Featured Guest is the section of my website where I interview artists, musicians, actors, film makers and many cool people from all walks of life. Today we sat down with great singer/guitarist the respected musician Mark Duda. After moving to the East Village in the 80's, he performed at notorious New York venues like the great CBGB’s and Continental Divide. Influenced by the New York Dolls, Dead Boys, and Johnny Thunders, Mark Duda gained wide recognition as the frontman for the group The Handful. The Handful have released four full-length albums since 2004, including Sons of Downtown in 2015. He recently released a new solo EP entitled "Month Of Sundays" which has been getting rave reviews and generated a lot of excitement. "A Month Of Sundays" sees Mark teaming up with some of the all time greats like legendary rhythm section Thommy Price and Kenny Aaronson (Joan Jett and The Blackhearts, Billy Idol), along with guitarist Jimi K. Bones (Blondie, Skin n’ Bones). The great Arno Hecht (Rolling Stones, Dion) and Bobby Rondinelli (Blue Oyster Cult) make guest appearances on the record, as does the Godfather of Punk Guitar, Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys). Mark and I had a great discussion about his life history, music and more.

1.Hey bro how're are you today? It's good to speak with you man.

MARK: Life is good, Brother. I’m honored to be speaking with you.

2.Great to hear man. Thank you very much I'm honored to speak with you too. Thanks for making time for the interview and always cool to hear from you. When you were growing up, what inspired you to begin playing in bands and what continues to inspire you today?

MARK: When I was growing up, I was in awe of the larger-than-life figures that dominated the rock scene. Early on, I developed a great respect for those musicians who were unapologetically themselves. The unrestrained expression that flowed from Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, Alice Cooper and Roky Erickson was as vital as oxygen and I didn’t see how I could survive without the same freedom. I knew early on that I needed to share my thoughts and sounds regardless of how they might be received. These artists and bands not only gave me inspiration, but the courage to bring that inspiration to fruition.

3.Yeah man I think Elvis, Morrison, Alice Cooper and others really inspired many of us in that time period. Cool to hear you mention Roky Erickson, he's a great songwriter.  That's awesome for sure. Were there any concerts or stand out albums that really influenced you and in what ways?

MARK: I have a wide range of influences that have manifested themselves in my writing and performing both as a band member and solo artist. From a live perspective, I learned early on from bands like The Cult that self-assured stage swagger didn’t need to be over the top and ham-handed. This was incredibly important input for a developing musician in the 80’s where style often ruled the day over substance.

Yes for sure bro.

MARK: Another live performer I’ve always found exciting is Iggy Pop. There was always an element of danger – a sort of certain uncertainty that surrounded his shows that I found exciting.

Yeah man all too true.

MARK: As for albums, there are two rather distinct spheres of influence that surround my work. My recent solo work is informed by traditional rock n’ roll like Elvis Presley, Eddie Cochran, Dion and Buddy Holly, all viewed through the prism of late 70’s artists like Johnny Thunders, Dead Boys, and The Ramones.

It's true bro and I think if you talked to some if not all of those guys and the founding fathers of that genre they would all say the same. They loved the early rock n roll.

MARK: The bulk of my work has been with The Handful, a band I co-founded in the early 2000’s. The Handful is like Monster Magnet meets Old Skynyrd at the Sabbath show and jams out to The Cult before launching into an organic prog-rock jam ala Jethro Tull. Having said all that, a few of my favorite albums are (in no particular order); Black Sabbath (Self-titled, Paranoid); Lynyrd Skynyrd (Second Helping, Nuthin’ Fancy); Jethro Tull (Aqualung); Dead Boys (Young, Loud, and Snotty); Danzig (Self-titled); The Doors (Morrison Hotel, L.A. Woman); The Cult (Love, Electric); The Ramones (Rocket to Russia); The Stooges (Funhouse); Monster Magnet (Dopes to Infinity); Alice Cooper (Love it to Death); Johnny Thunders (L.A.M.F.).

For sure, great influences man and very obvious in your music. 

MARK: I moved to the East Village in the late 80’s to attend NYU. By the early 90’s, I was immersed in the local music scene, performing at clubs like CBGB’s and Continental Divide. I honed my live chops, made a ton of mistakes, and got into a fair amount of trouble at this time. I also learned about legendary artists like Johnny Thunders, Dead Boys, Testors, Tuff Darts, and others who would go on to influence and inform my music to this day. It’s those early shows in the East Village clubs that resonate the strongest with me.

4.Yeah I bet man. What are some of your favorite films?

MARK: I am a big fan of classic horror movies. Beginning with the original Phantom of the Opera in 1925, which introduced many to the brilliance of Lon Chaney. This was a silent film, and the makeup, acting, and incredibly powerful music provided some of the highest production value of the age. In similar vein, Nosferatu (1922) remains an extremely effective horror movie due to the amazing makeup, acting, visuals, and once again music. The 1931 film version of Frankenstein and most of Boris Karloff’s work remain part of my regular viewing, as do Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. The lush scenery of the British horror films made by Hammer films are must-haves for any horror-film fan. Vincent Price remains the consummate horror film actor and his portrayal of Poe characters is particularly entrancing. The Italian Horror films of Mario Bava such as Black Sabbath starring Boris Karloff, and Dario Argento’s Suspiria are also in regular rotation. I also need to mention the 1980 William Lustig film, “Maniac,” which is perhaps the creepiest stalker/serial killer film ever made thanks in a large part to an incredible performance by Joe Spinell.

5.Favorite books?

