Featured Guest is the area of my website where I interview musicians, actors, film makers, authors and various cool individuals I have crossed paths with over the years. Tonight we had a very cool interview with the great Parris Mayhew from the legendary Cro Mags. Parris and I talk a little about his music, history, work in film and tv and his thoughts on many subjects. Really great to interview Parris tonight and catch up with him on his news and talk about life. - G
1.Hey Parris how are you brother and its good to speak with you. How have you been lately and whats going on?
PARRIS: Hello Gideon and I appreciate your patience for me making time to answer your questions in a relaxed fashion.
For 15 years I have had a very regimented life working in the film business. Like most people I work within a schedule that doesn’t allow for a full time musical life. But my free time between work blocks is dedicated to music, writing and recording.
After a very long self imposed musical hiatus, around 5 years ago I suddenly felt the pull again to play. So, I initially started out trying to form a band. But I couldn’t find people whom fit, or had the talent/skills, or could be assembled in the same time frame. Scheduling can be a killer. So I began recording everything myself except drums which are performed by my drummer Cobz, which is a better method for me anyway. I now have 6 songs recorded and 15 more ready to go musically. Waiting on the new singer to do his part, which is write lyrics and vocal melodies.
I spent a long time looking for a singer, one who could handle the heavier stuff and the acoustic stuff. I am a fan of music and music should have peaks and valleys it can’t just be a freight train from beginning to end, that is no longer what I want to do. I want my next record to be a journey.
2.Everyone knows your guitar work from your band Cro Mags. I'm a huge fan of the old days and wondered what inspired you to pick up the guitar. What were your favorite albums or concerts that inspired you to play? Did you see any classic shows back in your early years that really made an impression on you?
What made me want to play music was RUSH, Aerosmith, Yes and Zeppelin. As a kid I sat in wonder, in front of my stereo speakers and turntable listening to what could only be magic coming from records recorded by YES and RUSH, with impossible instrumentation and in-fathomable talent in song writing and melody. I began playing bass with these bands in mind but their musical heights seemed an impossible level to achieve. BUT, What made me realize I could actually be a musician without being a Steve Howe, Geddy Lee or Jimmy Page was discovering the Sex Pistols and Motorhead. I remember the first time I heard the Sex Pistols. It was at the MUDD Club in NYC. I was 14 years old, I was walking around the club looking at all the night crawlers when I heard the opening chords and the arrogant snark of “RRRight NOW!” It was Anarchy in the UK by the Sex Pistols. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I stood there listening as the song played out getting harder and meaner. I loved every note of it and I’d never heard that kind of aggression in music before except in AC/DC, which I always thought was a close cousin to punk. I had to know who this was so I walked up to some “punk rockers” and asked, “excuse me, but who is this record?” They turned and looked down at me and one said, “Sex Pistols Dick.” I cowered and responded “thank you” and turned and walked away quickly, but now I was on a mission. On Monday I went to school and went up to the 3 punk rockers we had at our school, whom I didn’t know personally but you couldn’t have missed the three of them, always standing around together in matching leather jackets and blue jeans, so I walked over, looked up at them and asked, “hey, can I borrow a Sex Pistols record?” They looked down at me like I was prey, they exuded warning and menace, then suddenly one of them, after summing me up with his critical stare, smiled and said, “yes...yes you can.” That record changed everything for me. I thought to myself, I can’t ever possibly play music like RUSH, YES or Zeppelin but this music wasn’t astronomically musically out of my reach and I liked it just as much as I liked YES and RUSH and on a primal level I liked it almost more, and more importantly I realized, “I could do this!” That was the cruxt of it. It was attainable. Of course none of us attained what the SEX PISTOLS achieved but we tried. That’s half the battle. Trying with belief that you can succeed.
When I returned the album, those punk rockers told me, “if you like the Pistols you’ll like the STIMULATORS, look in the Band listings in the back of Village Voice, it’s where all the concerts in town are itemized by club. It’s in the back of the newspaper. This became my weekly go to paper for concerts, like every other music loving NYER, so I looked in the Village voice and saw the STIMULATORS were playing at Max’s Kansas City with another band called Bad Brains. I skateboarded down to Max’s Kansas City that night and sat out front on a blue mail box watching the small crowd and was having second thoughts about going in. I was a little scared because there was a line of Harley’s parked on the sidewalk in front and the place looked like a biker bar. But there was also a small group of punks out front smoking cigarettes and dancing to no music you could hear but just what was in their heads. When I noticed a girl I knew from school. She saw me and broke away from her friends and walked over at a completely casual pace, with a confidence you don’t see in kids our age, she stopped in front of the mailbox, looked up at me on my perch, leaned on one hip, crossed her arms over a healthy portion of breast and said, “I know you, you go to Art and Design, my name is Gabby, what’s yours. “Kevin” I said. Long story about that name for another time.
