Redlight King started making waves with the singles “Bullet in My Hand” and “Old Man,” from its first album, “Something for the Pain” (2011). But it’s “Born to Rise,” the lead single from album number two, “Irons in the Fire” (released in September 2013), that’s taking the band to the next level. This is no overnight sensation, however. Frontman Mark “Kaz” Kasprzyk has been in the game for 15 years and has had demons to overcome to reach this point. Sober and focused, he seems to be on the verge of stardom, yet he remains humble and appreciative. When a recent tour with Halestorm came to Baltimore, Kaz sat down backstage at Rams Head Live with Live Metal’s Greg Maki.
LIVE METAL: This tour just started last week, so how have the first few shows been?
MARK “KAZ” KASPRZYK: They were great. The crowds have been awesome. We played to 2,400 in New York City at Terminal 5. That was a highlight, for sure. Then we played two Canadian shows—I’m Canadian originally, right? So we played Montreal, a place called Le National, which is an old opera house, and then we played the Opera House in Toronto. The last time I played the Opera House was 10 years ago, so that was a great experience. It was full; it was like 800 people last night. And Toronto can be like L.A. and New York, where people are kind of not that receptive, like they’re kind of just absorbing it and they’re just chill. But they were hands in the air, making noise the whole night. Actually, it’s been like that every show. I’m sure that has a lot to do with Halestorm and how much work they’ve done on the road, and their fan base, as well.
I’m sure you’ve been making a lot of new fans lately with “Born to Rise” being so big. For people who haven’t seen Redlight King live, what do you guys bring to the stage?
Well, we’re a four-piece rock band. We’re a pretty straight-up rock band. We’re a very tone-happy rock band, meaning we spend a lot of time with our instruments and our gear, and we’re old school: tube amps, we use hollow body guitars and old-school, vintage Gretsch drums. But it’s a rock band. It’s pretty straight up. High energy, especially on these support slots. We like to just kind of floor the audience. We don’t play any ballads, which we normally do when we’re headlining. We just come out there and get everyone pumped up. I just want to have a good time and enjoy that with our audience. It’s the part I enjoy, because all the work is done prior to that. We also do a lot of different arrangements of our own songs—not exactly like the record, a little more rocked out or a different groove. But to get back to what we are: a four-piece, straight-up band. And we’re real heavy with the groove, obviously.
Why do you use the vintage instruments? Do you think they sound better?
Not always, but yes, sometimes. I just feel like a lot of those instruments have more soul for me. I have more connection to the music. I constantly through my career—I’ve been doing this 15 years—have been right in tune with the music and then lost connection with it. It’s become sort of like a job. Well, it is a job, but I mean it’s just sort of like you’re playing your shows and it becomes routine. And that’s the scariest part for me as an artist, is for it to become a standard thing. I just feel that with some of the older instruments, you’re always on the edge, because they’re not perfect. Things can happen, and, also, you can get a lot of different sounds from the same instrumentation. So I feel like it keeps me grounded with the music.
I first became aware of Redlight King when you played Uproar last year. How was that tour for you?
Oh, it was great. Uproar was awesome. We played in direct support for P.O.D., who I love.
That seems like a pretty good match for you guys.
Yeah, I thought so. We really got along with them—Wuv and Sonny and Marco and Traa. Those guys are deadly—20 years in the business, so fun, so energetic. I thought that was a great mix. And then on the other stage, we had In This Moment. Maria (Brink) is so amazing. I’m just waiting for her to be as big as Rob Zombie. I can’t figure out why she isn’t. I just think she’s so good. On the main stage, we had Staind and Shinedown and Godsmack, so what can I say? Those guys have been going a long time, too. The music’s great. Staind always sounds good out front. That guy smokes cigarettes and never misses a note.
Your new album came out just a couple months ago, “Irons in the Fire.” Did you have any specific goals when you went to work on it?
Well, I definitely wanted it to rock more. The first album was a studio album. I was kind of just developing Redlight King, the project itself, and I didn’t really know where I wanted it to go. I just was writing songs to write songs and then compiled the songs together to make the album. “Irons in the Fire” was an album; I made it from beginning to end. So that was the big difference: I had sort of a vision of a complete body of work for that record.
On the first album, a lot of those songs were inspired by a pretty dark period in your life. You said the good part was that after you had written those songs, you wouldn’t have to kind of go back to that period again. So what was the inspiration for the new songs?
I listened to a lot of music. I just was trying to fall in love with music again. I spent a lot of time writing songs, and there was still some—I don’t know—afterthoughts from the first record, of some of the self-abuse I put myself through, being an addict. There was a song on the first record about my dad, us having a falling out. Now, I’ll be two years sober in a couple weeks, and that’s huge for me, because I’ve gone through this rollercoaster of being sober and not being sober, hating myself, thinking no one likes my music, I don’t have a career, I do have a career, people like it. And now, I’m at peace with myself, and I feel like the songs weren’t so much first person, they were more about us—you and I, the human condition, what we go through. I started to try to write songs that people could relate to even more so and were more inclusive. That’s what “Born to Rise” is about—“I go to war with the brothers I trust.” “We were born to rise.” It’s not “I was born to rise.”
