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Bass player Mark Crozer: Nothing is permanent in The Jesus and Mary Chain

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NEW YORK | Mark Crozer joined Jim Reid and Phil King in 2005, during the hiatus of The Jesus and Mary Chain. He arranged some gigs for them and offered his services as a bass player. After he recruited Ride’s drummer Loz Colbert, the four of them toured for a while. In 2007 The Mary Chain regrouped and the rest is history, right? ‘Well, in The Mary Chain nothing is permanent. I have been playing with them for a long time, but they could still change things any moment.’

Hester Aalberts | Photographs by Andy von Pip, Mel Butler, William Reid, Simon Fletcher & Mark Crozer

 How have you been holding up in this COVID madness?

I live in Brooklyn, New York. Last March I went over to the UK, because the Darklands tour was about to kick off. Then this whole pandemic thing happened and all flights were cancelled. So I stayed in Sussex with my mother for two months. I enjoyed being in my home country. It gave me time to think. Although I do enjoy certain aspects of living in  New York, I always have a sense of relief when I go home.

Last January, The Jesus and Mary Chain performed at Rockaway Beach: the first and last show of 2020.

Indeed. We had a busy year planned ahead. I was especially looking forward to playing Glastonbury with The Mary Chain. So far that has never happened.

You were born in Cambridge and grew up in Oxford. Did you have an intellectual upbringing?

Not at all! We had no connection to the university whatsoever. My grandfather was in the army and was moved to Oxford, because of its army base. I went to school there and got into music. Oxford didn’t have much of a music scene at the time. I had my first gig in 1985; my guitar teacher organised this rock night. We were probably terrible, but it was a life changing event nonetheless. I loved being on stage in front of all those people. The fact all my guitar pedals got stolen that night didn’t put me off: from that night on, I knew I wanted to be a musician.

Early years

You’ve lived in a lot of different places. Montreal, Vancouver, Nashville, Charlotte, now Brooklyn …

I guess I find it hard to stay in one place for too long. There always seems to be something that makes me want to leave. At twenty-one I married a French-Canadian girl and moved to Montreal to be with her. I went straight from being a teenager to being a married man.

Picture by Mel Butler

I was floundering in my life at that time. The band I was in didn’t go anywhere. I worked in a restaurant and a bookshop for a bit. And for a while, I didn’t work at all. It didn’t help that I couldn’t speak any French. A couple of years later I felt like going west, so we moved to Vancouver. After ten years in Canada my dad got very ill. Then I sort of gave everything up and went back to the UK.

You come across as a committed father.

I try to be, but it’s difficult. Obviously this year I am around for my daughter, but usually I am off on tour. It was especially hard when she was younger and didn’t understand why I was going away all the time. She used to say: ‘Why don’t you just get a different job?’ I do find fatherhood pretty amazing though. The first ten years I was constantly trying to keep up with all the changes she went through.

A Night Like This – covered by Mark Crozer

You were influenced by The Smiths, Radiohead, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Cure. But were you a fan of The Mary Chain as well?

I was aware of them. But when I got into music at an early age, I only listened to The Beatles. Thereafter, through my guitar teacher, I also listened to Big Country and U2. I didn’t start listening to more cool and alternative, indie music until I was about fifteen. I do remember liking William and Jim’s hair a lot! I discovered Automatic, their third album, while working in a record shop and I didn’t really like it. Afterwards a friend of mine made me a cassette of Darklands and that album I absolutely loved. But it wasn’t until I joined the band that I became a huge fan through playing their songs.

Between 1998 and 2007 there was no Jesus and Mary Chain. Still, that’s when you met Jim.

I left Canada in 2003, but kept in touch with my Canadian music friends. I heard of this Canadian band named Ox that was about to tour Europe. Quite surprisingly I became their bass player, an instrument I hardly had any experience with. At the end of the tour they suggested I could try and book tours for other Canadian bands and so I did. At the record company of one of these bands I spotted a stack of 7-inch singles of Song for a Secret by Jim Reid. I asked them if this was indeed Jim from The Mary Chain and told them if he ever needed someone to book shows, I could do it.

Song for a Secret

Was this 7-inch connected to Freeheat?

No. Freeheat, [editor’s note: the band Jim formed after the break-up with – amongst others – Ben Lurie and Nick Saunderson] was already dismantled by then. His new solo project consisted of only him, Phil King and a drum machine. On 29th of October 2005 I first helped Jim with tuning his guitar before a show and it all went from there. I booked a couple of shows for them, all very low key. One night, backstage at a venue in Brighton, I suggested they should get a band together and offered my services as a bass player. I also contacted Loz Colbert from Ride, a band I was a massive fan of. Jim was into the idea of forming a band, and much to my surprise Loz wanted to join us. He is a brilliant drummer. In my opinion, together with The Mary Chain’s current drummer Brian Young, he is the best drummer the band ever had.

