Note: This piece first appeared in Australian Guitar #127. Subscribe to our print edition here!
Mark Gemini Thwaite has lent his alternatingly atmospheric and crushing guitar work to many great artists. Now under the banner of MGT, he’s free to follow his own muse into some very dark places. Words by Peter Hodgson
British guitarist Mark Gemini Thwaite has established himself as the go-to guy for when you need a player who can do justice to ‘80s goth classics and infuse them with a modern sensibility.
His list of credits is impressive: Al Jourgensen’s Revolting Cocks, Gary Numan, The Mission, Bauhaus frontman Peter Murphy, Fear Factory frontman Burton C Bell’s Ascension Of The Watchers... Hell, he’s even played with PJ Harvey, Alanis Morissette and Tricky, and even backed Marvel Comics legend Stan Lee to perform a jazz standard at the kickoff of Lee’s Comikaze Expo (also known as the LA Comic Con) in 2012.
But Thwaite is much more than a sideman. His own music is steeped in goth tradition, but is somehow fresh and new, existing simultaneously in one specific era and no specific era.
You can hear his work on two albums released recently: MGT’s Gemini Nyte with vocalist Ashton Nyte of The Awakening, and Soul Pretender by Primitive Race, an industrial rock supergroup featuring Dale Crover of Melvins on drums, Chris Kniker on bass and late former Faith No More frontman Chuck Mosley on vocals.
I’m so jealous of this album. This is the record I wanted to make and you beat me to it!
[Laughs] Yeah. “You bastard!” I did a solo album last year under my acronym, MGT, because a lot of Mission fans used to refer to me as that – it’s less of a mouthful. So when I did this solo album with all these guest vocalists, Ville Valo said, “Rather than call it Mark Gemini Thwaite, which will be a mouthful for our German DJs, why not just call it MGT?” So that’s how MGT was born as an artist. The last album, Volumes, was me with all of my mates on vocals because I’ve got a rubbish voice. I figured I’d be Jimmy Page – write all of the music and then ask my friends to sing on it. I worked with people like Ville Valo, Wayne Hussey from The Mission, Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls from The Wonder Stuff, Ricky Warwick from Black Star Riders, Raymond Watts from KMFDM, Julianne Regan from All About Eve and Ashton Nyte, who is a great South African singer I was recently introduced to.
That album went down really well. I did two tracks with Ashton, both of which were leaning towards my goth-rock background – hard-hitting with definite goth-rock overtones. And we just kept writing, and before we knew it, we had a whole album written.
So this album is the fruition of that collaboration. It’s still going under the moniker MGT, which the label wanted, but it’s me and Ashton. The original plan was that we were going to call the band Gemini Nyte, which started as a joke about how cheesy it would sound when DJs would say it on the radio. We thought it was hilarious, but people thought it was pretty cool! When we signed the new deal with Cleopatra, they assumed the album would come out as MGT because we put all this work in last year with the Volumes album.
There’s a wide variety of material on the record, but it’s still very much anchored in that signature goth-rock sound.
Yeah. Unashamedly. The two tracks with Ashton were arguably the most goth-rock songs on Volumes – although I see it more like modern goth-rock. It’s got more in common with Marilyn Manson, Rob Zombie or Rammstein, and none of those were considered to be gothic rock bands. I think sonically, we’re touching upon the kind of area those bands are in, rather than proper goth-rock bands like Joy Division.
Definitely. A song like “Dystopia” has some crushing guitars that don’t sound like they came from the ‘80s.
Yeah! There are echoes of The Mission and stuff that I was influenced by, like The Cult, Killing Joke, The Cure… And by coincidence, we ended up working with a couple of the guys from The Cure on the record too!
Yes! Pearl Thompson and Lol Tolhurst play together on the record.
That was a fantastic thing that happened. I didn’t know either of them, but I was introduced to Pearl Thompson, the guitarist who formed the band with Lol Tolhurst and Robert Smith back in the late ‘70s.
I ran into Pearl at the NAMM show at the start of 2017 because I was there to promote my new Schecter signature guitar, and Pearl was there because he was a Schecter artist as well. We got chatting and exchanged information, and before we knew it, we were talking about collaborating. I said, “Funnily enough, I’m doing a new album with Ashton. It might be cool to get you to play some guitar on it.”
