The Green Leaf interview with Mark Whitney Mehran (MWM)
March 2017 San Diego, California
How did your band get its name?
The Green Leaf was inspired by Walt Whitman’s epic early America poetry book, ‘Leaves of Grass.’ I formed the band in 1992 with the simple concept of playing original rock & roll music. There are also the obvious nature and good times images invoked by naming my band Green Leaf which is also fine with me but the band name really is inspired by Walt Whitman’s book.
Which of The Green Leaf songs are your favorite?
All of the songs I commit to record are my favorite. Naturally songs translate differently as they are finished up, recorded, mixed, and mastered. Some tracks are good to record right after they are written and others need to breathe, evolve, and mature through the recording process and live performance. I would say on the electric side when ‘Destroyer’ from the Hot Rod Surf Pinstriping Movie Soundtrack was finished I was pretty happy; and on the acoustic side ‘Restin Town’ from the first Green Leaf album gives me a sense of capturing the mood and sound I was looking for and feeling. There are so many different songs from The Green Leaf catalogue I would say there’s a song for every mood from rowdy electric to mellow beach chilling acoustic.
What are your musical Influences?
The two biggest influences on my music would be Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young. For singer songwriters the guitar is such an important tool of expression. The guitar can express sounds, emotions, and energies which go beyond words. As a youngster experiencing these artists work was influential and enriching even though the recordings were decades older than I was. The authenticity and sonic style from the mid 60’s to early seventies speaks to me and stoked my passion to develop my own style of playing and composing songs. As time has passed I realize both these artists (Hendrix, and Young) and may of the other musicians I admire where not afraid to explore the darker side of life and were defiantly not committed to cranking out ‘hits.’ I would have to also mention Chuck Berry. He has so much fun with the guitar onstage it’s impossible not to get sucked into the energy of his music. Also Bob Marley bringing so much into the world though his music while being totally unique. I listen to everything for hip hop to pop and classical. Beethoven’s 9th or early Run DMC albums are all good with me. It’s important to capture and enjoy the time you’re living in the present moment even though sonically the influences may have come from an earlier time and place.
When any why did you start playing?
I stared playing because I love music. There’s a certain electric feeling of energy which runs through me when I hear certain songs. By playing and creating music I become closer to that energy. When I was proficient enough to play original songs with a full band it was like a feeling of being a part of a giant wave or well timed machine where all the elements flow together to something almost unfathomably greater.
Which instruments do you play?
Primary singing and guitar. On all The Green Leaf recordings after mid 1996 to this point I played all of the instruments on the recordings for the albums. The one constant from living at the beach is the never ending changing and moving of people in and out of our community. Like most California beach towns there are the readily available pit falls one can easily stumble into. The turnover of band members was stupid to the point of the hundredth time of going through the base line or drum beat I just ended up playing them myself on the records. It is actually kind of fun but can be challenging at times. There is a song loosely about it on the third The Green Leaf record MTG called ‘Turn Over.’
What is the first tune you learned to play?
That’s an easy one. It’s a triple play. Wild Thing, Louie Louie by The Kingsmen via Black Flag, and of course Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze.
How would you describe your perfect day?
Waking up to sunshine, eating some fresh organic food with some surfing and hearing good news from friends or family and maybe making a little bit of extra money to keep the new projects rolling. I’ve been a part of so many different creative endeavors over the years from making art movies, to owning a surf shop and building motorcycles and hot rods I’m regularly surprised when someone will walk up to me out of the blue and mention how they enjoyed and remembered one of my projects from sometimes 20 years ago. It’s kind of like a fun type of touchstone moment that’s kind of cool and makes my day more interesting.
What is your most valued possession?
I would have to say my heart. I love so many of the things I’m involved in from playing and producing music, to designing and creating for my brand Hot Rod Surf, to raising a family. I’ve always relied on my heart to guide me in the right direction. Life can sometimes tend to go wrong more that right and I think it’s the optimism to continue which is so important and eventually something good comes out of it.
What else do you do besides playing music?
I am an artist and also an entrepreneur. I create things and also bring them to market. Creating a design, building a motorcycle, hot rod, song or shirt and then seeing it being enjoyed and consumed is a pretty cool process. I enjoy the creative process especially when something performs in all aspects physically and financially. A financial success leads to more creative options. It’s always one eye on the art and the other on the finances. I love surfing, fast machines, and just hanging out at the beach.
Lowest and highest point of your music career?