William, Loz, Jim

Jim quit drinking around the time you met him.

Right. I met him a week after he gave it up. Throughout his whole career he had used alcohol to take the edge off his crippling shyness. I think the main reason he did these solo shows was to see if he could do it without. Before every show Jim was incredibly nervous. I remember being surprised about that, knowing that he was … well … Jim Reid! He was used to playing huge shows with The Mary Chain. And there we were, doing these tiny gigs with an audience of about fifty people. In all honesty, I have never ever seen anyone so nerve wracked in my entire life! On stage, however, he always looked cool as a cucumber.

You joined The Mary Chain after they regrouped in 2007. Your real debut was Coachella. Quite a kick-start!

Yeah. Phil already told you how amazing it was. With all these people in the middle of the desert and the sun going down. After the show, back in the trailer, Jim and William were over the moon that things went so well. I remember Scarlett Johansson, who had sung Just like Honey with Jim during the show, came bursting in shouting: ‘I gotta pee! Don’t listen to me when I am peeing!’

Coachella. Mark and Jim

Jim told me he was ‘shitting bricks’ before this show. How did you feel?

The weird thing is that everybody was very nervous, apart from me. And I was the only one that had never played such a big show before. During the Pomona warm-up gig the night before, I was absolutely cracking myself. I never had been that nerve wracked in my life. There’s usually a moment in a Mary Chain set where something goes wrong – a false start or something – and Jim stops singing. But this time everything went really well. So because I got all my nerves already out that night, at Coachella I told myself: ‘Okay, we can do this. It’ll be fine.’

There was one thing in my mind though; I was wearing these trousers that were too loose and I forgot to put my belt on. So I constantly thought the worst thing that could happen was if my trousers would fall down; like a Benny Hill sketch! But other than that I was fine.

SCOOP! Unique Coachella footage filmed by Bert Audubert

Then, after a few shows in South America, … it fell silent.

Right. We talked about doing a new album and literally the last thing William said to me was: ‘See you in January’. After that I didn’t hear anything for like three years. When I heard they were touring again I also learned I had been replaced by John Moore, a former band member.

I would be lying if I said I wasn’t upset. I felt hurt that nobody had told me. But I got over it. After all, in The Mary Chain nothing is permanent. The band is Jim and William and the rest of us … we’re just the … I wouldn’t say session musicians, because it’s a bit more than that. But it has always been just the Reids and whoever else was around. Even now. I have been playing with them for a long time, but they could still change things any moment.

Is there nothing more to it?

Certainly there is! When we go up on stage it definitely feels like we’re a band, a unit and we’re all on the same page and looking out for each other. We all do the best we can. But I have known Jim for fifteen years, and I’ve only had three or four proper conversations with him. He keeps very much to himself. When we are on tour he’ll get into his bunk reading, while the rest are partying. I guess a lot has to do with the fact he can’t put himself in that place of temptation where everybody else is drinking. William and I have become quite good friends and I find him funny and easy to talk to. He occasionally calls me or sends text messages. And I also speak to Brian, Scott and Phil every now and then.

Mark and William

Did you hesitate when they asked you back after things didn’t work out with John?

Yes I did, to be honest. I got this email asking if I wanted to play a couple of shows in Israel. However, my hesitation had nothing to do with the band. It was more for political reasons, because it was rather a tense situation over there. But I didn’t have any paid work, because my songwriting project in Nashville didn’t take off. So I thought: ‘If I say no, that’s it.’ That door would never open again. Besides, I missed playing in the band.

The Psychocandy tour was your first real tour with The Mary Chain.

 After Coachella we didn’t do any touring as such, but only played a couple of festivals or gigs at a time. That was it. The Psychocandy tour, indeed my first real tour, was quite gruelling at times. Imagine traveling around for hours on end for weeks, cramped in a tour bus with about thirteen others; it’s fair to say that some of us weren’t in the best frame of mind. For some reason William and Jim were traveling with the band’s manager, separately from the rest of us, flying around or taking trains. Meanwhile, we were roughing it on the bus, which sometimes led to slightly ill will towards the whole tour. It wasn’t an ideal situation. This has changed for the better and we all travel together now.

Jim and William decide what is on the setlist. Do you always agree with their choices?

Apart from the Psychocandy tour and the Damage and Joy tour we have been playing the same songs for almost fifteen years. In 2007 the list included Head On, Teenage Lust, Between Planets, … pretty much the same set every night. At some point, it started to drive me crazy. I sometimes drifted off during a show, being on autopilot and thinking what I would have for dinner that night.

So when Damage and Joy was released in 2017 it was nice to play some new material. Don’t misunderstand me: I like all the songs, but from a musician’s point of view it is nice to have some variety. If I had it my way we would have a different set every night. I always try to suggest songs and sometimes I’m successful.

