Mark Zonder

As drummer with the legendary Warlord in the early 80s Mark Zonder helped to pioneer what was to develop into Prog Metal.  He took drumming to previously unknown territory in a 15 year stint with Fates Warning. As well as playing on hundreds of sessions, he is currently a member of The Graham Bonnet Band.  Mick Burgess caught up with him during his busy schedule in his studio to chat about his career and Warlord in particular.

You were due to be over in the UK last week with The Graham Bonnet Band but you injured your shoulder.  What happened there?

 I had rotator cuff surgery two months ago as eight months ago I woke up and it was hurting.  I thought it’d go away and did a bunch of touring with Graham and traveled across the world and it just never got any better.  I had surgery and it’s OK.  I can play but it’s a bit sore.  I can lift my arm up but it’s a bit painful still. I have an implant in my arm with these cables that hold the muscle together.  I’m doing the therapy so hopefully it should be OK soon. It’s not so much the playing but the travelling and the lifting and stretching that you do when going from one place to another.  Everything’s good and I’m not too bothered about it.  I should be back on the road in Japan in March. What the doctors were worried about was if it kept ripping and ripping then it’d be a whole different thing and I’d have been out for over a year.

 How did you end up hooking up with Graham Bonnet in the first place?

 Believe it or not, Giles Lavery his manager ended up singing with Warlord for a couple of shows in Greece after the guys who were due to do the shows bailed out.  Giles came in and sang and we stayed friends and when he started managing Graham he thought I’d be the right guy for the job.  He was very up front and honest and said it wasn’t the big time but I am a huge Rainbow fan and truth be told Dio was my guy but I loved the album Graham did in Rainbow so to play those songs with Graham is great. I thought it was good for myself to get out of the Prog thing and play to a different crowd and play it more straight with a groove and make it feel good and lay it in there.  I thought it was a good opportunity to play something different and there was a record there too which was a big deal.  I’ve worked with Frontiers before on the record by Ten with Gary Hughes so I really wanted to do it.  It was quite an easy decision for me to make.

 There’s a great choice of material to play from across all of those bands.  Do you chip in with ideas for the setlist when you head out on tour?

 We all make suggestions about what to play.  We have learned that the songs should be up-tempo.  The slower songs just die.  The audience want to Rock.  They want to hear hard hitting Rock tunes back to back.  They don’t want to hear 10 minutes of chat.  They want you to go out and hit them with right from the start. This has to be Rock ’em sock ’em so we concentrate on those songs that Graham has recorded that do just that from All Night Long, Lost in Hollywood to Desert Song and Assault Attack. But now that we have a new record out I think we should also be playing 5 or 6 from that.  It’s great that we have Since You been Gone as part of your set but it’s time to look to the future too and play some new songs.  I don’t mind playing all of those songs but we should also play some new ones like Where Were You, Dead Man Walking or Into The Night and if that means we play for one hour 50 minutes then I’m fine with that. Right now it’s so important and especially as it’s our first record it’s important to get that going.  Even the more commercial tunes like California Air would fit right in with the Poppier songs like Since You Been Gone, Dancer, Island In The Sun and S.O.S.   I know on the current tour they’ve been playing 2 new songs but I think when I come back we should easily be playing 5 or 6 new songs.

You’re joined in the band by Jimmy Waldo, Conrado Pesinato and Beth-Ami Heavenstone.  That’s quite a lineup.  Are you hoping to be able grow together as a band over the next few years?

 Absolutely.  That’s what we hope to do. There were things set up on that first album and that was quite a tough record to do.  We were touring, recording a 27 song record and it was a little crazy.  We’ve found out things that work really well and find those that don’t work.  We’ll fix it and make the next one better and grow the band from there.

 When did you start work on the record?

 I had those drum tracks recorded for the 17 songs years ago.  I think Graham said it best when he said that I had recorded those parts even before I’d joined the band.  Once I start I just want to get in and get it done.  It took a little time with the touring we did in the middle of the process so it took longer than we’d hoped.  We learned from that album and now I’ve already sent the guys some drum ideas for the next record. Some of the guys write better when they receive a drum groove.  Like with Where Were You, I sent a complete drum groove to Jimmy Waldo and he came up with the keyboard part and we built that one up like that and other times Conrado would send me an idea and I’d put some drums to it and work on it from there.  I work constantly on ideas in my studio.  I’m not that caveman type of drummer and I guarantee I have just as many ideas as a guitar player or singer does.   I love to work. I’m that guy that’s up at 5 or 6 in the morning and I know I do my best work before lunch.  It was great working with Jimmy and Conrado on these songs and we had such a great relationship when coming up with and arranging ideas.

