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INTERVIEW: MARK LIZOTTE aka DIESEL – March 2024

| 21 March 2024 | Reply

INTERVIEW: MARK LIZOTTE aka DIESEL – March 2024
By Shane Pinnegar

We’re here to talk about Mark Lizotte’s – Diesel – latest album, the excellent, bluesy, soulful Bootleg Melancholy, as well as his Perth show at The Regal Theatre, Subiaco this Friday, 22nd March, 2024 – and we will, but we’ll also talk about much more. Important stuff, like mental health, family, and his very early band days in Perth.


Another tour, another lap around the country, this time for Bootleg Melancholy. How’s the album going so far for you?

It’s really been received great, actually. I’ve been getting a lot of radio play and I even heard it in Woollies, so that’s great.

You’ve had a chance to play the songs live a little bit now. Do you find that they’re evolving from their studio incarnations?

Yeah, you always come up with different thoughts when you’re playing [a song]. And there’s always a bit of a gap after you finish a record to when you start playing it live, even if it’s only like a few weeks. Things kind of morph into something else. It’s gonna happen, but not in a wild kind of way, but just little subtle things. Mainly in like, how I might sing it or something.

The album was largely recorded in your home studio, I believe, way back in lockdown. So, given that you’re not running up a huge tab in an expensive studio, does that give you freedom to do more to the songs, or do you run the risk of noodling too much and just working on them over and over?

Yeah, there’s that risk and I try to have an approach of, get it right as much as you can the first time. But there is definitely a few, kind of pencil [something in] and then use the eraser, situations, you know. You start sort of sketching and then you’re gonna start putting more indelible things on. Or sometimes, you start with just the big thick colours, and it’s feeling and looking good and so you just keep slapping and slapping the paint on, and you finish quite quickly.

It doesn’t always happen the same way. But, yeah, just because I’ve got a studio, I don’t feel like I can just let it get out of control. I want to get it finished. There’s that desire in me that wants to hear it as a realised idea, whatever it is. I wanna hear it finished. There’s a certain point where I just know, that’s it. I could keep maybe putting on little ideas that I’m hearing in my head, but I’ll just leave it there because it turns into a kind of, a bit of a cluster, you know, just with too many instruments and too many ideas. Sometimes less is more.

So, I try to be aware of that. I really, really appreciated this [studio] space, especially through those lockdown months, I had plenty of toys to play with, and I was so grateful for that. And then we got busy and started touring again and I had to kind of ‘tools down’ for a while. So, I’ve ended up finishing the record like April/May of last year, and it came out in October – so it was kind of a quick process if I think about how quickly it went when I was in here doing it, but I wasn’t in here every day after that second lockdown that we had here in NSW. [Post Covid, everything] just suddenly opened up and we were like, pinching ourselves, going and getting on planes again and doing shows – so [recording the album] was stop, start, stop, start for a while.

I like the painting analogy there – that’s very fitting, I think. And I guess the hard part is you want it to sound fresh and spontaneous and energetic still, but the more work you do to it, you run the risk of detracting from that a little bit.

Yeah, that’s very true. You can overcook the broth – [laughs] you really can. It’s a lot like cooking.

And you played most of the instruments yourself? [Bernie Bremond, ex-Johnny Diesel & the Injectors, played sax on a couple of tracks, and Lizotte’s long-time drummer Lee Maloney played drums]

Yeah, I’ve actually done the ‘doing everything by myself’ thing a few times in the past on other records, so I wasn’t a stranger to it. But it felt a little different this time because it was more of a technical restraint in that I couldn’t have people in my studio.

Given that you finished the album, I think you said April last year and it came out in October – is it frustrating to have this finished piece of work and then you have to wait six months or sometimes more for a record label to be ready to release it?

That’s not a crazy amount of time, luckily, but anything more than that… I think when it starts going beyond, like, six months, that would be excruciating. Thankfully, I haven’t had to deal with that, but there’s usually always a lot of other things to keep you busy. You’ve got to start thinking about singles and artwork and your mind and attention suddenly goes to other things like setting up tours. As soon as I finished the mixing and mastering, I was straight on to all the other stuff, you know. It’s kind of exciting when you have a new record, it always makes for a really exciting time and strangely, even though I’ve done it quite a few times, it still has a real kind of newness about it every time. I kind of can’t explain why that is, but!

