RON MARKS SUBSONIC/CELTIC FROST by Alex Zander
Subsonic Frontman Ron Marks is a third generation musician. His grandfather, an Italian immigrant, was a band conductor from the 1920s- to the mid 1980ís. Ronís uncle attended Julliard and founded Marks Music. His parents were both music teachers in rural Pennsylvania. His fatherís influence passed the gift onto a young Ron. He began playing drums at 5, and like the rest of us, his initial introduction into rock n roll was KISS at age 14. His tastes naturally evolved into heavy music and his favorite band became Celtic Frost. Sometime thereafter the band announced they desired a second guitarist, so Ron sent the Swiss band a demo on cassette.
Ron Marks joined the Celtic Frost line-up in May of 1987, after the release of ďInto the Pandemonium.Ē He became CFís lead guitarist, thus fulfilling a long-planned goal of CFís - to have two guitar players in the band in order to create a fuller sound in live performances. Ronís presence within the band was heavily overshadowed due to the hardships CF was facing at that time. Although Ron was only in the band for a few months, his contributions turned out to be quite immense. He was a key element which influenced and helped change the bandís sound. Ron left CF in December of 1987. He was to actually have been a part of the follow-up to ďPandemoniumĒ in 1988 (what eventually became ďCold LakeĒ) but ultimately declined to rejoin the band. In 1989 he returned to Frost unofficially to help record ďVanity/NemesisĒ in Berlin. Ronís tenure with Celtic Frost at that point would only be the recording of the ďVanity/NemesisĒ album.
His presence in CF was massively underrated. His influences, technical versatility and philosophy were a major factor during 1987, and therefore for the rest of the bandís existence.
Earlier this year, Subsonic announced itís signing with Outlaw Entertainment International. After negotiations with president Tommy Floyd, the project was signed to an exclusive management and record deal with the Vancouver, B.C. company. The bandís current CD, Super-Vel, was released in Canada on July 7th, 2002. Outlaw is perusing various options (in the U.S. and Europe) in hopes of augmenting Subtonicís exposure to the world market. Super-Vel is receiving favorable reviews and promises no lack of identity. The first single released is a cover of Billy Prestonís, ďWill It Go ĎRound In Circles.Ē
Celtic Frost frontman Tom Fischer calls Subsonic, ďunusual and almost heavier version of Zappa.Ē When commenting on the much anticipated CF reunion, Tom volunteers, ďWhen people approach me about one day doing a reformation of the original CF, it means to me: Reed, Martin, Ron and myself. That, to me, is ďthe original CF.Ē
I first became aware of Ron when he filled in as guitarist for a band that went through more lineup changes than Spinal Tap drummers and KISS guitarists. The band that could have been a contender, the band once called MACE, a Pittsburgh-grounded industrial band that fell victim to bad management and larger-than-life egos. In MACE, Ron looked and sounded out of place. The bands image was one of glamorizing S&M and the guitarist played live over a DAT dominated live show. But it was his guitar playing that made an impression on me years after the show when I saw MACE open for GWAR and Chem Lab. Fast forward five years later and I read he finally embarked on a solo outing. I immediately got in touch with him, and brushed up on his resume by reading the Celtic Frost book, (Are You Morbid?) Into The Pandemonium, a book where Ron Marks is more-or-less praised as ďgodís gift to the guitar,Ē though not exactly in those words.
Alex Zander: Youíre highly regarded as a great session player. Who are bands that youíve worked with and some of what youíve done?
Ron Marks: Obviously Iím known for my work with Celtic Frost which was back a few years from 1987-90. I was recording and touring with them. Another band Iíve worked with was a band called MACE, (now-defunct Industrial Band) which was in Pittsburgh. Same thing, I did some touring and recording with them as well.
AZ: Now thatís two different kinds of music.
RM: Yeah, you bet. Well, Frost was my favorite band when they were out. Thatís how that came about. With MACE, it was just a referral from somebody I knew and thatís how we ended up hooking up. But Iím very diverse. Iíve always done a lot of different styles of music. Iím always in search of a new challenge and a new adventure. Iím game for anything.
AZ: In the book, ďAre You Morbid?Ē the author and voice of the band, Tom Fischer, had some really nice things to say about you. With as many members as heís gone through, it should be an honor.
