Interview With Mark Pothier
Mark Pothier, keyboardist for Ministry during the With Sympathy days, kindly agreed to answer a few questions for the site. We greatly thank Mark for agreeing to do this and hope everyone enjoys it.
Q: Would you mind giving some info on your background?
Pothier: I had a typical upbringing in Andover, Mass., north of Boston, the kind of place lazy journalists call a "leafy suburb." I bought my first album (Sgt. Pepper's) when I was 11 and was assembling basement bands by the time I was a teenager. Around age 15, I wrote a horribly overblown rock opera with my best friend, Steve Maguire, a really smart guitar player. We played together in bands on and off until I joined Ministry, but I'm getting a decade or so ahead of myself.
Q: Before getting involved with Ministry, you were in the Boston band Pastiche.
Pothier: Actually, after Steve and I had started a number of bands (and played at Boston's legendary Rat club a couple dozen times), we scrapped all our material, cleansed our creative pallettes, so to speak, and started a Boston band called Adventure Set. Brad Hallen and Ken Scales, who had been in Pastiche, heard our rehearsal tapes and decided to join us. We were honored - both of them should have become stars. Adventure Set's sound was filtered through the music of bands like Roxy Music, The Cure, Gang of Four, Public Image Ltd., and a lot of American funk that was happening at the time, like Bootsy Collins. The lyrics were kind of jaded semi-political rants, sometimes disguised as quasi-love songs. It worked most of the time. We made a conscious decision to create a bit of mystery - we only played select gigs and we dressed sharply (or at least we thought we were) at time when jeans or leather ruled at clubs like The Rat and The Channel. We were quickly building momentum when Ministry intervened.
Q: How did you come to get involved with Ministry?
Pothier: Al showed up at one of those select gigs, with British producer Ian Taylor, who was working with him on "With Sympathy" tracks. Al had already secured the Arista contract and had a bit of money to spend, but it was just him and Stevo in Boston (Robert Roberts was on board, but still back in Chicago). He needed people for keyboards and bass and a couple weeks later, backstage at an ABC show, he asked me and Brad to join. I remember us breaking the news to the guys in Adventure Set at Al's rather posh Back Bay apartment. It was emotional. Adventure Set was special and we had just received some money from CBS to cut a demo. Ultimately, I decided that the chance to get into a world class studio (The Cars' Syncro-Sound on Newbury St. in Boston) and tour the country was an opportunity I might never see again. I still think about that decision. No regrets, but it's hard not to wonder what might have happened with Adventure Set. The Ministry experience was amazing, if insane at times, but I was more of a hired gun that Al had led me to believe during the courting period. In Adventure Set, I cowrote every song and all five of us were on the same wavelength.
Q: So, had Ministry relocated to Boston completely, or was it more of a "hanging out there often for the good scene" type thing?
Pothier: Al and Stevo pretty much immersed themselves in the Boston scene, which was flourishing in the early '80s. Al's apartment and The Cars' studio were the centers of our social lives, at least until the clubs opened at night. I remember Aimee Mann working behind the counter of Newbury Comics, which was the place to go for freshly-pressed British vinyl like The Jam, Joy Division, A Certain Ratio, The Clash, etc. Amazing things would happen _ like a down and out Joe Perry stumbling into the lobby at Syncro Sound, or Iggy Pop in polyester pants sitting in the control room working on some tracks with Ric Ocasek. Iggy gave me some advice on lyric writing: always carry a thesaurus.
Q: Who else was in the band during this time? Who played what?
Pothier: It sorted out as Al on vocals and guitar (plus some keyboards), me and Robert as the blond twins on keyboards, Brad on bass and Stevo on drums. But we were living in the studio, not playing live - this was late 1982 and well into the spring of 1983, I believe. I should mention that my sister Jamie eventually married Ian, who was co-producing "With Sympathy" with Vince Ely of The Psychedelic Furs. They live in England, have been married for about 18 years and have two charming children - so something permanent did emerge. Ian knew precisely how to deal with Al's frequent mood swings, and Vince played the elegant English gentleman, dressed in a suit, ordering fine wines from the liquor store down the street, tossing about his lush accent.
Q: Any recollections of the equipment you guys used back then?
Pothier: My side of the stage was populated by lots of Roland synths, a Moog, and a Linn drum machine. I think Stevo used Peavey drums and Brad and Al were Fender guys, if I recall correctly.
Q: Did you just play live in the band or were you involved with studio work as well?
Pothier: I'm on a few studio things - like the remake of "I Wanted to Tell Her," the extended version of "Revenge," a bit of "A Walk in the Park," I think - Al and I spent a night in the studio trying to come up with proper lyrics and a melody for that one, but he ended up making it more of a dub thing, with Shay Jones singing on it. for a brief moment there, I really thought Al was interested in collaboration. The two of us went to our rehearsal space in Cambridge a few times to write songs to together, and we even ended up playing on tour, but I think he had too many people telling him that he was the band and that he could become a huge pop star. I know Al has many times renounced "With Sympathy," but I can tell you that he was in control of that record. In fact, Brad and I especially lobbied for a tougher sound, a touch less production, more bottom end, etc. And Al's lyrics on that record, in my opinion, were mostly throwaway lines, or utter nonsense. It's not a bad record, at least as a snapshot from that era. But Al wasn't interested in listening to my advice - or anyone's, as far as I could determine - which quickly became puzzling for me. I never considered myself much of a player - at least a couple dozen keyboardists in Boston were much stronger than me technically - but I liked the songwriting process and assembling pieces in the studio. And I guess I figured Al knew that when he asked me to join; that he wanted someone to bounce ideas off of, someone to perhaps relieve him of pressure, which he didn't always handle well. That said, there was something very likeable about him and he definitely had charisma. One-on-one, he would sometimes be just a regular, smart guy who wasn't afraid to say he was scared or worried about something. And he was brimming with talent. I think people forget how young he was - to be in this world class studio, with record executives angling for a hit, it was not always a party, though we tended to live it that way. One time, my parents, conservative suburban types, boarded our tour bus and Al played the charming host. They were impressed and when he left my Dad wished him luck and shook hands with him, despite Al's black fingernail polish. I was so impressed by that, even if it was an act.
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Page Last Edited on 2004-10-31 22:24:37 UTC CST (9471)