An Interview with Mark Mangold of Touch

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Today I’ve got veteran keyboard player Mark Mangold with us for a chat. You may remember Mark through his time with Arena Rock band Touch, who are back together and have their long-awaited third album available for purchase. The album is called Tomorrow Never Comes, and you can grab it here.

On today’s docket, Mark and I touch on (no pun intended) Mark’s early years in music, recreating the magic of Touch after so many years apart, his new music with American Tears (link here), and a whole lot more. Dig in.

Andrew:
Mark, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. It’s been a weird year, hasn’t it? How are you holding up given the tumultuous events of the past year or so?

Mark:
Thanks for asking. Yes, we are hanging in there.

Andrew:
Tell us about backstory. How did you get into music? What was the gateway so to speak?

Mark:
For as long as I can remember, I was into music and rhythm somehow. It seemed like a natural flow from high school bands (started on drums) to original bands and then writing songs and getting lucky to be playing with one of them at a club and getting a record deal and then being hooked into that and trying to get things out there and become a better player. I grew up in a fertile music ground of long island and just kept going to this very day. Haha.

Andrew:
As an artist and keyboard player, who were some of your earliest and more important influences?

I had a piano in the house and noodled, and then eventually got a Hammond and just played for hours and days and months and years. :)) 

A lot of Blues, discovering things, and trying to turn them into songs. I didn’t take lessons per se. Jimmy Smith, the master of the Hammond, was a significant influence, and then it just became everything I heard or channeled from somewhere.

Andrew:
Let’s dive in and talk about Tomorrow Never Comes. What was the inspiration? Tell us about the recording process and how this record came together. How did the recording process for this record compare to the band’s earlier records all those years ago?

Mark:
It started out just wanting to do at least a song for old times sake and for the fans who kept encouraging us (at least two or three of them. :))

I sent a few songs to the guys, and they picked four, and then Craig wrote a few and Doug wrote a few, and boom, we had 12 songs. We converged a few weekends at my place in new york end of 2019 and early 2020 until the virus hit and then had to figure out how to keep recording long-distance. Doug and Craig learned “Logic,” which is a music recording program, and we would do sessions long distance, and they would send me the files, and I would mix it up. Of course, doing our multi harmony recording was a bit more challenging than the old days, where you are in the same room blending and being able to see the other person to keep the phrasing tight. But we figured it out. Of course, it’s not as much fun as being in the same room and playing and making noise and feeling that live energy but there was no choice about it but, I would say, any musician and band these days knows that limiting and frustrating situation.

Andrew:
More on your new record now. Lyrically, what themes did you explore during the writing of Tomorrow Never Comes? How was your writing different for this record compared to your work we’ve seen in the past?

Mark:
I can’t speak for the other guys, but know that we wrote about what we have been feeling and thinking. For the most part, these are personal songs, and everyone has a story. Whether the guys want to talk about it or not or put things in concrete, I doubt it. You can interpret things in many ways, and for me, I prefer to hear what someone thinks something means. It hits everyone in different ways, and sometimes you don’t realize what the lyrics mean until much later when you say, oh, that’s what I meant. Haha. Indeed, songs like “Tomorrow Never Comes” talk about our present predicament. “Frozen Ground,” duh. “Glass” is about empowerment. “Swan Song,” in a way though unintentionally, and I didn’t know at the time, pretty clearly defines my present predicament having been in Sweden for the past 11 months, being “overseas” this is my “Overseas Symphony.” However, when I wrote the song, it meant something entirely different. The main thing for us is, to be honest. It’s very much an outlet for us to get things off our chests. Check out “run for your life,” I think we can all relate to that. But maybe “Lil Bit Of Rock ‘N’ Roll” negates all that, and really… it’s only Rocks ‘N Roll. Don’t take yourself so seriously

Andrew:
It’s obviously been a long time since Touch’s last record, which came out in 1982. Given that, what led to the band finally regrouping all these years later to put out your long-awaited third record? What’s changed since those early days that makes this go around more enjoyable? Why will it stick this time?

Mark:
Nothing has changed. Haha. Like with old friends, you see them and are immediately transported, and it feels like it’s been 5 minutes since you saw them last. Fortunately, everyone is playing and singing better than ever. When we met at my studio in NY and started hitting some harmonies, it was immediately, “Holy shit, that was fun.” We know what we do, and we still have that dedication to give it all and try to help whoever wrote the particular song realize their vision. Of course, we all contribute ideas, but in the end, it’s up to the guy who wrote the song. A few discussions about “What is touch?” but in the end, it was whatever we wanted touch to be. We’ve always been an eclectic band, and there’s a lot of room, and this band is a place where we can be creative and get ideas out there.