Am I right in thinking that, Like A Dove was intended as kind of a homage to Prince?

Oh, absolutely yeah. I found that song in a pile of demos and I was like, wow, I just instantly had a real affinity to it. I wrote it probably before Prince had passed, so it’s the one song on the album that’s kind of like a bit from the ark – from the storeroom. And I just thought, I really want to do something that gets all my Prince feels out. I just missed having him on the planet. He was an incredibly inspiring artist. I got to see him a few times, I just remember how I would feel after going to a Prince show… it was, you know, you walk in one way and come out another. You’re on a real high for a long time.

Bootleg Melancholy, why the title?

I was probably playing around with it as a working title, and I sort of asked myself, ‘why is it only a working title?’ For whatever reasons, I don’t know, maybe I thought that I would come up with something that was more fitting or whatever, but it seemed to just describe the feelings that I was having.

And I did find myself doing a lot of daydreaming and thinking back about where I’d been, where I’d lived in the world – places and people that I’ve met, in an armchair travelling sort of way, and I sort of had to stop myself and thought, ‘why are you doing this to yourself – making yourself melancholy?’ You know, I have a lot of melancholy just normally, on any given day, but I was tapping – really, really, really tapping into it and I thought, almost like, ‘is it kind of like a wound that you can’t help but sort of keep scratching it?’

Like when you’re a kid and you have a wiggly tooth and it’s just like, ‘ohh, that pain.’ It’s really kind of like… I don’t know how to describe it. You just can’t stop wiggling the tooth that’s about to fall out. It’s kind of emotionally that [place] I found myself, especially through the lockdown.

There were songs like Corduroy and Crumbs, for instance, that speaks about a time that I experienced in New York. And the song Bootleg Melancholy, that came right at the very, very end. That was just kind of a crazy gift. It just sort of walked in and it was five in the morning and I was up doing a rat test to make sure that we’re all okay before we go to the airport going on a crazy early flight. And I picked up the guitar and started strumming, and it’s just one of those things that just kind of happened – at five am! Which is not usually thought of as a great time for artists to work, but there you go.

I was interested to read that you’ve suffered from some, at times, debilitating anxiety, and I’ve been there myself, and clinical depression for a while, and all that sort of stuff. One of the things I’ve tried to explain to friends and family who have been concerned is that it’s almost impossible to understand what that’s like unless you’ve actually experienced it…

Yeah.

…for yourself, have you managed to find a support group that you can share that with – family and whatnot that will do their best to understand that?

Yeah, I’m lucky I’m in a really understanding family. My partner, well, she’s definitely wired a different way, but accepts that this is very much experienced by a lot of people – it’s a universal thing. It’s a human condition and whether it’s environment or a chemical thing that people are born that way… there’s so many different theories where it’s like, is it the gut? Is it this? Is it that? Is it too much stress? Is it blah, blah blah?

I’m agnostic to all of the reasons why, but I’ve been experiencing it since I was a child – I didn’t have a name for it until later in my life. When I think back, I’ve been having fully blown panic attacks since I was five or six years old. I think books and therapy that I’ve had have really helped me incredibly. It’s not like it’s – *tick* – problem solved – *tick* – close that drawer, all good. It’s never going to be that. But I have tools and I think knowing what happens when you’re in that fight or flight mode, and acknowledging that we’re basically animals [helps]. I think when you forget that and start letting your head kind of just take over your whole body… that’s why I do a lot of things that connect my body to my head because I get very cerebral and so things where I have to use my arms and legs and whatnot are just really good therapy, good for my head, but it’s an ongoing work in progress.

That whole process that happens when you start feeling anxious or whatever, it’s basically just chemicals being released. Once you start knowing those things and demystifying it all, it’s like ‘oh, it’s the same chemicals that make you excited.’ It’s unnatural to want to rush into a burning building, but that was part of my learning curve, that you need to exactly do that. You need to like really lean into it and go ‘bring it on,’ like, ‘I know what this is. It’s just cortisol running through my body and it’s the fight or flight instinct.’

