Interview- John Scott (The Mark of Cain)

John Scott- centre

By Ben

The Mark Of Cain hold a unique position among the Australian musical landscape. It is a position that has been hard won, born of an unparalleled work ethic and an uncompromised artistic vision. The band; built around brothers John & Kim Scott, have been pummeling the devoted for the best part of three decades. They have exposed countless people to their characteristic sound – music completely devoid of superfluous bullshit, imbued with integrity and delivered with tangible passion.

The brothers Scott have seen much in this time, with the music industry changing incessantly and irrevocably as well as tackling trials and tribulations both personal and professional. And they have managed to assemble an incredibly impressive resume along the way and have carved a niche & legacy in that is truly impressive. They have created a catalogue of consistently great albums whilst working in the studio with the likes of – Henry Rollins, Steve Albini and Andy Gill. They have used an atypical focus to hone an incredible live show that is brilliant and blistering, delivering performances that are unbelievably raw  & riveting (and at such volume that it feels as though they can alter your very DNA.)… and they have enough ex-drummers to start their own union.

Their recent return after a near decade long absence proved they had lost none of their power, passion or presence. They released a brilliant album and followed it up with a tour that showed they had retained their trademark tightness and intensity. (In fact I voted them as the number one in my completely subjective and self indulgent Top Ten Live Shows Of 2013, found here: )

In a moment that made the fanboy in me giddy with happiness John Scott took time out from saving our country from threats we are not authorized to understand to answer a few questions for us. And for that I thank him.

Ben:  Being in a band with such remarkable longevity would have inevitably meant several trials, tribulations and lessons learned along the way. If you could go back to the beginnings of The Mark Of Cain what advice would you offer those young blokes first starting out?

John: Seriously, I would offer very little advice than only ever be involved in music if you love the idea of expression of yourself and don’t mind being ignored by all and sundry; be prepared to pay a pub in order to play a gig; be prepared to rehearse night after night even in a heatwave in a building with no air conditioning; be prepared to play to no one; above all, be there because you believe that what you are doing is meaningful, you don’t need to ask anyone else if they think you are good; you don’t need applause. Just do it because you fucking love it.  Longevity for us exists because we just did it…we played and played and never questioned our motive, because we had no other pure motive than to play; all the bands that split after a year or two of no success were playing for the wrong reasons, you need to play because there is no other way for you to exist. Now versus then is so radically different that I feel there is virtually no similarity between those of us who played to express ourselves versus the very obvious cult of fame that now permeates our society. We started playing through a love of music and we wanted to play something that moved us in the same way others music moved us.  Don’t ever expect the world, don’t expect recognition, don’t expect anything. We didn’t, and still don’t.

B: Which of the following best describes TMOC’s creative process and why – democracy, dictatorship, socialism or anarchy?

J:  It’s a bit of a dictatorship, since it was all about me I guess and having a band that would support my particular vision of what music I was trying to write and express. But of course if Kim said he didn’t like a riff or something then of course that would be taken account of, sometimes – but for TMOC, really it’s got to be a slight dictatorship.

B:  How do you think being a band with siblings has affected the dynamics of the group?

J:  Maybe it helps your longevity as any spats are over and gone without any hangover effect that comes back later. Maybe it was brotherhood that made it possible. God knows I’ve never lasted in any other venture apart from TMOC.

B:  Why do you choose to predominantly use Rickenbacker guitars & basses, which are not necessarily synonymous with heavier styles of music?

J:  I liked The Who and The Jam, and I bought a Ricky when I was playing in a sort of Clash/Jam like band, then when they kicked me out of that band and I started TMOC I kept the Ricky sort of as sheer bloody mindedness, not that Rickenbacker have ever paid me the slightest compliment and provided me an endorsement the silly fuckers, I’m so faithful to Rickenbacker even when they don’t care. I’m like a man spurned by his wife, cuckolded over and over but still wanting her to say she loves me and only me. Fuck you Rickenbacker!

B: There has always been a strong military aesthetic to the band, where & when did this originate?

