Interview With Mack From 33Degree
Los Angeles, California's progressive metal outfit 33DEGREE has truly withstood the harshest tests that can be thrown at a band, including the stroke of their skin basher. They are a rock act that seems to have blurred the line between heavy music and spirituality, in my mind, which is what attracted me to them in the first place. The band is comprised of Liz on vocals, Jesus on bass, Blair on guitar and Mack on the sticks. They combine elements of TOOL and LACUNA COIL effectively to arrive at their edgy modern rock sound, yet still somehow they manage to maintain a musical distinction that is very much their own. And that says a lot when you look at all the other bands stuck in blast beast syndrome. They have just finished some recent touring with POWERMAN 5000 and are back in Los Angeles now to do a couple dates on the Sunset Strip soon. It only took me about four months or so to finally get Mack on drums to sit down for this much anticipated Q&A. I thank him and the rest of the group for being one of underground's truly important rock bands.
Rocket: How did this band originally form?
Mack: Half of 33DEGREE (Liz-vocals and Blair-guitar) came out of a Las Vegas-based band God Among Men who landed a record deal from Columbia and earned a Jagermeister sponsorship, then swiftly split, moved to L.A., searched for new players. I happened to notice an intriguing ad in Music Connection looking for a drummer, with interests of Tool, Deftones, The Cure, dark music, etc. When we hooked up first (Fall 2002), we didn't play, we hung out and talked about who we are and where we want to be, listened to our past projects and our favorite bands. When we started playing together, we thought about keeping the name and music of God Among Men, but after playing a few times, we had already gone a different direction and there was no way going back. After writing a handful of songs, we still hadn't found the right bassist. Six months later, and again, another Music Connection ad we'd put in, Jesus answered the call. Finally. We played our first show April 2003.
Rocket: When did you first start playing the drums?
Mack: Man, I started playing in 1991, but only because a bunch of my high school friends played guitar, bass, sang, but no drummers. Actually, two great drummers but were taken. So, I decided to get a kit. Then realized I needed to learn.
Rocket: You are obviously a very technically trained drummer. Did you go to music school or take special training?
Mack: Haha. I'm so not. I just cover it up with drama. Took a few lessons, hated the rudiments, boring teachers. I just wanted to play hard and heavy! And quickly! What I did learn from the lessons is the transcribing part. I'd listen and transcribe every song I could...Pantera, Metallica, Zeppelin, Jane's Addiction.. So, basically, just started playing and picked it up as I went. I STILL need to get some rudiments! I wouldn't be able to play a drum roll to save my life. Or yours even.
Rocket: Ah, the wonders of Pro Tools.. haha. Who are some of your biggest drumming influences?
Mack: Dude, that's crazy. Way too many. I'll probably miss some but: Danny Carey, Chad Kent, John Stanier, Abe Cunningham, Dennis Chambers, Vinnie Paul, John Bonham, Sammy Watson, Chad Sexton, Chad Smith, Matt Cameron, Tim Alexander, Josh Freese, Neil Peart, Dave Grohl, Jimmy Chamberlain, Stephen Perkins, Alex Van Halen, Ray Luzier...too many more.
Rocket: 33DEGREE is one of the rare progressive metal acts today that understands it's boils down to delivering a compelling song that stands on its own without resting on the played out down-tuned Dimebag monster riff, the Dave Lombardo blast beat or Malmsteen's super squealing 80's metal guitar that so many bands I hear are just using as a crutch still. This band goes from sounding like Rush to Faith No More and does it while not doing a mere impersonation. When you guys are writing is that something you are trying to get across in your music, the ever daunting task of being more intelligent and thought provoking in your presentation?
Mack: That's actually pretty funny about the D-tuned thing. We started playing with that when we started. All of our songs were in D. In fact, we recorded our first CD tuned down. And after listening and playing and Liz singing lower, we went back to E and it sounds much better now. Everybody had to relearn the songs (except me..hehe..) It didn't make the songs sound any less dark. The lyrics are there, the emotion and the performance is where it is. Thank you for the pinpoint. The task to come across as more intelligent and thought provoking is very important. Not only in the lyrics, the time signature, the structure, but also in the art, everything, all-encompassing. We don't think about trying to be different. We think about trying to be true and raise awareness.
Rocket: What is the song 'Attracting Flies' mean to you?
Mack: Haha. That's the song we wrote on the phone. I had a dream, came out of it, called Blair and said "Here the next one...doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo, doooooo...." He's like, "Huh?" So Liz gets on the phone and I sing it again, she gets it and sings it to Blair, then he gets it, we go to the studio, blam. I think that one was written in a session. Actually, I remember Liz getting frustrating with the lyrics and the pattern after a couple hours, storming out, and seriously minutes later and her listening to us from outside the room, it came to her, blam again! That's one of those songs where I can scream the chorus when I get angry or someone crosses me "Look what you've done!"
Rocket: I see you are now officially endorsed by Alchemy/Istanbul cymbals. That's going to come in handy I'm sure. How did this equipment sponsorship come about?
