Cellarful of Noise Interview (from AOR Basement Issue #4 - April 1988)

Donnie Iris & The Cruisers... a name that always brings back fond memories for most AOR fans. Until recently it seemed that all the members had disappeared, but now Donnie and Mark Avsec (songwriter, keyboard player and producer extraordinaire) are back with "Cellarful of Noise" (originally Mark's solo venture) and a new LP titled "Magnificent Obsession" released last month through CBS Associated Records. So let's find out more from Mark himself -

Mark, what happened to Donnie Iris and the Crusiers after the "No Muss, No Fuss" LP?

"Well we did another LP called "Cruise Control" but we didn't pick up a deal and that still hasn't seen the light of day. Then I went off to work with Mason Ruffner on his "Gypsy Blood" LP, which was recorded in London with Dave Edmunds producing. Mason and I rented a flat while we were there - it was great, we got a real feel for the place.... Donnie Iris and Crusiers still play shows, but we're all doing our own thing now".

"After working with Mason I started doing the new Cellarful of Noise record and eventually I asked Donnie if he'd like to team up with me and he was into that. Then we went to England (Bath) to mix it, and now here's that record coming out...".

You've been working with Donnie for a long time now!

"It's ten years now since we first hooked up in Wild Cherry who had a big hit with 'Play that Funky Music (White Boy)', which was recently covered by Roxanne. I first heard of Donnie in 1970, when I was 14 years old; his band then, 'The Jaggerz', had a big hit with a song called 'The Rapper'".

Donnie must be much older than you, then?

"Ermm, yeah he's about 10 or 12 years older than me, but I'm not sure if you should print that (laughing)."

You're also a producer of some note: how did you get involved with the B.E. Taylor Group (Donnie and Mark produced their debut for MCA in 1982)?

"Donnie and B.E. grew up together and when I heard him (B.E.) sing I just thought he was a fantastic singer, and the band were real good too, especially Rick Witkowski, who's real talented - I'm a big fan of his. So later once Donnie and I had gotten a little success we got involved with producing them. Unfortunately the LP didn't do too well and they ended up doing another two records ("Love Won the Fight" - MCA, 1983, and "Our World" - Epic, 1986)."

How did Cellarful of Noise come about in the first place?

"Oh, I had some spare time and I was really just experimenting in my basement with an eight-track and some midi-equipment. My manager, Mike Belkin, shopped the tapes and CBS put it out, virtually as it was - although it was really just me messing around. Right after it came out, though, I wanted to get more serious about it and make a better sounding record".

You covered The Innocent's "Heartzone" on the new LP, why?

"I heard that song right after it was first done in the studio and it totally slayed me! Unfortunately the record company never picked up on it. So I asked Rodney (Psyka) if I could use it and he said 'yes'. It's quite noticeable that on my version there's no guitars - I wanted to make it sound a bit different, even though it was a real guitar song before. The Innocent have, at least temporarily, disbanded although I will be working with Rodney and Alan Greene (both ex- Breathless, as is Mark) on some demos. The only other production project I'm doing is with a local singer called Sasha who I really believe in - she's a fantastic singer".

What are the future plans for Cellarful of Noise?

"For now we're watching what's happening - if the new LP does well then we'll eventually put together a band and hit the road. Right now I'm working with Mason Ruffner, again, on pre-production for his next record, though I'm always writing new material too. Obviously Donnie and I are looking forward to doing another record when the time comes. I think next time I'll do all the sequencing in 'The Cellar' (his basement studio) and then go to a 24-track studio to do the vocals. For 'Samantha', the single off the new LP, we went back to a studio called Jeree Studios with an engineer called Jerry Reed who went through the bulk of the Crusiers days with me and Donnie. I credit that studio with the distinctive vocal sounds we got on the Crusiers' LPs, I've never found another studio where I can get the same sound - I'm a real freak for the vocals!"

There you go, there's the scam on the immensely talented Mark Avsec. He's certainly been busy lately, and not content with all this he's also published a book about the whole midi-revolution through his own publishing company, so as he puts it "people can learn from some of the mistakes I've made". If you haven't heard the "Magnificent Obsession" LP, then I heartily recommend it although it is far more overtly poppy than the majority of the old Crusiers material. The songs are as strong as ever and it makes a perfect companion for the classic "King Cool" LP (although, obviously the style's a bit different) which no home should be without!

In parting I'll let you into a secret; ever wonder what "Fortune 410" the title of the fourth Crusiers LP, was all about? - It's the catalogue number of Donnie's glasses, so if you want a pair.....

Copyright Ian McIntosh 1988
Originally published in AOR Basement (http://www.aorbasement.com)