By Darren Tromblay
Mitch Malloy, simply put, is THAT guy.
You know, the perpetually young-looking guy who makes women swoon with his to-die-for mane and rockstar appeal, who, until recently, was the frontman for hard rock mainstays Great White for four years.
You know, the guy who has rubbed shoulders and written songs for other artists alongside some of the best craftsmen in the industry. Malloy’s songwriting rolodex includes the likes of Jim Weatherly (“Midnight Train to Georgia”), Victoria Shaw (“The River”) and Desmond Child (“Living On A Prayer”) to name just a scant few.
And last but certainly not least, Malloy is also the guy who was unofficially the singer for Van Halen for about five minutes, having famously been offered the gig by Eddie Van Halen himself back in the mid-1990s. Malloy sang with the band multiple times at Eddie’s famous 5150 Studio, and even hung out with Ed’s wife, Valerie Bertinelli, only to watch megastardom slip through his fingers during the chaotic post-Sammy Hagar/pre-Gary Cherone/oh, and David Lee Roth is still in the picture, too, era.
But Malloy doesn’t need your sympathy. He’s done well for himself, thank you very much. Very well, in fact. Working with the likes of Taylor Swift can do that.
Hot on the heels of the release of his latest solo album, “The Last Song,” Malloy sat down with ListenIowa to discuss a few of these steps along his music industry path, the craft of songwriting, and his take on what it was like to be the lead vocalist of one of the most revered and influential rock bands in the history of music.
ListenIowa: How long has “The Last Song” been in the works?
Mitch Malloy: This is probably the longest I’ve taken for a record, and that was because of luxury, and just because I could. I’ve never really had that luxury before. I’ve been in the studio for 47 years, but I wasn’t working on this record for that long, although it kind of seemed like it at times. (Laughs) I’m not real good with time. Time in the studio is a bit surreal because you’re so focused on what you’re doing and so enthralled that you lose time. I think that’s universal with everyone.
LI: Right. You’re so far down the rabbit hole that time literally means nothing.
MM: Yes. I’m always thinking to myself, “Ok, today I’m going in for three hours,” and I’ll be in there and at some point I’m thinking, “Hmm. I’m getting hungry,” and I’ll look at the clock, and it’s been 13 hours (laughs).
LI: We’ll just say you’ve been at it awhile then.
MM: Yeah, I think I may have started the record about a year ago, and I was finished about six months ago. There was a lot of interest in this record, and I decided not to partner with various entities that were making offers.
LI: How many record labels are even left that can “get” your type of music, that being melodic hard rock? Frontiers Records seems to be one of the only ones anymore.
MM: There are a few. And I talked to all of them. We’ll leave it at that. (Laughs)
LI: I’m assuming since you’ve been songwriting for many years that you have your own studio?
LI: And if we were to take a tour through said studio, would we find a vault of unreleased songs and riffs?
MM: I’m a guy who writes all the time. When I was a much younger man, I would write riffs, but I didn’t really know how to complete songs yet. I was a little bit scared of the process, I think. And when I started to get older, and I began getting paid to write songs, I figured it out. (Laughs) It became very natural and easy for me. When the light switch finally went off, it seemed like a fast process for me. I have tons of bits and pieces and riffs and stuff. Some songs will force me, because I love them so much, to write them right there and then. But most of them I record and log, and they’re just sitting there waiting for me when I want to go back and peruse through it and see what I’ve got.
LI: You handled everything on this new album, from writing to playing all of the instruments to producing and engineering it. Does being a one-man show create more pressure for you, or is it the opposite because you and you only are in control of your destiny?
MM: The first record I did that on was the last one, “Making Noise.” I’ve been producing bands for a number of years, helping write songs, arranging things to fit the album, so over the years, I got kind of proficient at playing everything. It was never an egotistical thing. I’m just trying to get things done.
LI: And knowing how to do things yourself is the best way.
MM: Right. Let’s say your producing a band, and the bass player is gone. But you hear a part that you didn’t hear before. As a record develops things change. It makes room and space for other things you didn’t hear before. It’s a dance. It’s a relationship between everything that’s recorded. Sometimes when a lead vocal is done, and you’re really happy with it, the bass presents itself in a different way than before the lead vocal was complete. So sometimes you hear a bass note or a riff that is desperately needed to be put in there. And you do it. Same with keyboards, drums, everything. With “Making Noise” I was in a hurry, and I didn’t have time to book players, so I just kind of threw it together by myself and I thought it turned out great. Now I live in Florida and don’t have access to all those great players like before, so I thought I’d just go ahead and do it myself again.
