Goldmine spoke with Donnie Vie about his Beatles-inspired album Beautiful Things, his time in Enuff Z’Nuff, and a new cover and video for “Instant Karma.” Mark Mangold discussed the new album White Flags by American Tears, who evolved from the ‘80s band Touch. Both albums are available through Deko Music.
Win both sealed CDs from Deko Music – see below for details.
By Warren Kurtz
DONNIE VIE debuted in the Top 100 in late 1989 as a member of the Chicago rock band Enuff Z’Nuff with the single “New Thing.” “Fly High Michelle” followed in early 1990. Now Donnie is back with an album that sounds heavily influenced by The Beatles, with a touch of Elvis Costello vocals, called Beautiful Things.
GOLDMINE:Congratulations on Beautiful Things. This album is so enjoyable.
DONNIE VIE: Thank you. I hadn’t written music in about four years. I went away, isolating myself in a cottage, and wondered if I still had it. After the first two songs, I smiled and said to myself, “Yes. I can still do this.”
GM:I love the “Day Tripper”-like guitar opening on “Plain Jane,” the bridge which sounds like what my wife Donna enjoys about Badfinger, and the harmonies that you and Phil Angotti deliver.
DV: There are song lyrics inspired by supermodels. “Plain Jane” is a tribute to the non-supermodels who have plenty of beauty and kindness to share. This is one of the last songs that I wrote for the album. You mention “Day Tripper.” I was initially concerned that the guitar part wasn’t original enough. I listened many times to it to ensure that it was original.
GM:“Breaking Me Down” is a bit softer, reminding me a bit if Elvis Costello would perform “And I Love Her.”
DV: I think that Elvis Costello and I both have the same nasal sound. I got turned on to him and Squeeze at the same time beyond my formative years. “Breaking Me Down” was the second song that I did for the album and the one that convinced me that I still had it, fortunately.
GM:“I Could Save the World” has a slow introduction, leading to a steady beat and ultimately Roger Joseph Manning’s keyboard string arrangement. Goldmine readers can check out this song on your website. You reference a lot of band names in this song. I like the line that references the AC/DC song, “We shook with AC/DC all night long.”
DV: This is the first song that I wrote for the album, so you can say it is important to me, bringing me back to creating music to share with others. I loved Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, AC/DC and I touched on all of them and I thought it came out pretty well.
GM:On “Whatever” you sang, “I heard ‘Ticket to Ride’ on my daddy’s 45.”
DV: I don’t remember everything from my youngest ages. I really didn’t have my father in my life, but the few times that I did see him I would try to take something away from it. He told me that “Ticket to Ride” was the first song that I would sing along to at the age of two or three. I had the early Beatles records and I would play them like “Please Please Me” and the flip side of that, “From Me to You.” I remember their records appealed to me and I would gravitate toward them. I would study that music, like a professor, for many, many years. When you work at something that hard and that long you better be pretty good at it to be a professional musician.
GM:The opening of “Fallin’ Through the Pages” immediately reminds me of The Romantics’ “What I Like About You.” The guitar is doubled with Johnny Monaco joining you. Ed Breckenfeld is solid on drums.
DV: I used to have a website called The Vie Club when I first took a break around 2000 and 2001. I used to turn out one or two songs a week for that club, but the sound production was never good. I didn’t know what I was doing. I couldn’t mix oil and vinegar. “Fallin’ Through the Pages” is one that just sat around through the years and I just happened to hear it again. It is the only song on the new album that I play bass on.
GM:There is a song which is just Alton Smith’s piano and your vocals and keyboard string arrangement, the gentle “Fly.”
DV: I think that was the third song that I wrote for the album. I was on the fence on that one, if it was going to make the cut, because it is pretty soft compared to the other songs, but everyone liked it, so we redid it with Alton redoing my piano parts, because he is really good. Writing and singing is really my thing. I play a lot of instruments, but there are others who play much better than me, like Alton, who played it live. I sang with him and it came out really nice.
GM:It is gentler, but looking back 30 years ago, “Fly High Michelle” from your Enuff Z’Nuff days is a great power ballad. I love that one.
DV: Well thank you. That’s a baby song, very early in my career. I appreciate it for what it was. A lot of people still love it.
GM:In addition to all The Beatles influence on Beautiful Things, you take on John Lennon’s sole gold single of the ‘70s, “Instant Karma,” on your website. In addition to the music, the video contains messages of “end animal cruelty” with cute dog photos and a lot on “no cyber bullying.”
