Mack Preston of Torcher: All Fired Up and Lighting the Way

Written by on March 18, 2010 in Interviews, March 18, 2010 - Comments Off on Mack Preston of Torcher: All Fired Up and Lighting the Way

Mack PrestonAt high noon on a gray February day in Sherman Oaks, Mack Preston – frontman for the Florida-based rock band Torcher – met with All Access Magazine to discuss music, touring, the quest for artistic excellence and respect, and, of course, the band’s debut album, “Burning the Edge.” This just-released work contains ten songs that combine Mack’s thoughtful lyrics and compelling vocals with Marcel Anton’s crackerjack guitar work and production, rounded out by the dynamic drumming of Matt Joss and the versatile bass of Ben Perman. One might say that Mack was just “burning” to talk all about it…

All Access Magazine: Mack, we hear that the new Torcher release, called “Burning the Edge,” drops on Monday, March 1st.

MACK: On I-Tunes, all-digital, and it’ll be in stores on the 16th! And the tour starts March 11th.

AAM: Great! So where are you starting the tour?

MACK: Foley, Alabama. We have three spring-break shows along the coast, and then we head up to New York City for five shows, and there’s New Jersey; Richmond, Virginia; Bowling Green, Kentucky; and then down to Charlotte, and back down to Florida. And when we get back home in Florida, we’re getting ready to do the reality-TV show that’s coming up…

AAM: So “back home” for you now is Florida?

MACK: West Palm Beach, Florida.

AAM: But aren’t you’re originally from Pennsylvania?

MACK: Pittsburgh.

AAM: Hmm, that’s a rather interesting segue, among the other transitions you’ve made over time. Now, how is it that you went from the industrial Northeast – “Yankee-land,” many might say – down into the deep, deep South?

MACK: Well, in the early Eighties, the steel mills were collapsing, and the town was kind of shutting down, and a friend of mine said, “Come on down South – they’re hiring cops, firemen, paramedics – and also, the music scene is really hopping.” So I went to south Florida, and landed a day-job as a cop, in Hollywood, Florida – down there in Broward County – and it was a great paycheck, with benefits, and I was having some fun at it. At the same time, I was playing in some clubs and doing some studio sessions, to keep the musical thing going – and the next thing I knew, it was three years, five years, ten years down the line, and I kind of found my niche in the job, I started working undercover, and it was going well, and on the side, the music was doing pretty well – I was playing shows and recording, so I kind of had the best of both worlds for a time. But in terms of reaching a real success level with the music, well, it’s time now – after 27 years in law enforcement, I want to make music and acting and entertainment my full-time gig instead of my part-time deal. And it’s coming to that, it’s working its way to it! I’ve done a number of movie roles and commercials, and I’ve really been blessed and fortunate, that it’s coming all full-circle.

AAM: You’re coming full-circle back to your youthful musical roots, because you actually started as a drummer when you were a youngster, right?

MACK: Yes, that was my big musical starting point – for a lot of years, I was a drummer/percussionist.

AAM: Did you do any drumming or percussion on this new CD, “Burning the Edge”?

MACK: Not on this record, no. Matt Joss, our drummer, is this phenomenal kid who did all the drumming in the recording, and I just let him have at it! I kind of stepped out of the drumming mode when I did my solo album, “Tortured Mind,” which came out back in 2008. Earlier, I was playing with an Irish rock band, doing percussion for them, and we toured in Ireland, and it was fun, it was a really great gig. But in the end we had a falling-out, as often happens – things just didn’t work out the way they should have, and the next thing you know, I was thinking, “I’m going to carry on in this business, on my own! I’m really tired of just working for everybody else. I’m going to set up my own shop, and I’m going to do my solo gig.” So that’s when I set out to do my “Tortured Mind” record.

AAM: So with the Irish band, you felt like you were more in the background?

MACK: Yeah, I was – drumming and doing backup vocals.

