Hot damn! Prog rock is alive and well in the southern United States! Although the area is best known for Southern Rock (Molly Hatchet, Lynyrd Skynyrd), Blues legends (Robert Johnson and the infamous “crossroads” spring to mind), and Dixieland jazz (sweet New Orleans!). But Fiction Syxx is changing that. Founding member Mark Lanoue (lead vocals, lead guitar, songwriter) explained the origins of the new album, The Alternate Me, which is is their sophomore effort, after their debut, Tall Dark Secrets.
Lanoue shares an interesting commonality with Brian May – he has more than a passing interest in the heavens! He jokes about the album title, saying, “I live the alternate me. Right now, I’m in my suit with my tie and my glorious tie pin and looking all business class, and this evening, I’ll take it all off. I’ll put on my cool rock rings and go back to my alternate ID. I’m actually into technology. I was an entrepreneur for a couple of decades and with NASA, and I was actually inducted into the NASA Space Technology Hall of Fame [in 2005]. I’ve got 17 or 18 patents and invented some stuff that went all over the world, and so there you go.”
So how did he get to prog rock and NASA? As a new name in prog, knowing his musical background is useful. His personal roots are in New Jersey, where his father was involved with the mafia. When his father was killed, his life changed. “I was up in Jersey, and the funny thing is I really didn’t get into guitar and singing until much later. I started saxophone first. I was a tenor sax player and so playing in marching and concert bands and stuff like that. And I was always into the science as well. But when I got to be about 17 years old, we moved from New Jersey, down to Mississippi of all places. So I went from being this Yankee from the upper Northeast to southern Bible Belt country, right? I started listening to Randy Rhoads, who had just passed away. And I saw another kid at the school playing guitar. I said, ‘You know what, I want to do that.’ So I went out and got a cheap guitar and started. My mother had this huge record collection, all vinyl, and I started just playing all the records and playing to them over and over. And six months later, I had some of my friends who were pissed off at me because I was blowing them away, but when you practice eight to 12 hours a day…you get good. So from there, I went back to Jersey, and I started playing with a lot of people. I met with Trixter, who became my friends, and we were in the same agencies. And we had the band Prophet who had Ted Poley as their drummer, and Dean Fosano was the singer. I started getting mixed up in the crowd up there, and I started playing the clubs. So I ended up ultimately recording music with Dean Fosano from Richie Sambora in Mercy and Message, and he was also in Prophet, and he was the original singer for Bonham, and I started recording with him. “One thing led to another, and my name started getting out there. And later on, I moved back to Mississippi. Funny enough, I joined a band there that my current drummer for Fiction Syxx actually was the drummer for. So we played for a while, did some things. And then I ended up going to Florida, where I met Carl Sentance who’s now in Nazareth. He sang before that in a band with Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath, called The Geezer Butler Band. And the guitar player was actually Jimi Bell, who’s now in House of Lords and also joined Autograph just recently. So those two know each other. I ended up getting in a band with Carl called Persian Risk USA. The original Persian Risk was from England with the guitar player Phil Campbell, who was in Motorhead. Before Motorhead, he was in Persian Risk with Carl. And so we ended up putting up kind of this super group in Florida, during the ’90s. Two people in the band got in a fight, and that was the end to that. So then I ended up coming back to Mississippi. That’s where I got into NASA and all that kind of stuff.”
I put on the tie. I went to college. I put on that mask, and I became the alternate me. But the alternate me that brews inside is that one that really wants to come out.
Once in Mississippi, he joined the late Clyde Holly in the band Biloxi. In 2008, he played one last gig with Biloxi, and decided to do something different – and with that, Fiction Syxx was born. The name of the band has its own interesting roots. Lanoue explains, “Where Fiction Syxx derives is, firstly, it’s from my birthday, the 6-6-66. And also the whole thing is I like the mystique. I like spirituality. I like cultural things. It’s that ‘Fiction’ there that goes between the 666 and the 6-6-66. The 6-6-66 is the angel’s number and the devil’s number. It’s kind of like the yin and the yang, which goes perfectly with the alternate me and the Gemini [zodiac sign] and all that kind of stuff. So that’s where the Fiction came from, and the six came from the numbers. And because I’m a huge Styx fan, both Tommy Shaw and Dennis DeYoung, I put the Y-X in there in tribute really to them. So that’s where the whole Fiction Syxx name came from.”
