By Peter Lindblad
Mark Salling plays the bad-boy character Puck on the Fox TV series "Glee." Salling is also a singer-songwriter who has one album out called "Smoke Signals." (Anderson Group Public Relations)
If nothing else, the satirical Fox TV hit musical-comedy series “Glee” has made glee clubs popular again.
One of the stars of “Glee” is Mark Salling, who plays the bad boy Noah “Puck” Puckerman. A singer-songwriter in his own right who received his musical training at the Los Angeles Music Academy, Salling, originally from Dallas, released his debut album Smoke Signals under the pseudonym Jericho in 2007. He recorded and produced the album at an in-home studio by himself. Salling, whose tastes run the gamut from jazz to hip hop to country and grunge, is currrently working on another album in addition to his acting career.
Having also appeared in the movie “Children Of The Corn IV: The Gathering” with Karen Black and a young Naomi Watts and the TV show “Walker, Texas Ranger,” Salling provides an insider’s look at “Glee” and his music in this interview.
What is your background?
Mark Salling: Well, I grew up taking piano lessons starting at a young age, and [then] I kinda picked up the guitar. That led to wanting to write and perform, and I came out to Los Angeles to attend a music school [and] graduated from there. [I] started teaching guitar lessons and recording my own music, and playing with other bands as a guitar player and writing and writing and writing. That’s kind of where I’m at.
What kind of direction, musically, did you go in?
MS: Well, actually, I like to explore all different genres that kind of tie in with my own personalized sound. The Smoke Signals record has a little bit of metal, rock, jazz, some country ... everything, really, on it. But it’s still a common sound.
Were these influences you had around the house growing up?
MS: I was kind of an adolescent around the grunge period, and that was an influence on me. I’ve gone through every phase. I’ve gone through a country phase, a rap phase, a jazz phase ... when I went to music school, they have you listen to all these nerdy guitar players. So really everything has influenced me.
How did you come to join “Glee”?
MS: Well, I was teaching guitar lessons for five years, and ... I was getting nowhere trying to get into the music scene in Los Angeles. It’s pretty difficult to do unless you have a following already.
On the recommendation of a few of my clients actually, they told me to check out this casting Web site that was always looking for people who could sing or play guitar. That led to me seeking representation, and I reached out to about 150 managers and agents, One manager actually gave me a chance and called me; then he referred me to an agent, who submitted me for “Glee” in the office the day I met her. So it was very, very sudden and quick. I didn’t even really think I’d be getting into the acting business, but you know, it worked out, being a musical TV show. And they were looking for people who were not the kind [you ’d find through the] conventional casting process. So I got lucky.
It’s such an unconventional show, having a musical-comedy on TV. What did you think when you first read the scripts for this?
MS: Well, I’d gotten the lowdown on it, how Ryan Murphy was the creator and I knew from just that that it was going to be interesting, ’cause he comes from “Nip/Tuck.” [I said] “This guy’s doing a high school musical thing?” Like, “What?” But I thought it’d be kind of interesting, and I read the pilot, and it was really great. It was actually originally a screenplay. So it had that cool story arc to it, and it was just such a great pilot. And I knew when I read the script I had to have this part, no matter what. So I was just super determined not to lose this part, and fortunately, I didn’t.
Did you ever have any experiences with glee clubs in high school?
MS: Um, no. There was a glee club at our high school. I was not part of it. I was more in like the traditional band setting.
Were you always up for the role of Puck, or were you up for others in the show?
MS: Um, well, actually that was one of the very last roles they were casting, and when my agent submitted me, she was asking what kind of roles I would get. I said, “Probably like bad-guy roles, you know ... bad boy or whatever.” And she called their casting office, and they’re like, “No, we’re done casting. It’s over.” And she said, “Please, please. I’ll overnight you a picture. I’ll never send you anyone again if you don’t like him” — just really fought for me to get me in there. No, that was the first role [for me] and one of the last ones they had left. But I wouldn’t trade it for any of the other roles, to be honest.
When you started doing the show and acting out the part, what did you think of it? Did you think [the show] was going to be a big hit?
MS: You know, honestly, I’m not one to count my chickens ... you can have a perfect show with something great and it won’t catch on, you know. It doesn’t catch on with people. So I was hoping it would. I had a feeling it would, and I’m thankful it has, but you never know. You never know.
With all the reality shows and this generation’s attention span getting shorter, that the show kind of spans the gamut of age and genre ... I think everyone is going to find something they like.
Do you identify with the character Puck?
MS: Well, not really. I mean, [he jokes] I did get my best friend’s girlfriend pregnant a couple of times, but other than that, not so much.
What’s your favorite thing about being in “Glee”?
MS: I like that it gives me a chance to really stretch my musical chops and do some things I wouldn’t have done and sing songs I wouldn’t have ever sung. And the new family that I’m kind of a part of is great. You know, I was [going] paycheck to paycheck struggling before. That was tough.
About the cast of “Glee,” particularly Jane Lynch, what’s it like to work with that bunch?
MS: Pretty much insufferable. I’m dreading going back to filming. No, I’m just kidding. It’s great, and we all have kind of a unique back story, everyone does, and so it makes for a really eclectic group. But we’re close. We go on “Glee” press tours together and really know how to travel with each other and hang with each other. And you know, I keep it professional for the most part with everyone, but they’re still great friends.
Do you think this kind of show is going to spark more interest in glee clubs?
MS: Yeah, I think it kind of already has. We’ve had a lot of people come up to us on the press tour, a couple of people said they started glee clubs inspired by us. Hopefully, it’ll give a little more street cred to the existing ones. The one in my school, though, it wasn’t considered the losers per se, but it wasn’t exactly the cool kids either, but ...
You said you listened to a lot of grunge growing up though. What acts did you like? Did you have any favorite albums?
MS: Alice In Chains was probably my favorite grunge band. You know, I liked Nirvana and Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, of course, too, to name a few. But Alice In Chains is probably my biggest favorite of that genre.
I suppose you’ve run into some people who’ve been in glee clubs. Have they shared any stories with you about their glee-club experience?
MS: They seem to all have had positive experiences. No one has said, ‘Hey, I was the guy who got thrown in the dumpster,” so the show is kind of a satire in that way and it doesn’t just represent glee club. It’s just kind of like underdogs in any situation that maybe the dancer is persecuted for that, or the nerdy art student ... anyone who is kind of put down for doing what they love and what they’re passionate about must relate to this, not just the ones in glee clubs.
Does the show generate memories for you of your high-school experience when you get the scripts and see what some of the story lines are about?
MS: Yeah, I mean there’s a lot of things that kind of remind me about when I was a little boy. I just try to emulate that and channel that, but I was nothing like my character. I was worse (laughs) ... yeah, it’s not that similar to my high-school experience, but there are times when I feel like I’m back in high school.
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