It’s the animal instinct in us telling us to either run or fight, and yeah, [understanding] those things really help. Well, it helps me, at least. I think there’s a myriad of things. And personally, I know that substances – like alcohol, whatever else kind of recreational, as they’re called, drugs – really haven’t helped me at all. It just kind of sweeps [the problems] under the carpet and when you sweep something under the carpet, you’re inevitably going to trip on the lump that you’ve made under the carpet at some point.

I couldn’t agree more. That understanding of what’s going on from a chemical perspective is really, really helpful. And having those people who can give you that support and just be like, ‘I don’t understand what you’re going through, but I’m here for you.’ That’s very, very valuable, and shouldn’t be too hard to manage for someone who cares. It was amazing that your son helped you by recommending a book to you! [Barry McDonagh’s book Dare – The New Way To End Anxiety And Stop Panic Attacks]

Yeah, he did. It was great. I mean, like, what better person, you know? It’s just the most beautiful gift and the most beautiful kind of whole full circle thing. And yeah, it really helped. That whole idea of just being able to kind of have a mechanism [to deal with anxiety]. Like I said, it’s a work in progress – there’s still moments where I feel overwhelmed, and I think we all do.

The idea of like, ‘why can’t I be like that guy that’s out there, you know, with his SUV and he’s a plumber or a tradie or whatever. I bet he has no anxiety at all. He just goes to work, has a great life…’ and you know, it’s a ridiculous idea. Just wishing that you could be someone else, or ‘I don’t want to be where I am or who in this body that I am.’

It’s just so universal. The more people I talk to, it’s really comforting actually, to know that you’re really not alone. Like when you get on a plane, for instance, you see everyone and everyone looks like they’re in control, but it could be the person that looks the most calm, sitting there and really collected – they’re actually freaking the fuck out, sitting in their seats.

So, don’t ever feel like you’re just there, completely spiralling on your own, ‘cos you’re not. You’re surrounded by humans who… can do really good, amazing things. You could do some absolutely, you know, despicable things as well, but you know, we’re intrinsically good. I like to believe.

Yeah, and in your own mind at least, destigmatising it to a certain extent is really important as well. Understanding that other people go through this, understanding why it’s happening, and being honest with the people around you that it is happening, I think that that was a real saving grace for me when I learned the importance of that.

It was interesting. My dad was like 85 or 86 and he just come out of hospital, you know, having had radiation for a cancer on his leg. I don’t know if it was the whole hospital experience, I don’t know, but he just started having these anxiety attacks. I was like, wow, I really was so happy that he could talk to us about it. And he said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong with me.’ I’m like, ‘Dad, it’s okay, bring it in.’ My brother was there and we all just kind of came around him.

I didn’t want to dump on my dad at that point and go, ‘well, you have no idea – I’ve gone through this, blah, blah blah.’ But it was like, hey, ‘it’s alright Dad,’ you know? I might have given him some basic support on some things, and he came good in the months following. And I sort of subsided, ‘Oh my God, my dad has probably been having these feelings all his life, and he’s never been able to even talk about them.’ Who knows? The mind boggles… He got really soft in the last few years of him being here on this planet. He really softened up. He was an incredibly forceful, frightening man to me as a child growing up, he was just like – ‘whoa, don’t get in the way of dad, don’t poke the bear.’ Yeah, [he was] hard working, seven kids, all of that. It was very ‘new age’y for my dad to kind of suddenly be exposed. And I was like, ‘oh, this is a real gift.’

It actually helped me, oh my God. It humanised my Dad, you know, in a beautiful way.

Wonderful. Mate, I know you’ve got somewhere to be, so just a couple of very quick ones before you do. You’ve got like, a family cottage industry going on – your son Jesse shot your album cover – his work, by the way, is amazing. I love that that portrait of Jimmy and Jane on the bed of roses, that’s just incredible. And some of those tattooed gang member shots…

Yeah. Yeah, yeah.

Jimmy & Jane Barnes by Jesse Lizotte

…and your daughter Lily is doing your music videos – so you know it’s all happening. It’s all happening in-house.