That’s and easy one. When we were filming The Green Leaf ‘Wild Cat’ music video we were having fun enjoying the sun with some of my motorbikes and then a swarm of cops showed up, which actually at that time in my life seem to be too regular of an occurrence. It’s a terrible thing to get harassed by police where things can quickly take on a life of their own and can escalate quickly in the wrong direction. When it’s not a joke and you’re caught up in one of these situations it is really no fun and is an obtuse situation to balance when there are people working for our government who actually want to help the community and on the other hand there is a dangerous element of those who misuse their position to cause chaos and harm to the community. Really heart breaking seeing all different footage of people being harassed by the police to the point of no return. Anyway, the camera was ordered to be ‘shut off’ but we kept recording and despite my initial reservations the footage ended up in the final cut of the video which added to the aesthetic. What’s that NWA quote again? I can’t quite remember it. Seriously, rock & roll music is supposed to be about having some fun, and freedom. It’s funny freedom can really upset certain people. Be free, have fun, play some music that’s what I’m about.
How would you describe the music you typically create?
The Green Leaf music is experimental rock & roll music. Guitar, singer songwriter oriented with some low-fi garage elements with electric and acoustic songs. There’s really not that many guys doing the singer songwriter with the guitar nowadays. Probably more people are doing electronic music than guitar oriented rock & roll music. I like to think of it as my brand or original rock & roll music that has some traditional roots.
What makes your music unique?
An artists job is to translate our experiences and inspirations into some form of expression which is always unique by nature.
What’s your favorite daily attire?
It depends on what I’m doing. Someone once mentioned to me how it was so unusual how I was just as comfortable wearing motorcycle leathers as a Brooks Brother suit. I had never really thought about it that way. I just like to wear whatever works for what I’m doing. So it just depends on what I’m doing. Some of the best attire is just board shorts with the sun shining and I get to be in and out of the ocean all day surfing. As long as it fits right I’m good.
Do you like dogs or cats?
Both. We are a dog and cat house. I brought the dog and my wife brought the cat and I love them both. Animals make my day positive with their personalities and presence. It would be so lonely without animals and pets. I think they listen to us and understand even more than we know.
What’s your background?
My background is like our beautiful county and is a patchwork of people, experiences, and places. I’ve always tried my best to educate myself with all of the different lessons life offers. I am proud to have had ancestors who fought in the Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII and all on the side that won. I always think it is more important to focus on where we are heading rather than where we were.
I’m pretty clear on my politics. I am anti-mugging which means just leave people alone as long as they aren’t hurting anyone. If you’re into something freaky there are probably other people out there into the same thing. Go out and have fun in an appropriate way and be kind because there is good and bad from every group. Always stand up for yourself. I’m fiscally conservative and socially liberal. Women’s rights are human rights, healthcare should be a right not a privilege, and if there’s money for machines of war there should be money for education which should be free for those who want to pursue it. Be kind to animals and the environment and may all your good dreams come true. None of us are perfect so we should all do the best we can to make our communities inclusive and vibrant.
What themes do you pursue?
In music just being rock & roll music. As inspiration flows I like to craft and follow it wherever it takes me and it is what it is. I sometimes explore the complex dark side of the beach lifestyle and relationships.
Name something you love and why?
I love my Dobermans because they are beautiful creatures with hearts of gold. A well breed Doberman is the closest thing to owning a black panther. Dobies are loyal, smart, and like having a Lamborghini or Ferrari. I’ve rarely met a Doberman person I didn’t like. We all share a common experience and are a part of a worldwide community. I also love my wife’s Siamese cat because he is calm and has eyes of sapphire. Then there’s my surfboard, guitar, motorbike, and truck which I love because they take me places and go fast.
Name something you don’t love and why?
I don’t like people and situations that are mean, lack honesty, or trying to trick people. There are enough problems in the world so it’s very misguided to create more problems.
Has there been one particular moment in your musical career that you’re most proud of?
When my first record The Green Leaf ‘Green Leaf’ came out in 1995 it was really special. I had my own record with 100% original material on it and the world of possibilities seemed endless. I was only 19 years old and just wanted to have fun, work hard, and experience everything out there. Also when I returned from a break from playing music and recorded the movie soundtrack I felt more mature and hadn’t lost a beat even though I hadn’t picked up a guitar for more than a couple of years. Emotional maturity comes with age which is totally different from a purely youthful vantage point and way of viewing the world. I like both and try my best to be in the present moment.
What’s next for you?
I am really into playing acoustic music right now. For me half of being an artist is sharing my creations with others. The format of an acoustic guitar and singing is freeing and versatile while at the same time being stripped down. So many music artists I admire used this format from Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley. The only drawback is I have to pay attention while I’m playing because there is very little room for error, with acoustic you hear everything. I am going to go wherever it takes me.
Are you nervous when you go on stage?
No. I’ve been playing shows since a teenager and have played all sorts of different venues. Defiantly I like to get in a zone while and before I play live. I’m thinking of a thousand different things which comes to a point in time when the show is on. There’s physiological, creative, and physical prepping which goes into every performance. The equipment has to work and at the same time the creativity and skill needs to be flowing. I learned from early Green Leaf shows the best shows are when people have fun and connect with the music rather than hitting every note perfectly. There is an entertainment element to performing live music. If a show does not seem right, or is on an off night, I will concentrate on the skill side of the craft to make it worth my time. Ultimately what happens happens and like the Chinese Art of War says the battle is either won or lost before the war even starts. It’s the same with shows your pre-prep effects the outcome of the shows.