AAM: But now you’re the frontman for Torcher. And we see that your solo album, with the title “Tortured Mind,” had the reference to personal pain, while this new band’s name refers to a flame of illumination that you hold aloft, which has a much more positive connotation. Was that your own vision, to segue from “torture” to Torcher?

MACK: Yeah, that first record, and the song “Tortured Mind” itself, was a kind of look inside my own head, looking at how I was trying to make it in the music business while still keeping my law enforcement career alive, plus my family responsibilities – so that project dealt with all the issues going on inside my head. But when we developed the band and the name “Torcher,” we wanted it to have more of a “light the way” kind of meaning, rather than have any kind of dark meaning to it.

AAM: So you’re now “lighting the way” with a more positive theme?

MACK: Absolutely!

AAM: But now, about your other, non-musical career – you know, a lot of people might think of one other very well-known rocker who also began by working in law enforcement. That, of course, is Eddie Money. Do people ever mention him to you?

MACK: Oh, yeah, some people will say, “Oh, you’re like Eddie Money!” Yes, it’s been mentioned, and if I have anything like even half of the success that he has had, then I will be very well pleased.

AAM: But of course, you’ve gone in a somewhat different musical direction from Eddie Money. In fact, you have cited Alice In Chains as a major influence, and that inspiration comes through in the Torcher debut – in terms of the whole musical sound, and of course with reference to the vocals of the late, great Layne Staley.

MACK: Oh, yeah! I was a big fan of Layne, and it was just heartbreaking for a talent like that to just fade away, it’s a shame. Yes, I was a big Alice In Chains fan, from the late Eighties and through the Nineties, and I’ve seen them perform a number of times – even with the new lead singer, man, they do a great live show – this kid has got the goods! If anybody can channel Layne Staley, it’s this kid.

Mack PrestonAAM: That’s true, this new singer is a youngster, but still, with that recent Alice In Chains release, “Check My Brain,” you’re right, he “channels” the old vibe – so it’s a new song with the solid tradition.

MACK: Yeah, it’s got all the style that the band always had. You’re listening to it, and you’re almost thinking it’s Layne reincarnated. You know, with a change like that, nothing’s ever going to be exactly the same, but it’s very close, and when you see the band live, he brings so much to that band nowadays. Unfortunately, Layne is gone and he’s not coming back – so in a case like that, you find the best replacement and you move along. Anyway, talking about that influence, I think right away of the third track on our CD, it’s called “Muffin” …

AAM: Right, we noticed that tone, very grungy, in the tradition of Alice In Chains. Now, in terms of band makeup, Alice In Chains has the same structure as Torcher, which you call a “power quartet” – bass, drums, guitar, and a dynamic frontman. So in putting the album together, was your guitarist, Marcel Anton, the main production guide for the project, in light of his other producing experience?

MACK: Marcel meant everything in the world for this project! I met Marcel when I was doing my solo work, and he was recommended to me as a musical director, to set up with the musicians, to do my shows. So we just automatically hit it off and developed a great rapport, and after we did some shows for the “Tortured Mind” record, he said, “Listen, I’m feeling a different vibe with you here, we’ve got to kick it up a notch, and maybe go for a little more bluesy, ballsy rock. Let’s bring some young bucks into the mix.” And he recommended Matt Joss and Ben Perman, and we started studio sessions and just caught on fire. We’re like a family now. For this record, I did all the lyrics and melodies, and Marcel filled out the music, with Ben and Matt chiming in with their chops, and it’s just excellent, what a mix. We have such a good energy on stage, and it’s really well on its way.

AAM: Well, on that melodic note, isn’t it funny, now you’re down there in Florida, the deep South, traditional home of the multi-guitar jam sound, as in Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchett, The Outlaws – and yet we don’t really taste much of that classic flavor in your own work.