–    It’s more no-nonsense than military. So many musicians are laid back and frankly, just musicians?  We play to play – we are there to get on stage and obliterate if possible, not to play a nice set maaan, and then wait for all our fans to tell us how great we are, were, whatever…I hated that part of music so much, and still do. We would see bands turn up with an entourage of 20, girlfriends carrying their instruments for their fucking weak is that to see a musician let his partner carry his guitar? Pathetic. We’d see these bands turn up and make it seem they owned the venue, then we’d watch them play and realize how very very lame they were, and we’d get on, move their amplifiers and instruments for them because they were still basking in the radiated applause of their entourage, so of course we are waiting to play and then we’d say “fuck this, it’s time they moved their shit!” so we’d move their shit off stage and then we’d get this “Heeey maaan what are you doing?  That’s my amp.” and we’d say “You’re taking too long, so we are moving your shit for you.” and then we got this quasi military tag like we were hard-arses because we wouldn’t tolerate weak arsed people taking their time getting off stage when they played. My interest in military history then coupled in with what I write about like it’s a metaphor for life etc etc, then people see it all as military, but I salute those who fought for us and those who still do. You need to remember that it’s only been in the last 20 years our society as a whole has changed their outlook from the late 60’s and all through the 70’s and we’ve begun to appreciate the sacrifices our soldiers make for us – when I was young there was a real socialist leftist anti-Vietnam veteran thing going on. Back then me being appreciative meant I was in the minority.

B:  Forgive my self-indulgence but I need to take the opportunity to ask about a couple of the times I have seen TMOC live that stand out for different reasons. Firstly when I witnessed your live show for the first time; it was the night before you played with Rollins Band on The End Of Silence tour (1994?) It was a free gig in Fremantle and the way I remember it the gathered crowd sat on the floor in front of the stage in awe and nobody moved. Another was a Big Day Out performance in Perth when you had major technical difficulties, John’s guitar kept cutting out and a very stressed roadie tried everything to rectify the issue before you were forced to call it quits, apologize and walk off stage. Do you remember these two shows and do you any other shows stand out from over the years for any reasons good or bad?

TMOC 1994 free show flyer

TMOC 1994 free show flyer

J:  I remember the BDO fiasco – terrible show – guitar cut out during Contender – What I remember thinking is how we/I was blowing a great opportunity to play to a ton of people and instead we were shit. Never mind.
We were used to people sitting still and not moving from back in the late 80’s – we realized that it didn’t portend a bad show finally, we started to realize that somehow people were just staying still watching us – not even applause til the end sometimes – that was us learning about our audience I guess.
Favorite shows for me is still Big Black in 1987. All the Rollins Band supports we did – the crew for Rollins Band were always so kind to us. We were used to being treated like shit, and then suddenly we were working with people who liked us – crew I mean – then after that, even when we weren’t playing with Rollins Band the Aussie crew we’d meet again on the road were always great to us – made us feel appreciated being treated nice back of stage – cos in the early days when we once supported Spy V Spy it was the worst experience ever with the crew so hostile and the band so unlike what you’d expect (like socialist nice commies maybe) but instead they were part of that aging dinosaur rock element of roadies that made bands lug before and after gigs and treated us like shit. There’s a book in that I tell you – even the Midnight Oil dudes as nice as they might all be probably never knew how the roadies treated support bands like shit – never happened to us cos we never played with them – but I know the many stories – Rock n Roll Aussie crap mainly associated with old style touring bands – ask how many bands were treated like shit by the great Aussie band’s roadies….I hear we are the only place in the world which expects bands to lug in and lug out the main bands PA and equipment. We did that many many times, but you know what?  The Mark of Cain have NEVER made support bands do that. If I ever heard a roadie working for us telling a support they had to set up around our equipment I’d quickly explain to the crew member that he was incorrect, we will break down our kit so other bands can fit on stage. I don’t know of any other bands in Australia who do that like we do, but I figure that if we ban that sort of crew attitude maybe we can get rid of that dinosaur shit forever…but I doubt it…not with the lame-arse famesters out about today, god save us all…

B:  Were you happy with the reception the new album received and how did you feel the new material worked in the live setting?

J:  I was real happy – total validation finally for a long hard road, not that we or I needed it, but it certainly made me feel that maybe I did have the tiniest ability to write a good song. New stuff live worked great thanks to Eli knowing how to utilize a sampler – all good.

B:  What are the plans for the future of TMOC?

J:  We will tour again when we can, it’s up to Kim’s availability. I want to do a 30 year anniversary in 2014, then let’s see if we can play again in 2020 for the hell of it…

B: Finally my last question is one I ask everyone – if you could choose how you were to die what would you choose?

J:  I want to die saving a whole lot of people – that would be fine by me.

Songs of the Third and Fifth and heaps more available at TMOC’s official site
Check out the Audiocracy review for our take on it…

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