The scene was so small then, that when a new kid showed up on the scene it was pretty conspicuous. And I was conspicuous with my long hair and skateboard at Max’s Kansas City. She said, “come over and hang out with us.” She introduced me to Nick Martin of the Stimulators. He had on eye makeup, on one eye in the shape of a wing and he was wearing a kilt and a black motorcycle jacket that read, “LOUD FAST RULES!” on the back. Awesome I thought! this was what I was looking for, just like the Sex Pistols but Nick, though he fit into that category had his own thing going on, his own unique take on it. He wasn’t just a Pistols clone. He was very friendly and greeted me with his hand extended palm up with a little button with the word STIMS hand painted in red. Amazing the fear went far away, a little. Remember I was 14 or 15. And this was a different city than it is today, a dangerous one so my spidey senses were always on full strength. I asked, “are you playing here and pointed at the bar where all the Hells Angels were and he said, “No the bands play upstairs.” That was a relief, kind of. Later when I went in, I walked up the flight of tenement warped wooden stairs that gave a little with every step, threatening to collapse with ever step I took and creaked loudly and smelled like mildew. At the top of the stairs was a sign like in an old diner with click in plastic letters that said STIMULATORZ and BAD BRAINZ. Both with Zs. I guess that was punk, or so I assessed and noted as truth? I went in and it was almost pitch black inside. As my eyes adjusted I saw picnic tables in front of the stage. As I got my bearings I could see a black dude, dressed in torn jeans, no socks and cut off sleeves climb up on stage and walk up to a guitar and pick it up. My first thought was “what is that homeless looking guy doing with that guitar, must be a roadie?” He had small nugget sized dreadlocks on his head which to me looked like he just crawled out of a cardboard box. I had only ever seen dreads on a bum. And I was a kid, I didn’t realize I would grow to admire and love that dude, it was Dr. Know. He began strumming the BC Rich Eagle with a clean sound and a slapback signature reggae echo which of course I didn’t recognize at the time but it didn’t sound like PUNK to me. I was dubious that I was in the right place to get my Sex Pistols fix. I stepped back and stepped on something soft but human, it was a foot. A voice growled, “careful white boy, watch where you stepping.” I said, “I’m sorry.” He barked, “you afraid of me white boy? You should be, do you know that nigguhs carry knives?” Then I could make out his face, he was smiling. He must have been 50 wearing a denim cap like red fox tilted forward and big round eyes. He said, “I’m Ike da Dike, I’m a lesbian. I love women. I use to be named Ike the Spike when I was a pimp runnin hoes, but now I’m a Lesbian, nice to meet you white boy.” And he reached out a hand for me to shake, which I did. Little did I know that Ike would be a pal for the next 20 years.
As I was listening to IKE on full alert I hadn’t noticed the Bad Brains take the stage. Kids were filing up to the front of the dance floor, 50 or so kids I would get to know and befriend for many years to come, but I didn’t know it yet. The Brains exploded into their first song, it was almost unpercievable, an overload to my senses. I didn’t like it, didn’t get it, it seemed like they were all playing a different song as fast as possible, it was chaos, after a few songs the chaos seemed to begin to take shape. I adapted to it. Then they played reggae and the punk rockers swayed and smiled and danced. Then they exploded again into chaos. It was bizarre to say the least. I waited patiently for the STIMS unconsciously taking in the Bad Brains. When the STIMS hit the stage they were what I wanted and expected, slower more controlled songs, played by punks, the singer did Johnny Rotten’s act but that was ok with me because this was just a club, they weren’t a real band like RUSH or Van Halen. That’s the way I had been indoctrinated to think about musicians, as Gods or mortals and these guys were certainly mortal.