Incredible. My son and daughter… both love what they do. And Lily is, I’ve always said she’s got so many – they both have so many fingers in so many pies. As far as creativity goes, it’s too much just to limit themselves to one thing. I feel like I’ve definitely been getting my creative things out over the years with music, but I could have easily gone into graphic design as well – that’s what I was sort of tinkering with out of high school. I went and worked in a graphic place actually, but I got put on the screen printing machine and was like, okay, well, this is kind of boring, doing this all day. I didn’t stay long enough to work my way up to the actual design department!

But yeah, I love the aesthetic of everything to do with music, not just the music itself. You know, the 12 inch vinyl record for instance, it’s just a great space to [work with]. I look at my albums downstairs and they’re not just albums – they’re artworks, they really are.

And in actual fact it literally is on the rise because the sales are going up every year, some people still find that surprising. And you know, there’s one part of the world that’s very comforting to me, which is Japan. In Tokyo, for instance, the one surviving Tower Records has just expanded to allow more room for a bigger floor of vinyl. So yeah, there you go. Vinyl in your face, you know! Love it. It’s still a beautiful format to look at a record after you’ve made it and go, that’s my body of work, you know.

Absolutely. So, last question: casting your mind back just a few moons to playing in The Kind with Yak [Sherritt] and the DeMarchi sisters [Denise and Suze], you obviously had the fire in your belly to succeed even way back then…

It’s a lot of moons!

…yes, quite a few! What did ‘making it’ mean to you back then?

That was a good time. Well, look, you know, I look back at that time as kind of a waiting room for me. I guess I didn’t know what was ahead of me – I had no idea really. But I had fire in my belly, like you say. And it was actually a humbling experience for me at that point, because, I’d been showered on with some accolades in WA, there was a few awards given to me, my mum and dad’s house had a few things on the mantelpiece, there had been things written in the newspapers – I was very much encouraged by the local industry from an early age, and I’ve got my mum’s scrapbooks to prove it!

The reality was I’d been playing in in some great bands – and of course Innocent Bystanders was definitely one of them – but I really needed to go to boot camp in a way with my singing and guitar playing. Playing other people’s songs, I describe it as like I was a free-range kind of animal or whatever, and I needed some roping in, you know. Like, I needed to be, you know, humbled in a way – like, ‘hey, you know what? You really don’t know that much. You just play whatever you wanna play, wherever it is on the neck [of the guitar]…’ Which some people go, ‘oh, that’s great, you know – free,’ but learning all of those songs and with The Kind in particular… [gets thoughtful, presumably reminiscing]

We did do things off the charts at the time, but the whole idea of the premise of that band, the genesis of the band was Boyd Wilson, and he hand kind of picked what he wanted. And he was like, ‘well, let’s do some really cool album tracks. It might not be what people want, but we’ll turn ‘em on to it and they’ll dig it, so let’s just try.’

So, we did things like Face To Face by Pete Townsend and some quite challenging songs, you know, like the production was insane on some of the songs that we were doing. And I had to dissect some of these guitar parts by some of the best people in the world. And I was like, ‘god, I don’t [understand]. What’s that? What’s that called? What’s that thing?’ You know, I suddenly learnt in a very quick time that I didn’t know an awful lot. [laughs]

I’d come from a classical background and that was great and everything – I grabbed the guitar and I just ran headfirst into guitar playing, but I was kind of flying by the seat of my pants. I was bluffing and doing a pretty damn good job of bluffing it. So yeah, The Kind was kind of like boot camp for me, and I learned a lot of stuff. It was like, almost like going to music college for a few months.

And then I started one night a week as a kind of an outlet to start writing songs and that’s when the Injectors thing came together. So, we’d play like a Tuesday or Wednesday night, I think it was. It was like a hobby thing. So yeah, my hobby turned into my whole career!

It’s funny how these things open up in front of you like that. That’s great.

Yeah, totally.

Awesome mate. Like I said, I know you’ve got somewhere to be, so all the best with that and looking forward to seeing you in Perth.

I hope your day only gets better as you get up out of bed and make yourself a cup of tea or coffee, Shane. Cheers for your time.

Category: Interviews

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