Zodiac Mindwarp: The Hellbound Interview, Part 1

By Jason Wellwood

Many Hellbound readers may not remember Zodiac Mindwarp at all; those of you who do might not have realized that Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction existed beyond the release of Tattooed Beat Messiah from 1988. Suffering through many line up changes and the ups and downs of the industry, Zodiac Mindwarp and his constant sidekick Cobalt Stargazer have kept the Love Reaction machine running even during times of seeming inactivity. Four full length records had followed TBM and the band still played shows regularly. Zodiac Mindwarp even wrote several books under his real (?) name of Mark Manning.

The band is now back in the limelight, so to speak, with a record deal on a real label (SPV) and a fantastic new album, We Are Volsung released on October 12th in North America. I had the pleasure of speaking to the man who kicked off my first ‘unparentally supervised’ concert back in 1988 when Zodiac Mindwarp opened for Iron Maiden and Guns N’ Roses at the C.N.E. Grandstand in Toronto. Actually, he spoke, I just clung on for the ride…

Hellbound: Hi Zodiac, how are you?

Zodiac: I’m fine man, just painting down here in Louisiana (laughs)

Hellbound: You’ve gone from being an indie label superstar, to being on a major label, then underground again and now you’re resurfacing…

Zodiac: Not through any master plan! Believe me! (Laughs)

Hellbound: Strictly by accident?

Zodiac: Well, we just get out there and we rock and we do records and whatever happens, happens. You can’t control it, that’s just media perception.

Hellbound: Fair enough! There was a fairly large gap in Zodiac Mindwarp recordings in the 90’s and early 2000’s. Was that because you needed a break, or because you were working on different projects, like your books?

Zodiac: Well, it seemed that no one was really interested, the promoters and record labels, that sort of thing. I mean, it was before the internet. The Internet gave us a big shot in the arm. It meant that you didn’t have to negotiate with people who were interested in making money, and you could deal straight with people who were interested in music. I think it revitalized a lot of bands, because you didn’t have to negotiate with people whose primary interest was money.

Most bands, their primary interest is music, and if your music doesn’t appear to be fashionable or contemporary you tend to disappear from view. That’s the way music was distributed in those days. That’s mainly the reason we fell out of view, was because we weren’t seen as a viable financial investment. Then when Myspace and all this stuff came, you know, music’s free now so music fans can access music in the same way that it’s made which is purely for the love of it. So that made us accessible again. Recording equipment, especially with Mac’s and PC’s now you can make it in your own house. So, that was basically the hiatus, it was purely financial. Not from our point of view, we always gigged but we didn’t have the label support like we did in the ‘80’s. That’s when you’d pretty much rely on the record companies to finance you. Then computer technology took a leap into the 25th century and ‘Shit! We don’t need record companies anymore!’ (laughs). So that explains that gap.

Hellbound: When you started recording in early 2000, did you start off recording in your living room?

Zodiac: Yeah, I think Rock Savage was recorded…man we just went completely mad with that one! We thought we were the Beach Boys! There’s all kinds of fucking vocals that we’d never do these days! (laughs) We kinda came full circle and we said, ‘you know what, Cobalt? The best thing is: just one guitar, one bass, a set of drums, a vocal and some backing vocals’ and we just got back to basics really and concentrated on the songs. For the last album, We Are Volsung, we recorded maybe a hundred songs and we honed it down to the ones that were kind of good. You know, when you’ve got home recording equipment there’s no one there to say, ‘that’s shit, that’s good’, so we did a lot of shit songs! (laughs)

Hellbound: So there are a lot of outtakes for the box set?

Zodiac: Oh my god the shit, but some of them are kind of good but you know…I’m kind of old fashioned in the way that you get a collection of maybe ten songs that are your best and then you put them out. I was never a fan of double albums or triple albums where you think everything you do is good. Because not everything you do is good. It’s interesting (laughs) but not necessarily good!

Hellbound: I’ve always been a big believer that just because you CAN fit 75 minutes of music onto a CD, doesn’t mean you SHOULD.

Zodiac: No! And now it’s great because people can download the tracks that they like. So you get an idea of what people what, which is basically the best songs! (laughs) I’m a big fan of free music, I don’t necessarily want to give it away, I mean I quite like eating! (laughs), I quite like getting new leather trousers when the old ones fall apart (laughs) but I think you’re in a privileged position when you make music. You’re kind of doing something that you love. I think it’s great that CD’s cost less now than they did in the 80’s! I take care on the sleeves because I know it’s nice to hold something in your hands. I think it’s nice if you can hold it, not just download it. I’m not like the Metallica boys making complete asses of themselves getting all grumpy about people downloading for free.

