ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: MARK GEMINI THWAITE
Mark Gemini Thwaite (or just 'MGT') has been a top tier guitarist in the Alternative, goth, and industrial rock world for over two decades. He has played guitar with some of the genres most influential and ground breaking bands such as The Mission, Tricky and Peter Murphy. He has also hit the strings on stage and in the studio for such elite artists as P.J. Harvey, Alanis Morrissette, Al Jourgensen and Gary Numan.
Between recording and touring with some of his heroes he found the time to write and record his own music. Starting with Mob research (with Paul Raven of Killing Joke), Primitive Race and his solo album 'Volumes' with special guests vocalists Ville Valo of Him, Wayne Hussey of The Mission and Ashton Nyte of the Awakening.
1. Let's start from the beginning, how did you come to play guitar for The Mission?
MGT: Its an Interesting story... The Mission advertised in the UK music magazines NME, Melody Maker and Sounds in 1992, announcing that they were looking for a guitarist and bassist. Original guitarist Simon Hinkler had left the band back in 1990, and the band had carried on as a three piece with Wayne Hussey on guitar. Bassist Craig Adams had been dismissed in 1991. My wife at the time suggested I apply as she felt I was perfect for the role, I assumed a thousand guitarists would apply so didn't think much of it but sent in a photo and demo cassette as requested... yes this was before mp3's! Amazingly I got shortlisted, auditioned and got the gig. So I suppose the moral of that story is dare to dream big.
2. Did this seem like a dream come true to play and write with such an influential musician like Wayne Hussey and The Mission?
MGT: Yes, definitely. The Mission were a pretty huge band in the UK at the time, they had been headlining arenas just a couple of years before, then they took two years off touring after Simon left and it was a case of rebuilding the brand. I think Wayne realized he needed the rock guitar foil that Simon had provided and I seemed to fit the bill. Ironically I didn't own any Mission records at that time – I was a big Cult fan however and my Duffy inspired guitar playing fitted well. I was well aware of many of the Mission's singles having received mainstream radio airplay in the UK back then. Wayne was a pleasure to work with, we really bounced well of each other at the auditions and we went on to write a few albums together.
MGT: At the time of joining the Mission I was living in London UK, I'd moved down from Birmingham back in 1988 and ended up joining Spear Of Destiny after doing a brief stint in a band called 'The Children', an offshoot of Sex Gang Children formed by original bassist Dave Roberts. I got that gig after applying to an ad in the music press. I played some shows with Spear and also a 10th anniversary UK tour with Theatre Of Hate in 1991 – also fronted by Kirk Brandon who formed both bands - I was in place of original TOH guitarist Billy Duffy, who was busy with The Cult. I think this set me up to a degree with a decent resume for The Mission gig, plus musically I was a good fit. Prior to moving to London I had lived briefly in Toronto Canada back in 1985 at the age of 21 – where my Dad had moved a few years before from the UK – and I joined an up and coming unsigned Toronto band called National Velvet. We recorded some cool demos and I probably should have stuck around but I got homesick and ended up going back to the UK in 1986. Velvet ended up signing to a major label and releasing two great albums, one produced by Zeus B Held who went on to produce the 'SOD's Law' Spear of Destiny album I recorded with the band a few years later in 1992. It's a small world...
4. You seem to go from one Goth Icon to the next. How did you end up playing with Peter Murphy?
MGT: I got the gig with Peter Murphy in 2005 after hearing through the grapevine that he was doing a US tour and might need a guitarist, another 'cold call' so to speak. I was married to an American at that time, we were living in London. Wayne had disbanded the Mission back in 1996 after we did two albums and I ended up joining Tricky's live band in 1998 to promote his 'Angels With Dirty Faces' tour. I was approached by a UK session agency to audition for Tricky, they said he was 'looking for someone who can play like Anthrax'. This seemed pretty strange as I owned Tricky's first album Maxinquaye, considered a Trip Hop classic with very little rock guitar on it. I auditioned and got the gig. It transpired that Scott Ian of Anthrax had recorded a bunch of riffs on the 'Dirty Faces' album so they needed someone who could pull it off live. I ended up recording on the 'Mission Accomplished' EP in '99, the 'Blowback' album in 2001 (including a US arena tour as special guests with TOOL) and the 'Vulnerable' album in 2003 with Tricky before he was dropped from his label Epitaph. I had previously parted ways with The Mission after we reformed in 1999 and recorded the 'Aura' album as my touring commitments with Tricky clashed. So in 2005, not doing anything with those bands at the time, I moved from London to Los Angeles with my American wife to try something new, nothing musical on my calendar. This coincided with Peter's US tour to promote his current album 'Unshattered'. I approached his manager at the time and because of my varied resume with both The Mission and several albums with Tricky, I got the gig without being auditioned which was cool. This began a ten-year career playing for Peter's band, and two albums.
