In a previous post we conducted an interview with Scott Ginn that comprehensively chronicled Scott’s entire rock n roll history. It’s an interview that drew a lot of attention and rightly so, because Scott was a guy who made an immense contribution to the Australian hard rock scene, particularly during the 1980s, and his story deserves to be told. From his time fronting The Breakers, to Boss, and onto Rags ‘n’ Riches – Scott was a multi-talented musician who wore many hats –including songwriter, musician, vocalist, producer and engineer, and if you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to scroll down and check out that interview. After more than 20 years in the musical wilderness, Scott has a new solo project called MAZZ-XT, who have released a killer debut album called ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’. In this interview, Scott gives us a track by track commentary on the new album. Read on! (Scott interviewed by Cowboy Col, July 2016. All images (c) S. Ginn)
RB: Scott, today we are putting the spotlight on the MAZZ- XT album called ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’ – an album that features 10 new tunes, and for many readers it will be the first time that they have heard about the album, what can you tell readers about the MAZZ-XT project and how you put it all together. MAZZ- XT – Mass extinction– What prompted you to begin writing again?
SG: When I stopped playing live in the mid 90’s I pretty much stopped doing music in every sense. I stopped writing and I mostly stopped playing guitar or any instrument for that matter. I got heavily involved with building custom video games for the Tomb Raider community, and I think that became the substitute for music as a creative outlet. Part of that creative process was to add music for the games, either as ambiences or dramatic interludes for cutscenes or battle scenes. I bought a digital workstation and adapted to that very easily as it was like having my old analogue studio all packed up in a piece of software. I got curious about whether I could produce a good sounding rock song with the software and started noodling around with ideas to learn how some of the software worked. The first thing I recorded was the main riff of the opening track “Spellbound”. Once I had that down and could hear that I was going to be able to achieve what was in my mind, the ideas just started flowing and I had the basic structures down for four of the songs pretty quickly after that. I then set about developing those four ideas and writing an album’s worth of material. Those first four songs were “Spellbound”, “Lightning strikes again”, “Let’s have a party”, and “When ancients ruled the world”. Because I was writing as I was recording, I didn’t have a ‘big picture’ vision of what the album was going to be. I just let creative ideas come out and let them take me wherever they felt like they were supposed to go. As it turned out, the vibe and sound of the songs led me back to the music of the band’s that had most inspired me when I was first getting into music – Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Bad Company and Black Sabbath. So the album does have a classic rock feel but definitely with a modern production values.
RB: Your press release states that “Mazz-XT music is hard rock. It’s heavy riffing guitars and catchy vocals laid over a bed of thumpin’ bass and drums. Now I agree with that in part, certainly on some tracks (like ‘That’s the way we rock’, and ‘Too hot honey’), but I think the album goes way deeper than that, certainly thematically and lyrically where you are singing about darker themes, everything from life experiences to apocalyptic themes – ”The new songs are influenced by music from the past but have a modern edge.” I think that statement really sums up the album as whole quite nicely.
SG: You’re right Col, that tag probably understates the depth of the music on the album. I probably pitched it that way in the bio for simplicity of communicating that it’s a hard rock album. You can go to information overload if you try to explain in too much detail what your music is about. In the first instance, because this is a new ‘band/artist’ the main thing for me is to get in touch with the fans that I think will like Mazz-XT’s music. So hopefully it’s a good surprise for listeners to discover that there are more layers to the music, giving the album a bit of light and shade.
RB: Growth as a songwriter, do you think the songs reflect you and your place in the world, and issues that are important to you ?
SG: It’s absolutely an honest reflection of the last few years of my life. In the 80’s, as we all know, lyrically a lot of hard rock was all “Sex, booze, drugs and rock ‘n roll’. Writing lyrics in that style was fun at the time, but I think I’ve added a bit more meaningful meat to the subject matter in this new material. There’s still the up-vibe party songs, but there’s a mixture of other lyrics, based on personal experiences, or people close to me. But even with the darker lyrics I’ve kept a positive spin or a positive message in what I’m writing about. And that’s very much what I’m about – recognizing we all have flaws but there is always hope for change or positive reinforcement.
RB: The first song on the album – ‘Spellbound’, a tune that has a really nice breakdown on the chorus, what can you tell us about that tune.
SG: As I mentioned, ‘Spellbound’ is the song that is responsible for me recording this album. For me, it marks the start of my rock rebirth. But although it was the first song recorded, it was the last one finished. There were two reasons for that. One, that I had in my head how the chorus should sound , but I took ages to get the sum of the parts just right. There’s quite a lot going on in those choruses, and I experimented a lot with mixes and vocal phrases before I got the final melody with the overlapping chorus lines, and the cleaner guitar sound to make room for the other instrumentation. The second thing was that when I finished it, it all sounded fine, but seemed to be too straight in its arrangement. The middle-eight lift before the solo, got added in right at the end. And I’m really glad I did add it because it really adds a lift to the song. ‘Spellbound’ is about the evils of alcoholism – it is a disease and it sucks people in, and becomes a false god that they worship when in reality it is the enemy within that destroys people. The positive message is that for people affected by this disease, they have to trust their true friends who are there to help them make changes to regain their real lives.
