Since their 1992 self-titled debut, now a cult classic, all the members of Unruly Child have had successful careers in the music industry. Following the release of his critically acclaimed solo effort, “Long Way From Love,” in 1993, Mark Free, who had had Gender Identity Disorder all his life, made the decision to undergo surgery, coming out to the world as Marcie Free in November 1993. This was followed by a period of disillusionment and feeling shunned by the music business and in 1995 she retired, relocating to Michigan in the process. Fans were left with the music, but with a feeling that it had all ended too soon. The band carried on with two further albums, each featuring a different vocalist, but neither of these got anywhere close to the magic of the debut. Sixteen years on, all five original members have reunited to deliver a brand new album, “Worlds Collide,” which on the first listen created those unforgettable goose bump moments that only a classic melodic rock album can provide. After wrestling with headsets, microphones and sound issues, my interview with Marcie finally got under way…
Q: It’s been sixteen years since you were last together, can you tell us how the reunion came about?
A: Well, the way my gender thing came to a head and everything and the way I left music, I just felt I didn’t want to do it any more. I felt shunned by my peers; people I had worked with countless times in the past suddenly didn’t want to work with me anymore … It was like I had the plague or something and that hurt me a lot. It took a long time to get over it, so I left L.A. and moved away to Michigan to start a new life where everybody just accepted me as Marcie. Nobody knew me as Mark around here before. It was easier to blend in and be who I wanted to be. It took a while for me to find my footing and then I fell back into a pattern of what I used to do for many years to cope, and that was using drugs and alcohol – that certainly exacerbated things for me.
About two and a half years ago I got sober, then all of a sudden, completely out of the blue, and something of a miracle for me, I developed a close relationship with God. Some people like to call it a “higher power.” I had felt that there were so many things wrong with me that there surely couldn’t be a God who would want me to suffer like that. I took it personally and for many years I intellectualized what God was out of my life. Now I have just learned to accept it and I still have no idea what God is, nor do I really want to know. All I know is that whatever it is loves me and it has made me worthy of that love. This has allowed me to give back and feel human again and more importantly to stay away from the evil drugs and alcohol that only lie to you and cause your life so much misery and pain.
A couple of years ago, Bruce [Gowdy] called me out of the blue. He and I had stopped talking for a long time. There was a brief time where he and I disagreed on something, so we just shrugged our shoulders and walked away from each other and didn’t talk for a while. Then he called out of the blue and little by little we patched things up. We would talk on the phone and kind of joke around about what it would be like if we ever got that band back together; nothing serious. Back in May I was doing my morning prayer and meditation and I came across my daily affirmation book, so I picked it up and read for that day. What it talked about was that we are all born with certain gifts. It could be something that you are really good at and you feel like God intended you to do it. Something you love to do and you want to do it because it makes life more enjoyable for you and for others. I realized how important it is that we all get in touch with that and we give it back for that reason, to make life more enjoyable for others and ourselves. I realized how incredibly gifted I’ve been, how lucky I’ve been, how wonderful God has made me and how selfish I’ve been for not using that gift. I vowed that day that if ever I was to get the chance to do another music [project] I would do it as a way of showing my faith and of standing up and being of service and giving back what has been given to me. A couple of weeks after that, Bruce called me out of the blue and I felt I already knew what he was going to ask me before the words came out of his mouth. When he did, I just laughed. It felt like divine providence and ever since then the making of the album, the recording of the album … everything has just been laid out step by step and has come together with this wonderful ease. It has just been incredible.
Q: Were you all together for the recording?
A: No, for the most part we did the recording in different places. I live in Michigan and the guys are still back in L.A., but Bruce is like the main hub where everything was mixed, all the guitars were done and a lot of the basic tracks were done at his studio. Guy also has his own studio at home, as does Jay, so Jay was able to do his drum tracks at his studio, then Guy and Bruce mixed it all. I did all my vocals here and we just shared files over the net.
Q: You obviously got together for the video for “Very First Time”?
A: Yes, we did. I went to L.A. in January for four days to take pictures for the album and while I was out there I did the lead vocal for “Love Is Blind” and “Tell Another Lie.” It was great. Everybody came together and there we were hanging out in the Four N 20 restaurant like old times … Like nothing had ever happened. It was just weird.
Q: You’d talked with Bruce on the phone, but how was it seeing everyone again in the flesh, so to speak?
A: It wasn’t difficult at all. It was just like coming home. I mean, I love these guys like my own brothers and I would do anything for them.
Q: Were the songs completely freshly written or was there anything left over from before that never saw the light of day?