5. Can you tell us about recording the DVD with Peter Murphy playing a whole Bauhaus set?
MGT: Touring the all Bauhaus set in 2013 was a big deal for me. I'd been a huge Bauhaus fan back in the '80s and Danny Ash was a big inspiration as a guitarist. When I joined Peter's band in 2005 he wasn't playing any Bauhaus in his set at all, in fact Bauhaus had reformed that year and headlined at Coachella. I saw him as separating the two bodies of work. The Coachella gig was weird as during rehearsals at Swinghouse Peter went off and played the show at Coachella, I never got to see it as we were left to rehearse in his absence in LA for the PM tour! I used to amuse – or bemuse - Peter and the band with Bauhaus riffs in soundchecks and one day he suggested we throw one in the set, this was probably around 2007-2008.I guess Peter felt comfortable I could pull off Danny's riffs and more and more Bauhaus crept into our set over time, especially after Bauhaus had another falling out around 2007 whilst recording the final 'Go Away White' album. By the time of the 'Mr. Moonlight tour in 2013 we had played many Bauhaus songs scattered through Peters live set so a 100% Bauhaus set wasn't as big a stretch as it seemed, however I was quite nervous as I didn't want all the Bauhaus trainspotters dissecting my guitar work ha ha. We toured the Mr. Moonlight Bauhaus set around the world (it was one of the top 50 Pollstar tours of that year) and decided to capture it on film at the Henry Fonda venue in Hollywood in July of 2013. I think we did a good job. I'm my own worst critic at playing those songs correctly, there's only one Daniel Ash...there's only one Bauhaus.
6. What do you think you added to his already groundbreaking music?
MGT: My main objective on playing the 'classics' was to get the spirit of the original in my playing, but I would usually inject a bit of my own personality and rock n roll swagger to the songs, both new and old... I think that's a question better aimed at the fans, hard for me to say!
7. What are some other projects you've done that you are proud to have been a part of?
MGT: Well the recording session my Dad was most impressed by was when I recorded guitars with Roger Daltrey of The Who back in 1991, for a BBC radio musical radio play. Roger was playing the lead in the musical and sang the songs. He's such a legend and I really enjoyed what I came up with there. Recording with Ministry front man Al Jourgensen was also a blast, we released a single together on his label back in 2009. Getting to play live with Gary Numan a few years ago was also a dream come true, I used to play along to Tubeway Army songs when I was a spotty faced 13 year old on my Bontempi organ. Recording with former Killing Joke bassist Paul Raven on the Mob Research album was a blast as well, as such a big fan of Killing Joke. Also enjoyed working with KJ drummer Big Paul Ferguson recently on both his solo recordings and on the new MGT album with Ashton Nyte.
8. Every time I hear your name you are onto another project. You don't only play guitar but you do production and remixing. Are you handy around the Studio?
MGT: I don't really see myself as a 'studio' guy, I've had to learn how to use music software such as Logic studio so I could better record my own demos, migrating from a Tascam 4 track portastudio back in the 90s... and over the years I guess my experience and ability to produce good recordings has improved enough that they are releasable quality. Having done some remixes as well for various artists including Revolting Cocks, Aesthetic Perfection, Prong, The Wonder Stuff, Pop Will Eat Itself (PWEI), Skumlove and my old band The Mission... However, it's all mixed 'in the box', so I imagine if you threw me in a proper studio with outboard gear and a proper mixing desk I'd be out of my element!
9. Did your work with the late great Paul Raven (Killing Joke/Prong/Ministry) and Mob Research open the door to doing studio stuff with Al Jorgensen and some of his projects?
MGT: Yes, it was through Paul and his untimely passing in 2007 that I was introduced to Al and Angie Jourgensen. In fact, Al was originally planning to release the Mob Research album through his label Thirteenth Planet', then Paul died and the whole project lost direction for a couple of years. I bonded with Al and Angie as we consoled ourselves over Raven's death – died of a heart attack at the tender age of 46 – and this led to an invite to record some guitars on some new Rev Co material in 2009, and the collaboration on our Christmas single, plus we recorded some other songs as well with the late Mike Scaccia and Tony Campos of that Ministry era lineup. It was intended for an Alien Jorgensen 'solo' album...
10. In the last couple years you released Primitive Race and your own "MGT" Solo Project. Was this just something to pass the time or was this a long time coming?
MGT: I'm always up for working on new musical projects if I have the time. I'd left Peter Murphy's band in 2013 so I had some time on my hands, and the Primitive Race guys approached me to see if I was interested in adding some guitars to a pool of ideas and to maybe submit some of my own ideas. I ended up playing on most of the album and mixing over half of it in my home studio... quite a fun experience, and the approach of working with numerous singers was actually the inspiration to finally release my own solo album as 'MGT'.
I'd never had the desire to release a solo album as I'm not a singer. I see myself more as the 'Jimmy Page' of the operation, writing the riffs and avoiding the mic. I saw guitarist solo albums as self indulgent affairs, with lots of widdly lead guitar such as solo albums by Steve Vai, Joe Satriani etc. Amazing players but not my cup of tea. Working with different singers and hearing how the Primitive Race album hung together as a body of work despite the variety of vocalists and styles made me decide to put together my first -and possibly only- solo album and ask all of my singer friends to sing on my demos. I've never written lyrics usually, I always left the vocals to Wayne or Peter or Al Jourgensen etc., so I got my new and old demos together (musical arrangements all needing a vocal and lyrics) and started sending them to singers I knew and had worked with. I'm very pleased with the results, it's a great body of work but I have to give credit to the amazing singers I worked with, without them its just a bunch of riffs and lead guitars! In my defense I did compose and play almost all the instrumentation on 'Volumes', including bass, drum programming, some synths and keyboards, so that it was mostly an 'MGT' affair besides the vocals..