There’s a balance; you try not to overthink (at least I don’t. Haha) of threading a needle wanting to be original and yet knowing fans are indeed expecting something that they may consider to be “touch” and also not wanting to be generic and a cartoon of what we used to be. Once something has a label, a name, i.e., “Melodic Rock,” and 10,000 bands have played in this style (that in its inception was original and discovery) and you’ve heard a wannabe foreigner, Whitesnake or Dio song for the 10,000 the time…it kills creativity and for me gets boring very fast. We wanted no part of that and steered away from that, I think. But ultimately, it’s about the fun of working together, hanging, the camaraderie. It’s all an excuse to hang. :))

Andrew:
Let’s go back a bit. Touch debuted in an era of arena Rock. The band’s first two records, Touch and Touch II were really great and truly underrated. Looking back, what are your thoughts on those records? What’s their legacy? How does your new material stand up to those two classic records?

Mark:
Well, I like those records, though of course, the second has its production issues because of the circumstances that hurt the band’s future, unfortunately. But I would say it’s obviously for others to decide if the new one stacks up if that is even important. We are proud of it and, by necessity, were technically more involved in making it than the earlier stuff. We had to learn how to engineer, and I mixed the darn thing. What???? That is craaazyyyy. But I would add who cares and what does “better” mean? Haha. Why bother comparing. It’s different songs, different music. Is “Let It Come” better than “Don’t You Know What Love Is?” Is “Trippin’ Over Shadows” better than “There’s A Light”? Is “Black Dog” better than “Whole Lotta Love?” Is “Highway Star” better than “Smoke On the Water?” Who gives a fuck? :)) If you like it, you like it, and we did our best not to suck. :))

I would add, there are things about new moments and surprises rather than listening to a song you’ve heard 1,000 times over 40 years and had sex to or got married to or went to a concert to those triggers. It’s a different experience listening to something for the first time and building up some new experiences. So, by all means, have sex while playing “Let It Come.” Haha. Take a trip around the world while playing “Swan Song” or “Scream At The Sky.” Okay, I’ll stop now. :))

Andrew:
I also wanted to dig into the new track with American Tears, “Woke.” Tell us more about this track and the full-length album
.

Mark:
“Woke” is off the album Free Angel Express. It’s kind of interesting that Touch is also coming out at roughly the same time. American Tears is a keyboard trio and quite different. Free-flowing songs, Hammond, synths, mellotrons, and tons of other keyboards. And I am doing the singing. It’s the third album I’ve done in three years with at. The first was Hard Core, then White Flags, and now Free Angel Express. It almost seems like one long album. With the song “Woke,” in a way, it’s a simple question, or maybe even an invitation…”Are you woke?” So much stuff going on these days, so much to deal with, so many varied sources of getting information to support any belief you could come up with. In a way, it’s asking people to wake the F up to what is going on. I enjoyed coming up with the way that “Woke” is sung. It almost came out of a dream; I think one of the central elements of the song. 

As with many American Tears songs, it is not locked to formula arrangement. It takes off to synth solos, rhythm changes and hopefully keeps things exciting and creates moments and surprises. Everything is designed with various keyboard sounds and tapestries as a keyboard band. As a keyboard lover, I try to create emotion with those sweeping synth solos moving with a bit of echo and delay and ambiance. I picture them played and resounding and resonating in some huge venue or church even though you may just be hearing it on home speakers or headphones. I want that energy to transcend and hit you in a way beyond the intellectual, more physical and emotional, swelling and sailing and screaming and conveying the emotion I was feeling when I was playing it. It’s expressive because to me, what else is music than conveying emotion and feeling? What is also attractive and maybe a bit schizophrenic is that at the end, as the emotion raises and the singer gets more and more pissed off and specific, “Asleep in a bed of lies…arise to the joke…are you woke to the injustice…gotta find another way.” But the music remains uplifting and hopefully beautiful, but the words get to the core. The beauty (hopefully) and the anger all jumbled up; they are not mutually exclusive. Anyway, wake the F Up! Haha!!!

Andrew:
As an artist and keyboardist, how have you and your style evolved over the years? How would you compare Mark Mangold of 2021 to Mark Mangold of the early 80s? What’s changed?

