Mick Mars: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview

Mick Mars Interview

Feature Photo courtesy of SKHMusic!

On February 23, 2024, Mick Mars released his debut solo record, the utterly soul-shattering, ten-track monster, The Other Side of Mars. It had been years in the making and came after Mars’ exit from his longtime musical home, Mötley Crüe. The details of Mars’ exit from the band he helped build are messy, and to rattle them off now would be a retread, so we’ll spare readers that tale and direct them to Google if they’re curious.

As for Mars’ new music, songs like “Loyal to the Lie,” “Alone,” “Right Side of Wrong,” and “Undone” tell the story of a lone warrior who, wielding his trusty white Fender Stratocaster, which he named “Isabella,” put the world on notice that while his time in Mötley Crüe was over, he was just getting started.

The reception for The Other Side of Mars has been breakneck, to say the least. Fans, new and old, have latched onto the 72-year-old rocker’s message of hope via metal. Mars, despite his calm façade and unassuming nature, has heard the battle cries and remains hard at work.

The Other Side of Mars has lived in this world for a few short weeks, yet Mars isn’t lying back or giving himself much time to bask in the victory. Instead, he’s picking up his Strat and has “four or five songs in the fire,” meaning his yet-to-be-titled second solo record is already in the works. Moreover, according to Mars, it will be a “step higher” and feature what he feels are “stronger songs.”

That’s precisely what Mars’ supporters want to hear and expect after his first batch of solo songs. As for Mars, he expects it, too. He’s weathered and probably isn’t prepared to saddle up for a tour anytime soon—if ever. But he can take advantage of the hot streak he’s on and create a blissful final act, putting a heavy-hitting period on a career already filled with iconic moments.

In support of The Other Side of Mars, Mick Mars beamed in with ClassicRockHistory.com to shine a light on his songwriting process, approach to riff, the place of solos in his music, the secret to his tone, while offering some advice to young players just picking up the guitar.

The Other Side of Mars is very heavy, which I expected. What did the process of writing a record on your own look like after being within the confines of a band for so long?

Well, you know, it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but you know, the priority is your band, right? Now, not being in the band, I can focus now on my stuff, you know? I guess… I just needed to do it. And I’m working on a second one right now. It took me the longest time to get The Other Side of Mars out, and it had a lot of stumbling blocks. I have to leave it at that, but I’m working on a second one now.

What I like about this record is that it’s heavy and straightforward, and the guitars are in your face. What does your songwriting process look like? Are you off-the-cuff, or do you have a cache of things to feed off of?

There are a few [riffs] that I have had around for a while, but not for years and years. The only one that was [around for] years and years was “LA Noir,” the instrumental one. I like those old 40s and 50s sleuth movies and that kind of crap, so I had that lick lying around. But a lot of the licks came about over the last four or five years, maybe, and not exactly the way they sound on the record [laughs].

There’s some stuff that just fell together quickly, but it was awesome, and I felt like with a lot of the co-writes, like, “Yes, somebody that understands what I want to do.” It’s awesome, and I’m happy with the way it turned out. But this next album is gonna be a step higher, if you know what I mean. There’s a lot going on inside my noggin’, and I try very hard not to sound like, or be or copy, of anyone. I just focus on what’s in my own mind.

The Other Side of Mars has done so well; how do you kick it up another notch?

I feel the songs will be stronger and a little more different. I won’t come out with the same album; you know what I mean? A lot of people and a lot of bands come out mostly with the same kind of thing, so I won’t do that. It’s still gonna be heavy, I mean, it’s gonna be heavier, but the songs I have now, I have four in the fire right now, when I go back and hear them now, just in the right forms, I’m going like, “Wow.”

So, it’s another step up. I don’t want to repeat myself and have every song in the same key; I don’t like that. So, I changed it in a lot of ways. The same way I was thinking on The Other Side of Mars, and I’m not condemning this at all, but there’s a lot of artists out there that every song is in the same key. And that’s okay; like I said, I’m not condemning or anything like that, but I don’t know, I just want to do something a little more.

One of the things I love about your solos is that they’re very purposeful. Theres not a lot of unnecessary showboating. To you, what’s the function of a solo in your music.

I’m more of a melodic player. I think solos jump more if you can remember them or hum them, have a melody to them, and they fit the song. Of course, that’s better than playing scales as fast as you can. There is a place for that, but I purposely make it so that I don’t need to showboat. It’s like the whole song needs to jump, not just the solo. I’m not that guy.

What’s the secret ingredient to the classic Mick Mars tone?

A lot of it actually comes from your hands. It’s in the way that you, I guess, I don’t want to say embrace, but for lack of a better word, embrace or hold your guitar. It’s the way you put your hand over a pickup and stuff like that, you know what I mean? It gives a different tone. I’ll use maybe seven different amplifiers to mix a tone I like, but there’s really no stomp boxes, pedals, or anything like that.