RM: Oh, it was a big honor. It remains a big honor. Iím very proud of Celtic Frost. We went through some rough stuff and we went through some great stuff. It still remains my favorite band. Tom was very gracious in the book and had very complimentary things to say about my playing and our friendship, and that remains. I certainly hope Iím entitled to play on this reunion CD. So weíll see how that goes.
AZ: Okay, weíll talk more about that at the end. Itís kind of hard to believe, though, that with your background in music and your familyís background in music, that of all bands youíd pick a heavy band like Frost to like the most. What was it that made them your favorite band?
RM: Prior to that, what I thought was heavy, really wasnít heavy. I always liked heavy music, but that for me meant Judas Priest, KISS, Aerosmith, bands like that. It was just this new wave of metal that Iíd never heard before. Out of all the bands that were on that new thing, Slayer and Megadeth, Metallica and all that, I liked all those bands. But a friend turned me onto Frost and to me it was just a cut above, lyrically and instrumentally. It blew me away. I just listened to it nonstop for probably a good year before I even submitted my demo.
AZ: With your current project Subsonic, you have two releases out. The first one was Mindbomb, which we dubbed one of the top 10 records of 2001.
RM: Yeah, actually there was one before that as well, but these were just pretty much demos that I was shopping. Thereís really only one release and thatís Super Vel.
AZ: And that was released on Outlaw Entertainment in Canada. Letís talk about that one. We just did a review on it. Again I quoted Tom, that what lifts you above any other contender is your extraordinary guitar playing is the feel of someone who has a god-given talent for his instrument. You sure show off those skills on Super Vel. In this day and age nobody seems to concentrate on soloing anymore. What made you want to go exercise those skills and show them off again?
RM: Thank you. Itís something I think I do well, and something I think still belongs in music. When you use good taste with it. Not all of the songs on Super Vel have solos. The ones that do, yeah, thereís certainly indulgence, but if youíre gonna go ógo. If youíre going to do it, then do it big time. Itís something I love to do, itís something Iíve worked on for years and get a lot of gratification out of. I have a little feeling with things Iím hearing that it might be coming back a little bit. So just because it happened to be less than fashionable at this particular time, didnít mean it was something I was willing to leave out of my music forever.
AZ: Tell me what you think the highlights on the album are as far as youíre concerned.
RM: Oh boy, this is tough. I hate when this happens. (laughs) Okay, my favorite, itís so hard to look from the outside because Iím involved in it, I think ďA Day LateĒ is a great song. It might not be heavy, but I think itís a good song. That song was written about a friend of mine, that I knew well through high school and even afterwards. That was one that fell out of my head in about 10 minutes. That was an easy one. The cover thing, the Billy Preston cover, I think thatís a cool song. I think ďJaneĒ is a great song. I think it has a really great story behind it.
AZ: That is a suicide themed tune, is there a story there?
RM: Well, that was a heavy one. I had an old girlfriend phone me some time ago who was quite suicidal. I basically almost literally talked her in off the ledge
AZ: I take it sheís still around then?
RM: Yeah, it didnít happen, and Iím not saying it didnít happen because of me. But, fortunately she woke up a little bit and everythingís cool.
AZ: If it did happen do you think youíd still have been able to write about it?
RM: Oh God, I donít know. That would have to have happened and I would have had to react at the time. It would have been a lot more difficult, yeah.
AZ: The album kicks off with ďLick The LieĒ pretty guitar heavy, with a lot of really good lead guitar work. The song after that, ďJust Hit PomonaĒ kicks into high gear, like Rob Zombie type of stuff.
RM: Thatís funny you mention that. Thatís one of Tom Fischerís favorite tracks. When we met in New York a couple of years ago he mentioned that if we ever had the chance heíd like to do that one. So quite a few people that love the heavy stuff really mention that song.
AZ: Then you go all over the place. You do your acoustic guitar piece, ďTogether Alone.Ē Why do you think itís important to combine so many different types of music on one record? In this day and age people seem to focus on centering one entire album around one sound.
RM: Well, I like a lot of different styles of music. Believe it or not, it was difficult for me to narrow it down as far as I did. I have to credit my management, Tommy Floyd and Outlaw Entertainment were quite helpful in saying, ďHey Ron, you can do all this stuff but that doesnít mean you necessarily should.Ē They kind of drew the reigns in a little bit, which I think was a wise choice because the album makes a lot more sense this way. But to me thatís not going that far outside. Iím a Zappa fan, so thereís no rules as far as styles. But I had to cool it down a little bit to make some kind of record that had a direction.
AZ: I really, really liked Mindbomb because it danced around just about every music genre, even country.
