Mark Whiteside on new project, Desks – a transatlantic collaboration recorded on a phone. And, a history of Evil Blizzard

Mark Whiteside is the drummer for the infamous bass heavy Evil Blizzard, but there is a hell of a lot more going on with projects such as his solo venture One Sided Horse and recent outing as Desks. He needed to explain himself.

It was 2015 at Liverpool’s Psych Fest when we first came across Mark Whiteside playing drums for Evil Blizzard in a show that left us reeling. Five bass guitars, a synth and an axe wielding guy with a pig mask was not our usual weekend fare. No, not even us.

But we were sold from the off. Even if the band did make it look like they’d fucked up their sound check and kept the crowd waiting, just because they could.

Since then, our love for Evil Blizzard has been well documented as a band who make cracking full on rock music, but who also understand the power of theatre and spectacle as an integral part of the show. It’s a mix that works well over here.

As, perhaps should be expected from a band that won’t conform, the front role is adopted by the band’s drummer, Mark Whiteside, along with abusive interjections from the usually sequin adorned Filthy Dirty.

But there’s a lot more to Mark Whiteside. His solo project, One Sided Horse has been running for a while and he’s been busy during the past 12 months with new record label, Mr Lewis and a new album in his latest moniker as Desks.

It was time for a chat.

P3dro: Where are you and what are you doing?

Mark: I’m in my flat, in Preston, just got in from my Mum’s house. Not doing anything at the moment, have literally just walked through the door and settled down to do this.

P3dro: We have many faces to Mark Whiteside. Obviously we know you as the drummer for Evil Blizzard, which is where we first came across you, and then a rather disappointing episode where we compared you to The Levellers in a review of One Sided Horse …

Mark: It’s quite a funny one that. Not that I have anything against The Levellers, it’s just they’re not a band I would normally listen to, so I found it a strange thing, but obviously people take things as they wish. If you feel it had a feeling of The Levellers, then it did. There’s nothing wrong with that.

P3dro: And, obviously, the trigger for reaching out to you is the new project, Desks, so tell us a bit about that.

Mark: Over the last few months, I had an idea of putting a few singles out myself as One Sided Horse, which I’ve done in the past – I have a friend in Wales who cuts vinyl and he has done things for me in the past, little mini runs of songs, which have gone on my site and people have bought them, or I have auctioned them for charity.

Before Christmas, I was going to put another one out, but then I thought it was a bit much for me to keep putting my own songs out on vinyl, even though people would buy them, it was just another One Sided Horse [release].

So I decided to form my own mini record label called Mr Lewis Records, named after an old teacher at my school who was encouraging musically, which releases one off singles – there’s only ever one copy, coloured vinyl, not for profit, it costs what it costs and that’s what people pay. We’re up to #12 at the moment. That’s 12 different acts, some more well known than others. The next one will hopefully be a band from New York called Going Postal and then hopefully The Membranes will do one as well.

And then I got a message from a guy in America called Perry [Pelonero] with a band called Star Control and we put one of their songs out as a single.

From that, I contacted Perry and said: “Do you want to do some music?”. So, he sent me one of his songs and I sang the vocals, recorded on my phone, and sent it back to him.

So, to return the favour, I sent him one of my songs and he put some ambient guitar on it.

I’d already had the idea of doing something different and I had the idea of the name Desks, which was a name I liked, so I said [to Perry]: “How do you feel about putting this out under that name?” and he was cool, so, yeah, lets go with it.

So, I recorded my vocals and some guitar, literally on my phone, a blend of the vocals and the guitar together, no mix, purely live. I sent them to Perry and he put this really nice ambient guitar to them. We put a few on Bandcamp and people seemed to really like them. It was only a few weeks ago when this started. And then I’d recorded another 15 songs, sent them to Perry, he did them and sent them off to be mixed and then within a week we had a full album worth of material.

The mixing was done by Patrick M Files, who is also a part of the Desks project as guitarist.

So, they’re my songs with an added ambient feel. It’s been quite cool. We’ll see where it takes us. It would be good to do some gigs, but, of course the problem is that I’m sat in Preston and they’re in America, so we’re not going to be booking gigs for next week!

But Desks has come from me forming this little label and then meeting people from that.

P3dro: How has the remote process of working played out? Some bands need to be in a room together, but you seem to be the sort of person who can spark off yourself?

Mark: If we look at Desks and One Sided Horse, rather than the “Other Band“, then, yeah, I am used to playing on my own and most of my gigs are as a solo artist, maybe apart from odd gigs when I play with a friend, Gareth, who does guitar with me, or Stuart on piano, so I do use other musicians, but generally it’s me doing solo things in small little bar gigs in a back room of a pub.

I think I’m used to recording a song, so I know how it should sound within my limitations – I’m a drummer really, I’m not the greatest guitarist in the world. But, I can do what I do with my own songs and that’s all I need.