What albums inspire you?
There is such a change from making a complete album with special elements within an overall soundscape vs. the contemporary emphasis on the individual song format. Some of my favorite albums are complete experiences. All the Pink Floyd, Hendrix, Neil Young, Black Flag, Motorhead, and Sex Pistols albums I really enjoy listening to as whole works to fully absorb and enjoy. As far as The Green Leaf albums go I would say ‘Carnival of Corruption’ (1998) and the ‘Pinstriping Soundtrack’ are the most compete (2009).
What are your top three favorite books/ authors?
Walt Whitman, William Blake, and Robinson Jeffers are three of my top favorites. Also Emerson. All these authors and their bodies of work are special to me. Each of them had such different paths and voices in life. It amazes me how an individual artist can create an idea and an image which survives and inspires for long after they are gone. I don’t know where I would be without them. The funny thing is I got rid of all my book collection after I was done with school. Most books I like are about going out and experiencing life, relationships, and having adventure. When you’re going on an adventure you can’t hall around a room of books with you. And is it more fun to read about Moby Dick or see Moby Dick? Maybe that is a bad example. One would for sure have more action but it might not be very cool to be eaten by a giant whale. Anyway, when I went to sell my book collection I think I was getting 10 cents to 50 cents a book and it worked out to be almost fifteen hundred dollars. So I have read quite a few books and I think it’s cool to be a nerdy about certain things. Being well read gives a certain sensitivity and sensibility that is irreplaceable.
Which foods are your favorite?
Fresh salads. Green Leafs. Organic healthy eating is my favorite at this point in my life. A younger me would say steaks, fries, and pizza. I really love food and still enjoy a good tiramisu once and a while.
If you could witness any event of the past, present, or future, what would it be?
It would have to be the beginning of the universe and the end of the universe. Our time is such a short blip in the greater timeline of life. Sci-Fi and space give me pause looking up into the night sky and realizing I’m on a rock floating around outer space. Trippy when thinking of the broadness of it all and I love watching Alien shows. It’s fascinating and the beginning and end would probably be a bit different than imagined. Usually the most interesting things happen in between but I think this would be the exception.
Do you have a formal music education?
None. I am self taught musician. I go after what sounds right to me. I don’t know any names of musical scales and notes. I just know the sound and rhythm I’m looking for. It all comes to me though inspiration and I flow with it. I spent a lot of time from a young age experimenting with speakers and microphones and how to record things which is a big part of making music.
How do you handle mistakes during performances?
Roll with it. It’s not a concert pianist presentation. It’s only rock and roll. If you repeat a mistake enough times is it actually a mistake? Some of the best artistic expressions started out as mistakes.
When did you start writing your own music?
I started writing my own songs at 16. One of my fist original songs from this time in my life was ‘Speed’ which made it onto the first The Green Leaf album ‘Green Leaf’ released in 1995. The track on the album is the actual recording from my room as a 16 year old rock & roller. ‘Speed’ is a love song I still enjoy playing to this day. Goes to show love never goes totally out of style.
How would you describe the music scene in San Diego?
That’s a difficult one. I guess I’m a type of William Blake character of the San Diego music scene doing my own thing and maybe once and a while I cross paths with what some people would call a ‘scene.’ A crime and a car wreck has a ‘scene’ and they are all temporary. I play and release music because I love it. I do not put much thought into the slippery side of making music. Remember, I’ve got awesome motorcycles, hot rods, and surfboards, so that’s all the scene I need to keep me happy. I actually really like being obscure. If I’m supposed to turn right I’ll probably turn left on purpose. Remember Jack Kerouac books weren’t about shinny sky scrapers they were about back alley American adventures.
What is your song writing process?
Usually guitar and vocals first. And then I fill in around a riff, a theme, vibe or lyric. A million ideas for songs can come from free form jamming. I could probably write ten or more new songs a night but the process to finishing them makes it so I have to let somethings go. I actually have to conscientiously turn off the creative process.
What are your dreams and goals?
To live a happy and healthy life making sure to slow down and take time to enjoy everything in the present moment. I try and remember to let people know when I like something creative or nice they have done. I like to make awesome stuff and continue to explore new ideas, experiences, places, and people.
How does music affect the world around you?
Music is very important. It totally changes the space it’s played in. Music must go somewhere after it is sonically created. The sound waves travel into outer space or just absorb into the environment. Music can bring change and can be both bad and good. An event is always so much warmer with matching live music. Music can bring people together in such a neat way. Sometimes music is an undervalued currency. Just like love it’s hard to quantify but when you feel it you feel it.
What inspires you to do what you do?
I still don’t quite know.
Mark Whitney Mehran