12. With so many Special guests at the palm of your hands who would be in the live band if you took MGT out on the road?
MGT: A very good question... actually the reality is the logistics of a tour and the various locations and work schedules of each singer, so this limits our options. I've put a lineup together for my forthcoming European shows, and it will be exciting to see how it goes down. One thing is for sure, I've also written an entire new 'MGT' album with Ashton Nyte, the singer from The Awakening who sang two songs on 'Volumes', and we plan to play several of those new songs on the forthcoming MGT shows so Ashton is definitely playing a major part. The new album 'Gemini Nyte' sounds amazing and will be coming out in the Fall.
13. How did your Endorsement with Schecter Guitars come about?
MGT: Once again I have Paul Raven to thank for turning me onto Schecter. We were working on the Mob Research album back in 2007 and he was raving about Schecter and what great basses and guitars they made and how well they looked after him, so he recommended I look at trying their guitars. After Paul died I went to see a band in LA and the guitarist was playing this beautiful white guitar and on closer inspection it was a Schecter Tempest. I reached out to Michael Ciravolo at Schecter (Paul had given me the info before he died) and Michael welcomed me with open arms. I was very impressed that acts such as The Cure and Ministry were Schecter artists, I felt in great company. And still do nearly ten years later.
14. What other Schecter models were you playing before you finally got your own Signature model?
MGT: Well the first model I got was that white Tempest I had seen on the gig, in fact it's the guitar I shot my first Schecter promo pic with in 2008. I also got a Corsair, as I'm a sucker for hollow body guitars. Then the Solo-6 debuted in 2009 and being a big long time Les Paul aficionado I asked for a Solo-6 custom in dark metallic blue, with bigsby and gold hardware and mirrored pickguard, and this became my unofficial signature Schecter for many years... also my black PT Fastback custom which was a mainstay on the Peter Murphy tours as well. My white Corsair custom with Duncan Phat Cats also became a go-to guitar on my shows with Peter.
15. Can you tell us how you designed your Signature model?
MGT: I have my old friend Wayne Hussey of the Mission to partly thank for sowing the seed for my official signature model. I'd introduced Wayne to Schecter a few years ago much like Paul Raven did for me, and I was glad to see Wayne take the Schecter models on tour and make them a mainstay of his live rig the last few years. Inevitably a Wayne Hussey signature model hit the stores last year, and I suggested to the guys that we create an MGT signature model based on the newer Solo-II model that had become my main guitar on tours last year with Ricky Warwick & The Fighting Hearts. Using my previous customized Solo-6 as the template for the look, we went for all gold hardware, a B7 Bigsby instead of a B5 this time, once again the gold mirrored pickguard, Seymour Duncan JB4 bridge and Alnico Pro 2 neck coil tapping buckers, block inlays, rosewood fingerboard for warmth instead of the usual Ebony fingerboard, and a red stained mahogany back, neck, and sides to contrast against the ultraviolet top paint I chose. Schecter hadn't used ultraviolet on any of their Solo-II custom designs until now. So it was a revamped upgraded version of my 2010 Solo-6 model, but next level. My personal inspiration for the vibe was Neil Young's 'Old Black' customized LP with Bigsby, and Jimmy Page's legendary black LP custom with Bigsby that was stolen in the late 60s. I love the look of a guitar with a Bigsby, instantly retro.
16. When most people hear the name Schecter Guitars they think Avenged Sevenfold, Papa Roach and Jeff Loomis. But there is a whole other side to Schecter instruments that many don't see. Musicians like yourself bring this retro side to life. How has Schecter played a part in shaping your style and sound?
MGT: Schecter has allowed me to explore their solid body and retro hollow body guitar options and truly discover what works best for myself and the sound. I have a pretty varied palate of sounds and tones and there's always a Schecter guitar in my rig that will nail the sound I am looking for. The ultimate realization of this is in my new MGT Signature model Solo-II which is a super versatile guitar.
17. You, being a well-rounded influential guitarist, what are some of your influences?
MGT: I grew up in the UK in the '70's so my first love was British punk and metal, so players like Stuart Adamson of The Skids, Steve Jones of the Pistols and Bob Andrews of Generation X were big early influences. So was Danny Ash and hard rock players such as Alex Lifeson, Gary Moore, and Michael Schenker of UFO. Dave Gilmour of Pink Floyd was also a massive early influence, as was Robert Fripp and Mick Ronson with Bowie, and later Prince, Jimmy Page, Andy Summers, Geordie Walker of Killing Joke, John McGeoch of the Banshees and P.i.L , Steve Stevens and Brian Setzer. The list is endless...