The Alternate Me has a smoking hot cover of Styx’s Suite Madame Blue. “I wanted to give a testament to them as a great band. I had to try not to sound too much like Dennis DeYoung. I remember when I was younger, during checkup, or during warmups when we were testing the microphones, I used to sing Babe and Lady, and people would turn their heads around real quick and go, ‘Oh, my gosh. I thought Dennis DeYoung was here!’ So I had to try real hard not to sound too much like him because I wanted the song to be a little bit different. Why redo a great cover unless you’re going to do something different?”
The rest of the album is comprised of originals, written by Lanoue and produced by JK Northrup (who shares guitar and backing vocal responsibilities). Northrup is a versatile and important collaborator. “He’s so multi-talented – all the backgrounds that are not me are JK on the album. So he does some background vocals. Where he is really fantastic is… I call it the icing. Not only does he do a great job at producing, but those little guitar lines, like the little bridge parts and the slide guitar, all that is him. I play about 50% of the middle guitar solos. I play the guitars and acoustics. But all those nice little catchy lines, like the beginning of My Darkest Hour, all that stuff is JK.
“He is not only a smoking guitar player, he’s got great feel. His production is so clean. You could turn it up to 30, and it doesn’t distort. It’s just really excellent. You can hear all the instruments. He blends everything nicely. He doesn’t overpower the guitar too much, which I know, being a guitar player, that to do that takes real experience and patience and knowing that now I’ve got to bring the guitars back a little bit. I can’t let them overpower everything. And he does a great job with that. Plus he plays some bass. There’s a lot of things he does that make him just a fantastic player. And he’s a really cool guy. A really humble, really nice guy. So there’s a lot of good things I could say about JK.”
In terms of the theme, he explains, “The theme throughout all the Fiction Syxx stuff is spirituality. There’s life events in there. Things that have happened. Things that happened when I was a child. There’s things I saw when I was a child, so in my darkest hour. Some people call you crazy. Some people don’t because they believe you, but I’ve seen ghosts before. So it’s that kind of stuff. That kind of all goes in there. And of course, it’s the ‘alternate me’ theme through the whole thing.”
The album is an ambitious eleven songs, with flavours of Holy Diver era Dio, Steve Vai, and Deep Purple. It opens with the Dio-esque song My Darkest Secret, with a spiral guitar line that draws you down into the core of the song. It’s followed by Monster In The Mist, which examines the world of social media, and modern digital life behind avatars.
Angel of Mine has a deeply personal message, which Lanoue discusses. “My bass player, Larry [Hart], his daughter is… they don’t know how long she will have to live, and she wants to see her son at least graduate high school. And there was a point, when Larry joined the band, that his daughter was really, really badly off. And I have daughters, so of course, that touched me immensely. Those are Daddy’s girls. Those are my babies. So if something like that were happening to them, of course, I would want to take the pain. I would want to take their place. So that’s what this whole song was about. As a matter of fact, that was interesting because I was thinking about him and his daughter, and I only had the music. So I went in and I went to my microphone, and I actually came up with the words, the melody, and came up with that song at the mic. So that was the one that just kind of came up from just nowhere and came out onto it.”
The spiritual theme winds its way through the entire album. The title track digs into more self-examination. Lanoue says, “The Alternate Me came about from not just a Gemini thing, but it’s almost really true, is that what I always wanted to be, was a rock star…the grandeur of being a rock star, that rich rock star out there, everybody loving my music. And that was the true essence of me. But on the other side, I had that responsible part of me that says, ‘I have to support my children. I have to support my wife. I have to support my family. I have to do the things that are really important, because when I die, the rest of it won’t really matter beyond that. It’s the things I did that really solidify that.’ So I put on the tie. I went to college. I put on that mask, and I became the alternate me. But the alternate me that brews inside is that one that really wants to come out. So there’s this battle, right? It’s the alternate me. It’s my bastard son. It’s that darkness inside me. And so that’s what that’s all about.”
Fiction Syxx grew out of a desire to mix musical genres – to find a way to blend musical styles, and create something original. They make a great addition to the growing list of success stories out of North American heavy metal prog, including bands like Rush, Dream Theater, and Symphony X. NASA may have to find a replacement for Mr Lanoue very soon…