Fifth Angel and former Alice Cooper drummer Ken Mary interview
Written by Kevin Tanza on November 12, 2020
If you’re a Heavy Metal fan, there’s a great chance you heard a song where Ken Mary played drums on. He has one of the best CVs in the genre, playing with a wide variety of bands, such as Alice Cooper, Fifth Angel (which he formed), Chastain, House of Lords, Don Dokken, Flotsam and Jetsam and many more. The man has played everywhere and he has demonstrated a fascinating mix of skill, talent and professionalism, which explains why he is so highly-regarded in the industry.
That is why it was such a huge pleasure to have Ken here on MusikHolics for an interview. We managed to discuss a bit of everything and I hope you have a good time reading it.
First and foremost, welcome to MusikHolics, Ken. It’s great to have you here.
Thank you, I appreciate the kind words. It’s nice to be here!
We all know that 2020 has been a very crazy year. How you have been dealing with the pandemic and all the different stuff that have been going around these months?
I’ve been busy recording and producing, so it really hasn’t slowed much for me. We did have a large number of shows canceled, essentially for an entire year, so that has certainly been different. Other than that we’ve been trying to be safe like everyone else, and be as smart as we can with getting done what we need to get done but limiting our contact and exposure as much as possible.
How has this situation impacted your projects for 2020?
It certainly made things more difficult to get done, as you are trying to limit being around other people. That being said, you have to figure out new ways of doing things. For instance, when I was tracking the vocals with AK for the new Flotsam and Jetsam album, he would be in the tracking room and I would be in the control room. We recorded an entire album in separate rooms that have separate air conditioning, and we were never actually in the same room. We would see each other through the glass and that was it (laughs). So again, you just have to find new ways to get work done.
You’re obviously one of the hardest working drummers in the business. What you have been working on these days?
We’re working on a new Fifth Angel record, and we finished a new Flotsam and Jetsam record which I believe is scheduled for a June release. I know that’s still a long way off, but that’s what I’m hearing because it will be difficult, if not impossible, to play shows until then, and possibly afterwards. So we’ll have to see how the virus continues and what actions the governments will be taking at that time. I’m also working on a couple of movie soundtracks scoring as well.
You’re always working in several bands at the same time. How is your schedule to work with them throughout the years, in terms of recording and touring?
It’s been pretty easy for the most part. Most bands do not tour all the time, and as you see there are many musicians now that play in more than one band, mostly out of necessity. The music business as we know is quite different than it was many years ago. With streaming and on-demand services that are low to no cost, the music itself for the most part is free. It does help musicians out a bit when fans are very serious and they buy vinyl, CD’s, or T-shirts. That helps for sure, but it’s still a much more difficult business financially these days, and especially so with the virus. Hopefully, that will change soon, though.
And style-wise, what would you say are the main changes in your drumming when you work with several bands at the same time?
You have to be sure to fit well into any band you are playing with. This may cause you to adjust your style to blend well with what they are doing. I’ve always been very conscious of what the band I’m recording and touring with is creating, and how to musically and artistically play something that works. Sometimes it’s being more of a simple groove player and locking it down, and other times it’s adding more fills and making it more over the top crazy. So I think being flexible and being able to take some musical direction really helps. That comes down to having a humble attitude walking into a new situation. You have to get familiar with and listen to what the other musicians are creating and be musically something that adds to that, not subtracts.
How do you think your playing style has changed throughout the years?
I think it’s remained similar in terms of groove, musicality, and solidity being at the forefront, although as time has progressed and metal and rock drumming has become more complex, aggressive, and faster, I’ve worked to keep my abilities hopefully on the cutting edge of the envelope. Of course, I always make sure that I’m still able to play whatever I was able to play in the past, but I don’t like when musicians become “frozen in time” and can only play the way they played when they were young. You should always be growing, challenging yourself and your abilities, and moving forward. As you get older, you should be better than you were when you were young and able to play more, not less. Sometimes I’ve seen the opposite. So I do work very hard to always expand my musical abilities, and never get complacent about my playing.
Is there a particular album or song where you feel the proudest of your drumming?
