A Conversation with Platinum Blonde's Mark Holmes
BY DAVID DeROCCO
The hair might not be as perfectly blonde as it used to be. But Mark Holmes is as ready as ever to give fans a platinum-level concert experience.
As the England-born frontman for Canadian New Wave icons PLATINUM BLONDE, Holmes is still committed to keeping his band fit, relevant and pushing boundaries as aggressively as they did during their chart run in the 80s. With radio and video hits like “Crying Over You,” “It Doesn’t Really Matter,” “Standing In The Dark,” and “Not In Love,” Platinum Blonde remained MuchMusic darlings through most of the 80s before disbanding at the end of the decade. After riding out the grunge era doing other things, the Blondes reunited in 2010 and released their fifth album, Now & Never, and the lead single, "Beautiful," in 2012. To stay busy Holmes has also carved out a successful side gig as a DJ on the lucrative EDM circuit in Europe.
With an upcoming show November 9th at Scotiabank Convention Centre, Holmes took time out from his busy schedule to chat with GoBeWeekly about the joys of DJ’ing, the appeal of Hip Hop and the importance of staying in shape as a musician.
GOBE: You’re a hard guy to track down given this busy life you’ve got, flying off to London, organizing fundraisers. What’s the event you’re currently working on.
MARK: The Grand Cru kind of started off a fundraising effort between affluent individuals who would host parties at their very large houses, hire chefs to come in and make incredible food and serve super expensive wines, as the main event. It’s about $2000 a plate per person and they’d raise a lot of dough with minimal effort. It was fun, but the people I’m working with wanted to make it a tiny bit bigger, so we’re doing this one at the Windsor Arms in Toronto with music, food and performances by international artists. It’s just for a larger audience.
GOBE: Is this something you like to do regularly
MARK: It’s a lot more stressful putting together events than people know. It takes a lot of people. I’m just one of the keys in the cog. There’s so many things to deal with. I was more on the concept and entertainment side. As a DJ and promoter I’ve done a lot of really big parties. I’ve brought what I’m good at to the frame. It was good education for me seeing what it took to put these parties on. It was an eye opener for me.
GOBE: Are you saying that musicians may not be good with minutia and detail.
MARK: I don’t know. I might be.
GOBE: In the initial aftermath of putting Platinum Blonde on hiatus as the 80s ended, what did you do. How did you initially replace the adrenaline that comes with being a rock star after being on that eight-year roller coaster ride. What were the first steps you took to re-invent yourself.
MARK: I moved to California for a bit. I wanted to get out of that whole business, the music business. The business part of it was very toxic to creativity, very toxic to the band, especially in the early 90s. Exciting things were happening but most of it was back in England so I decided to go home. I was influenced there by a lot of the electronic music coming out, a lot of the raves and DJ culture. All of sudden that medium is what people are paying to see rather then the actual artists who created the stuff. So it was an interesting time, and I could see things really starting to change. I just enjoyed playing music and not having to rehearse with the band so I became a DJ.
GOBE: Did DJ’ing provide you with the same level of satisfaction as an artist.
MARK: I really started to enjoy it a lot and before you knew it I was playing in front of large crowds, sometimes bigger than Platinum Blonde crowds. It was a lot of fun and it influenced what we did in 2012 when we made a new record (Now & Never).
GOBE: How so. What did you learn DJ’ing that you could apply to making Platinum Blonde records.
MARK: When you’re into making electronic music it’s almost like you’re in the technology industry. The moment you release something it’s old as soon as it comes out. You’ve really got to stay ahead of the game and be innovative. By the time the audience hears a track or a song, DJs have already been playing it for six months and they’re sick of it. All of a sudden the songs start to become a big hit and everyone wants to hear it. A lot of hits are made by remixes of old music. I remember doing the remix of (Platinum Blonde’s) “Not In Love” which Robert Smith (The Cure) and Crystal Castles did. You get that stuff to dance floors and boom, it just creates a whole other world of hit. Any genre of music can be turned into a dance floor hit if the chorus is right, if it drops right. I realized that just one version of a song might not be all you need. It can always be remade and recycled. People say 'what about original stuff?' Sure, I always want to come up with original stuff but there are some songs out there that maybe need another look at, that can be done in a different way.
GOBE: As a DJ, there must be some freedom in putting together songs simply for a live crowd rather than having to cater to radio’s fickle tastes. You mentioned your 2012 album Now & Never. I hear newer Canadian bands like Monowhales or The Royal Foundry and I can connect the dots back to classic Platinum Blonde records. But while their songs are getting radio airplay, there’s limited hope for new Platinum Blonde music to get played as a heritage artist. How do you reconcile that as a musician making new music, that your chances of airplay are pretty slim.
MARK: You’re right about those things. That’s where electronic music comes in. DJs don’t have bios. They just have what they’ve done. And people are just listening to music and it’s a different world. Then when you get into the pop world and it’s two guys who are pretty much writing every hit song you’re listening to, and both those guys are in their 50s, it says a lot.
GOBE: You’re right. I’ve read articles about the two guys who have been writing the hits for the Taylor Swift’s and Katy Perry’s of the world and the science rather than art behind their songwriting and music decisions.