 You’ve been writing and recording since the early ’80’s with Warlord and Fates Warning. How did the experience of working on The Book differ from some of your earlier experiences?

 It was very different and I think part of it was because Warlord was my band so I had a lot more say in how things were done.  Fates Warning wasn’t my band but I still had a big enough say.  I still have a say in this band but every band is different.  We went into making this record with the label say right, this is what we want…Rainbow, MSG, Impellitteri and Alcatrazz.  They didn’t want The Beach Boys or the Bee Gees.  They were clear on the style they wanted from us.  We did have the right to say no of course but we were happy with that and knew the direction we had to head in.

 Talking of Warlord, Deliver Us was the first record you made. Does it feel like 33 years ago?

 No it doesn’t.  It was such a big part of what we were doing and a big part of my life.  Good music just sticks with you. It doesn’t seem that long ago at all as I look all around my studio I see a Warlord poster from when we were in Greece and there’s stuff all around so it’s all over everything.  To me that was the band that could’ve, should’ve, would’ve.  I know I say this in comedy and I don’t mean this in an egotistical way, but I’ve heard it said that if Brian Slagel had invested more in Warlord then we might not be talking about Iron Maiden as much right now.

 How old were you at that time?

 I think I was 25 when we did the first record.  I’m 58 now so I was around 25 at that time.  We lived in a commercial warehouse at the time and downstairs they made leather products for the police. It was kind of ghetto living.  We made our own shower, we had a lot of cockroaches and we had rooms made with drapes over the doors to give us a little privacy. We played all the time and it was awesome. It’s the type of thing you can do in your 20’s but not in your 40’s.  I wouldn’t trade that for the world.  It was awesome.  We had a 30 by 30 room with a small drum riser and a PA and we’d just play all the time for people.

 Were your parents supportive of your musical ambitions?

 Mine were.  I dropped out of college in the first year to move to L.A to play with a band.   As long as I did things smart and didn’t do anything stupid then they were happy.  I was working part time jobs too to support myself.  Some of the guys, their parents would send them money so they could get by but I was always working.  They were supportive but not to the extent that they gave me a chest full of money but they were right behind me. I’d been playing drums since I was 7 so it wasn’t if it was something new for me.  I’d been playing in bands and in all of these horrible clubs in the Bay Area of San Francisco for quite some time before I moved away.

 Did you have to get a room created in your house to cope with the noise?

 My drums were in my bedroom and I’d fall out of bed right onto my drum kit.  Everyone would go onto the other side of the house when I was practicing. There was plenty of times I’d play in the garage with my friends when the police would come.

 Did you take formal lessons?

 I took formal lessons since I was 7 and I’ve taken them on and off since then. I can read music.  I understood drum music and how to put things together and note value.  As much as it’s great to sit down and play I think it helps a lot if you know the theory too so you know when a can stick a couple of eighth notes in or triplets to make something fit together.  That’s helped me a lot. It also helped me a lot in Fates Warning with the odd time signatures and how to make it flow rather than sound like a big mess.  I also took a lot of lessons when I got older, Afro-Cuban stuff so that I could incorporate that into my playing.  It means I can put in different patterns and grooves and studying different kinds of music helps me do just that.

Kill Zone from The Holy Empire features ethnic rhythms doesn’t it?

Yes, I incorporated Afro-Cuban style rhythms into that song.  Studying different types of drumming has opened me up to so much wider ideas. Rock drumming is much more kick and snare where the kick is on one and the snare on three.  Other music doesn’t rely on that and those crazy fills can come by looking to other types of music and rhythms.  You have four limbs and you can play them where you want to make it sound more interesting.

How much practice did you do in the early days to get up to a decent standard?

