Interview with Troy and review of Illumino from the Great Southern Brainfart - Atlanta , Ga.
Troy Marks may not be a name you are familiar with but if you’re a metal aficionado, you had definitely heard of Razor White. Unfortunately, most that do know of Razor White only know them as “the band that Phil Anselmo once sang for before Pantera.” Well, if you grew up in New Orleans in the 80’s you know as well as I do that Razor White was one of the best bands on the scene in those years and they made a huge impact on young music loves such as myself.
I recently reached out to former Razor White singer Troy Marks and I was so pumped that he was willing to take time out of his busy schedule to talk with. Troy is a really humble, awesome, and funny guy and I had a blast reminiscing about the old N’awlins metal days, his time in Razor White, and what all he’s been up to all these years. This was a really fun interview and I hope you all will enjoy this one as much as I did! Enjoy this one, y’all.
Troy, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview today.
Hey, Don. It’s all good man. It’s my pleasure and I appreciate it.
As a kid who was an aspiring musician, New Orleans (and Metairie) seemed to have our own little world of metal bands such as you guys, Lillian Axe, Dark August, etc. What was it that kept you all there as opposed to fleeing out to LA like so many other bands were doing at the time?
That’s a good question, Don. I think it was just our scene and it was our time in the world. At the time, most of us were 18, 19, 20 years old and we were just kind of finding our way as musicians and people. You look at the whole grunge thing in Seattle and that was their thing and it was their time. It was their scene. It was kind of the same thing for the bands in New Orleans. We were just saying, “This is what we do and this is where we do it.” Of course, you always aspired for bigger audiences and bigger things but at that point I don’t think we viewed it as this thing of going out and making it big. We were just playing music and having a good time doing it. There was never really much thought beyond the song or what we were doing at that moment. I wish there had been more thought and I wish there would’ve been someone to push us a bit more but the truth is that we were just living in the moment. We were just young guys making music and having the time of our lives.
Razor White was one of the bands that made me feel like being a musician of that caliber was even a remote possibility. Did you ever realize that your band was having that kind of an impact on younger fans like me?
Those are things that with age and maturity you kind of look back on and kind of see for yourself. Like I said, in the moment I was just trying to sing higher and louder and harder and write better songs. That’s what my focus was on. You’re world view is very narrow at that point. I will say this Don, as far as our scene goes, if you look at it, we may not all be millionaires or even have the world wide success that others had but those bands were as good in quality songs as any band in the world. You take Zebra, Lillian Axe, Victorian Blitz, all those bands. I mean, even now, Lillian Axe is still out there and Steve is probably the single greatest musician I’ve ever had the pleasure of being around and he’s a phenomenal songwriter. Randy Jackson and Zebra are still out there doing their thing, and Kirk (Windstein) has Crowbar and he’s a legend now. Phil Anselmo is a legend with Pantera. Man, people who came from our scene were as good as anybody in the world. New Orleans was a great place to grow up and it was a great time to be alive and to get a feel for real art and real music.
It seems like I’ve been hearing and seeing Razor White’s name more and more within the metal community which I found to be interesting but really cool.
Yeah, I get people contacting me asking me if I still have copies of the Razor White CD. I looked around and found a couple of boxes of them and someone said, “I’ll give you $200.00 for a copy [laughs]. I was like, man, it’s flattering but at the same time, I’ll be happy to just send you one. Just cover the postage [laughs]. I just sent one off to this cat in Germany. It’s pretty far out. People are looking for it.
There’s a lot of speculation as to whether or not Phil actually recorded with Razor White. It’s my understanding that the first actual recordings of RW are ‘87 Black Demo. Is this true?
They actually did a demo tape with Phil. At the time, I was in Dark August which was my first real band. We were rehearsing in this storage shed right on the river. There was a strip of them together and Razor White rehearsed right next to us, Victorian Blitz was there for a while, you had all these bands in this little row rehearsing together. Razor White was next to us with Phil and we would always listen to what they were doing and vice versa. There was this contest where you could win recording time through a record store. You know, it was like, “Send us two songs and you can win time in a recording studio” [laughs]. Well, we all entered and Dark August won [laughs]. Razor White had recorded a demo to send in to that contest and I still have a copy of that. I will never let that out of my possession because it wasn’t for public consumption so it does exist. I’ll take the moral high ground and never sell it or play it for anyone but they were a great band with Phil.
You know people are going to read this and say, “Holy shit. That’s the Holy Grail. I need that tape!” You better lock that shit down.
