December 15, 2016 Interview – Mark Andes of Firefall
The life of a professional Rock-n-Roll band can be volatile one. Impossible to figure which way the wind is blowing, like a roller coaster ride, there highs and lows, but tenacity of the strongest make it through. With quite a compelling tale to tell, Colorado based Rock band Firefall has seen their share of peaks and valleys, but conquering the storm, they live on four decades later.
A part of smooth sounds of Soft Rock during the ’70s, they attained hits with such songs as 1976’s “You Are the Woman,” 1977’s “Just Remember I Love You,” and 1978’s “Strange Way” to name a few. Overcoming obstacles through the years, with the passing 40th anniversary of 1976 self-titled album, Firefall seems to have found a stride again with co-founding members Jock Bartley, David Muse, and Mark Andes all working together again. Playing shows around the country and having fun doing it, the future looks bright for this top-selling band. Recently, Mark Andes took the time to sit down and talk the story behind Firefall, his experiences working in the music industry, the road back to the band, and much more.
CrypticRock.com – You have been involved in Rock-n-Roll for well over four decades now. In that time, you have been a part of some of the biggest and most influential bands in Rock from Spirit, to Canned Heat, to Heart, and of course Firefall. First, tell us, what has this incredible musical journey been like for you?
Mark Andes – Well it is hard to put into words really. It has been my life’s quest. It has been terrifying, soul-crushing, and inspiring. It is just the whole experience. There have been huge insecurities. There has been the joy to be able to inspire other musicians. It is really just the whole gamut.
CrypticRock.com – Right, obviously while you are living it you do not think about it too much. Now reflecting, all these years later, it really has been an amazing ride and it is still continuing.
Mark Andes – Yes, well said. I guess the big thing that is occurring to me is the sense of gratitude.
CrypticRock.com – Absolutely. Firefall is now celebrating 40 years together. That is not an easy task to attain for any band. What were the early years like a part of Firefall leading into the commercial success the band built?
Mark Andes – That came as an experience that was really pretty hard for me. Being fired from my own band, which sounds very Spinal Tap, it was really a heartbreaking deal. We worked so hard, my brother was involved. I just ran away from LA, I said, “I can’t deal with this, let me out of here.” I knew this wonderful family, which kind of became my surrogate family in Northeastern Colorado, a little tiny town called Peetz. That family welcomed me and ultimately I joined Narvaro, which had some very talented people, which I am still close to today.
Then there was Firefall. I landed in Colorado, after sort of licking my wounds, so the commercial success of Firefall was wonderful. It kind of validated me and gave me a lot of confidence. Five weeks after we released the 1976 self-titled first record, we got a gold record. A week after, Spirits’ Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus (1970) went gold. It was right after my son was born, I was in a good place. Firefall was getting accepted commercially, it was a very important time in my life.
CrypticRock.com – It sounds like it was really a roller coaster ride of emotions at the time.
Mark Andes – Totally. That is something I think people do not realize is how terrifying, wonderful, soul-crushing, and blissful the music business can be. The music business is a rough and tumble business, you have to have thick skin. I am not one of those greedy people, I like to give credit where credit is due. That is not normal in the music business.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly is not. In the entertainment business in general, the best way to put it is there are a lot of opportunists out there. Firefall has sustained some lineup changes and you actually came back on board in 2014. What brought about your rejoining the band?
Mark Andes – I had been living outside Houston and I shifted to Austin, Texas where I had been working with a lot of singer-songwriters. I felt like I had experienced Austin and I met my now wife, Valerie. We had a relationship in the ’80s during the Heart years. As I was heading out of Texas, at least emotionally, we reconnected. I ended up living outside of Houston and I ended up doing lots of session work, Andy Bradley brought me in. I was kind of burning out on that aspect of it.