A: No, these are all brand new gifts from God, just manna from heaven, you know? Seriously, the day I wrote “You Don’t Understand,” I was sitting at home waiting for my PC to boot up and I looked over at my acoustic guitar sitting there. I hadn’t even planned on writing a song that day. I picked up my acoustic guitar and Bam! From nowhere a song comes out and in fifteen minutes the whole thing was written. When it happens like that, it’s just like God picks you up by the ankles and shakes it out of you. I immediately started recording it in my studio and played it for Bruce a few hours later after it was finished. We were on Skype video phones and he was sitting there listening to it, and I’m sitting here with tears rolling down my face. In the end he just went, ‘Holy shit, Marcie, you just wrote the acoustic ballad for the record.’
Q: Who is responsible for all the writing?
A: Bruce and Guy wrote the majority of the material. Guy is a phenomenal writer, as is Bruce. The two of them together … they are such great musicians and they know their instruments so well. I’m less of a musician and more of a singer. The stuff I write is a bit simpler, but they are just musical geniuses and can come up with anything. They wrote the majority of the stuff. Bruce wrote “Show Me The Money” and when he came up with the idea of the track he sent it to me and he was like, “Man, it’s going to be “On the Rise” meets “Devil Knows Your Name.” So I mulled it over and took it with me in my car everyday I went to work. About a week later I’m driving home from work and all of a sudden Bam! The lyrics started flowing in my head, but I couldn’t write them down, so I called myself on my home phone and recited it to myself so I wouldn’t forget it. [laughs]
Q: Are there any particular stories behind any of the tracks?
A: “Talk To Me” was kind of cool because the night I recorded it in my studio, I just set the mood. I put incense and candles all around the room and it was just me singing. As I was listening to it coming back, I was thinking, ‘Holy shit, the kids are gonna love this one.’ It was unbelievable. It was like I could see months into the future how it was going to be received and it was just amazing.
Q: Who’s idea was the album title?
A: “Worlds Collide” was a title I brought in. Guy and Bruce wrote the chorus and the melody and the lyrics for it, but I had already had the title. That song went on to become the epic that it is and everybody just liked that title. It was kind of fitting, like so much of it could be innuendo about gender and the whole thing about how my world meets their world … your world, and that’s how it felt to me.
Q: What, for you, are the stand out tracks of this album?
A: “When Worlds Collide,” “Love Is Blind,” “Talk To Me,” “Neverland,” “Insane” is great, “Show Me the Money.” My God, there are so many great tracks. I’ve never had it happen where I’ve made a record and I’m still listening to it after it’s finished. I’m an absolute fan of it. It’s such an amazing record.
Q: Who made the decision to have “Very First Time” as the first single?
A: That was the record company. Initially they thought “When We Were Young” was going to be the first single, then it changed to “When Worlds Collide,” so we made plans to do the video. We talked to the director and got the concepts for it. Then a week later the record company said it would be “Very First Time,” so we just rushed together and did it. It is a fantastic song. It just reeks commerciality … It’s like Coke and Pepsi. [laughs]
A: Excellent. I just have got to say God bless the guys for having the vision and the tenacity to stay after me for so many years. They’ve been after me for many years to come over and do some stuff and I hadn’t until now because it just didn’t feel right. When God makes it right, you know it’s right and this feels right because when everything is laid out in front of you, you just need to take that step of blind faith and you know that your footing is going to be solid and everything is going to be taken care of.
Q: Why did Unruly Child never do any touring?
A: We never really got a chance. We got the heave-ho the minute the album was released. It was only officially released because the label was legally obligated to release it. The grunge thing happened two months before it was scheduled to be released and even though everything was on track, by the time it came out, the label realized that they’d made a big mistake in not signing or having the foresight to sign bands like Nirvana, so everybody was tripping over themselves going to Seattle to sign the next grunge superact and we were just yesterday’s news. Financially, we didn’t have the backing and we didn’t have any money ourselves. We were just dirt-poor musicians trying to survive, not to mention my gender thing coming to a head, the time it was and the way the universe was just wasn’t right.
Q: Do you think if you’d come into the business ten years later than you did, the gender issue would have been easier to deal with?
A: Possibly. I think for myself that time has healed a lot and people grow up and attitudes change. A lot of people had a lot of time to mull it over and deal with it, so that makes it a lot easier for me to just be able to deal with as well. People realize, you know, what the fuck … it’s not their life, it’s my life.
Q: I couldn’t help noticing some very unfair and unflattering comments about you in various places on the web. However, these seem to be heavily outweighed by the positive ones. How do you feel when you read some of this negativity?