[Laughs] Yeah, I mean, there are some things in life that are just beyond money. That was a tape that was made in a practice room that they recorded. It wasn’t a professional tape by any means but it captured that band at that time and I would never betray the guys in the band or Phil by trying to put that out for public consumption.
So did this demo have any of the songs that later appeared on the Black Demo?
No, these were different songs that they played and wrote prior to me joining the band. They were really cool songs. Even back then you could tell that Phil was special. He had an incredible voice at that time and he had a magnetic personality. When he walked into a room you knew he was there and you just knew he was going places.
Razor White has become somewhat of a metal legend thanks to the association with Phil Anselmo who was the original singer. How did you come to join Razor White in the first place?
The story goes that we all played the same circuit. One night Razor White was in Shreveport and Vinnie Paul and Dimebag (Darrell Abbott) were there to check Phil out. They went up to the guys in Razor White and said, “Hey, y’all got a pretty good band but we’re going to steal your singer” [laughs]. I don’t know how true that is but that’s what I heard and sure enough, they offered him the gig in Pantera. That was a gig he couldn’t pass up and it turned out pretty good for him [laughs]. When he moved to Texas, they offered me the spot and in all honesty I was apprehensive. I was still learning my craft as a singer and finding my way. Even though at that time he was just Phil from Metairie, he was really, really good and they were big shoes to fill. As much as I hated leaving my Dark August guys, it was a no brainer because Razor White had so many better things going for them at the time. At the end of the day, it worked out well for him and worked out well for me.
I listen to the ‘87 demo quite a bit and it’s amazing how heavy and fresh it still sounds to this day.
I really appreciate that, Don. I haven’t heard those songs in so long to be honest with you. The thing that I remember about doing that was that it was our first time in the studio. It was probably the top studio in New Orleans at the time. It was this place called Ultrasonic Studio. The engineer that worked with us was a guy named David Farrell. He was one of the best engineers in the nation and here we come, this bunch of kids and we don’t know the hell we’re doing. If anything, we had a ton of passion for what we were doing and I think it’s a good time capsule of who we were at the time. I’d like to think that even though it was a fantastic experience, we were just kids with no clue to what we were doing.
Where there any other recordings from those sessions or are those five songs all there was?
No, that was the five that we had the time to do and that was what we did. I wish there had been more because I really felt like we were on to something at that time. Subsequently we got involved with some record company people and we lost our way as a band a little bit. That happens when you’re young and you don’t know any better. If we had stayed right there, I think we could’ve done a lot of great things as a band.
So would that loss of direction be what resulted the album Just What the Doctor Ordered?
Absolutely. Well, what happened was the same thing that happened to the music industry in general. The integrity gets pulled away when you have people telling you things like, “Come to New York, we’ll pay for you to cut a demo but you’ve got to write songs that are more palatable to what’s going on today.” At the time, it was the height of the hair band thing. When we first got together, we were prior to all that. Our influences were actually more like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, and the stuff we grew up listening to. Instead of just sticking to our guns and saying, “This is who we are” we started chasing the rainbow and trying to write songs that would fit the mold of the day. I’ll cut us a break though and say that there aren’t many bands that wouldn’t have done that. Zebra took us up to New York which was really kind of them. Being up there and being brought to the Atlantic Records office and being introduced to everybody was exciting. We were doing showcases for everyone and they said, “We love the band, we love the look, we love the singer, we just need pop songs that we can sell.” It would be really hard for anyone in that position to say, “No. I’m going back to New Orleans and I’m going to play clubs and stick to my guns.” I’d like to say that I had that much integrity at the time but I didn’t. We started chasing it, we lost our way, and that was pretty much the demise of Razor White.
At the end of the day, Razor White really forged a kind of legendary career that you guys probably didn’t even realize at the time.
It’s funny, Don. I’m realizing that more and more the older I get when I talk to people like you. I’m telling you; just in the past two years people are coming out of the woodwork saying things like, “I love the band. I grew up listening to you guys“and whatnot. We really did make a little mark there for our time that we were around. The crazy thing was that we had no business model or no real clue. No management, nobody guiding us. We were just kids doing it.
Have you stayed in touch with the guys over the years?