LI: You obviously are a guy whose wheelhouse is based in melody. Songs on the new album like “My Pleasure,” and “I’ll Find A Way.” Where did that sense of melody come from?
MM: The Beatles! The Beatles! The Beatles!
LI: So definitely not anything 70s or 80s hard rock then.
MM: I’m ancient. (Laughs) I was walking around in diapers bopping around to The Beatles. That’s heavily ingrained in my system. That’s where my songwriting comes from, my sense of melody, my orchestration, and all that. I think they are the best ever.
LI: What do you consider the high point on the “The Last Song”?
MM: If someone held a gun to my head and told me to pick two, I’d say “One Of A Kind,” which is the first single and my favorite rocker on the record, and “Using This Song,” the ballad. It’s one of my favorite ballads I’ve ever written.
LI: Are there any hopes or plans for taking this thing out on the road?
MM: Yeah, we’re talking about it, and there are some other things in the works, too, that if they come to fruition, could really help move the needle for me and really help everything. We’re always trying to move things forward, make things better, get the music out there and get exposure. I make music for myself, but I also need other people to appreciate it to keep doing it.
LI: When you’re out and about now, do people recognize you as “the singer for Great White,” and the second part of that is, did being a part of that group help or hinder you in getting to where you are and want to be?
MM: That’s a good question. I’d say the only hinderance was that I didn’t do anything on my own. But there were a couple of positives, too. One was that people who never got to see me live were able to finally. I had a lot people showing up who were fans of mine but weren’t fans of theirs. They’d even buy the VIP packages, come back(stage) and they’d only have my records. (Laughs) It didn’t happen a lot, but it did happen more than anyone would have ever thought, including me. (Laughs) So that was kinda fun, looking out there and know that those people were there to see me. And then to win over their fans was kinda fun. I was helping them by being there doing their songs and fronting their band, and I was helping myself by being able to be there and fronting their band. It was a mutually beneficial situation, I think. Interestingly, though, I think more people recognized me from my solo career … or Van Halen.
LI: Really? For that short stint you were “in” Van Halen?
MM: Yeah. People will see me at an airport or whatever, walk by and go, “Hey, Mitch Malloy. Van Halen,” and give me a thumbs up. (Laughs)
LI: I saw you a couple time with Great White and it seemed almost like — and this isn’t a dig at them or saying that you seemed arrogant or whatever — that you had something better in mind, something else you were on your way to.
MM: (laughs) You know, I think people thought that. My fans would even say that to me when I first took that job. They’d be like, “Oh, you won’t last with this.” And I’d be like, “Why is that?” And they’d say, “Because, man! You’ve gotta do you own music!” And I’m like ….. “I do?” (Laughs) If you say so! It’s really weird how people are with music, isn’t it? I’d hear, “I’m not a fan of theirs, but I’m a fan of you.” I’ve even had people say to me over the years, “I’m not a fan of Van Halen. I like you better than Van Halen.” And I’d be like, “What? You need your head examined.” (Laughs)
LI: So what was it like being around Eddie Van Halen, the band, and all of that?
MM: It was just like anyone would imagine. It was special. Anytime I got to be with him was special. It felt important. I was out there with him in 5150 (Studio), live, singing with the band, and it was recorded. It’s all documented. There was no video, because we didn’t want anyone to know it was happening. And they didn’t.
LI: In that short period, were you able to create any new music with them?
MM: Yeah, a song called “It’s The Right Time.”
LI: And that’s never been released anywhere.
MM: Right. And probably never will be.
LI: Do you have a copy at least?
MM: Oh yeah. When I left Ed’s place, he gave me the tape. He wrote “Mitch August 16” on it. It was the backing music for “It’s The Right Time,” and he told me to go write this and bring it back when you come back. People ask me if I was in Van Halen, and I say two things: Eddie told me I was in Van Halen, and two, he gave me a tape to go finish this song. Why would he do that if I wasn’t the singer in his band?
By Darren Tromblay
“The Last Song”
I’m Living In Paradise
One Of A Kind
Using This Song
Building A Bridge
I’ll Find A Way
You’re The Brightest Star
The Last Song