 I haven’t got there yet!  There’s a lot more to it than sitting down and banging the crap out of the drums.  The thing is when you play the guitar or bass they can have you strumming a Beatles or Bob Dylan song in a couple of weeks. With drums it takes so much longer to be able to develop into playing something very basic.  I didn’t even have a proper kit for four years and just used practice pads.  My wife has been getting guitar lessons and she can play a Bruno Mars song after a couple of weeks, I couldn’t even hold the sticks right at that point.  The drums are like a calling so there’s no instant gratification that you get with other instruments. It’s ugly when you first start and honestly I didn’t really start worrying about timing and click tracks until my early 20’s.  Back then it was just jamming and we were just playing Scorpions tunes and Thin Lizzy so we weren’t too worried about rushing.  Then I went through a phase of trying to fit in every groove I could think of and it sounded like crap.  Then you get to that stage where the skies open up and you start to get it and you start to become a more accomplished player.

How did you form Warlord?

 It was just me and Bill in San Jose at first and we used to play for hours and hours in this warehouse. We just jammed together and some of those Warlord songs came from those early jam sessions. We then had a bass player called Craig but we didn’t have a singer at that point.  We then moved to L.A and Jack Rucker was a studio singer.  He never practiced with us or wrote with us.  Bill would tell him how and what to sing.  He was more of a Pop singer but he had a really good voice.  He could sing and he could take direction.  Diane Kornarens came in right and the end and Bill told her what we needed and she played it. She was there to fill out the sound.  It wasn’t like she was Don Airey or Jon Lord.  Warlord wasn’t that sort of band, the keyboards were just to add texture.  Me and Bill had been together 2 or 3 years before we did Deliver Us.  Before that we just recorded onto cassette all the time.  We were playing Winds of Thor and Mrs Victoria back then.  The first record was done for $800 all in on an eight track.  We had both bass drums on one track with the bass guitar.  It was old school but there was an originality and a magic that was there that I haven’t seen in many other places.  It was very pure, there was no bullshit or ego.  There was a certain chemistry from the musical and business side.  Whoever did it best, just did it.  I think that really comes across in the music.

 Warlord sounded very different to the other Metal bands around.  It was more progressive and complex than the run of the mill Metal band but much heavier than the Prog Rock bands around then. Is that what you were looking for when you formed Warlord?

 We just did what we did.  There was no preconceived plan or anything.  Bill is such an underrated write and guitar player.  He was 17 years old when he wrote Black Mass.  He had classical Greek guitar playing drummed into him as a kid and that really paid off.  He never plays a wrong note.  When he plays an instrument he just becomes part of him.

Did you adopt the name Thunderchild, Damien King, Sentinel and Destroyer to give an air of mystique to the band?

 It never really had the chance to play itself out.  Bill came up with that idea. He had songs for each member and a story that put each of those songs together.  There is the concept album, Bill had the whole thing that went along with the stage show if it ever got to that.  I’m not saying that Bill was the Michael Jackson of Heavy Metal but he was the Michael Jackson of Heavy Metal.  He was thinking of this and thinking of that and had his hands in everything.  He had big visions for things, from the stage set up to the band member’s names.  He even thought further down the line that if people left the band how he’d deal with changes to the names.  It may all sound rather silly but if it had been successful then you’d think of it differently.  A few million records sold certainly helped KISS with their credibility so something may sound silly at first but once it becomes popular then it gets credibility.  If you think of Slipknot and their masks and costumes.  In the cold light of day it’s all rather silly but when it’s successful everyone thinks it’s the greatest thing in the world.

 Your first full length album was, And The Canons of Destruction Have Begun.  Why did you decide to record that in the Raymond Theatre?

 Back then there was no internet and we knew we had a European sound.  We knew we weren’t Ratt or Motley Crue or like anything that was happening over here.  We thought if we did a video and showed a concept of what we were trying to do then people in Europe would be able to see it and if that turned into a tour then that would have been great.  We weren’t going to get a lot of attention of Metal Blade but people wanted to be able to see what bands were all about so that’s why we did the video in the Raymond Theatre.  When I saw UFO on Don Kirschner’s show I thought it was the best thing ever.   There were no video recorders back then so you had to watch it when it was shown on TV and if you missed it you missed it.  We recorded that by borrowing money from my parents.  We couldn’t record it totally live as we just didn’t have the budget and there’s just no way we could have got that live sound in just the one take. It cost us $5000 to do that.  All that stage stuff we built.  The camera guys were couple of friends of mine who didn’t really know what they were doing.  We only had one take to get it done.  We shot that in the Raymond Theater which had been known as Perkin’s Palace and that was the place used in Spinal Tap when they get the Black Album.  It was a great place and we used to see bands there all the time.  Metal Blade decided to put that out as a record as well as they had a soundtrack.  The pictures on the album cover were shot at the filming of the show.