I’ve seen Steve (Joseph; drums) on occasion. Steve’s been doing really well for himself with the House of Shock and as a road manager for Nickleback. He’s carved out a great name for himself in the music industry. Steve was a guy who was going to be successful no matter what. Whip (Buras; the bassist) I’ve seen him on occasion. One of our roadies from back in the day passed away in a car accident recently so we were able to talk. He’s doing well. Jimmy, the guitarist and the guy I wrote most of the songs with, is married with kids and living on the north shore. He’s such an amazing guitar player and what a voice he had. You know on “Never Cry Wolf”, that high harmony? He’s right under me and just hitting the note. He was always a great musician, a great guy, and a great singer. Matt (Thomas; guitarist formerly of Crobar as well) moved away and I haven’t spoken to him in years. I had his washing machine in my storage unit for a while [laughs].
Has there been any talk about perhaps doing a Razor White reunion?
Just in the last six weeks, I’ve have people contacting me via social media asking if I’d ever consider doing a Razor White reunion [laughs]. Then there’s this interview with you talking about it so it seems to be building up towards something. Whether it’ll happen or not, I don’t know but I’ll tell you what. I’d do it tomorrow.
Man, if that happened I’d be on the next plane to New Orleans.
[laughs] Thanks, Don. I appreciate that.
Troy, I have to say that it was really cool to hear that you were back on scene with some new music.
Thanks, Don. Yeah, I never really went away [laughs]. I kind of turned it into a little bit of a business over the years and became a singer for hire. I’ve made a great living over the last 20 years being a singer. I’m blessed to be down in this area where music is prevalent so I’m able to play with my own band No Idea and make a living doing it without having the schlep it out on the road [laughs]. It all just kind of came full circle last June when I released my first solo EP. It’s kind of odd to be able to say that I’ve become successful enough to be able to release my own music and lose money doing so [laughs]. It’s crazy how that works. This stuff is a labor of love and I’m just so pleased to have my own stuff out there. It’s just good hard rock, personal songs that are very close to my heart. I’m working on a 2nd one now so I’m looking forward to just recording and making music for as long as I can stand up right.
So Troy, let’s talk about what you’ve been up to these days. In 2014 you released an EP of original tunes called Ilumino and I have to say that it’s fucking great. I don’t mean to sound so surprised but it was more than what I was expecting to be honest.
Don, I really appreciate that. I’ve just been in a really good place with being able to play music for a living so it’s afforded me the opportunity now to do what I really want to do. I just got to a point where I was read to just do something of my own. It’s funny that you had that little bit of surprise. Kyle Thomas from Exhorder is a really good friend of mine and I sent the EP to Kyle and he was like, “I can’t believe this is good!” I was like, “What do you mean you can’t believe it’s good?” [laughs] He was like, “I knew it would be good but I can’t stop listening to it.” That really gave me a boost of confidence coming from someone like him because I have a lot of respect for Kyle. His reaction was very similar to yours. My mother had just passed away and I know it sounds cliché but there was just something in me saying, “Go, get a guitar, and start writing songs again.” Right after my mom’s death I just started writing songs for the first time on my own and it just seemed to come together. I ended up having over 40 songs written. I was able to get into a great studio with a guy named Jack Miele who’s a great producer and right away he tapped into what I was trying to do. I was so pleased with this first EP. It was kind of nerve wracking but it was a lot of fun and I played with some great musicians from around New Orleans.
You also have a follow up already in the works don’t you?
I have this 2nd EP to record. I have all the songs done and ready to go and I have the studio time booked. I also will have Randy Jackson from Zebra guesting on this EP which is going to be great. That is such a huge thing for me. I grew up idolizing Randy and he’s always been a huge influence on me so that is a dream come to true to have him on one of my songs.
So the band that keeps you really busy is your cover band No Idea and you do a lot of shows with them. What was the transition like going from doing that to going back to playing original material on stage?
Yeah and so far the only chance I’ve had to play these songs live was at the Ilumino album release show at the House of Blues. Because of my other musical obligations, it’s finding the time to go out and do it that can be hard. It was a great experience but to be honest with you I was nervous as hell to see how the songs would translate live. It was a little nerve wracking as to how it was all going to shake out but there was a lot of people there that night that I care about and that care about me so it was just a big love fest [laughs]. It was a great experience and everyone told me that the songs translated really well live which gave me even more confidence.
It made me so happy to hear a voice from my youth making music today that sounds so strong and confident and putting out quality material.
Man, I really appreciate that. Believe me, this is just the tip of the iceberg and I hope to continue to grow and grow. That’s the goal. It’s not for money or anything like that. I just love music, I love songwriting, and I love being a singer. That’s what it’s all about it. It’s about putting it all out there for people to enjoy it hopefully.
Troy, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today. This was a real treat for me.
Don, I appreciate you even caring enough to give me a call. Let’s get that Razor White reunion together and thanks for spreading the word on my music.