DV: I have a buddy who would record favorite songs for singers with the background instruments for you to add vocals. So, I took that track for “Instant Karma” and sang to it. My buddy Mike Tholen, who produced the Beautiful Things album, mixed “Instant Karma” and it sounded really good. The album was done, I was in the hospital with pancreas problems for a month and felt an overwhelming amount of love and support which drove me to get better. I knew this would delay my album and I wanted to get something out in the meantime and do a quick video for “Instant Karma.” My son was going to a student rally and it was his idea to get the whole student body to sing “we all shine on.” We shot the piano on the pier part just two days after I was out of the hospital. When it was all put together I felt it needed a purpose. This video was created out of love and it was a John Lennon song, so that was appropriate. In addition to the animal cruelty message, where animals need good homes, somebody brought up anti-bullying. I read the statistics on that and it just broke my heart. I was bullied. One of my cousins hung himself because he was bullied and another one asphyxiated himself because he was bullied, so I knew that area very well. Then I started seeing the ages on some of those kids and the statistics showed that one third of all deaths of youths is suicide and a third of that is from bullying. We are trying to get the video to as many awareness groups as possible to see if they can use it. It is just a bonus cut. The Japan market always wants a bonus track, too, to add to an album with a competitive theory, “This is only available on the Japanese release.” The Japan market is strong for rock.
GM:The video’s ending of the rolling list of the names and ages of the youth who have passed is certainly tearful but a needed message.
DV: I have three simple messages on the back of my CD and at my website, stop the hate, share the love and save the world.
GM:Thank you for your time today and for your music for our Goldmine Giveaway.
DV: Now with this Goldmine Giveaway, are you giving me away? If so, please make sure I go to a good home. Thank you.
AMERICAN TEARS is not only led by keyboardist and songwriter Mark Mangold, but he is also the current sole member, who also plays bass and drums on the new 11-song album. Mark’s voice sounds like a blend of Steppenwolf’s John Kay, Joe Cocker and David Lee Roth, with rock keyboards being the driving sound on White Flags.
GM:What is the connection between American Tears and the band Touch?
MARK MANGOLD: There were two American Tears keyboard-trio records and for the third we added Craig Brooks on guitar and evolved into a band called Touch.
GM:The first charting single for Touch was “(Call Me) When the Spirit Moves You” on the Atco label in 1980.
MM: Yes, followed by our next single, “Don’t You Know What Love Is,” in 1981.
GM:I hear the keyboards on both songs and think of a pair of Canadian bands, Prism for the first single and Loverboy for the second. I also hear a bit of Styx in that sound.
MM: A signature move that we had, which is something that Deep Purple did, is if there was a guitar solo, it was almost always followed by a keyboard solo. It was something that we liked to do to establish that we could play both instruments well.
GM:The second single’s flip side, “There’s a Light,” took a softer turn.
MM: Yes, there were softer bands out at the time like Ambrosia and Pablo Cruise, so that vibe was also around with a lot of harmonies, too. There also was a second Touch album that we did with Todd Rundgren producing. It was not released by Atco at the time but over the years it has come out on various European labels, which some people say is as good as or even better than the first Touch record. It was mixed by Bob Clearmountain. Then we did another song, the edgier “Take it Back,” which we hoped would revive interest. It was produced by Roger Glover of Deep Purple, but it wasn’t enough to pull the record company back into the fold. Our manager, Bruce Payne, also managed Rainbow, and we toured with them. Then I went on to a band called Drive She Said with a great singer, Al Fritsch, and we did six records. We signed to Columbia and had a lot of success in Europe. We toured with many bands including FM and UFO. After that I was in a band called The Sign and did two records and then I was in Flesh & Blood with Al Pitrelli.
GM:My family sees Al every December in Orlando with Trans-Siberian Orchestra. In addition to watching Al on guitar, and the violin and string section, the keyboards fascinate me in the same way as what you bring to American Tears. What drove you to revive that band name?
MM: A couple of years ago the political environment seemed to change, like what we saw in the ‘70s when American Tears had its beginning. There was a generational revolution going on then and it was feeling to me like where we are now, so I got back into keyboards. After doing a lot of pop work with Michael Bolton and others, it felt freeing to have all these keyboard sections on new songs.
GM:You mentioned Roger Glover from Deep Purple, and on the new album, the song “Pitch Black” reminds me of that band, not only with the keyboards but also with the steady drums.