I think it’s great that music is free. I mean music’s always been free! I don’t have a music playing facility, I have a radio. And all the music on the radio is free…you just can’t pick it yourself. Fortunately I tend to like most kind of music and I can listen to anything. So whenever the radio comes on I like everything! (laughs)

Hellbound: So you’ve never been one for a giant record collection?

Zodiac: I’ve got a giant record collection, it’s called a radio! There’s enough channels out there, if you don’t like that one, switch to another channel. So it’s always really been free but people like to collect things. I like to collect antique books, and I’d rather read Oscar Wilde in a 19th century version with velum spines. I don’t know why, it’s the same words. It’s something about holding it, the object, something that makes it a little bit special. People like records and CD’s, they like to look at the pictures and lyrics…it makes it more of an immersive experience rather than just a listening experience if you know what I mean.

Hellbound: So we can expect Volsung on vinyl then?

Zodiac: Yeah, there’s going to be some vinyl and CD and you can get it for free if you’re cheap! (laughs) You know, like I say, I always thought that music was free. You have to pay to see the gigs because we have to pay the hotel bills, and petrol. But I believe sincerely, an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay. I don’t think musicians should be exempt from that. You work for a living, you’re no different than the guy who works in the local coal mine or the grocery store, or whatever, you know they do an honest day’s work and they get a dime. And that’s what we do, we’re not anything special we’re just musicians. Minstrels! (laughs)

Hellbound: And going out and plying your trade around the world again!

Zodiac: Yeah! I mean, this is the greatest fun in the world for me! I love being out on the road, but I wish I could see some of the cities! Rome? Yeah, it was great! It was a black room with amplifiers and another room on the side with cocks drawn all over the wall…oh and Paris was like that as well, wasn’t it? And Greece was like that with a hangover on the airplane! I’m well traveled! (laughs) I made the effort occasionally to walk out of the venue or the hotel and I’d make it about 40 yards down the street and the hangover would kick in! Usually I’d just make it as far as the nearest bar! ‘It’s just like Rome isn’t it, it’s got a bar!’ (laughs)

Hellbound: Better the hangover kicking in than the police finding you from the night before!

Zodiac: Well, the band tend to make fools of themselves after the gig. They go out mingling with the audience trying to get women but they never do! Because all the good ones have gone home with their boyfriends (laughs)! So I just go back to the hotel, watch rubbish TV and bands that are better than us on television and fall asleep! (laughs)

Hellbound: Speaking of plying your trade, I noticed that you’re not only doing an album release party in the U.K. but you’re also opening two nights for Alice Cooper!

Zodiac: Yeah, I’m a bit worried about that! (laughs) He’s got all the freaks in England to go along there! There’s going to be all these piercing type people there, people who suspend themselves from ceilings by their fucking ball bags and stuff! I’m worried about the back stage area!! (laughs) Alice has his own suite I’d imagine but we’ll be out there with the freaks watching them practice! (laughs) I’m sure it will be fine! Obviously Alice is a big hero and one of my main influences. When he did ‘Frankenstein’ I thought, ‘fucking hell man, Alice Cooper is doing one of my songs! He knows I exist’. So it’s a great privilege and an honour to be doing a show with Alice! He’ll probably do his Wayne’s World number on me (adopts American accent) ‘Did you know that the Canadian Indians’…and he’s actually like that! I remember he came backstage at one of our shows and he’s actually like that, he’s a really gentle, sort of boring guy! It was like ‘come on Alice, bite a baby’s head off!’ (laughs)

Hellbound: I actually just saw a little piece in Metal Hammer where Alice picked his favourite shock rock albums and he picked Tattooed Beat Messiah as one of his favourite records.

Zodiac: Well, that’s nice to know. I don’t really read the music magazines much because, well, I’m not in them! (laughs) The only time I get to see them is when I’ve made a fool of myself! (laughs)

(Part two of this interview will be published on Thursday, October 14th)

Sean is the founder/publisher of Hellbound.ca; he has also written about metal for Exclaim!, Metal Maniacs, Roadburn, Unrestrained! and Vice.