RB: Now the next tune, Lightning Strikes Again – Good solid riff, throughout. There’s a lot musically going on in this tune behind that riff, and again nice chorus.
SG: Yeah, I really like the riff and the groove of this song. Unashamedly, my Zeppelin influences showing through on this one. The jangly guitars in the verses add a really different dimension to the song. ‘Lightning strikes again’ is about the black dog – depression. I’ve used the imagery of a storm, being struck by lightning as an analogy for the way depression can strike out of the blue and how it takes a person to the darkest place in their soul. I lost a dear friend to depression so the song has a deep personal meaning to me, and I’m sure there are a lot of people that can relate to this in a similar way.
RB: Now you play all the instruments on the album. You wrote all the songs, you produced and engineered it as well, you are still very much a one man army!
SG: Yeah I’m definitely back in one man army mode. I remember a funny comment in a review years ago for my ‘One Man Army’ album, where the reviewer stated “ either this guy is very talented or he just wants to avoid confrontation with other band members”. I’m not sure whether it’s either of those options, it’s just the way that works for me to write and create songs. I hear the full production in my head, and tend to use the recording process to develop the ideas. For me, the studio is as much an instrument of creation as is a guitar or keyboard.
RB: ‘Let’s have a party’ is the next tune. This treads more traditional hard rock territory, good time rock n roll, catchy hooks, sing a long chorus. Lot to like about this one.
SG: Thanks Col. Yeah this is definitely more traditional territory for me. This was the second ‘rough idea’ that I recorded. It was a very simple A to D progression, and it sat for quite a while in demo mode, and I thought it might not make the cut for the album because I wasn’t coming up with any melodies for it. It wasn’t until I wrote the chorus hook that it came to life and then the other lyrics just fell in place. For mine, it ended up being the most instantly appealing song on the album.
RB: What is interesting to me is that although the album does contain many straight ahead rock tunes, much of the other material has a complexity to it, that has not been evident in any of your previous work. Lyrically the themes are a bit darker than just writing about birds, booze and parties – almost a concept album in many ways.
SG: I’ve always tried to twist things a bit, so even with straight ahead rockers there’s stuff in there that has little tricks and twists in it. It probably seems like there’s an extra level of complexity if you compare this album to ‘One Man Army’, but what’s missing from the picture is the unreleased Rags N Riches material which there are a number of songs that have complex arrangements. Fans will get a chance to hear this missing link in the musical chain very soon with the forthcoming release of Rags n Riches – “Shipwrecked out in the street” album. So I think it is a natural progression on the Mazz-XT album. But even with the more complex stuff, my mantra has always been “ The Riff is King”, and I think I’ve stayed true to that. Lyrically, yes there are a couple of tracks that fit the concept album tag.
RB: One of my favourite tunes on the album ‘That’s The Way We Rock’ – this could be a hit single Scott, great 4/4 rock tune, foot to the floor. What’s the story behind this one ?
SG: Yeah “That’s the way we rock” it speaks for itself. It’s a rockin’ song with a fist-pumping chorus, and it’s a recognition of all the years of dedication that we all put in as muso’s to our art. It’s about the rush of playing live, and serving up no holds barred rock n roll, just giving your all and leaving nothing in the tank. Personally, it’s an acknowledgment of the great years I had playing rock music and all the great people I played with, the bands, the gigs, the friends made and the good time we had. Moving forward, it’s a dedication to the past.
RB: Track 5, ‘When Ancients Ruled The World’ . Now this is a deeper theme, and musically (with strings even), it ebbs and flows quite nicely with a great guitar solo, this could almost be in a movie soundtrack. Explain this one to us. It’s about past civilizations?
SG: ‘When Ancients Ruled The World’ ties in with the Mazz-XT/ At the Brink of Eternity apocalyptic theme. It’s very much inspired by my video game building which feature exploration in ancient empires particularly places like ancient Egypt and the Khmer temples of Cambodia. You have to wonder how these incredible ancient civilizations fell away like they did. I hope that emotionally this song takes the listener to those places. It’s based around a hypnotic pad keyboard progression and there’s a bunch of strings going on throughout. It took a while to develop this song. I had the main verse theme very early on, but it took a long time before the heavy chorus parts all fell into place. It breaks down in the middle to an extended guitar solo with Egyptian sounding licks that gradually builds to its climax. The song provides a nice moment to breathe and lay back a bit before the return to heavier tracks. People have likened it to shades of Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and I think many people would kill to write their own “Kashmir”. I’m not suggesting it reaches the giddy heights of such a legendary song, but if folks hear it in that same vein, then I’m stoked with that.