The Stims were NYC’s own local Sex Pistols clone Band, and they further showed me the “anyone can do it” model. I began going to Stims shows regularly, weekly even and as I did I also saw the Bad Brains many more times and with time I began to recognize their unique phenomenon and loved them too and of course with time the Bad Brains eclipsed the Stimulators. Motorhead was the next big one for me. What they did also seemed attainable to me and amazing. These bands singularly closed the distance between me and a musical life. I started going out every night when there was a show, I saw the Mad, Stims, Bad Brains and many others regularly. One day at school at lunch time I heard a kid say he had auditioned to play bass for the MAD and got the gig. I stood there stunned. I thought, “wait a regular kid can be in one of these bands?” I felt like I had missed out on an opportunity I didn’t even know existed. I went to Max’s Kansas City that night and every club I could think of looking for Screaming Mad George the singer of the MAD. I finally saw in the Voice, in the band listings section, a band called BUTCH LUST and the HIPOCRITS were playing with guest bassist SCREAMING MAD GEORGE. I went to the show and after I walked right up to George and said, “I hear you are looking for a bass player” He replied, “I already found somebody”. I said, “Yeah but I’m better than the kid you got!” So George said “Ok, lets see how good you are.” We went to his apartment and we jammed. I got the gig. I began hanging out with George every day practicing the songs, going to shoot pool at Julian's on 14th street and jamming at the studio getting ready for a gig. After I felt like I had all his songs down I said, “George check out this song I wrote” and I began playing the opening riff to WORLD PEACE. I only got a few bars in when he grabbed the neck of the bass, muting the strings to stop me playing and he said with a little anger, “I write the songs for this band. This is my band.” I looked at him and asked, “You won’t even listen to see if you like my songs first?” he said, “No, I am the songwriter.” So I packed up my bass and quit the band to go start my own band.
3.Are you from New York originally?
I am a NYC native, born in Manhattan and raised in the Bronx. My high school and college years I lived in Manhattan. And for the past 12 years I have been a resident of the great Borough of Brooklyn.
4.What are some of your favorite films and for what reason?
Bladerunner has been an enduring favorite of mine for its beauty, darkness and poetry, visually and as a slice of futuristic life. I felt this way primally when it came out, as a layman and now in retrospect as a film professional I find it a masterpiece for many different reasons combined with its initial impressions.
I love so many films for a variety of reasons, the films of Micheal Curtiz like CASA BLANCA, THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD and MILDRED PIERCE and of Francis Coppola films like GODFATHERS, APOCALYPSE NOW, RUMBLE FISH and OUTSIDERS. I could go on all day so I will leave it at that.
There are many… but one is Ender’s Game for a variety of reasons. It’s a great story of action, court politics, reversal and violence but most importantly its an inspiration. It teaches you that you can apply yourself and overcome obstacles if only you focus and study. It taught me that you can excel even if you are not the biggest, best or most talented, but if you apply yourself, teach yourself you can excel past those who are predisposed to dominate you by raw talent or the luck of the genetic draw. You can defeat a greater foe, because you are underestimated and ready with a skill set that was studied and practiced , skills that can tip the scales in your favor. Most often people are satisfied with whatever level of strength, talent, smarts they landed with, in general with the weaker people, life becomes surrender and subservience and with the strong it becomes enough to get by. The strong born with attributes that get them by often surpassing the crowd because of a modicum of talent, looks or ability. But if you are not handsome, tall talented or evenly matched, if you try, apply yourself, study, practice, work hard and pay attention you can get better, be better and in Ender’s case, no longer be a victim. He earned respect, overcame the bullies and not only was no longer a victim, he saved others from being victims and guided them towards their best selves. A true leader. Ender taught me to be the best version of myself. I discovered Enders game later in life but it wasn’t too late for me to benefit from it, it actually came along right when I needed it. Ender came just in time for me to reinvent myself. To say to myself, I can do this if I apply myself singularly. So I carved out a new life for myself in the film business as a camera operator despite the nay sayers who said, “you’re too old to start over” and I did it with the help of Ender.
I love to read, reading teaches you perspective and the ability to see any situation from multiple perspectives, to see the truth, the delusion or the hope of all involved. It gives you empathy and the ability to negotiate. And it’s fun.
6.Looking back over all your experiences, what advice would you give a younger artist just starting out today?
Apply yourself. Study, read. Don’t waste time drinking, drugging or making excuses. Get on a schedule and work on it, whatever it is, do it every day. YOUTUBE is the greatest thing to ever happen. You can learn anything.
Also follow the opportunities. If one comes, take it, always say yes because one day the opportunities will stop coming and the people who succeed do so because they actually did something, they said “yes”.
(Parris with actor Gerard Butler on the set of "Den of Thieves")
7.Over the years you got into film work, production, etc. What led you down this path and any interesting projects lately?