MARK: They’re simply writing algorithms. Who thought creativity and musical genius would be hijacked by algorithms. I’m going to defend it a little. You must embrace technology. If technology allows you to do this, to create beats and samples, then you must embrace it. Let’s look at hip hop. Why is hip hop the biggest musical form in the world. Simple. Hip hop is the football of music. Football is the biggest game in the world. NFL football doesn’t come close. If you’re in an impoverished neighbourhood in Brazil or anywhere, all you need is a football to play with all your mates. You can have all these talented people coming out of those areas. Now look at hip hop. It’s an amazing outlet for creativity. And you can learn a lot quicker because of the technology available. Normally you’d have to learn to play guitar, learn to be in a band. What about those people just sitting at home who want to write a few lyrics and get behind a mic. You can download a few beats, throw a few samples together and before you know it you’ve got something. Maybe no one’s listening, but does that matter? It’s an accessible music form for everyone.
GOBE: Regardless of the impact of technology, you still have to write memorable songs. The Platinum Blonde songs you’ve created are like precious artifacts from Tut’s tomb; you can bring them out and people will always pay to see you perform them. How do you put the magic of those songs and their staying power into perspective.
MARK: There always seems in music to be the one style that is part of your genre that a new generation of humans will gravitate toward. You may be almost obsolete, but a few years pass and suddenly they start to like it and all of a sudden you’re relevant again. When you see our audience, we have a very young audience for a band that came out in the 80s. It’s me taking music to different genres and defying barriers. I think that’s so important.
GOBE: At this point, you have all the freedom to create music without the expectations. Is that daunting or liberating.
MARK: No, actually what it is, I’ll use a hockey analogy for example. You’ve got (Connor) McDavid, he’s the best. He’s got all this going for him. The moment he goes into a slump or the puck’s not bouncing for him, then the pressure is super high. So if you’re very very good like McDavid, and expectations are super low, who’s going to get talked about more. Somebody who is expected to do something great. Or somebody that does something great that wasn’t expected to, or wasn’t on the radar. That happened to us when we put out Now & Never. Even Alan Cross put us on his list of three songs he’d listen to if he were stuck on a desert island. He said the album was relevant today and tomorrow. Because I’m a DJ I can keep my ears to the ground.
GOBE: You’re probably more in touch to what’s bubbling up from the underground that most labels are today. That seemed to be the case with Platinum Blonde back in ’88 when you’re third album went double platinum but you still got dropped by your label. Who does that.
MARK. Exactly. What would you do? Imagine releasing a double platinum album today. It’s almost an impossibility.
GOBE: If there’s one lesson to be learned from those halcyon days of releasing music and dealing with labels, what’s the lasting lesson that you’d share.
MARK: If someone said I’ll put this money out but I want publishing and you guys get writer’s credit, it doesn’t matter, because 50 percent of nothing is still nothing. Don’t listen to them. That publishing is the ownership of your songs, and to get it back may be a lifetime battle. Don’t fucking do it ever. Your publishing stays with you. If they want a percentage of your publishing, sign a special contract stating how much you get while you’re managing me.
GOBE: So what’s the business plan for Platinum Blonde these days. Is it a hobby, are you just weekend warriors, getting out there to have fun and get your ya yas out?
MARK: It will never be just a weekend little thing. When I do music projects they’re for real and ever-present. The single is recorded, mixed and ready to go. We’re just waiting on the video. I never ever stop. This rust never sleeps.
GOBE: So there’s new Platinum Blonde music on the horizon.
MARK. Right now there’s a single on the horizon. I’ve got some work with a corporation producing, I’m doing a lot of writing for a lot of other people. When it comes to Platinum Blonde, schedule permitting, we’ve got the recording done, we’re just waiting for proper treatment for a video and getting the thing out there.
GOBE: Will we get to hear the new songs when Platinum Blonde takes the state in Niagara Falls?
MARK: Negative. Because of all the technology it makes it very difficult to play a song that hasn’t been released yet.
GOBE: So in other words, all the fans young and old, the internet fans, the Chinese tourists who are in the Falls, they’re all going to be treated to a fun night of Platinum Blonde classics performed by Mark Holmes and friends.
MARK: Basically that’s it. That’s what we’re looking for. I love playing. I take a lot of pride in it. I take a lot of pride in my health and fitness to be able to do this. I’ve been into fitness for 20 years or more. And I run every day for an hour
GOBE: Well do you look pretty buff in that video for “Beautiful.”
MARK: I actually slimmed down from that. I wanted to be lean. I’m an artist but I’m into sports. It’s given me longevity. I don’t want to go to a show to see a bunch of guys in their 40s sweating and struggling to stay in time and hit their notes.
GOBE: Do you have a greater appreciation for a guy like Jagger and the shape he’s in
MARK: Yea, look man. Take pride in yourself. Unless there is some form of physical disability you basically don’t have an excuse. No excuse not to do whatever is possible to stay on top of the game. You may not have all the hits. You see, the audience gets older but they don’t want you to get older. They want to live vicariously through you. They want to come and see the band they saw before, not some old guys falling around on stage.
GOBE: Final question. What Platinum Blonde song do you enjoy performing them most. What song still gives you a rush as a performer.
MARK: I guess watching the audience as we go into the chorus of “Beautiful.’ It kind of has that drop and almost into a dance mix. To see them jump up and down, that’s what gives me the biggest rush, because the new stuff is getting the same reaction as the old stuff. It’s different parts of the crowd, almost like having a political election. I’ve got all three parties, the conservations, the liberals and the extreme left, all digging different parts of my policy as it were. The younger audience get a fix of what they like, the classic audience hear what they like, and no one taunting each other.
GOBE: Music…the ultimate unifier.
MARK: Well said.
For tickets visit: http://www.fallsconventions.com/#group-7