Then Jock called and said David was back in the lineup, which had a lot to do in my decision. It mattered, I felt this could be good, this was the driving force of the Firefall band originally. It was the three of us with Larry, and Rick. We did many rehearsals without either songwriter. They would come in and show us the song they had written and they would leave us alone for weeks sometimes. I realized the guitar, saxophone, flute, bass was all intact and I felt it could be fun deal, it turned out to be that way.
CrypticRock.com – Seeing the band live now, it seems everyone is on the same page. In your time away from Firefall you began to work with Spirit again and, as mentioned, Heart. You were a part of four album cycles with Heart, in what many call the resurgence of the band in the early to mid ’80s. Do you have fond memories of your time in Heart?
Mark Andes – Well, it is a mixed blessing. It didn’t end well, but I thought Denny Carmassi and I really brought something to the band at their lowest with the that Private Audition (1982) record, and I think Passionworks (1983) was the beginning of that new era. The fact that Denny and I were snubbed at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame just indicated how it did not end well. I don’t want to get into it. I was in there from 1982 to 1992, I am proud of the work, it was very challenging and it was a good experience. I am grateful to have had that experience. I am also grateful that I do not have to work with those guys anymore.
CrypticRock.com – Understood. Obviously, even bad experiences, you take away from it, learn from it, and hope to not make the same mistakes again. Sometimes we fall into those same traps again.
Mark Andes – That is true. That has been a little bit of a theme for me. I am 68 now and the arch has really shifted. I think the whole realization of what you mentioned earlier is I am able to reflect and feel comforted by the work.
CrypticRock.com – That is a great thing. Since you rejoined Firefall, the band has been actively touring over the past few years and really have a solid lineup with yourself, Jock, David, Sandy, and Gary. How would you describe the chemistry of the band?
Mark Andes – It is palpable, you feel it. With Sandy on drums, we just clicked, we are so alike in the way we feel. David and Jock are playing as good as they ever have. I think David is playing maybe better than ever. Now with Gary Jones in the band, we are clicking. It feels really good and it feels relevant again. We play the songs and stretch it out a little like jam band solos. It is a fun deal.
CrypticRock.com – It certainly looks fun from an audience member’s prospective. The band has not actually released an album of original new material since 1994’s Messenger album. Is new material a possibility, and, if so, has the band been brainstorming some ideas?
Mark Andes – We have actually been talking about it. I don’t know the logistics and money. We do not have any illusions of having another hit record ever, but it would be nice to share something new with the fans who come out and see us. There are a couple of ideas out there. With new material, everyone is pretty prolific. Personally, I’m not so prolific as a songwriter, but I love to help arrange stuff. We could probably come up with a very strong record of new material, at least unrecorded stuff. Then we have also discussed the idea of taking the concept of our family tree and maybe covering some Spirit and Earth songs, Marshall Tucker, groups that we have had direct contact with. That is an idea as well, but we have not booked any studio time yet.
CrypticRock.com – That would be something to look forward to on the horizon. This is something that is thought-provoking. Bands which had success say 20, 30, or 40 years ago have their music played on Classic Rock stations. Although, we do not have a platform for these veteran bands to play their new material.
Mark Andes – You are right. It is strange, it just shows you how that whole perception is. I will tell you, REO Speedwagon had a great collection of new songs. Cheap Trick too, they have new, fresh material, and it is good stuff!
CrypticRock.com – Yes, it is a shame that these albums do not get more exposure. It would be nice to see Classic Rock stations mix in new tunes from the bands they play regularly.
Mark Andes – Yes, maybe someone should approach SiriusXM about this. The format is so rigid and a little daunting. Records can be made fairly efficiently these days. If we’re able to come up with something, it would at least be nice to share it with the fans.
CrypticRock.com – Yes, there is always an audience. It is interesting with the internet now for all artists. Firefall’s rise in the charts happened at a time when Soft Rock was really gaining a lot of attention. How would you describe the climate of Rock-n-Roll in the late ’70s leading into the ’80s?
