XS ROCK: Tell me about the latest band news? Any new projects coming out, live shows or announcements?
Mark: Our new album “The 5th Row” will be released on March 2nd. This is our second full length album, and 4th release overall. This album is a concept album focusing on the ever expanding role of Artificial Intelligence and it’s impact on society. The 5th row is a reference to the legend of “rice and the chessboard” and is frequently used by futurists as a way to show exponential growth in technology.
XS ROCK: So how long has the band been together?
Mark: The band has been together since 2005
XS ROCK: What was your main motivation for originally starting or being in a band?
Mark: Dave and I have been friends since High School, and along with his brother, we met John when we were studying music at Western Connecticut State University. Jaco also went to WCSU, and joined the band in 2016. We were big fans of Progressive Music as well hard rock and classic rock. We wanted to have a band that combined those genres into a sound that was hard rock but with a cinematic progressive mind set.
XS ROCK: What is your music background?
Mark: I began playing piano at age 8, and majored in Music Education while studying piano in college. Outside of Mile Marker Zero, I play anything from musical theater pit and wedding band gigs to accompanying singers. I’ve also have taught piano lessons since High school.
XS ROCK: What image do you think your music conveys?
Mark: Our music has always had a cinematic quality. Someone told us a long time ago that we should write a movie score (which we would love to do someday). Our songs have always had small narratives to them, so it makes sense that we were inspired to do a longer conceptual album this time,
XS ROCK: What are your current music career goals?
Mark: We want to expand our fan base and play in markets that we have never gone to before. We’ve had the chance to open for some amazing bands including Porcupine Tree, Periphery, Nothing More, Adrenaline Mob, and Scale the Summit, but we would like to play with bands of that level in new markets on a more consistent basis.
XS ROCK: Which do you prefer? Writing new songs and recording or playing for a live audience?
Mark: I’m sure its a cliche answer, but there are things I love about both. For a band like us who takes a lot of time writing and recording, it’s an amazing process to watch a small idea turn into an intricate finish product. I get goose bumps sitting back and listening to a new mix for the first time and getting that rush of excitement thinking “I can’t wait for people to hear this” At the same time, there’s nothing like playing live and feeling the energy of your fans feeling the music right along with you. Creating the 5th row has been a long process, so we’re ready to out of the studio and play these songs live
XS ROCK: What are your songs’ lyrics about? (What specific themes do they cover?)
Mark: With the concept of “the 5th row”, these songs focus on the narrative of the exponential growth of technology and how we are so connected to it as a society, for better or worse. Dave did a really great job writing a complex story in a way that people can connect to it on a personal level. The album focuses as much on the emotions of the characters as the technology.
XS ROCK: What is the single most important thing to you as a musician?
Mark: Being earnest and honest with the music I am creating. I can’t pretend to be someone else, or fit a “stereotype”. I think it’s really important to for our music to portray to the audience who we are individuals, and that we were inspired to create this music, not because someone told us to.
XS ROCK: Do you have any outrageous tour stories from the road?
Mark: Being in a progressive rock band, we don’t have the traditional crazy rock stories…but we’ve had a few crazy situations. One time we were standing on South St in Philadelphia after a gig, and someone pulled out a gun down the street so hundreds of people just starting stampeding toward us and we ran for cover. Another time we had to play a gig in NYC minus our singer because we couldn’t find a place to park our tour vehicle, so he had to stay behind the wheel so we didn’t get towed.
The best story we have is recently we played a gig in our hometown with Mike Portnoy son’s band, Next to None. They pulled into the venue in a 30 ft RV being driven by Mike himself. Growing up as fans of Dream Theater, seeing Mike behind the wheel of a huge lumbering vehicle was quite an odd sight. At the end of the night, Mike asked our Drummer Doug if he could jump the battery of his RV, so Doug drove his small 4 cylinder VW Golf up to jump the battery of the RV of one of our childhood idols.
XS ROCK: What’s the strangest request that you’ve ever received from one of your fans?
Mark: Our holiday cover of “Sleigh Ride” that we released this past christmas came as a request. Doing a Christmas song wasn’t something we had ever considered, so we decided to run with it, and it came out great!
XS ROCK: Are your friends and family supportive of your choice to play in a rock band?
Mark: We’ve been lucky that our friends and family have been very supportive of our career throughout the years.
XS ROCK: What advice do you have for new bands trying to get started?
Mark: Do as many things yourself as you can, because you can’t rely on other people to do it for you. Learn how to do as many things in your career as you can, from recording, to booking, to marketing it is really important as a young band to be on top of every part of their career.
XS ROCK: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
Mark: We haven’t had a chance to play any of the new songs yet, but I’m really looking forward to playing “2001”. From our older material, my favorites to play are “Reaping Tide” and “Trick of the Tongue”
XS ROCK: Which band or artist inspired you to perform? Why?
Mark: Keith Emerson was my idol as a kid. He’s the man who inspired me to do what I do for a career. Keith was an incredible player, but a bad ass showman, and a pioneer for keyboardists. I was devastated when he died a few years ago, I wish I could have met him.
XS ROCK: If you could design a dream tour for your band, who would be on the bill?
Mark: I’ve always wanted to play the big European Festivals like Download or Graspop festival. To be amongst all the different types of bands at those shows in front of thousands of people would be the greatest rush. For a full fledged tour, the dream of opening for Rush is off the table now that they’re retired, so I would love to be on a bill of some of the other great Progressive bands like Between the Buried and Me or Opeth.
XS ROCK: What do you consider your greatest accomplishment so far?
Mark: Being named Best in Connecticut at the New England Music Awards was a great accomplishment, but I think being able to create The 5th Row album might be our greatest accomplishment so far because of all the work that went into making it.
XS ROCK: If you weren’t performing in a band what kind of career do you think you would have?
Mark: I would definitely be doing something in music to some capacity. Either doing sideman or session work, or something behind the scenes like a copyist or engraver.
XS ROCK: What type of equipment do you use for live shows?
Mark: I use the Kawai Virutal Piano Controller as my main controller along with a Yamaha Motif XS. I use a macbook pro running MainStage where I use a lot of soft synths by companies like Arturia, Native Instruments, Synthogy, and GForce
XS ROCK: What do you think of the current music scene?
Mark: A lot of popular opinion says that rock is dead, but when you interact with all the bands we’ve played and go to shows, its obvious that there is a lot of excitement and energy with new rock bands. I didn’t grow up on in a music “scene” per say, because I was interested in bands that mixed different elements, and appreciated bands in different genres. There’s a lot of exciting newer Progressive Bands like Caligula’s Horse, Leprous, and Tesseract that are writing great songs and evolving the genre.
XS ROCK: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about you?
Mark: I don’t really go out to do a ton of things outside of playing music. I love being at home with my wife and kids. I also love Baseball about as much as music, and still watch any episode of Seinfeld even though I’ve seen them a million times
XS ROCK: Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to your fans out there?
Mark: We can’t wait to get out and play the new album for everyone! The 5th Row will be out on March 2nd, and we’ll be releasing show dates for 2018 in the near future!
XS ROCK: Thanks again for taking the time to talk with us at XS ROCK!
Mark: Thanks for having us!
MILE MARKER ZERO
Dave Alley … Vocals
John Tuohy … Guitar
Mark Focarile … Keyboards
Jaco Lindito … Bass
Doug Alley … Drums