MACK: That’s true. Yes, I am a fan of Southern rock – like everyone else, I grew up with Skynyrd, The Outlaws – “Green Grass and High Times Forever,” the whole nine yards. But my personal musical influences have mostly had a heavier rock base, and I didn’t want to enter into a rehashing of the old Southern chops, because I think the country scene is covering that area these days. It’s not so much “country-western” anymore, but now it’s more stylish and modern. So that base is covered, and I figured I’d stick to the traditional rock and blues, and throw a little punk in there.

AAM: And now we see some of your personal vision on the title track from “Burning the Edge.” While we talked about how your band can be seen as “carrying the torch and lighting the way,” it seems that the song “Burning the Edge” has a somewhat grimmer feeling – not bitterly so, but at least to a degree. How does that song reflect your own perspective, Mack?

MACK: “Burning the Edge” pretty much sums up all my years of undercover work, and being with the seedier element of society, and dealing with almost pure evil. When you look at what’s going on in society nowadays, and around the world, it’s almost like we’re “burning the edge” of destruction, sometimes. You look at some of the horrible, evil things, and realize that it’s not that most of us thrive on evil, or worship it, but it is here, as I wrote in the song, and it’s not gonna go away, so the best we can do is try and manage it, try to make a better world. When you come to the end of the song, you hear, “Can you help me find the way, to make this a better day.” We’re always looking for a way to stop all these wars and conflicts and predators and all the madness out there.

AAM: But on the other hand, the song “Steady Rock” has a more feel-good, anthemic quality to it, to balance things out …

MACK: Yes. For “Steady Rock,” Marcel came up with the riff, and said, “This would be a good ‘stadium anthem’ thing.” Now, you’ll notice that when I write, it’s from the soul, from what I experience, what I see other people go through daily, and we definitely moved away from that with “Steady Rock,” making it just like a rock anthem, something people can pump their fists to at the show, or play at football games. I wanted to step into the arena, away from the “artsy” mode, and go, for lack of a better term, a little “commercial” with that song. It’s something for the masses – a kind of anthem.

Mack PrestonAAM: And on a similar not, the song “Fade Away” could be seen as a kind of power ballad, yes?

MACK: Well, “Fade Away” digs deep into myself and my personal experiences – including my mother and brother passing away from cancer, and a very dear friend who also died of cancer, and Marcel’s mother, who had a lengthy illness and passed away – it strikes a chord with the feelings of great loss, for somebody who means a great deal in your life. I meant it as a tribute to those who meant a lot to me, who have been a guiding light to me, who have now passed on. That’s what “Fade Away” is all about.

AAM: Moving on to “Waste Mine” – interesting title, another different song for you – it went a little mellower, with a bluesier feeling.

MACK: Yeah, when we play that song live, I say that it’s to open your mind, to be more socially aware of what’s going on around you. It doesn’t speak of politics, it just deals with society, not as harshly as “Burning the Edge,” but it’s talking about those who just kind of walk around, paying no attention to what’s going on in front of them – it’s kind of a call to wake up. Don’t just follow in a line. One part of the song says, “Like cattle lines, we fall right into place,” like how people seem to say, “Is that the thing we should be doing? Let’s all jump right in and do it!” It’s a call for individuality – do your own thing, make a difference!

AAM: Which relates, perhaps, to “Promises” – in which you mention the Golden Rule, saying, “Do unto others like you like it done to you.”

MACK: “Promises” comes from my experience of being ripped off by a producer out here in Los Angeles. This guy led me around for a long time with my first solo record – with the production of it, and then the marketing end, I lost a lot of money. I’m not the first, won’t be the last. I wrote that about all the promises, all the lies, where they say, “Hey, this is gonna happen, here’s what we’re gonna do for you,” and they’re just going back on all their promises. Like the song says, “Grab me with your sticky fingers, tear me to the bone!” It’s about getting exploited, musically, and getting no value out of it.

AAM: Mack, we’ve commented on the overall grungy flavor of the songs on “Burning the Edge,” but in “Pouring Rain,” we noticed a more classic, jazzy, kind of “woody” sound to the opening bass line, like a Rickenbacker often sounds, and it works well. How’d that come about?