That song’s really blowing up. I’m hearing it in all kinds of different places.
Dude, I heard it at the Auburn football game. I was like, “What?!” I couldn’t believe that! After they won—big upset, right?—we’re listening and we can hear “Born to Rise” in the stadium, and we’re like, “No way.” That was fantastic, man. What a moment. It’s pretty humbling, actually, to just be a small part of that. Whether people there knew us or not is not really relevant. I just thought it was a very fitting song. But yeah, “Born to Rise,” I wouldn’t necessarily call it the flagship song of the record, but I would say that it’s a big song off the record, and people are really liking it. We got to make a fun video for it with all my buddies. They were riding motorcycles, and I ride, I’ve been riding for years.
Yeah, how did you get into that?
I was a hot-rodder. I was a car guy. My dad was, obviously, a car guy; you can hear that on our first record in “Old Man.” He was a race car driver, and he taught me to turn wrenches. And then you just want to go faster, you want to go faster, and then all of a sudden, two wheels, feels like you’re flying. Now let’s stand on our motorcycles at 50 miles an hour—that makes sense (laughs), and it just progresses from there. Then you start meeting other people who are just as smart as you are.
So you said “Born to Rise” is not the flagship song. Is there one?
Oh, right. God, you’re listening to me. (laughs) On that record, I’m not sure. I’m not sure that there is. I like “Times Are Hard,” which isn’t the heaviest song on the record at all. It’s closer to a ballad, but it’s the sentiment. There’s a lot of angst on the new record. I realized, oh shit, I’m not that happy with the way things are. I’ve been working 12, 15 years, and I’m still just getting by and people know who I am. So am I doing everything right here? Or this just the state of rock ‘n’ roll? Are we at the point now where we have to have a revolution? People aren’t buying records, and they don’t have a lot of extra money to go see us live. You’re gonna go to four or five concerts a year, so where are they gonna put the money and how can I get involved in that?
And I see it not just in our genre or our professional field but others, too. You see it everywhere. Everyone’s kind of downsizing. A lot of people out of work—put it that way. I’m crawling over people, literally, when I wake up in the morning in Hollywood to get to the store to go buy coffee. It’s kind of disheartening and sad, but at the same time, it makes me feel thankful that I do have a job and I do have fans and that it’s growing.
I think rock ‘n’ roll is kind of turning the corner, where we’re getting a few new bands that are sticking around for more than one or two records, because the industry fell out. I could go on this tangent for a while. The industry fell out in the middle, where people weren’t supporting bands enough that there was no middle class in bands. After your second record, if you didn’t break, you never got a third record. So then the 20-year-old bands, they stuck around—Staind, Korn—still headlining—or Rob Zombie and all these other guys. I think they’re all great. I think it’s all good.
I think that bands need to rethink the model to be able to make records a little cheaper and tour together, share the love, share the fan base. I think the animosity between bands—and there is some, because it’s competitive—I think that needs to go away. And I think it is. I feel it is. We get a lot of respect, even from metal bands. It’s amazing. My biggest moment in my career—one of them—was I was playing Rock on the Range two years ago—not this last May but the year before—and we played before Anthrax, and Down was playing there, too. We were playing “Bullet in My Hand” and Phil Anselmo was side stage, and he was like, (in deep Phil Anselmo voice) “You guys aren’t too fucking bad.” (laughter) That’s a big compliment from Phil, you know?
What we do, we do from the heart, and I think that’s what people are sensing. We’re here for the long run. I’m not afraid of being broke, I’m not afraid of being poor, I’m not afraid of making records cheap, and I’ve played in front of small crowds, and I’ve played in front of very large crowds—10,000-15,000. They both feel pretty good. Obviously, we love playing in front of more people, but these shows have all been amazing. Club shows, I think, are probably my favorite besides the big festivals. The House of Blues and stuff—you can see everybody; even at the back, you can see their face.
Have you ever played here before?
No. We’ve played Baltimore. This will be our third time this year.
Yeah, just a couple months ago, you were right down the street (Baltimore Soundstage).
Yeah, we played with Sick Puppies down the street. I haven’t played this room yet.
All the bands say it’s really good.
We played here with Buckcherry outside. It’s the Power Plant, which is outside. That was awesome. That was two years ago. There were a bunch of bands before us, and I think Foxy Shazam was maybe one of them, and then us and then Buckcherry. People were going off. They like to have a good time here in Baltimore. Everyone was cool. It’s always very busy right here, I feel like.
Sorry I went off. That was one question. I don’t know if there’s a flagship song, is where we were. (laughter) I’d like to say all of them. I wish people would listen to records more than just buying singles. I went to Best Buy and bought the Queens of the Stone Age record, and everyone thought I was crazy. It’s like, “What do you want to listen to?” Everyone pulls out their phones and I pull out a CD, and I put it in the CD player, and they’re like, “What?!” And it sounds better! It does! It sounds better!
I tell people I’ve got like 1,200-1,300 CDs at home, and they’re like, “What?”
(laughs) That’s awesome, dude. That’s how it should be. It’s like real audio—solid, solid audio.
Is there anything else you want to say?
No. Just live long and rock on. I don’t know. (laughs)