Mark:
“Good question. I wouldn’t say my playing has changed much though maybe I nailed a few more licks. But it’s always been about conveying and communicating emotion. And it’s also been about waiting for instruments to be invented. :)) Those are the essential tools. When I started, there were monophonic synths you could play one note at a time. Then, for instance, the arp strings were invented and the mellotron and various polyphonic synths. There are infinite keyboard instruments and orchestras at your fingertips with computers. On Free Angel Express, there is a song called “Tusk,” where there are elephant sounds. You can do so much, and it allows you to be creative without a safety net. There are infinite choices, both in sounds, what to play, arrangement change tempo if you want to create a moment. The tools are there to express yourself, and the goal is always not to suck. Haha. Or to make the hairs of my arms stand up something you can’t control something that hit’s an emotion frequencies shake the floor with the low end all that stuff like a painting.

Andrew:
How about the state of the music business these days? Where are things at? What would you like to see change?

Mark:
Yes, as you know, things have very much changed—a bit of an upheaval. Many people are more involved and qualified to figure it all out. I keep going. Maybe it’s an obsession. Haha. I always have blindly believed to keep doing the best you can, and it’s all about the music. In a very general sense, as far as what I would like to see change, would be that music or creations that get out there and have some degree of success could help sustain whoever created it to make more maybe make a living some reward and compensation as that has severely diminished. Of course, some countries value the arts and have grants and things like that, but the US has not been one of those countries…and doesn’t support the arts very well. The starving artist is it romantic or just tragic?

Andrew:
What are your thoughts on social media in relation to artistry? It seems all-encompassing at times, doesn’t it? Artists aren’t just artists anymore. They’re their own PR people too. Does it help or hinder?

Mark:
It’s distracting…from the pure art of it. But it is unless you are hugely successful and sometimes even when you are a necessary thing. But there are artists, and there are entertainers look, clothes, image it’s never only about artistry gotta look cool doing it also in some way. Gotta get it out there spread the word, i.e., “promote” even if you are Mozart or Frank Zappa. :))

Andrew:
Over the last few years, we’ve seen a huge rise in streaming and less and less importance placed on FM radio. There was once a time where FM radio was everything for Rock/Pop artists, right? What are your thoughts on the “demise” of FM radio?

Mark:
Yes, another thing that has changed. FM radio was something we grew to understand. An artist could break out of a particular area, ie. Territory and then the word could spread, and it could grow. Go to st. Louis and play some gigs; you’re number one there. Haha. Now all those stations are owned by two or three companies who choose what everyone hears, so a bit harder to break the ice, and I guess it costs a lot of money to break in. Of course, people are trying to have a hit on Spotify and all the platforms, and it’s quite a bit more confusing and complicated. But many people get a chance to be heard or are accessible. With bands like American tears or touch, which is not mainstream anymore, it is very much a labor of love and hopefully received as a gift.

Andrew:
Aside from music, what else are you most passionate about and why? How do your other passions inform and inspire your music?

Mark:
Of course, there’s family, and traveling is lovely, but I think it is music that defines me. It is the language I speak and the way I express myself. It is the thing I wake up in the morning thinking of often, whether I plan it or not. Sometimes it is the thing I dream about. It’s just part of my DNA, I guess. And I am so grateful I am still able and being allowed to do it and get it out there.

Andrew:
Are you into vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? Where do you like to shop for music? What are a few albums that mean the most to you and why?

Mark:
Sadly, should I feel guilty? :)) I listen to songs where I can. Am not buying much. So much is accessible. If something pops into my head I want to hear; it’s not hard to find. Albums that mean a lot to me more like artists would be jimmy smith, some of the old cool stuff like bo diddley, of course, Zep, Purple, AC/DC, some of my favorites, and then just what happens to hit me at the moment. I do not tend to be too into the new bs; generic melodic Rock bands often can’t make it to the first chorus; the stuff is sooooo derivative sometimes. I truly wish I could, but please try to do something original. We heard that before. Haha.

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve had a long, successful, and multi-layered career. With that being said, as a veteran of “the scene,” what advice would you have for young artists looking to take the plunge?

Mark:
With respect, there is nothing I could say or that anyone told me that would cause anyone to take the “plunge.” It’s sort of an obsession, a passion, something you have to do if you have to do it, do it. If not, then you won’t. I hope those people get the support and encouragement of those around them that helps. In terms of money, etc. It is a long shot and getting longer way longer, but also the inner rewards are precious and immeasurable and profound. If it pumps your adrenaline and is irresistible, you have to do it. To answer your question and sum it up, I guess my main advice is don’t suck. Haha.

Interested in learning more about the work of Touch? Check out the link below:

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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