 You didn’t play live much back in those days.  Why was that?

 We didn’t play live at all as we didn’t have a singer.  Our live shows were basically a showcase for Bill Aucoin and Jack basically screwed the whole thing up as he wasn’t really a Rock singer and he turned up with eyeliner on and a black and white shirt that was like a cape.  It was ridiculous.   The band was great but we just couldn’t find the right singer. We auditioned everybody but just couldn’t find the singer for us.

 Do you think that maybe that held you back and prevented you from reaching your full potential?

 Absolutely, there’s no question about that.  We couldn’t find the right singer and didn’t want to go out with a singer that was horrible so we weren’t able to play live and I think really did stop us making a name for ourselves.

 The band split in the mid ’80’s.  Did you think that you’d taken the band as far as you could at that point?

 I think everybody got frustrated.  Bill headed down the academic path and went off and got his degree.  He was teaching at a college in Florida. We never had a meeting about it, we all just got frustrated with how things were turning out.  Then outside influences came into play and got stupid and kind of fell apart.  Bill got disillusioned and had to do something completely different and that wasn’t going to be Warlord.

 Why did you decide to put the band back together in 2002?

 I always stayed in touch with Bill and always wanted to play again with Bill so I told him if he ever had anything going whether it was Warlord or not to let me know.  He started sending me ideas and we worked on those and we were able to get Joachim Cans from Hammerfall to sing with us.  He was a huge Warlord fan.  He was a great fit for us, the best singer we’ve had he was a great frontman.  He pulled the whole thing together when we played at Wacken.  People went absolutely nuts.  It was great.

 2011 saw more activity with Warlord and you were joined by Rick Anderson on vocals.  Where did you first come across Rick?

 Rick came in earlier on when it all kind of blew up.  When he came in he had these great ideas of things that were going to happen. He wasn’t really the right guy unlike Joachim. Rick came in and when Bill had written a lot of the Holy Empire a lot of stuff was down in that lower register.  Rick worked with Bill and he worked well with Bill.  The problem is that he couldn’t sing the higher stuff which is why we had Giles Lavery sing Kill Zone.  When it came to playing live Rick just couldn’t sing all of those earlier songs of ours. Live it would have been a disaster.

So how did Giles Lavery end up singing with you?

Bill knew Giles as he liked Dragons Claw and they knew each other as friends.  We got stuck in a situation where we had gigs in Greece and no singer.  Bill got in touch with Giles and asked if he’d do it.  After the sound check, where there was about 35 people milling, about we walked off stage and Giles said to me that, that had been the biggest show he’s ever done.  I thought, oh, boy.  He was talking about the sound check he’d just done. The biggest show he’d ever done was in front of 35 people.  Giles was great though.  He took direction and he did really well.  We were all well-rehearsed and knew what we were doing so we helped to carry Giles but he did do a great job for us.  I think as the band was really strong and that really helped him.  Giles did good though.

What about the future?  Where does Warlord go from here?  Do you have plans for another record or more touring?

 On 1st July we will be headlining Day 2 of the Chania Music Festival in Crete.  We are really excited to be playing at that festival and we promise that it will be a great show for fans of Warlord.

 You’ve never played in the UK.  Do you hope to make it over here one day?

 I do hope so one day.  I’d love to bring Warlord over to the UK.  Maybe one day.

What have you planned for 2017?

 Like I mentioned earlier Warlord will be headlining at the Chania Festival in Crete in July  As far as myself, I’m on for playing with anybody who’s music I liked so if David Coverdale called, Joe Elliott or Bobby Kimball called I’d be up for it.  I also do a lot of recording for other people.  I’m always open for anything.  I have a studio here and will do work for hire for any band that is looking for a drummer to work on their record.  I’m really busy at the moment so I’ll be continuing with that.  I’m busy all the time.  There’s never a dull moment.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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