Mack: Damn right! If I break the damn cymbals already.. Seriously, I got a full set of Alchemy cymbals (10 total) about 9 months ago and you know how hard I play...not one have I broken...yet...I freakin' love them. After playing with Dope and Trigger Point, and sharing a room with The Knives (Racci, David and Jonny are endorsed), I contacted Scott at Istanbul and within a couple months, he offered an endorsement. So, my first...felt pretty good I must say.
Rocket: 33DEGREE has a strong following on MySpace. Do you take time to answer any of the fans messages or is that something you stay away from?
Mack: Honestly, I can't even remember what was happening before MySpace. Those were some dark ages.. Absolutely though, we all run the band page and answer all the messages we can. It's really the only community we can reach beyond our hometown, friends, family and mailing lists, etc. So it is very imperative for promotion and fanbase.
Rocket: What's the funniest thing you've ever had happen to you while performing?
Mack: There's definitely been some weirdness. Liz is epileptic and usually we steer away from the "dark days" (seizure zone) every month but it's not math and a perfect science so sometimes it happens. We finally had her first seizure on stage recently in Vegas. That wasn't funny. We played a show at the Whisky two years ago right after our friend Paulette (San Diego's The Abuse) was murdered and as we were playing a song specifically for her, "Nothing", a slower song...some idiot came in and started shouting "Faster!" Just not the right time...then an altercation and at the end of the song, I flung a stick hard into the crowd...dude, I hit the wrong guy, a Samoan WWF type of dude..oops. That wasn't funny either. One of the last shows, I started with a dozen or so sticks in my bags and by the end of the set, broke my last stick, finished the last song with 1 stick and my hand. Note to self: start with two dozen.
Rocket: On a serious note, I noticed your personal MySpace profile states that you have had Type I Diabetes for the last 5 years. You suffered from a stroke a couple years back, right? How did you get yourself back to playing condition. This is amazing.
Mack: Yep, true it is. In short, got married July 2000, divorced December 2000, lost 40 pounds after 2 months, pancreas said "No more insulin for you", acquired diabetes, three years later, formed a blood clot in my leg, traveled up to my heart, squeezed thru a hole in my heart (which was found a year later), continued to my brain, got caught, cut off oxygen to my brain, lost all right-side muscles, keeled over, stumbled around for an hour before passing out, woke up hours later, couldn't speak, read, write, comprehend, but physically 100%. In fact, played a show three weeks later. Couldn't hear lyrics and couldn't count time signature so that was pretty frustrating. A year later, doctors found a PFO (hole in my heart) which caused the stroke, then performed heart surgery thru two catheters to place a quarter-sized device in my heart to close the hole, which will remain there until I die...and then some...no more strokes thank you very much. I spent over a year in speech therapy trying to get back to normal. As an actor, I lost the ability for a long time. And I still don't like it now. I'm a different person now. Sucks but I deal with it. And now, after almost three years, I'm still not back to normal and I understand that I will never get it back 100%. Like I've said before, strokes are not as cool as you might think they are, so don't try this at home.
Rocket: You are married and are the father of a little girl, right? How will you handle it if your girl one day says he wants to get into the grueling music business? Will you support her or try and keep her out of it?
Mack: Speaking of the stroke, I met my wife three weeks before I had that fucking stroke. So, to build a relationship without speech communication, was very tough and she is a very deep and unique person to stick with me. She knew me as me like I used to be for three weeks, then bam, became a different person trying to get back since then. Crazy. Married two years later, had our daughter months after that and she's now almost 10 months. Of course I already bought her first drum! But she's a vocal one so she could fall into that category. She's gonna be crazy and I'm all for it!
Rocket: Has 33DEGREE been getting approached by any record labels over the last year?
Mack: As a matter of fact, we were just offered a deal from an indie label, two records, videos, tours, etc. but we're talking the contract over and making sure that the terms are what we want. It's very important that we have the control and the rights so it's up in the air right now. We do everything ourselves. So if we book our shows, record our CD's, distribute them, talk to radio nationally, etc., all we really need is a label who can sit back and let us do our thing and bring us to a more national and worldwide level.
Rocket: What are some of the upcoming 33DEGREE shows we should know about?
Mack: Friday August 18 at the Key Club Morongo Casino with Metal Skool (dammit, I love those fuckers). That's an 18 and over show, we have free tickets if anyone would like to go. Then Hollywood... Thursday August 24 at the Key Club Hollywood... we haven't played L.A. since January. And this one's gonna rock. We've avoided playing female-fronted nights for three years but I put it together so we can play with our friends and bands we like and like to play with and with great draws. Outlett, Rue, Otto's Daughter, Colporter from San Diego. This is an all ages show with a $5 cover so you can't really beat that. Best venue in L.A. See you there.
Rocket: Well, I'm really happy about finally getting this interview done. Best of luck to you and the band, brother. Go ahead and give a shoutout to your biggest supporters.
Mack: Can't give enough support to Jagermeister, Coffin Case, Sam Ash Music, Alchemy/Istanbul Cymbals, Chad Sexton's Drum City, Evil Threads, Sik World, Gear Goddess Apparel, Liquid Salvation...but honestly, my biggest supporters are my wife Angela and our daughter Farrah forever.
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