Well, there are a few albums that stick out for sometimes different reasons, but I’ll drop a few songs that I did like in terms of what they contributed to the music community. Alice Cooper’s Roses on White Lace, Freedom, and Lock Me Up are songs I can listen to now and feel good about what was accomplished in that era and how they moved the bar a little bit forward. Flotsam and Jetsam’s Control, Demolition Man, and the whole End of Chaos record I enjoy listening to. House of Lords’s Kiss of Fire, Pleasure Palace, Slip of the Tongue, Can’t Find My Way Home (for the groove on this one, nothing complex here). Fifth Angel’s Stars Are Falling. Impelliterri’s Victim of the System EP. Don Dokken’s The Hunger. Bonfire’s Ready for Reaction, and there are many more but I think that’s quite a few there.
Considering that you have played with so many different bands throughout your career, do you have a certain set of traits that you look for in a band to work with or it’s a case-by-case situation?
Well, it’s really just case by case basis, and mostly do I like the music and the people involved. I’ve had a great time with every project I’ve worked on and every band I’ve been in, so I feel very blessed in that regard. Most of my best friends are people I’ve been in a band with at some point (laughs). I have many lifelong friends as a result of the music that we’ve worked together on.
Of course, a band that is very important in your career is one that you formed, Fifth Angel. After all these years, what are your thoughts on those albums you guys did in the eighties?
I am very proud of how young we were, and how much effort we put into making those albums. We cared very deeply about that, and I go back and listen and those albums still stand up very well after all these years. I don’t think you can really ask for anything more than that. So often the art we create when we are young is not something we look back on with positive feelings, but I am extremely proud of those records. There was no pro-tools back then, and you had to actually play and sing, and those albums sound as if there was protools. They are very tight, well-executed, and well thought out and crafted. I think you can hear that we really cared about the music we were making and we had a very high standard of excellence. Those lessons served me well throughout my career.
Do you think that the band was perhaps unlucky at the time? Or do you think that perhaps you should have worked more in those years?
Well, we worked very hard and many things were out of our control. You cannot control how much a label will push your record, or what radio stations are going to play your music. We fought very hard and did everything we could to move the band onto a higher level. I do think it was a combination of some unfortunate events along with some unfortunate timing. Honestly, the band should have been very successful, in my opinion.
What can you tell us about the reunion? How you guys got back together and made a new album, 2018’s The Third Secret?
Well, that’s a rather long story, but to sum it up we had been trying to make a new record for many years, but always felt like we were making music that was too different from the original albums. We didn’t feel they had enough of a similar sound to bring it into the marketplace. We didn’t want to make a new album that didn’t “sound” like Fifth Angel. We had gone through great many singers, and no one really seemed to be able to capture the vibe and intent of the band, or at least what we felt it should be. There were some great singers to be sure, but we didn’t want to do an album that sounded like a completely different band. When Kendall sang on some demos, for the first time in many years the chemistry seemed to click, and the songs just started pouring out quickly and effortlessly. And they still sounded like Fifth Angel! So that was really the reason we finally put out a follow-up album, after all, that time. We felt The Third Secret was a perfect blend of being Fifth Angel, but still sounding as if we had progressed as musicians over the years. In our opinion, it blends the history of the band with a new chapter, and we were very happy with what was being created.
As someone who has enjoyed such a successful career, what would you qualify as your greatest accomplishment?
That’s kind of a tough one. I’m not really sure I have one. Certainly touring with Alice was an unforgettable experience and something I will always treasure. My journey with House of Lords was very memorable as well, and I do have lifelong friends from both of those situations. I have really enjoyed working with my mates in Fifth Angel and of course Flotsam as well, so there may be too many moments to say that something sticks out as my “greatest accomplishment”. I will say I have enjoyed working as a drummer, but also as a writer, producer, mixing engineer, and vocalist as well. I feel like I had the opportunity to do a great many things in music, and to wear a great many hats so to speak. And hopefully, my greatest accomplishment hasn’t happened yet!!!
Do you have a particular goal that you want to achieve?
I don’t have a specific goal, but of course, I believe all artists would love for their art to be appreciated, even in their lifetime. Fortunately, music is not like painting, and you don’t have to die for people to appreciate what you’re doing. I guess my goal would be to have as many people as is possible enjoy the art that I’m involved with. It’s always an honor when someone comes up and tells you how much they appreciated this album, or that song, or how that song got them through a tough time, or how much your playing has impacted them. It means a great deal to me, and it makes all of this worthwhile. It really does.
Thank you so much for this interview, Ken. It’s been a pleasure. Any last message for our readers? Where can follow you on social media and buy your music?