MACK: When we were putting this song together, our bassist, Ben Perman, suggested that we kind of float into it, with a bass riff. Now, you’re talking about a young guy, only 24 years old –

AAM: Who’s coming out of his “emo-screamo” work with a former band, A Dream of Reality –

MACK: Right, and already he has such a vast experience and knowledge of music, so that’s how he suggested we lead into “Pouring Rain,” which is kind of your basic song about romance and getting along and why you hurt each other, when you’re so in love.

AAM: Speaking of getting along – we heard you’re working on an upcoming “reality show” about the band. Now, what’s this going to be about, just a bunch of guys living together and making music, will there be major dysfunctionality, tour buses, groupies – what’s going to grab our interest about this reality show?

MACK: To sum it up in a quick sentence, this TV show, which is most likely going to be called “Burning the Edge” (surprise!) is about a rock band called Torcher, fronted by a police veteran with 27 years on the job, 18 years as an undercover cop, turning rocker – and all his experiences, and family drama, plus Marcel Anton, Ben Perman, and Matt Joss, and all their family drama, and our friends’ dramas – and it’s about making that conversion, from the law-enforcement community to the music community, with all the compatibility issues. Now, the people behind us are fascinated by the stories that I have – I’m not exactly a story-teller, but when asked, I’ll tell my tale, and the producers like the idea that this is such a conversion, there’s nothing like it out there right now. We have a lot of fascinating components, with me, the cop-turned-rocker, and Marcel’s colorful history, and Matt and Ben. It’s going to be a pretty entertaining show, definitely one to watch.

AAM: With your rhythm section, Matt and Ben, coming from a somewhat different genre of music, do you think that you’ll be exploring any of those alternate musical channels?

MACK: I believe that we will, in the show. Now, Matt Joss brings a more heavy-metal feel with his drumming, his double-kick stepping, and Ben Perlman still dabbles with some friends of his, with a punk thing on the side, and on the TV show I’d like to present some different sides of everyone. As for me, I still like to sit in on a cover set here and there, and throw down some old drum chops.

AAM: So we might be seeing that on stage?

MACK: On stage, actually? Well, if you’ve ever seen Godsmack, you know that Sully is another one like me, a drummer who has become a front-man, and I’ve seen a couple of his shows, and he steps out, mid-show, with his drummer, and they put their two kits together, and they do this bad-ass display of drumming. And I would envision us also doing something like that, down the road. But for right now we’re just trying to get the entire message of the record across – and we’ll see what direction we might go in for the next one.

AAM: Directionally speaking, since you’re starting your tour back East, when do you think you’ll be bringing the “torch” to the West Coast?

MACK: We’re thinking after this TV show gets going. I just did the Sheena Metal show last night – she’s the best! – and she said that after the show gets rockin’, I should bring the guys back out here, and we’ll do an in-studio thing on camera – so I would envision maybe sometime in April, coming into May, depending on how the TV show develops. Now, we’re also gonna be coming out to the Midwest, because we have developed a good fanbase out there. Our record is doing well in Colorado, New Mexico, Kansas … And I’d also love to come back out here, play some festivals, shows, without a doubt.

AAM: Excellent, that’s not too far distant. You know, it’s a different world for today’s rock band, with the decline first of vinyl and 8-track and cassettes, and now even the CD format, where we see that everyone’s going digital. And now we learn that you’re dropping your new music first in digital format, in March, and yet you say that you already have a fanbase in the Midwest, so how is that happening?

MACK: From radio play! “I’m Gone” is the first single, and it has done pretty well in a lot of college markets, and commercial markets too, in New York, New Jersey, Virginia, as well as the Midwest.

AAM: Mack, you entirely relocated to Florida from your home-state, Pennsylvania.

MACK: Yeah, 27 years ago. Oh, I’m back in Pennsylvania all the time, we have a townhouse up there, my wife’s family is from up there, my family is from there, my in-laws, friends – it’s still very much a part of me. Eventually, I’d like to see myself based out of there and then traveling – either to South Florida or L.A. or around the world – because it’s home up there, and sometimes you want to go home, know what I mean?