MM: Also, one of my favorite bands is AC/DC and I was wondering what AC/DC might sound like with keyboards. I love the sound of a grinding Hammond organ that we heard from Jon Lord from Deep Purple. If you turn up the volume, that’s what happens. I grew up with Hammond organ bands in the ‘60s in New York City where I would go to clubs and see Vanilla Fudge and The Rascals. I had my recording debut 50 years ago, in 1969, as a member of the band Valhalla. We had an album out on the United Artists label with that Hammond sound.
GM:Another keyboard sound that I hear in your style is that of Keith Emerson. The album opens majestically with a touch of an ELP synthesized drive on “Turn U On.” Lyrically you reference The Beatles with the line “I’d love to turn you on,” which we know from “A Day in the Life” from Sgt. Pepper.
MM: That just happened. I tried to put a lot of vocals on there, like The Beatles, and I thought it set the stage for what the album is about.
GM:You mentioned the ‘70s and the Vietnam era and I think of Grand Funk, especially their “Footstompin’ Music,” on the longest song on the album, “Fire Down Below.”
MM: Oh, cool. I love Grand Funk, “We’re an American Band,” and songs like that.
GM:My wife Donna and I saw Mark Farner a few years ago and were amazed, especially on “Closer to Home” with its multiple parts. You bring interesting multiple part keyboard sections to “Wake Up City.”
MM: I was thinking about people needing to wake up. In a way it is a political song, maybe not so obvious, just another way of saying, “Please open your eyes.”
GM:You might get that perspective by spending part of your time in the U.S. and part of your time in Europe.
MM: I originally came to Europe for the music. Stockholm is a very musical town in terms of writing and producing. It is kind of like how New York was in decades past. There is a lot of collaboration and songwriting. It is a beautiful town. If people would travel more it would open their eyes and reduce the fear of different cultures and different ideas. They certainly care about children in Sweden with extensive paid time off for parents for raising their children. They are smart, and I like how they do things.
GM:You bring out dramatic emotion in “Give Me More,” reminding me of Italy’s Zucchero, who is popular throughout Europe.
MM: I love Zucchero! Hearing that in me is probably about the rasp in my vocals, doing the best that I can. I certainly don’t have the great voice of many singers who I have worked with. My goal is to try to transfer emotion.
GM:“Hell or High Water” is a song where you definitely transfer emotion. I think of KISS’ “Hell or Hallelujah,” the opening song on their latest album Monster, and your playful keyboards take me back to the ‘60s with Ramsey Lewis’ jazz interpretation of the spiritual “Wade in the Water.”
MM: I will have to check those out.
GM:In preparing for today I checked out Laura Branigan’s version of “I Found Someone” that you cowrote with Michael Bolton. I know, love and have multiple copies of the Cher version but I missed this great predecessor. I have Laura’s first three albums, but not her fourth which includes this single. What a great talent she had and what sad news it was 15 years ago, losing her to an undiagnosed medical condition.
MM: She was an amazing lady and an amazing singer. I also wrote songs with her brother Billy Branigan, who is such a nice guy, and an artist in his own right. I was so happy when Laura recorded the song. Then of course when Cher did it, which was very cool. I met Michael Bolton in New York in the ‘80s. In those days there were clubs where everybody would be. Touch had just started having success. I had received a call from Michael’s manager who suggested that we write together. I bumped into Michael at a club and we set up writing sessions, became good friends and wrote a bunch of songs.
GM:Around the time of Touch debuting, so was Silver Condor with your friend Joe Cerisano, another person, like Al Pitrelli, who has worked with Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
MM: I love Joe. He is a good friend, too. I love his voice. That was an explosive time in New York, like what I now see in Stockholm. I am looking forward to playing the new songs live. I have lined up a couple of players to join me so that we can have concerts to showcase the new songs. Thank you so much for this interview. In addition to the CDs, I’ll supply T-shirts for the Goldmine Giveaway winners. too (see below).
To win both recordings from Deko Music—and American Tears T-shirt—all you have to do is put your email and address in the boxes below by July 31, 11:59 p.m. You will immediately be entered in the Goldmine Giveaway and as a bonus you will receive our informative eNewsletter from Goldmine (collecting news/tips and exclusive articles and interviews with your favorite classic artists). We will randomly draw winners from the entrants. Deko Music has supplied us with two copies of Donnie Vie’s Beautiful Things CD and two copies of American Tears’ White Flags CD to give away, so your chances are doubled. Mark Mangold will also supply the winners with American Tears T-shirts and we will obtain your size choices from the winners via email.