Malloy: Eddie told me I was in Van Halen!
Born in Dickinson, North Dakota, Mitch Malloy found cult fame with a self-titled debut in 1992. Later the same decade the singer/guitarist auditioned for the job later awarded to Gary Cherone in Van Halen. Malloy now has six studio records to his name, the most recent of which being last year’s Shine On.
Interview: Dave Ling
How did you secure a major label deal with RCA Records in the middle of the grunge era?
I was signed in 1990, before all of that happened, but those big corporations move slowly. BMG, the German company [responsible for releasing it], said: “Oh, if we’d got this record out two years ago you’d have been huge.” But of course we didn’t [laughs].
Desmond Child helped to write the debut, which was produced by Sir Arthur Payson.
I loved working with Desmond. It was great fun making that record – it cost a fortune; well, $385,000 might be small change to ‘Mutt’ Lange but back then it felt extortionate.
Desmond now works in many different genres. Was he an easy guy to collaborate with?
He’s a mad genius, but it was hard to get feedback from him. One day, when I said: “I never know whether I’m doing anything right” he replied: “Well, you’re here [working with me], aren’t you?”
And just to be clear, Sir Arthur Payson is not a pseudonym for Desmond Child as some have theorised?
I’m glad you asked that because he is not. They’re two different people.
Mitch Malloy contained the Top 20 hit Anything At All. Did you enjoy being a pop star?
[Cautiously]: Well, yeah. I was touring and singing every day. I had traction on the radio and it felt great.
These days there’s a slightly weird trend from melodic hard rock musicians of putting a positive spin upon the whole grunge era…
[Interrupting]: … You mean the ones that are trying to appear cool? Yeah, I’ve noticed that.
So where do you stand on the subject?
I genuinely liked Nirvana, but the rest of those bands [wrinkles nose]… I didn’t get them at all, and I still don’t.
The label forced you into a different, poppier direction with the second album, 1994’s Ceilings And Walls.
Absolutely, they did. Basically it was like, “play the game or it’s goodbye” and of course I went with it. Truthfully, I was happy to branch out into another area of my talent – I wasn’t uncomfortable with what they wanted me to do.
Let’s talk about your link with Van Halen. So the story goes, the band offered you the position as replacement for Sammy Hagar, but their manager Ray Danniels, who also represented former Extreme man Gary Cherone, railroaded his client through the door.
Ray called me [after the audition] and said: “I think you’re the next singer in Van Halen – I can’t imagine anyone better for the job. But if you don’t get the job then I want to manage you and when people become tired of artists wearing their pyjamas and looking at the floor then you’re going to be a huge star.” Quote unquote.
So what changed?
I don’t know. I only know that Eddie [Van Halen] told me I was in the band. Then the whole MTV presentation with David Lee Roth happened, which I didn’t know about. I got upset and called them and it all kind of imploded. My manager sent them a letter saying that I’d “respectfully passed” on the gig, which they couldn’t believe.
How did it make you feel?
Really sad, I mean… I was actually in Van Halen – even if it was just for that moment. I’d had the kiss on the cheeks, the hugs, the congratulations [from the band]… that had all seemed pretty official to me.
Did the experience cause you to step away from rock music and into the realm of country?
That happened accidentally. I just went to Nashville to write songs. But I was upset. In my life now, that’s not the case. I’m a father, a husband; I love family and my life. But when my career didn’t do what everyone in New York said it would – people had told me, and I hate to even utter these words: “You’re going to be bigger than Bon Jovi” – I was bummed, man.
And yet Edward Van Halen financed your return to the rock arena with 2000’s Shine.
Yeah, Ed was like my big brother back then and he really loved those songs. We’re no longer in contact but I had all of his phone numbers because I was a member of the inner circle.
2011’s Mitch Malloy II was a conscious attempt to recreate the vibe of your debut.
Yeah, I dove right back into it. It felt so fresh and easy it felt like putting on a pair of old jeans.
As implied by its title, your most recent album Shine On is a mixture of old and new.
Technology’s changed so much that I always wanted to remix Shine. When I got around to that there we so many things missing [from the master tapes], and it was done on so many different formats that I wound up re-recording it and adding three new songs – it feels like a new record.
According to the internet, you’re now 51 years old.
[Laughing]: When I was on RCA they made me lie. I had Michael Bolton’s manager [Louis Levin] and they said I should lose three years. Now I really don’t mind admitting I’m in my 50s, I get quite annoyed if people say I’m 48.
You don’t look your age. Some artists like Kip Winger have had a hard time balancing their better-than-average looks with musical talent. Has it affected you?
Oh, absolutely. There are a lot of guys, and maybe a few women, that just cannot be my fans. But I grew up admiring artists that always looked as good as they could, people like Steven Tyler. I always like to look as good as I possibly can and I guess I always will. Sorry, that’s a part of who I am.
How do you preserve your youth?
I don’t work out that much but as my wife would tell you I’m annoyingly fanatical about my diet. I believe that feeling good makes me look better. I juice a lot. I eat a lot of vegetables.
If you could go back and change anything, would you do so?
Worrying about all of that stuff is a complete waste of energy. People often ask: “Do you still think about Van Halen? Are you haunted by ‘what if’s?’” The answer is no. I’m in a really good place, so why dwell in the past?
• Shine On is available from www.mitchmalloy.com and via iTunes.