AAM: In your days with the Irish band, did you tour Europe?

MACK: No, just Ireland. We did a small tour over there, had a great time, and then came back to the States. With that project, it could have been so much more, and what got frustrating with me was this: when I take hold of something, I’m going to give it one-hundred percent, so I basically took over all the web-management stuff, and merchandise, and really wanted to take the band to another level, but some of the fellows in the band were happier being big fish in a small pond –

AAM: Small-town heroes?

MACK: Exactly! You know, that project could have been along the lines of Flogging Molly or Black 47 or some of the other Irish rock bands, we had it all – we had an electric fiddle-player who wore a kilt, an excellent lead singer, and I was on drums and vocals, we had such an act, people would come from miles around to see this band. And I tried to convince the guys that we could be so much more, and it eventually got to the point that I think the lead singer felt a little threatened, thinking that I was trying to steer the boat. But that wasn’t it. I was just trying to get the motor going. So we parted ways. And when I went solo, it wasn’t just to be the boss – I’m no egomaniac – but the idea was to run the boat, and have everybody join in with me. And now, from Matt to Ben and of course Marcel, I take input from everybody, I don’t just dictate, I want everybody to get a part of everything. And while I do all the interviews, because it’s mostly about the songwriting – which is actually work that we do as a band – I feel bad, I wish the guys could do all the interviews right there with me. When we go on tour, we’ll do studio stuff together, radio shows together, that’s the way I want it, it won’t just be my show, I want it to be all-inclusive, because these guys are working hard! And yes, they’re working hard for me, because it’s my record label, it’s my gig, and I show my appreciation, which hopefully is going to be even more, when the TV show and tour and record all get going. And I keep telling the guys, “We’ve put a lot of hard work into this. And as we develop, we’re gonna really develop!” So that means all four of us.

AAM: Noticing the layered quality of production on this first Torcher effort, we’re wondering about the feat of bringing the multiple layers of music across live, with just the three instruments and lead vocals – how is that working out?

MACK: It works! It’s funny you say that, because I’ve thought about that myself, but playing our live shows, Marcel just gets such a great sound – he gets the thickness, and the same with Ben.

AAM: So what kind of effects is Marcel working with on stage?

MACK: He’s got a box of crap a mile long! I ask him, “What’s it going to take for you to break away from that whole big contraption of pedals, and come out front and do some stuff?” – And he does, he comes to play some lead, when he doesn’t have to change this or click that, but most times it seems he’s locked behind this machine – and not in a bad way! – because he’s the mechanic for the whole song.

AAM: He’s still “producing,” while he’s shredding?

MACK: That’s exactly what he’s doing! And the live shows have been great, and I took it as a really nice compliment, when we were testing the waters at a Key Club show with some of the stuff we were writing at the time, and a manager said, “I’ve seen what I wanted to see. I wanted to make sure that you guys sounded live like how you do on the record. That was superb!”

AAM: Mack, you mentioned doing Sheena’s show last night, and what else have you been up to, in your little “whirlwind trip” out here to L.A.?

MACK: Well, I’ve been meeting with producers about the TV show, talking about different formats and such, we’ve had some pretty lengthy meetings on that. And I do a lot of call-in interviews, and I tell Tom [Tom Kidd, of Pres Pak PR] that I’ll take all comers, because I appreciate anybody and everybody, from small indies to major outlets, if they want to hear my story and enjoy my music and know about me, I’ll make every effort to be there and talk. Because it’s only respectful, for those who want to know. You want to get out there to your fans, and respond to them on MySpace and in emails, and I do all I can. Because if you don’t, then you isolate yourself, you set yourself apart, and then you’re perceived as some kind of prima-donna. So I try to fend off anybody thinking that I’m some kind of wanna-be rock star, because you know, I’m just a wanna-be “successful guy.”

AAM: So you’re not suffering from “LSD,” otherwise known as “Lead Singer’s Disease”?