So I sent him a demo in the spring – he was preparing to move from somewhere in the desert to nearer to the outskirts of Los Angeles, so I didn’t push him. And then he had an art exhibition in West Hollywood in the summer, and that’s where I met Lol – who was originally The Cure’s drummer, but ended up moving to keyboards later in the band’s career. I got chatting with him, and it turned out we lived less than a mile apart. It’s crazy.
So the song “The Assembly Line” is on the physical version of the album, but I ended up getting Pearl’s guitar and Lol’s keyboards and putting together a brand new mix. It’s an alternate version of that song called the ‘Cured Mix’ – it got a standalone mix in February and got added to the digital album. And let’s face it, most folks just buy albums digitally or listen on Spotify. It’s on the album, but it missed the physical pressing of the CD.
Let’s talk about the Primitive Race album, Soul Pretender. It’s a tragedy that Chuck passed away so soon after its release.
Yeah. I’ve always been a huge Faith No More fan – I first got into them back when Chuck was the singer in the ‘80s. “We Care A Lot” was a minor hit in the UK, and they were largely ignored in their home country at the time. And that was a great track with crossover elements of metal and hip-hop, with elements of Killing Joke in the keyboard sounds and the drum attack. So he parted ways with Faith No More, and I was a fan of the Mike Patton stuff as well.
Fast forward many years later, I do a record in 2014 with Primitive Race, which was a collective of musicians put together by Chris Kniker, who put together an album with his friends, and we put out an album with an industrial slant. That album did pretty good, and he said that for the next album, he’d been talking to Chuck Mosley and it’d be more stripped down – no synths, more focused on rock’n’roll and Chuck’s vocal, and rather than it having loads of different singers like the previous release, this would be Chuck on vocals all the way through with myself on the guitar. We ended up with Dale Crover from Melvins on drums and Eerie Rock on keyboards.
I couldn’t hide my admiration for Jim Martin and the old Faith No More sound, so some of that definitely came out in the way I approached the album. And literally a week after it came out, Chuck passed away of a drug overdose. He’d had a long, well-publicised battle with drugs; part of the reason he was ejected from Faith No More was his inability to keep his drug habit under control, and it looks like it ultimately got the better of him. But all I can say is that he did a fantastic job on the record, we’re all proud of it, and I feel honoured to have been able to work with him and collaborate on some songs together. And I do think it’s a fitting addition to his legacy. We’d been talking about going out live, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if we’d done a few of those Faith No More songs if we had. That would have been very interesting, but now we’ll never know how that would have went.
What can you tell us about your Schecter signature model?
I’m into bling on guitars. If I was going to go for a Gibson model, I’d go for the Custom, y’know? I want the block inlays, I want the triple binding, I want the whole shebang. I’m not a huge fan of basic-looking guitars. So when Schecter asked me to do a signature model, I said I wanted it based on a Custom. They’d put out a model which was the closest shape that they’d done to a Les Paul, called the Solo-II. So I wanted it based on a Solo-II with Custom specs. I wanted it to be a blue guitar with gold hardware, a B7 Bigbsy and a different colour on the back – like the Les Paul Goldtops, where the top is gold and the back is a natural wood colour.
So there are all these things I wanted to fulfil in my own model; it’s a culmination of all the guitars I’ve played, and the tweaks I would make to them. I would often throw Bigsbys on my Les Pauls – I’ve been doing that for years. So the model came out, and everybody was like, “Wow, that’s super blingy!” We ended up going for an ultraviolet finish, which is blue in some light and purple in other light. It’s got a stained red back, gold hardware, and it’s just super blingy.
For me, it’s just totally natural, and it’s a manifestation of what I like in a guitar and how it looks. Some people love it, some people hate it. Some people say, “No! You can’t put a Bigsby on a Schecter!” It’s got my Seymour Duncans in it, a JB in the bridge and the Alnico II Pro in the neck, and it’s made with a rosewood fretboard. I love it. It’s the first guitar where I’ve felt like I don’t need to bring along a Les Paul on tour, because this kills it.