I’m happy, then to pass it onto someone else and let them to come up with something that they feel is appropriate for that song. Then they can send it back and say: “What do you think of this?”. But I’m not the sort of person who says: “Well, this is my song and if I don’t like it, then it’s not happening”.

It’s a bit like it’s been passed along a conveyor belt. I’ve done my bit. Sent it to America, one’s done their bit, passed it along, they’ve done their bit, sent it back to me and I’ve listened to it. I may have said: “Turn that guitar up a bit”, but I’m not really into the idea of telling them what to do. If I like the idea, then with three different people, with their own individual styles, then it comes out how it comes out.

If people like it, then brilliant, if they don’t, then they don’t like it.

But for now, people seem to enjoy the sort of lo-finess of it. It is lo-fi, because it was recorded on a phone, not in a recording studio. It comes as it comes. Most of them were one takes. I didn’t do them over and over again.

I’m happy with them. It’s a bit like going back to the early days of recording, when there wasn’t a load of equipment, and this is what it’s a bit like. It’s very very basic. It’s a nice sound that has that lo-fi Americana type of feel.

P3dro: Where do you think you get your musical influences from?

Mark: I like the more melancholy sound of music. Whether that’s from classical music or up to more modern music, such as soundscape music and soundtracks, Hans Zimmer. Vocal-wise, I’m a big Peter Gabriel fan, Tom Waits, David Sylvian, Peter Coyle from The Lotus Eaters.

I feel they’re very strong melody-wise. But they have distinctive voices. They’re not happy clappy songs. Their songs are a bit darker. I take a lot from that.

People say to me: “Oh, your songs are very depressing” and I’m, like, well maybe. Not depressing, but they’re just more emotional. They’re hopeful as well. They’re observational.

P3dro: There’s a lot of folk and blues songs that have those kind of themes going through them. Is that where some of your influences come from?

Mark: Yeah, I do like blues. I’ve always found that lyrically they’re not that far removed from where they go. So, I could write a blues song and it would be just about anything, really, although they tend to be about a similar sort of theme, a bit of depression, a bit of sadness, a bit of longing, a bit of loss.

But I suppose, some of my songs have some of that in there. I do try to make some of my songs have memorable lines if I can.

P3dro: The elephant in the room is Evil Blizzard? Your solo work is so different from that band, but tell us a bit a bit about how you fit in with that massive bass guitar behemoth.

Mark: Evil Blizzard started many, many years ago. Before it was even a thing for the people who saw us. It started out as three piece, like a rock, Sabbath, type trio with Kav and Prowler, called Superthrill Temple. That was a traditional heavy metal band – a bit Ozzy Osbourne, that kind of thing.

And then we had a gig booked, but our guitarist couldn’t make it, so I said well, we could just do it anyway as a two piece. We’ll just do the same songs with distorted bass as a lead and I’ll just sing the songs as we sing them. No problem. But rather than go out as Superthrill Temple, we decided to have a new name. On the side was the Ozzy album ‘Blizzard of Oz’, so that sounded cool and I said: “What about Evil Blizzard?“. It sounded cool. It’s a big noise, whatever. So, we did that one gig as Evil Blizzard.

We went on stage, there were literally five people there, we had Parkas on that were zipped up to the top as though we were in the wilds of the Antarctic or something. And we played the gig like that. Great, it was a good night.

Fast forward to about a year thereafter and I said we should do something with this Evil Blizzard idea, so we went out again as a two piece and did a few gigs around Preston and then Stoko and Filthy Dirty saw us and said it would be great if we had more bass players brought in. So, we did.

And that’s really how it started. It didn’t just happen, it was more by chance, really that Blizzard came about. As we moved on, Kav joined. He likes wearing a mask! And then we did a gig in Manchester and Mark E Smith saw us and really liked the idea of the band, the rawness of the band at the time, so he offered us a tour with The Fall.

We couldn’t do the whole tour, but we did some of the gigs and [the band developed from there].

It’s been going for a long time, probably about 15 years in different guises.

P3dro: So, getting back to Mark Whiteside, are you in a position to make any plans for the next 12 months?

Mark: At the moment, I don’t think Desks is a band that’s gonna be gigging because it’s not a band that, logistically, is able to gig, at least at the moment. There’s one in Chicago, one in New York and me in Preston, so that’s more of a project.

One Sided Horse can go and do solo gigs in the summer. There’s a gig booked in Hexham that’s nearly sold out for July, but other than that, there are no gigs booked currently. Other than that, I have fingers in different pies with different people.

Blizzard have quite a few gigs, but whether they can go ahead …

But I do want to get out there and do a few more gigs for myself. I’ve written a lot of songs in lockdown. So it would be nice to get out and showcase them.

P3dro: Recommend a band or an album you think we should be listening to right now.

Mark: There’s the Filthy Dirty album, ‘The Rise And Fall Of Blasphemouth’, which is a really good album. It might surprise a few people, but it’s very good.

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