitely a victim of it. After Lovehatehero there was a band that asked me join them, the bassist was in our music video and had been (what I thought) a friend of mine previously. Turns out they just used me to get signed and then ditched me… and the label was pissed because I was friends with the owners. All that being said, I can’t help being who I am, and all of the things that I have done – good or bad, have brought me to where I am at with my beautiful wife and my son who I adore. So there is no room in my life for regrets.

12. If you could magically go back in time and be a part of the recording sessions for any one record in history, which would you choose – and what does that record mean to you?

Blind Melon’s self titled album. I briefly knew Shannon before he died, and to have seen the dynamic and the process for them during the making of that album. Of course, not being a fan of the drugs that would have been a big turn off but still – that album has no skips. I listen to that thing so often and I hear some interesting nuance every time. But really – the way albums were made 20 years ago and prior to that – I miss that process. Studios were elaborate, creative spaces. Now it’s a cramped space with hardly any analog equipment. That’s the way of the world, and I love how accessible everything is, but how I miss going to Robert Lang studios in Seattle and just the size and feel of being in a huge studio with 2 inch reels and giant baffles. That was heaven.






Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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