Mark Vennis & Different Place released their new album – Fighting On All Fronts – last week. It’s Clash like feel appealed straight away.
We came across Mark Vennis & Different Place on a Clash fan forum on Facebook. There are clear similarities and we felt the need to dig a bit deeper.
So, to Zoom we go:
P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?
Mark: I’m at home in lockdown. Looking at my record collection.
P3dro: That’s not a bad thing to be looking at. Where is home?
Mark: I’m in Petersfield, Hampshire. North of Portsmouth, south of London.
P3dro: Give us a little potted history of the band. Tell us how you came to be.
Mark: We’ve been playing together for, probably 10 years or so. I moved out of London, came down here to have kids and to be closer to my Mum.
We got together and were initially were gonna be a blues band, but I’d been writing songs for a long time. We went through a number of drummers and guitarists, but me and the bass player [Dave Sweetenham] had stayed pretty much the same for those 10 years or so.
I write loads of songs, so this was an outlet for that.
P3dro: You released the new album last week, tell us a bit about that. When was it recorded? How did you manage to sort that one out?
Mark: That album was recorded for about a year and a half. We’ve all gotta work and we can’t carve out the time to go down to a studio for three weeks on a trot. So, it was days here and days there.
It kind of grew as we wrote the songs. Some of them we played live. Some we sorted out as a band. Some of them I did myself.
The last album we did [A Beautiful Lie or the Ugly Truth] was a bunch of EPs put together.
With this one, I wanted to have some kind of over-arching theme. And that’s really about the modern world and where England is now. That’s where I wanted this one to be.
P3dro: Yes, we were reading about that on the website. We came across you from a Facebook page, forgive us if we state the obvious, but you and The Clash have many similarities both in sound and attidude?
Mark: Yeah. It’s no surprise. They were a big influence one me as a kid. They were the band that introduced me to all sorts of genres of music. The first Clash album I ever bought was ‘Sandinista’. Which has a massive expanse of different [styles] of music on it.
That really led me to investigate those genres. So, yeah, I’m a massive fan and those influences come clear.
P3dro: We don’t want to bang on too much about The Clash, but you have that kind of punk / reggae mix about your sound, along with what we would suggest is a bit of Americana influence as well.
Mark: Yeah, I’m a big fan of Dave Alvin, who was in a band called The Blasters. A punky / country singer. I’m also a big fan of Bruce Springsteen.
P3dro: Yeah, we get that from listening to your music.
Mark: I’m also a big fan of Lucinda Williams and Rosanne Cash.
P3dro: Yeah, we were going to ask about influences, but you’ve probably reeled them all off by now. Is there anyone else you would cite?
Mark: I listen to a lot of reggae. I’m a big fan of Paul Weller in the sense he just keeps moving forwards – that’s admirable for an artist. That probably covers it. Bob Marley’s a big influence [as well].
P3dro: You talk on your website about Fighting On All Fronts as being about the insecurity of modern life. That seems particularly relevant in this current climate. Is that deliberate, or is it pure coincidence?
Mark: It’s something I’ve always felt. But I think there’s more insecurity now than there was when I was growing up. That song was mostly written about 4 years ago and then honed more recently. But, you look around and there seems to be an endless amount of bad news and shit sandwiches for ordinary people.
And some of our leaders just pour fire onto that and make us more divided. And that’s a huge problem.
P3dro: Has that always been the ethos of the band? Is that always what you’ve been trying to say?
Mark: I think so. I think the important thing about the band and the lyrics is that we’re always trying to tell interesting stories. That have some truth and integrity to them.
I’m in the film business, so I always approach [my songs] as though they were films or short stories. Sometimes that pays off, although it doesn’t always work. But that’s my approach to the songwriting process.
My nature is to be quite a political person and engage with politics. There’s all this discussion about politics should never have anything to do with music, but there’s always been a link. Whatever example you want to give. We’re not doing politics like Public Enemy or The Redskins.
P3dro: But as a band, you always have a voice. You’re the ones on stage, you’re the ones who can preach to people.
Mark: Yeah. And that’s an important thing. Unlike with films, music is a direct connection with the people which is very personal. When you write a song, you’re singing to those people directly. That’s an important thing about music as an art form, which makes it completely different from film.
P3dro: Because, as a band on stage you get an immediate feedback.
Mark: Yes, you do. And there’s nothing like that. But equally, there’s nothing like playing rock and roll generally as a release. You don’t have to be singing about the state of the world to get that. I mean I’m a big fan of Dr Feelgood and Wilko Johnson and for fuck’s sake what they were singing about … But they had that attitude thing and that’s rock and roll.
P3dro: How has life been over the last few months without being able to gig and tour?
Mark: I’m a much better guitar player! But not good in terms of no gigs – that’s been difficult. But good in terms of writing songs, demoing stuff and working on ideas. That’s been a real plus. It could have been a whole lot fucking worse. And a lot of people have got it worse.
For a musician who’s main living is from making music and playing live gigs then that’s really fucking shit at the moment.
P3dro: There do appear to be a few gigs getting lined up now, but all seated and table service from the bar etc. Do you have any enthusiasm for that type of gig?
Mark: I think at the moment, we’d play anything. We can cater to a seated audience, we don’t have to do the One, Two, Three, Four … That’s fine. We can be a bit more mellow.
P3dro: Recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.
Mark: [Pause] Erm. I go through phases of listening to different stuff. At the moment I’m going through an R.E.M. phase. I’m enjoying ‘Fables of the Reconstruction‘. That’s a really fucking good album. I think Peter Buck is a really underrated guitarist. He’s not showy, he just plays these great chords.