RB: ‘In This Jungle’, starts off with a menacing riff, its actually a pretty riff heavy song, and the heaviest tune on the album. What’s the story here? I think this tune actually has the best guitar solo on the album. The tune has a double meaning – referring to vampires in the literal sense but it’s also a metaphorical reference to dishonest business people i.e. the bloodsuckers of the night.
SG: Been listening to a lot of the early Black Sabbath albums of late. And to me the sound that they had on those first three albums was the definitive original heavy metal sound. I was definitely trying to write something with that sort of sound and vibe. I was struggling to get a handle on a lyric for this song, but I kept coming back to some sort of a vampire theme. I thought the conventional vampire theme was a bit old hat, and it seemed to have a more modern meaning if I used the vampire references to describe shady music business people as bloodsuckers of the night. There are two guitar solos on this song. The one in the middle of the song was the first solo I recorded on any the songs. I wasn’t even sure if I could cut the solo and I was being stingey and I recorded it on my old ‘76 Ibanez Explorer with 20 year old strings on it and missing the high E string. I suppose it’s one way to get a different tone….. The end solo is longer and there are some nice licks in there.
RB: ‘I’m On The Inside’ is a tune I really like. This is a good rocker, catchy tune, nice riff, great vocal, singalong chorus. What is this one about ?
SG: ‘I’m On The Inside’ is a Zeppelin-ish funk rocker based around a a simple guitar rhythm, and hooky grungey synth riff. The catchy vocal melody makes this one work. The lyric is very much tonque-in-cheek, but is essentially about life in a long-term relationship, where things can go a bit pear-shaped, life can become predictable, the spark can go out of a relationship, and little things get to you. The “I’m on the inside, you’re on the outside, lookin’ in “ chorus lyric is about putting up emotional walls and self-doubt.
RB: Now the title tune ‘ At The Brink of eternity’ . If ‘When Ancients Ruled The World’ could be in a film, then this could be the film’s theme. Looping riff, almost a companion tune to ‘When Ancients’ in many ways – but lyrically, is this a commentary on the state of the planet ?
SG: The main riff for this song actually started out as one of my game soundtrack songs. In it’s initial form it was only a one minute track. There was a lot of development of the song to take it to the 6-minute epic it ended up being. Lyrically, yes, this one ties in directly with the album title and cover art. ‘At the brink of eternity’ being the imminent impact moment before a giant meteor smashes into earth. A very apocalyptic vision, but nonetheless a very real possibility being as it has happened before. I do wonder with the way some things are going in the world, that it might take an event like this to reboot the world and start over again. I’m really happy with how this one turned out. It’s quite a busy arrangement and posed the biggest challenge to mix. I always loved the dual lead vocal harmonies that Coverdale and Hughes had during their period in Deep Purple, and I used that technique in the verse and more so in the chorus on this song. There’s a lot of lead guitar in this song, and I’m pretty pleased as these are some of the strongest lead breaks I’ve done.
RB: The tune ‘Devil In Disguise’ – great tune, likeable riff, whats this one about Scott ?
SG: Probably my favourite song on the album. It’s the sort of killer riff I’ve always wanted to write but had never quite nailed before. It’s a song that was written about the challenges of parenthood with troubled teenagers but it could have the same meaning for anyone that has someone in their life that is behaving badly and giving them grief in their life. Again, like with ‘Spellbound’, the message is a positive one – it’s time to make a change but it has to come from within.
RB: And finally the last tune on the album, ‘Too Hot Honey’ . This treads familiar territory- melodic hard rock, that you have always excelled at. Great solo!
SG: Yeah I guess we come full circle with this one. It’s a pretty straight forward rock song with a hooky half-time chorus. This was the last song written for the album and is fittingly the final track. It came together very quickly. It’s the notion of a guy with a crush on a hot girl but he’s thinking he’s ‘punching above his weight’ and the girl is ‘too hot’ for him to hook up with, so he’s playing it cool and stepping back a bit. It’s a simple guitar solo but has a great tone and I think it suits the song well.
RB: Let’s touch upon the production (because you’ve always been involved in the recording process). Is it much easier to be a producer nowadays compared to the 1980s?
SG: I’d say it is actually easier now. The quality of sound banks and instrument modules available now makes it much easier and quicker to arrange songs and pull the sounds I want. Also, I think I’ve got a more mature approach to music these days, and find it easier to be more objectively critical of my own work. Most importantly, I’m just having fun with making music again. I’ve already started on recordings for a second Mazz-XT album and I’m looking forward to re-releasing the 30th Anniversary – Ginn “One Man Army” album on CD in the very near future. Maybe we’ll have a chat about this and the new Rags n Riches album some other sixty seconds.
RB: Thanks for your time Scott! Scott Ginn’s musical output is always first rate, and the ‘At The Brink Of Eternity’ album is no exception. It is thoroughly recommended by us here at Rockbrat as one of THE Australian albums of the year. The album is available on both CD and digital format, from only $5. Buy it here. Head to the following links below and discover MAZZ-XT.
Mazz-XT Music Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCSkvjigiH0ELdrOETPhGEpw