RM: Yeah. (laughs) The country thing, itís not like I do legit country. I do satirical country because those people give you a lot of reasons to make fun of them. A lot of times you use styles of music to get your point across and to deliver a message. A certain sound delivers that message, more so than Iím going, hey Iím a country guy and a heavy guy and an acoustic guy. Iím not trying to be all these different people stylistically just to show off or all this stuff. Itís like hereís the story and hereís what the storyís about. I can tell a better story if I use this style to tell it. So thatís basically the motivation behind doing some thing.
AZ: You mentioned Tommy Floyd and Outlaw Entertainment, other than owning the label, heís also your manager at this time?
RM: Yeah, heís the President of Outlaw.
AZ: Now are you tied into this contract for a few albums with this label?
RM: No, the way itís going Super Vel is licensed to them and theyíve distributing it. Itís released in Canada right now and thereís distribution set up for Europe and Japan and I believe Australia. Then weíre taking it from there. We have no multi-album deal. Theyíre shopping the CD to bigger labels and weíre hoping to expand on that deal. Right now itís just a wait-and-see position.
AZ: Now what are you looking to do? What is your aim?
RM: Well Iím looking to be successful, obviously. Thatís a hard thing in this business. Thereís a million bands going for very few spots. Not only that, doing this as long as I have, I realize that just getting signed to a label is one thing, but getting signed to a label thatís going to make you a priority is quite a different thing. Weíre very adamant about that. Thereís no point in getting signed and tying up your options if theyíre not going to make you a priority and just shelf you or make you number ten on the list. We need to find someone that believes in Subsonic and is going to make it important.
AZ: So I take it you learned a lot from the guys in Frost.
RM: Oh yeah.
AZ: That book is, if anything, and even if youíre not into the band, a bible for kids getting into the music business.
RM: Yeah, itís brutal, but itís the truth. Once again, a lot of credit goes to Tom. He told exactly what happened. We were all hungry as possible and those guys did a mountain of work for years before I ever showed up. So man, they know it even more so than myself. But yeah, it is a bible and any kid that wants to get into it should buy it and read it for that reason alone.
AZ: So you do have your options out there. You can go with a different deal if you want to.
RM: Yeah, weíre looking for the best possible thing. Iím very, extremely hungry to get this going and get this off the ground. Iíve started writing for the next CD now. Whoever believes in us and wants to make a go of it, I am definitely ready to go.
AZ: Say, somebody reads this article in management somewhere and says, ďWhoa, this guy from Frost, heís available. We never knew what happened to him?Ē What should they know about you and in what youíre looking for in a deal?
RM: Letís get paid this time. (laughs) Like I said, I want to do it internationally. I want to do it to high level. I want someone that likes this band. I donít just want to be a part of their accounting statement. They gotta believe in it, they gotta push it and they have to make it a priority. Like I said, we need to do this on a global level because even with all these things in place, the music business is extremely brutal and unpredictable. So we need all guns blazing, whoever would want to pick up the band.
AZ: Does living in Pennsylvania keep you isolated from whatís going on in, say in New York, Chicago or LA? Or are you willing and able to relocate if you need to?
RM: Absolutely, Iím willing to go anywhere. Music is number one for me. It always has been. Should the situation present itself, yeah you bet, Iím gone. Iím living in PA, yeah itís a little isolated, but it also allows me the freedom to write and spend a lot of time doing what I want to do. Thereís a lot of friends and people I know that have moved elsewhere because thatís where itís at. Theyíre so busy playing their electric bill they donít have time to work on their music. So itís a two-sided thing.
AZ: Speaking of friends, a good friend of yours in now in Prong.
RM: Thatís right, Dan Laudo, heís my very best friend in the world. Heís doing great with them.
AZ: He sure is. Iíve seen them a couple of times. He seems happy. Did he live out there until he joined Prong?
RM: Yeah, Danís been out in LA for quite awhile. When I was with MACE, we were getting ready to tour and Prong was also going out with us and they needed a drummer. They said do you know any drummers in LA? I said, yeah I sure do, my best friend Dan and on and on. He went and auditioned and got the gig.
AZ: The funny thing is Dan mentioned to me that you guys grew up with Trent Reznor. Or did he know Trent, or did all of you know him?
RM: Yeah sure, Trent grew up about ten minutes from where Dan and I grew up. We all in a little basement band together in high school.
AZ: Did you have the feeling about him back then, that he would go on to do Nails like he did?