On tour. Phil, Brian, and Mark. Picture by Simon Fletcher

Is there a difference between playing songs from – let’s say – Psychocandy compared to more recent work?

Most certainly. The Psychocandy songs are less complicated and more intuitive. In most early songs, as a bass player, I only have three notes, while in newer material there are a lot more parts to figure out.

Rumour says Phil and yourself once tried one of William’s skunk joints. It hit Phil so hard he thought William was an alien.

Well, yes. Although I am not one for taking drugs – I am way too sensitive – I indeed once tried one of William’s joints. Then Phil cracked a joke and I had this schoolboy laughing attack. It got to a point where I thought: ‘I’m going to laugh myself to death’. Forgot the joke though …

[Editor’s note: Phil explained afterwards it was the lethal killing joke: “Luckily Mark survived, where many others didn’t, so it is very irresponsible to have it written down.”]

Mark and Phil. Picture by William Reid

What do you mean when you say you are too sensitive?

With drugs I find it difficult to control my emotions. It might very well spiral into serious anxiety- and panic attacks I can hardly get out of. Once I even ended up in hospital. I’ve had these attacks from an early age and had them throughout my life. Horrible. Sometimes I felt like I was dying and couldn’t even breathe. But I think I’ve finally grown out of it. The weird thing is that now the world actually is in crisis – because of COVID -, I seem to be primed for the situation.

In Jim’s solo project you played the bass. With The Mary Chain you started out as the rhythm guitarist and later switched back to bass. Why?

When Jim asked me to play Coachella I assumed he wanted me to play bass. But Phil was already asked, because he had been playing the bass until the break-up. Jim was in need of a guitar player and I was fine with that. Afterwards, without any explanation, they wanted me back on bass. I asked William why and he said he thought ‘it would work better’ and that was it.

Mark, Brian and Jim. Picture by Andy von Pip

I do recall a possible explanation. You got drunk or something …?

Indeed! In Tel Aviv we had a disastrous rehearsal. I plugged in this pedal board that ran on US-voltage so everything blew up. To make matters worse, Phil blew up his amp. I got so nervous, also because I hadn’t played with The Mary Chain for so long, that I got really drunk to calm my nerves a bit. During the show I very much enjoyed myself and I thought it went great. So I was a bit surprised they asked me to switch to bass afterwards. But I am perfectly fine playing the bass. In fact, in The Mary Chain, I enjoy it more than playing the guitar.

It is said bass players are the heartbeat of a band, the silent binding factor.

Binding is a good word. Most people watching a band do not notice the bass player. They don’t have a clue what a bass player does. But if you take the bass out of a band it just doesn’t sound balanced. You’ve got to have that frequency in there to jell everything together.

Do you agree bass and drums are intertwined?

I do. As a bass player you are really locking in with the drummer while playing melodically. And you’ve got to be really tight. As a guitar player you can be a bit looser and sloppier and get away with it. But if the drums and the bass sound sloppy, the whole band sounds terrible.

Does that mean Brian and you keep a close eye on each other on stage?

We most certainly do! It sometimes feels like Brian and I are doing our own mini show within the general band. Obviously we are playing with everybody, but we do indeed pay very close attention to each other.

Mark and Brian. Picture by Andy von Pip

Everybody puts Brian on a pedestal.

I can relate to that. Brian is technically immaculate, but he’s got the emotive part of drumming as well. A lot of drummers have one or the other; he has both. I have been working with him outside the band as well. He played drums on a couple of tunes I have worked on and we recently collaborated on an album together. I can always recognize Brian’s drumming when I hear it.

Do you sometimes get ‘the look’ from Jim on stage?

Yes. Sometimes Jim will look over at me and then I presume he’s angry about something. I’ll start worrying: ‘Did I play it wrong?’ Afterwards it appears he thought that he had made a mistake and looks over at one of us to get reassurance. But it sure doesn’t come across that way. It looks like he is thinking: ‘You fucked up.’

Picture by Phil King

About touring with The Mary Chain in general …

I don’t have anything to compare it with, because I haven’t toured intensively with any other band. When a tour lasts five or six weeks you tend to forget what day of the week it is and where you are. You get on the bus, wake up, go to the venue, do a soundcheck, play the show and leave. It can get a bit tedious, because it’s the same thing every day. I may have travelled around the world, but there is not much that I have actually seen. I do try to get out and see stuff, but we usually visit places for only a day. When we played in Rome I really looked forward to seeing the city. But it was raining and the venue was far from the centre, so in the end I didn’t see anything.

Brian tends to take long walks, Jim reads a lot. What’s your way of killing time on tour?

In fact Brian and I often take walks together. And I generally aim to see at least one thing in each place. But there are times I feel a bit down and in a dark frame of mind. The people that have the most fun on tour are the crew! They always go out to the pub or whatever. Sometimes I join them.