A: It just makes me want to love those people even more. I’ve learned many times, the hard way, in my life that you can never fight hatred or ignorance with more hatred or ignorance. It just exacerbates the situation and nothing gets accomplished by that. The only way you can combat that is with love and education. Just by me being who I am and being out there in the world, they’ll get over it eventually. We’re evolving as a species … slow but sure. [laughs]
Q: You’ve mentioned driving to work – what is it that occupies your day?
A: I’m a mortgage underwriter for a major world banking conglomerate. I’ve been doing that since 1998, so it’s quite a long time now. It pays the bills, it’s a great job, the people all know about me at work, so there’s never a problem. It’s wonderful. Being at work is just like being at home.
Q: When you quit the music business, did you cut your ties completely, or were you aware of what was going on? For example that Unruly continued for a couple more albums?
A: For quite a few years I didn’t even get on the internet and when I did I was amazed. There was this message board devoted to me on Melodicrock.com and all these other places that were just showering me with love and affection and admiration, and it just warmed my heart. Then I realized that Bruce and Guy had carried on the name and did the record with Kelly (Hansen) and I thought it seemed like a logical next step for them, especially as Kelly and Jay had worked together for years, so I wished them well. To me though, Unruly Child was my idea that I brought in when we were just me, Bruce and Guy, and to me it will never really be Unruly Child without the three of us. We were the triad that started it all and so it just seems like coming home when we’re all together.
Q: There is certainly a trend in reunions right now. Do you feel that the time is right for Unruly? What are the chances that we’ll finally see a live show?
A: I would say yes, the time is right because we’re all committed to making this happen and taking it to the next level. Like I said, my realization is that I’m here to give back what I feel God has given to me and that doesn’t mean just for one album; that means for the rest of my life or until I get old and so feeble that I can’t do it any more. Everybody in the band has their day gigs – Guy works with the Doobie Brothers to put food on the table and keep the kids in college and the wife in furs, just kidding [laughs,] but we all do what we have to do to make money. Nevertheless, we all agree that this is our baby and priority number one, so we are telling any and all promoters to contact us via our website www.unrulychild.net and we’re going to take on any serious offers and seriously try to make this happen.
Q: I read that there might be a remix or remastering of “Tormented” at some stage in the not too distant future?
A: Yeah, Serafino [Frontiers Records] mentioned that to me a few months ago and I said absolutely, yes. Once we get this record out and rolling we would love to do that. Bruce and I talked about it and he is excited too. We even talked about maybe re-recording a couple of those songs to make it new and fresh.
Q: Unfortunately, that album is not in my collection – should I wait for the remaster?
A: Well, even though those were demos, we did try to get Twelve Pound Sledge signed at the time. There are still magical moments on that record that probably will never be recreated again. The fact that we did them on a 16 track Tascam reel-to-reel tape recorder … that sound you can never duplicate. The fact that I was 18, 19 years younger … there was a lot of magic in that stuff. It has its place in history and that’s literally what it’s all about; just marking time, creating a calendar of somebody’s career, seeing what was going on in his or her life back then.
Q: I also read that you are trying to secure the rights to the first album?
A: Yes, we are trying. It’s hard to get the big dog to come to the table, but we should have that record. It’s ours, we wrote it, we recorded it. They’re not doing anything with it so why not give it to us so we can give it to the fans; make it available to everybody again.
Q: If I could make a personal observation – Your voice was always amazing, but I feel it’s even better now. The years have been kind to you…
A: I wouldn’t disagree with you. When I was hearing what was coming back in the studio I was amazing myself. I was thinking, “What is it?” and trying to analyze it. I think I have a thicker edge in the mid-range and it’s coming across … It gives me more of a sweet spot and sits better in the track. I’m not shouting as much.
Q: I had serious goose bumps when I was listening to the album for the first time...
A: Isn’t it beautiful when you feel like that? Music is so wonderful, it’s magical; it can take you anywhere. Those goose bumps, it makes life all worth living, man.
Q: Now that you’re back in the music business, are you listening to any new stuff these days?
A: I really don’t listen to much new music. I’m like an old fogie in that way [laughs.] The music I listen to when I do get the chance is ’60s RnB. Soul music is the music genre that I would never be able to be without. The old Motown stuff; that really does it for me.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to say before we wrap up?
A: I’d just like to say thank you very much to all the loving fans out there for their support and their love all these years. I want them to just know that I’ve felt it and I appreciate it and I am very much looking forward to seeing them out there on the tour.
For all the latest on Unruly Child: http://www.unrulychild.net/index.html
“Worlds Collide” was released on October 15 in Europe and October 26 in the U.S. on Frontiers Records. Read Bill Sullivan’s review here: http://rockandrollreport.com/cd-review-unruly-child-%E2%80%9Cworlds-collide%E2%80%9D/