But I do use digital reverb and a bit of flanging live, but when I record, I just go crazy; I take a lot of stuff and mess around with it. I’ll see what I get, like there’s a lot of stuff on that album that you would think comes from some kind of I don’t know… synthesizer, but it’s not. It’s just my guitar!

How about amps? Do you prefer tube amps, or have you gotten into amp modeling?

Definitely tube amps. All my amps are tube amps, like Marshall, Soldano, and things like that. I always choose not to have amp modeling; I’m old school, and I like the warmth and fat tubes, but they have to be the right tubes.

And what makes for a good tube?

It’s weird; you can go into the store and buy some, and you’ll hear them. It’s like, “Wow, that hurts my ears” because they’re bright. And then you might find like a cheaper tube, and you put it in, and that found sound is there, and it’s like, “What was missing?”

It’s weird. I discovered it years ago when I was still a teenager, and I was like, “Wow, this is weird.” I bought some GE tubes to replace the ones in my old [Fender] Twin Reverb, and they were really bright and ugly. Then, I went to Radio Shack, bought some tubes there, and I had the sound I wanted. Weird, you know?

With tracks from The Other Side of Mars mean the most to you?

There’s a couple. “Killing Breed” is one. And “Undone’ is kind of a direction I’d like to go in more, like, more playing around in that area. Naturally, I have the heavier rock stuff that I love, and I’m trying to step away from that a little at a time.

And then, “Right Side of Wrong,” people seem to be loving that. I was going, “Wow… okay,” so that was a surprise. I don’t know… it you ever put out a record, you say, “This sounds pretty good to me,” but there were four or five songs that I didn’t want to put on the record because I didn’t feel they were strong enough.

It wasn’t a terrible, ugly, or horrible song; I wasn’t going to do that. But the album was also diverse, and having something different on there and having people really dig it, it’s like, “Okay, people really dig this.” I don’t know how to explain it. There’s so much that goes through my mind, so that’s a hard question to answer in one sentence!

When you look back on the experience of creating The Other Side of Mars, what are you most proud of?

It’s me. It’s been what’s been going on with me for quite a few years. But the music and the direction, and I guess, I don’t want to say stuck but to put into a position where you’re expected to come out with this stuff. Like, when I was in Mötley, that’s where I would write for, you know, Mötley Crüe, which was songs with big hooks.

But on my own, I can do me the way that I think. So, I would say I’m most proud of, I guess, how many people are really digging this record. And… I don’t even know what to say, you know? It’s like how receptive people have been and continue to be; it really blows my mind.

You’ve been a part of a lot of iconic music, but is this the best representation of who you are as an artist and guitarist?

It’s the first step. It’s the first step, but I’ve got a ways to go. I have a few years left, and I’m gonna take it to my limits. Maybe it’ll be like The Eagles! No, just kidding. But I’ll take it as far as I can while I’m still here and able to do what it is that I do, you know?

Considering how long you’ve been at it, it would be easy to walk away, but you don’t. What keeps you driven to create new music?

That would be a boring life, wouldn’t it? I love guitar so much, and just going downstairs, and banging around. Even if I get no ideas at all, it’s still fun to goof around. I’ll go downstairs, take my guitar, and I’ll play whatever for 15-20 minutes. And then, sometimes, I’ll go back and listen the next day and say, “What was I thinking?” You know, it’s just doing stuff like that, having fun, and seeing where I can go with it. Even at my age, it’s still fun.

It’s like picking up an old friend.

Yes, it is. Jeff Beck was a prime example of how he took his guitar to different limits. He did that all the time, you know? So, it’s good to do that. I just like to play around with stuff all the time.

If you could give your younger self a piece of guitar-related advice, what would it be?

Hmmm, that’s a tough one because I had this really stupid, stumbly thing for a while because I just didn’t practice—so, practice, practice, practice, practice, practice. Keep practicing. I will always keep emphasizing that one because there were a lot of times where I didn’t, and I would be a little higher on different things, and that didn’t help my playing, now did it [laughs]?

But it did teach me a lesson to not go that way. But yeah, play your instrument, and be dedicated to it if that’s what you really want to do. Dedicate yourself to that thing. And I’ve said it before, but don’t let anybody try to tell you—like I am now—what to do with your life. So, if what you want to do is guitar, my advice is to practice, practice, practice.

Listen to some of the really, I mean, I would listen to Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, all those guys, like Alvin Lee, to learn all different styles. And for beginners, that’s really something that I would do for all the beginners. But then, take it to your own limit, your own space, your own sound, your own way, and your own technique. Make it yours.

Mick Mars Of Mötley Crüe: The ClassicRockHistory.com Interview article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2024

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