Killing time on tour

I assume your artistic input in The Mary Chain is virtually non-existent.

Right. To a certain extent a band has to be a dictatorship to make it work. As soon as too many people are involved creatively, it gets a bit of a mess. It’s Jim and William’s band and that is never going to be any different. Nor should it be. I am happy playing the music, working together with the others and keeping the rhythm section solid.

How about The Silver Relics?

Well, we haven’t done anything for a while, because of the pandemic situation. I started playing bass with them last September. It is good to play bass with another band as well, because their songs are rather complicated and so are the bass parts. I really had to think and concentrate. It’s a completely different style of music. Alex, the other band member, would like me to get artistically involved and we have been working on some stuff lately. I had him sing on a couple of songs that I wrote and that turned out really well.

In your own band, Mark Crozer and The Rels, you are in complete charge.

True, although it has never explicitly been discussed that way. I got the band together when I already had the songs written and recorded. It works this way and everybody in The Rels is happy with what they do. They leave the writing element to me. There are no egos at all. I have to say, playing with my own band is always enjoyable and good fun. We’re all good friends and there’s no real pressure. I did some recordings with The Rels in North Carolina last January. We had planned to play some shows this year, but obviously that’s not going to happen.

Your band once supported The Mary Chain. Who did you hang out with after the show?

That was a bit awkward sometimes. I would flip between dressing rooms. I didn’t want The Mary Chain to feel I had abandoned them. And there were a few times we had drinks together.

The Rels supporting The Chain

Let’s talk about your podcast Rain Stops Play!

I started doing these weekly podcasts in September 2019, together with my longtime friend Bruce Windwood. It consists of spontaneous chat about nothing in particular. When I moved to Brooklyn Bruce would call me every week. I came up with the idea to record our conversations. That’s how it started. I can’t believe that by now we have done like 35 hours of … absolutely nothing! The number of listeners is pretty modest, but we enjoy doing it, regardless of who listens.

Picture from private collection Mark Crozer

What is your favorite Jesus and Mary Chain track? As a listener and as a musician.

As a listener definitely Darklands. There is something in that song that hits me every time. A longing for something better, but not being able to move forward. ‘I want to go, I want to stay’, this uncertainty. I love playing it too, because it transcends everything else. The song I love playing the most, and we don’t play it at all right now, is the last song on Psychocandy; It’s So Hard. There is an improvisation in it we extended every night during the Psychocandy tour. It turned into this crazy, almost disco punk thing. Fun to play and different every night. I also love playing Snakedriver, You Trip Me Up, Never Understand and Upside Down.

It’s So Hard – live in 2016

Please elaborate on your wrestling adventure!

I joined a music library to try and get my music into TV shows. Apparently Bray Wyatt, a professional WWE-wrestler, was searching a song for his theme music and selected ‘Broken Out In Love’. For reasons unknown to me it was renamed ‘Live in Fear’. I didn’t grasp what a big deal that was at the time, but found out soon enough. My band, Mark Crozer and the Rels, performed the song live at the Superdome in New Orleans at Wrestlemania back in 2014 with 80.000 people watching.

Live in Fear – New Orleans 2014

The whole act lasted for maybe two minutes, but we had a lot of fun. And only last week I found out that the new version of my song by Code Orange was a Top 20 Billboard Rock Hit last August. It’s still strange to talk about it, because it was just another song I wrote. That it would ever be connected with wrestling is about the last thing I expected.

You recently contributed a song to a lockdown charity album.

I did. The album is an initiative by Michael Brennan, the Front of House sound engineer of The Mary Chain. On Facebook he asked musicians to help raise money for Frontline Fife  and Fife Women’s Aid. Together with Roddy Bottum from Faith No More, he put together House Music Volume C-19, with songs of twenty-five different artists, including Roddy Bottum of Faith No More. I was happy to contribute my song Ambition, sung by Alex Sepassi of The Silver Relics.

January 3rd 2021 is your fiftieth birthday. Is that a big thing for you?

I’ve only just got used to being forty! But no, fifty doesn’t seem like such a big deal. I accept I am no longer a young person as such, and that’s fine. I am happier and healthier than I have been for quite a while, so it doesn’t really bother me.

Killing time on tour

What would you like to say to the disappointed JAMC-ticketholders?

Well, this whole situation is obviously massively disappointing. And I was really looking forward to playing my favorite album Darklands. There are songs on it we’ve never played live before. But at some point we’ll play Darklands for you, from beginning to end, and it is going to be brilliant. Probably even better than it would have been, because we’ll have a fresher perspective on being in a band after not having played for so long. This crisis shows us what really matters and concerts are too big a deal to be taken away from us.

Check Rescheduled Darklands Tour