Mark Andes – Of course Disco ruled. It was odd, it was a very diverse, mixed bag of stuff going on. Guys like Dan Fogelberg, The Eagles, and the harder edged stuff, it was all out there. It was really just a jumbled up time. There was a lot going on and a lot of it really didn’t make sense. I was glad I had my little niche at that point with the Firefall guys.
CrypticRock.com – It really was quite an interesting time to look back on in music. Seeing you have worked with a vast selection of musicians, what are some of the more important things you have learned from dealing with different personalities and preferences of those you work with?
Mark Andes – I guess to be myself, be honest, go into each project/session well prepared and give it my best. That has been my goal. Sometimes, in the ’80s, I was one of the big offenders of being distracted with my own amusements and being distracted with stuff. My work ethic is really strong. Being the bass guy, I have to kind of know what the song is doing and where it is going to really do my job properly. That is how I operate. I think it served me well and had given me confidence to work with Ian McLagan and all these guys. My style is pretty rustic, I am not an overly complicated player, but I do a certain thing well. I guess it just has taught me to be confident, be myself, not try and impress anybody, and just let my music do my talking for me.
CrypticRock.com – That is a good outlook. You should be able to feel comfortable in your own skin. If you are not confident, that could bleed onto others and they may not feel confident working with you or give you the respect you deserve.
Mark Andes – Good point, also, a lack of confidence can be contagious. If one person gets really hesitant, that can affect the other guys and you really don’t want that. It is interesting, even if you are a little nervous about something, you want to find that calm space inside, you don’t want to infect someone else with your insecurities.
CrypticRock.com – That is a very interesting point as well. My last question for you is pertaining to movies. CrypticRock.com covers music and Horror/Sci-Fi films. If you are a fan of the genres, what are some of your all-time favorites?
Mark Andes – My father was an actor, he did movies and had his own televisions series. He is in a couple of episodes of Star Trek. I am a big fan. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) is one of my all-time favorites. Kubrick was brilliant. Also, A Clockwork Orange (1971). I am a fan of the genre. I actually had experience watching my father work in that area. It is an artform that is really close to me and I respond strongly to it. Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) is one of my favorite movies.
CrypticRock.com – Your father, Keith Andes, has been in quite a long list of films in his career.
Mark Andes – Yes, we were able to be on the sets, be able to be made up by the makeup man. It was really all access for us as kids, so I had a real dose of that growing up. Jack Webb and Julie London would come and sing at my parents parties at our little ranch in Chatsworth, California. I went to school with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans’ kids, Sandy and Dusty. My brother and I went to the same military school at the same time, it was kind of crazy really.
CrypticRock.com – That is quite surreal. Your father made films in a very different time. It seems, now a days, that new films have gotten away from dialogue. It appears it is for short attention spans, everything is rushed. Older films let the dialogue breath. What do you think about that?
Mark Andes – I think you are right. Hitchcock was a great example of that. He was able to scare you so much because it was a big setup to the big climactic scene. The movies have changed so much, the ability to use effects and digital manipulation, it is just a different thing.
CrypticRock.com – This is extremely true. It can be frustrating watching a film now a days, at times, and they do not let the atmosphere build. It is just full speed ahead.
Mark Andes – Yes! Look at all the sequels that are out there now. People do not have enough of an attention span to sit through a movie without knowing the characters already. It is very interesting and a very interesting time.
CrypticRock.com – No question. There are a lot of rehashed idea. Perhaps this is because people are most comfortable with what they know. Then again, some people are looking for something new. It is a matter of tastes.
Mark Andes – Yes, exactly. The mood of the public at a certain point and their receptiveness to certain ideas is a lot like music. You get the right YouTube video, with the right song, with the right visual images, and all of a sudden you have something viral that is going through the roof. You don’t necessarily understand why people are responding so strongly to something, but they do. The same artist cannot have that kind of response all the time.