I interviewed Mark “He Called Me Mam’n” Vollelunga, guitarist and back up vocalist for NOTHING MORE while they were in Baltimore. Seriously, he called me mam’n. They’re raising mannerly men in the Lone Star State. And yes, we were in a bathroom and no, I did not sit on the toilet.
I.O.: Have you guys been together as this particular unit the entire time?
Mark: Partially. I’ve been with our singer Johnny [Hawkins] for about fifteen years. He used to be our drummer, actually, and we’ve been touring seriously, like taking the band seriously for the last almost ten years. That’s really when Dan [Oliver] joined the band and it got serious. He had this great idea that maybe we should play outside of our home town of San Antonio. We were highschoolers and we hadn’t thought of that yet. We had plans to go to college and kind of do that and he kind of convinced us otherwise to take it to the next level. So I dropped out of college, he dropped out of college, and John didn’t go to college.
I.O.: What were you going to major in?
Mark: Music marketing. That was kind of a reason for leaving too. It was like well, I’m getting a music degree. I can either be a music teacher or a musician or work in the business and it’s like, wait a minute, I’m already doing all of those things. What better way than to get in the industry, to jump right in, kind of like learning a foreign language. The best way to do it is just go to the country.
I.O.: You have this contraption. Do you actually have a name for it?
Mark: Yeah, it’s called the Bassinator. The drum aspect is called Drumtron. During the set, Johnny will bring the other piece of the contraption and it becomes the Bassinator. Kind of silly sounding but we dubbed it that a long time ago so it stuck.
I.O.: How long ago did you create this thing?
Mark: Basically, we’ve been a band that’s always invested in our live show and into knowing that we’re on a stage and we’re entertainers. So it’s been an evolution of a sorts. It used to be all four of us in the band just playing the bass. Dan would hold it, I would go behind him and play the lower notes from the neck and Johnny would come around at the end for the finale and play along with his drumsticks. Then through critiques and suggestions through our manager and what not it’s like okay, well let’s get people to see it better. Okay, but Johnny’s back is facing everybody. Okay let’s turn it upside down so Johnny’s facing everybody. Then Dan got this idea, well, what if I can make it spin? So he bought a welder and went to town and taught himself how to weld and what we see now is Drumtron and the Bassinator. His creation for sure.
I.O.: You invest in your live shows but you’ve also invested in five of your own albums. Now that you’re on a label, ElevenSeven Music Group, are there any significant differences between putting your own music out and actually having a label?
Mark: Absolutely. The main difference just between all the progress we’ve done on our own and since teaming up with ElevenSeven is radio. They’ve spearheaded that campaign and it is going really well, which is awesome. Lately, not to name any names, I think a lot of us feel that the rock generation right now has grown stale. We’re really excited that radio took to it because we feel like we’re actually saying something, doing something a little different, so it’s exciting to see how that’s blown up. We used to go to towns and there’d be like ten people, twenty people there if we had never played there. Then you go back there’s fifty, word spreads, then a hundred, then two hundred and you’re headlining. So it takes a year to grow it. Now immediately we go places like Seattle or even Denver on this last headliner tour we did. We sold the club out at six hundred people. We’d never been there before. That has been huge. [ElevenSeven] has taken us to the next level and given us those resources and all their connections that they have built over the years. We’ve teamed up and it’s working. We’re really happy. We have no complaints. We’ve heard so many horror stories from bands about labels and it’s “ah this and that” but it’s been great for us.
I.O.: This is an arena tour. What’s the difference between playing a club and playing an arena?
Mark: It’s a totally different ballgame for sure. It’s weird when the front row of the audience is twenty feet away from you. There’s a barricade and you’re trying to connect with these people and it’s like, you’re so far away. That’s one thing but the coolest thing is you lift your head up from looking at the fret board and it’s “oh my god.” There’s six thousand, eight thousand people here and they’re to my right and to my left and as far as the eye can see in front of me. It’s awesome. It’s amazing just to hear that sound when you strike a chord and hear it come back to you. It’s unbelievable. You can hear them cheer and root for us. It’s really cool.
I.O.: You’re label mates are HELLYEAH. How long have you been familiar with them in the sense of you’ve actually met them and things of that sort?