RM: Yeah, sure. Trent was always there. He always had a vision. You knew he was thinking big, as we all were. But it was no surprise to me that Trent went on to do what he did. I have a lot of respect for Trent. He writes great music.
AZ: Now what about putting a band together? Howís that coming for Subsonic?
RM: Well it can happen. But right now thereís not much of a reason for it to happen because thereís no tours scheduled and youíve got to give Theyíre gonna say, to do what? And for how much? Unfortunately, these are some of the things a bandleader has to deal with. Everybody thinks itís rock ní roll all night and stuff. It is, but thereís also the practical aspect of it. You have to be able to offer a guy something. Right now, until thereís a major signing and a major influx of money to make some things happen itís pretty hard to get that going.
AZ: Can you give me any insight to the next chapter, the next record?
RM: A little bit, but not much. (laughs) Iíve only written two songs so far. Itís gonna be the same thing but bigger, I guess. Thereís going to be a lot more percussion going on, thereís gonna be a lot more real drums on this one combined with program drums that Iím going to be playing myself. Iíve played drums for quite a few years and I recently acquired a new drum kit. So Iím going to be doing a little bit of that. Thereís one tune cut already and a few on the board. Thereís going to be a few surprises as well. I think thatís always going to be the case with Subsonic.
AZ: Whatís the fascination with engines or cars?
RM: Oh man, Iíve been a motor head since I was a little, little kid. That started when I was about five or six years old and my fatherís teaching friend, they both taught school together. His nameís Gary Franco, he pulled up in a Ď66 Corvette Convertible and I looked out the window and that was the end of that. I go to drag races, and rallies. And Iíve had multiple muscle cars. Right now Iíve got a black Ď67 Cadillac. I just love cars. I love old cars, man.
AZ: Thatís just one thing you can afford to have living in Pennsylvania.
RM: Yeah, exactly. Thatís one of the luxuries I have here.
AZ: With something like that in the city youíre not going to get very far.
RM: No, I donít think so! (laughs)
AZ: Youíre either gonna overheat or run out of gas. Okay now, let me ask about all the rumors about the Frost reunion. On/off, you hear one thing and all the momentum builds up and then you get a newsflash itís not gonna happen, donít believe it. But they say that it is and if they tour you will be involved.
RM: Well hereís what I do know. What I do know is that there will be a CD. There will be a new Celtic Frost album. I know Tom and Martin are working on that right now. I donít know exactly about what deal they put together or with whom, but I understand that theyíre moving forward either way in trying to put something together. As far as myself being involved, Tom and I have talked about it and I think somethingís going to happen, but I canít really say for sure because until that phone call happens I canít say.
AZ: But thatís something that youíre open to?
RM: Oh man! In a second. I still love Celtic Frost and I love all the guys in it. For me, even though I got to do Vanity Nemesis with the band, which Iím very grateful and very proud of, Iíd like to do a record with Tom, Martin and Reed St. Mark who Iíve toured with after Into the Pandemonium. To me, thatís the classic Celtic Frost lineup and it would be a dream come true for me to be able to record with them.
AZ: I bet theyíre very selective when it comes to a label now.
RM: Yeah, we got beat up pretty badly for years. Tomís been down the road, and thereís no reason to repeat that again. So, itís not just the matter of not getting screwed or getting paid. Itís not just about money; itís about cooperation with the band. That was another major downfall with Noise Records. They didnít believe in Into the Pandemonium and communication broke down. They quit giving us tour support and they quit believing in the band. As I said with Subsonic, it holds true with every band, including Frost, whoeverís involved in has to believe in it and has to love it.
AZ: At one point in the book, Tom mentioned that as good as everything worked out, you werenít about to get involved in contracts and he knew, sadly, that you would have to depart the project at one point. To still stay in touch with them and be willing to work with them, and them wanting to work with you, has got to be flattering.
RM: Extremely so.
AZ: OK, so if people need to look up information on you on the Internet, to learn more about you, how to buy your product or how to book you, or how to approach you about possible management or getting you signed, how should they do that?
Posted by Alex Zander at November 1, 2003 12:00 AM
RM: Well, right now they can check out www.celticfrost.com and on the main page thereís an icon for the Subsonic site. Also they can check out www.outlawentertainment.com where they can buy the CD, Super-Vel, on that site and get a little background. Also, we would be open to some booking agencies to do some touring right now. So anybody looking, weíre here.