MARK: I enjoy reading fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and philosophy. Poe is my favorite. He suffered immensely for his madness and wrote beautifully. The human condition was magnified through his lens in a way that I have always understood. The short stories and poetry of Charles Bukowski have been a part of my life for close to thirty years. Buk was another writer at once tortured by his demons and able to communicate his pain exquisitely.

6.Yes man for sure. Well said and true with both of them being classic figures in literature. What are your top favorite singers and vocal influences?

MARK: I honed my vocal chops on everything from doo wop to southern rock to metal. I like to think that a little bit of everything comes across in my singing. Some of my biggest influences vocally are; Ian Astbury, Iggy Pop, Danny Joe Brown, Ronnie Van Zant, Glenn Danzig, and Roger Daltrey.

7.For sure, all of those singer were and are really important to me too. What inspired your songwriting in recent years?

MARK: In recent years my songwriting has drawn influences from traditional rock n’ roll to heavy rock depending upon which project I’m working on. I am also very much inspired by the styles of the musicians that I am working with. For my work with my primary band, The Handful, my writing is in the vein of heavy rock with a 70’s vibe. For our upcoming record and our last album, the lineup consisted of myself, co-founder and bassist Jay Mischel, guitarist Jimi K. Bones (Kix, Blondie), and drummer Bobby Rondinelli (Blue Oyster Cult, Rainbow, Black Sabbath). This band has a ton of primitive cool and sneaky power. My writing for these records takes pieces of Humble Pie, old Skynyrd, Black Sabbath, The Cult, Captain Beyond, and anything else that sits in that hard, greasy rock wheelhouse. I released a solo record in April.  Rather than do the same thing as my band, I took the opportunity to show another style of my songwriting. The 6 song EP I put out is entitled, “Month of Sundays.” The writing on this record is traditional rock n’ roll as heard on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. So, the influences run from 50’s guitar rock to doo wop, through The Ramones and Johnny Thunders.

8.Awesome bro, I'm psyched about it. Happy for you and sounds like you are doing some great stuff. Tell us about the new album and any news?

MARK: My first solo album is the EP, “Month of Sundays,” that came out in April. Once I had the songs written, I brought in Jimi K. Bones to co-produce. We agreed that having the right players on this was essential. Jimi reached out Thommy Price, who he knew from his time with Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. Thommy agreed to play drums.

Man I met him once when he was playing with Joan Jett, he was a very cool guy. That's great.

MARK: Next, Thommy suggested that we call Kenny Aaronson (Billy Idol, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts), who both Jimi and Thommy knew. Kenny agreed to play bass. Just like that, we had our basic four-piece. These guys had the feel the songs needed. Of course, we had a few other friends join us, including Bobby Rondinelli, Cheetah Chrome (Dead Boys), and Arno Hecht on sax (Dion, Rolling Stones). We had an absolute blast making the record and you can hear it. The record has great energy, melody, and performances. I’m extremely proud of the album – records in this style are not often made anymore. In the meantime, The Handful is nearly finished recording our follow-up to 2015’s “Sons of Downtown.” We have recorded a ton of new material for the new album, and Cheetah Chrome has joined us on a few songs. At this point, it’s simply a matter of determining the strongest way to deliver the message. Do we release one album or two? How do we order the songs? And of course, we are after the best possible mix. Having said all that, the public will see another record by The Handful soon.

9.It must be great to jam with so many cool people like that. What advice would you give young artists just starting out?

MARK: Follow your passion, never compromise, and do not allow the white noise of the masses to poison your creative well. Understand that many will try and distract you from your goals and will not want you to succeed. Many will want you to succeed, as long as your success does not eclipse their own. Stay focused and be grateful, but do not rely on anyone but yourself. Taking ownership of your situation and each of the obstacles you encounter will provide the greatest challenge and the greatest reward.

10. Really well said and all very very good advice bro. All of that is very true man. What is one life skill you feel every man or woman should have?

MARK: Self-reliance is the greatest single life skill every man and woman should have. Those who combine self-reliance with true generosity of heart and spirit elevate all they encounter. It is important to remember that we get what we give in life – eventually and with few exceptions.

11. Are there certain songs you have written that you feel represent you as a person?

MARK: For the most part, I am a storytelling songwriter. The vast majority of my songs are fiction with an element of personal experience. A few that represent me fairly well are “Book of Lies,” “Cover Me,” “Walk Into the Light,” and “Disbelievin’” by The Handful. “Murder on Delancey,” from my solo record is a song about a friend’s overdose that’s rooted in my own experience and is fairly close to my heart.

12.If you did not play music, what else are you interested in with your time?

MARK: I am a visual artist, a painter mostly. I am influenced most by South American, and Cuban art. Typically, I will start with large black canvases and use bright colors that speak loudest against the darkness. My subjects are usually people and often musicians. I like to capture both motion and emotion in the subjects and, as with my music, the rulebook is completely out the window. I alone decide what is appropriate and what works for the piece. Most importantly, I am a Father of two young children. Fatherhood has given me greater perspective and humility than anything else in my life. The fact that I am a Father defines me now. I am also a singer, songwriter, musician, etc., but those things pale in significance.

13.That's great man. Any news or last words for your fans today?

MARK: Stay tuned. There is a new Handful record on the horizon. I am also encouraged enough by the success of my “Month of Sundays” album that I have continued to write in that vein as well. I am extremely grateful to the fans for supporting me in all of my musical endeavors.

14.Awesome bro, thanks again for the interview and looking forward to hearing all your new music. 

MARK: Be you. Be proud! Love and respect…Mark

To you too man. Stay in touch and let us know all the news. Keep up the rock man. - G

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