Film making is very much like music. You assemble parts and create them, edit them to tell a story. I find them both very intuitive and natural to me. I began when my father gave a 16mm film camera and I began shooting while on tour supporting Age Of Quarrel. My brother pressed me to edit the footage into a music video. He and I edited the footage into the WE GOTTA KNOW video which made a splash on MTV. It was the first video with slam dancing in it and the world’s first look into NYHC, and it was also the first “behind the scenes, backstage, on the tour bus video” which started a trend which even inspired Bon Jovi into doing one like it. Anthrax hired me to “make us a video like WE GOTTA KNOW” which was the video for their song BELLY OF THE BEAST. WE GOTTA KNOW got on regular rotation in Europe and on 120 Minutes and Headbangers Ball in America. That was really the pivotal project that opened doors for me. The video catapulted Cro-Mags into the world consciousness and showed me I could make new things. It lead me to being hired by other bands like Biohazard and Anthrax and directing music videos became my career for 7 years. For that time I was a director. To a large extent I owe that great creative time in my life to Anthrax, Scott Koenig, Drew Stone, Lyon Cohen and Howie Abrams for giving me a shot and continued opportunities and support. But I left that to play music again with the naïveté that I could return to my career anytime where I left off. I didn’t recognize the rarity of opportunities and the momentum I had created with my work and that it would evaporate with time. Which it did without me knowing it. When the Mags finished our run with REVENGE I returned to NYC and tried to reconnect with my career but that wasn’t possible. So I followed the opportunities and went back to film through the camera department as a technician and now 16 years later I work on major films like Lasse Halstrome’s A DOG’S PURPOSE, DEN OF THIEVES w/ Gerard Butler and ISN’T IT ROMANTIC with Rebel Wilson and Liam Hemsworth and TV shows like the AMERICANS, BLUE BLOODS, THE AFFAIR, and many others as an A-camera operator. Sometimes B...
(Parris on the set of "Sweetbitter" with actress Ella Purnell)
8.I know you have traveled a lot over the years with music and personally, what are some of your favorite places and why?
Prague, Spain, any place that is not like NYC. These places are steeped in history and even the architecture and building materials are different and you feel like you are somewhere altogether different, unlike say London which is a great place but doesn’t feel all that different from NYC except when people talk. Chichen Itza in the Yukatan was a great pleasure seeing the extraordinary that humans are capable of even in ancient times with the help of Aliens.
9.Do you have any band or music you listen to you'd recommend to check out?
Slipknot is the most interesting, musical, creative, Chaos I have heard so far that does what I like, wanted to make, envy and aspire to. Get rid of the masks and they are almost perfect. They’re like Rush and Yes meets the Sex Pistol on Acid.
(Parris with Rocky)
10.Have you been playing guitar or writing music? Any new music projects in the works?
I have been writing for a few years now. Post Mags I stored away my amps and guitars for almost a decade, didn’t play at all, too many frustrations and bad memories and I just wanted to move on. But suddenly I got a spark back and now I always play. I have a hard time finding people to play with, people on my musical level, in skill, and perspective. So many people defeat themselves with personal obstacles, vanity, insecurity and girlfriends with their own agendas. Some women, the women attracted to musicians seem to and from my experience, will push away the best friends of their men out of fear and paranoid self preservation. They can’t have that kind of competition. Yoko yo! at least in my experience.
11.What is one skill in life you think everyone should have?
Patience and impatience. Kindness is a hard thing for people to learn. Gratitude. I call these skills because they do need to be learned and mastered.
12.The music industry and scenes change, things have been very weird for years now with social media, the industry, the underground to the mainstream. What are some of your thoughts on the music world today?
Music today is like if all TV programming was suddenly changed to children’s shows, designed to be so simple that it is easily understandable to a child’s mind, images like Barney that are not too complicated so as not to confuse a child’s undeveloped brain, designed so that child’s brain can understand it and perceive it without being confused by complex concepts or images with too much detail. But I’m an adult and I find this tedious and boring. That’s music today.
13.What continues to inspire your art and music, etc. these days?
I simply love music. Its part of me and my life always, as a fan and as a writer, musician and performer. Personal satisfaction. I simply am compelled to play, compose, jam, learn and have a desire to release new music so I can tour with it. I’m working on it.
14.Okay Parris, thanks very much for your time. It's an honor to interview you, take care brother rock on. - G