Mark: We’ve played a few shows with them. Maybe our first show with them was 2010 but we didn’t actually really meet the guys until this tour. Touring’s hard. Everybody is busy all the time. I mean, you’re warming up, you’re eating, you’re taking a break, you’re working on this or that. You always cross paths but you never really have time to hang out. It’s been awesome actually on this tour. Really, [HELLYEAH], FIVE FINGER, and VOLBEAT have all been extremely nice. We thought there was going to be this sort of pecking order type of thing, attitudes, egos but no, not at all. We were pleasantly surprised. Everyone treats us as equals and we’re very grateful for it.
I.O.: There are a lot of subgenres in the heavy metal community. In your particular instance, you have created something refreshing. I’m asking this in jest but what subgenre would you classify your sound as?
Mark: We feel we do a little bit of everything. In more specificity, meaning like progressive rock and alternative rock and even moments of Electronica were on the record. Johnny brings in the programming, electronic aspect, sort of a NINE INCH NAILS type of thing to the table too. We just try to make the best song that we can and not put a label on it. [There is no] we have to be in this category. if a song is good it’s good. If Johnny writes this really cool, strange programming thing like “Christ Copyright” the intro to it is like whoa, that sounds bad-assed. Let’s make that full band and let’s try to write a song off of it. So we did and it worked, I guess.
I.O.: Metal Descent classifies you as riding that fine line between hard rock and heavy metal, you sort of span the two. Our fans like the really heavy stuff but they also like hard rock. So I’ll ask you the question I ask everyone. What do you think of the state of the heavy metal and hard rock music industry?
Mark: I think maybe in a way it’s in puberty. It’s just confused. It’s got a lot of interesting things going on that are going to blossom. We’re going to witness a rebirth or resurgence of sorts. If we can be a part of that and if we’re chosen, we’re totally grateful and will totally take up arms to do it. We’re really excited. We kind of have pockets of bands that we’re friends with that we see hope in and we’re like “yes!” This is what the industry, metal or rock, this is what it needs. A lot of people are down on it. It’s like “grrr, rock’s dead!” But it’s really only an opportunity to redefine where it’s at.
I.O.: As an emerging band, not many people know a lot of facts about your band. Can you think of a fact that’s really interesting that you would like to share?
Mark: We all have these scars [shows me the upper part of his right arm with three, thin burn scars], these brands on our arms. Being in a band is definitely like being in a family. Your proximity does a lot of things to people. It’s definitely a love and hate relationship so to speak. In the early stages, the unity that we have is very important and when anybody’s forming a band they’ll see this quick, people will come and go. It’s those that really put the time in and put the commitment and the effort in to stick to it. You know, when times are tough and hard and it’s like “ah man we haven’t written a really good song in however long” or “the shows we’ve been playing suck” or “we’re not getting better” or “we’re getting stale.” Just like you were saying about the industry: you’re down only because you’re about to go up. You have to understand that that’s how it goes. That’s life, the give and take, the up and down and so we have these scars. We would brand each other each year for touring in commitment to ourselves that we’re sticking to it. We’re not going to leave, Johnny, Daniel and myself. I wanted to keep them going but by now we might have ten. There’s something significant about the three of us. We had two other members and they left at the time so we just kept it at three. Really, I guess what I want to say is if you believe in something don’t leave when the going gets tough. That goes for a lot of relationships for sure too. It’s a commitment. It’s a loyalty sworn.
I.O.: How did you make those brands?
Mark: We just heated up a knife, a cooking knife with the oil, a steak knife on the stove, and just took the back of it and just pressed shit on there. It hurts really bad for twenty seconds and then your arm kind of goes numb.
That Guy Photography: And then the nerves die.
Mark: Bingo! The wound cauterizes and then you’re just kind of sore for the next week or so.
I.O.: It’s like a tattoo.
Mark: Yeah, absolutely. Just like that.
I.O: You have a new album out. Nothing More it’s called with a digital track list of 17 songs and a physical track list of 15 songs. Where can people get your record?
Mark: We definitely have some here literally about five feet away. But you can get it on our website at www.nothingmore.net, on iTunes of course, and anywhere that albums are sold.