MACK: No, that’s not me. None of those fancy “imported Swiss vodka” contract-riders for me! Don’t those people understand that you’re made by your fans, and I always want to stay grounded, and appreciate those who appreciate our material, and it doesn’t get any simpler than that.

AAM: One thing that gets noticed about you right away is that you’re pretty heavily “inked,” and some of our readers might want to know, when did you first start getting tattooed?

MACK: Twenty-seven years ago.

AAM: Was that helpful in your undercover work?

MACK: A lot of people ask that, but the fact is, I started getting work done long before I ever went undercover. When I was a kid, I saw how my uncle had some tattoos from the Korean War, and I thought that was cool, and knew that when I grew up, I would get some, too. And a lot of these things have meanings, like this one here is for my brother, who passed away, and one for my first-born daughter, and my mother – but I also have some of the decorative stuff, but nothing that’s vulgar, or is demeaning. So did it help my in my undercover stuff? Well, it couldn’t hurt!

AAM: But don’t some agencies have policies against body-art?

MACK: Some do have policies that make you wear long sleeves, and nowadays, in my capacity, I do so out of respect. I got out of undercover about six months ago, because it was consuming too much of my time, while I had so much positive stuff going on with the music, so I had a chance to go back to the traffic motorcycle division, and I’m a supervisor, a sergeant, and I wear long sleeves at work. They didn’t say I had to, but they said, “Do you mind?” And I said, “No – you’re being good to me, and I’ll do the right thing.”

AAM: We notice, in the composition of your band, that you and guitarist Marcel aren’t exactly newcomers to the scene, while on the other hand your rhythm section is two younger guys coming from a really contemporary perspective, and yet your interplay as a band is working out quite well, with a synergistic give-and-take.

MACK: Absolutely. Nobody ever seems to pay attention to the mixture of what Marcel and I call the “seasoned” and the “youth.” It turns out to be a great mix, bringing the new school and the old school together, and it’s a great product there.

AAM: Speaking of “product,” are there any endorsements at this time for you and Torcher?

MACK: We’re working on that, trying to get tour sponsors, for instance, because a tour can be quite expensive. It’s my record label, and my investment, along with my sister, Susan Heidt, who’s part-owner of my record label, and God bless her, without her, I might have been out of business quite a while ago! So anyway, I’m talking to a couple of businesses that might sponsor us on the tour. A friend of mine runs a private-eye business in South Florida, and he just wants a little advertising time on our tour and on our website, so he wants to put money into the tour. Every little bit helps, because I don’t have Virgin or Atlantic or Sony behind me, not yet.

AAM: Will the band travel on a stereotypical “tour bus?”

MACK: We’ll rent a motor-coach, which will really help out. Because to stay in hotels everywhere you go is far more expensive than to do it this way. Since I have been on my job for such a long time, I have a lot of time-off saved up, and I try to manage it wisely, taking some weeks off to go touring, then coming back to work, then some time out again …

AAM: So you’re still on active duty?

MACK: Yeah, it’s one of those deals where you can’t just quit the day-job just yet!

AAM: And as for the music, you’re tackling it the “DIY” way, “do it yourself,” with your hands in all aspects of the process. So in closing, now that you’re visiting us here in a town where there are so many aspiring bands, hoping to grab that brass ring, do you have any words of advice for any fellow up-and-comers?

MACK: It’s the old cliché, Don’t Give Up! So many times over the years I’ve taken a mini-hiatus, two or three months or so, to step away a little bit, but what keeps me encouraged is that I have a lot of support from my wife and friends, and they see that we’re progressing, with the new record and the TV show on the way, and they’re saying, “Nobody deserves it more than you, because you’ve just stuck with it for years, and you’ve been through the gamut, and spent so much time, money, and effort, applying yourself to it, and you deserve a shot.” And hopefully we’re going to get that shot, we’ll see how it all shakes out. So keep your eyes open – the sky’s the limit!,