Interview with Mike Marino - Avenue F

In the day and age of trends and over the top extreme acts, Avenue F go against the grain and play good old fashioned rock and roll. Formed from the ashes of late 90s metal act Balistik Kick, this New Jersey group forge forward with a brand new three track demo that shows the band submerged in modern tendencies, with the throwback to 70s & 80s rock. Maximum Metal got the opportunity to catch up with guitarist Mike Marino, and talk about the old days of Balistik Kick and this new monster he and the rest of Avenue F have created.

Mike Marino starts from scratch, explaining that he wasn't really into playing metal early on. Forming his first band Intruder (later to be called Shadow), named from the instrumental on Van Halen's "Diver Down", Marino quickly found out that he didn't quite possess the skills of Eddie Van Halen. He explains, "He's one of a kind in so many ways, even to this day". He hooked up with Avenue F's present day drummer Mike Betkowski and guitarist Kevin Feeney for the Intruder/Shadow lineup. Bassist Vinnie Valdes joined the band's ranks a short time later. Vocalist Tom Quinn came next.

"He was actually the first guy I started it with. I only have stuff from that on cassette. That was mid 80s when Ratt, Crue, and all that type of stuff was big. I liked that stuff, but the Van Halen vibe was what I was aiming for", says Marino. Eventually Mike Betkowski was let go, and replaced by Mike Paradine. The band slowly started to drift towards metal. When asked about the early live shows, Marino offers a familiar tale. "I was never completely comfortable playing it, but I went along with it. We played the shows, and the shows were great because we would rent a bus and take everyone there. Of course there was beer and much debauchery going on in those bus rides".

When the group became Balistik Kick, and released the first record, nothing happened. Then the band went to work on the sophomore album, "Warhead", with a discouraged Marino in the fold. "I started to really get discontent with it all. I think it was around 1996. That's why there are some songs on "Warhead" that are not very metal at all. But when we got slack from distributors and companies that it wasn't totally metal, we said fuck it we'll write an all metal album".

That's where "Destroy" comes in. It was the band's third record, and a transgression period for the guys. Marino explains, "I was trying to change the name of the band and convert us more towards hard rock. Me and Vinnie wanted to, but the other two guys did not. We got signed by Brennus records for the "Destroy" CD, and I didn't want to sign but the others guys all did. So I felt I should just go along with it, but I knew it was crap. It amounted to shit as I predicted".

The year "Destroy" was released (1999), Marino was going through some personal hardships. His mother passed away, he lost his employment, and his wife was having complications with a pregnancy. He decided to take time off from the band, and that was the beginning of the end of Balistik Kick. "I reluctantly agreed to record a few months later, and "Destroy" was born. But it was too late. Myself and the drummer couldn't get along at all and I was tired of playing to nobody and getting stares for playing metal, a music that I wasn't really into anymore. I just wanted back into hard rock. It was always simple and honest to me".

When asked about the internal stability of the group at this time, Marino responds. "I was tired of the death lyrics and lyrics that didn't mean anything. I also felt that I was playing with a drummer that could not play well enough for the songs that we had written, although he wrote some good lyrics. Also, I wanted a different vocal style than what we had. Joe was a great singer, but I wanted an STP type of singer or even a John Bush type. Somebody who wasn't flashy and worried about hitting every note. I wanted more raw emotion in the vocals along with great melodies. But Joe could tear it up metal style".

The band performed a final show, a crowd pleasing performance opening for Quiet Riot. Marino talks about the band's breakup, "I was glad it was over and I would be doing something different. I really don't think my style is better suited for metal. I don't feel I have the chops for metal. I feel I am much more of a fluid player in my current situation. There's more room in the songs for other things to be heard, not just constant guitar".

But Balistik Kick wasn't officially dead. Noise Records offered them the possibility to tour Germany. If that went well, they could record another record. But with this new proposal, the label offered a higher demand. "They wanted us to become more progressive, and have longer intros like Priest and Maiden. I turned it down. I had just gotten a really good job and my child had just been born, and besides that I wasn't into the music anymore", says Marino.

From the ashes of Balistik Kick came Ground Zero, formed by Marino and Valdes. They recruited former Balistik Kick vocalist Joe Adrignola, and a brand new drummer. With the three of them on board and the new drummer slot filled, the band went in a heavier direction, creating a sound that would be compared to Pantera. Marino explains, "I was trying to go hard rock, but when we got this drummer I was like, Wow! We are doing old 'Kick songs the way they should have been done, with double bass and everything. Our vocalist, however, simply wasn't into it and left the fold.

So the band went back to the basics, creating hard rock mixed with a new school attitude. They found a drummer in Mike Chamberlin, and Joe Adrignola came back to the group once again. He was told to sing more modern or classic rock style, which he did well. The band wasn't well received, and quickly the group found themselves searching for a new vocalist. Marino placed an ad and Jack Kemple answered. Marino talks about finding the Ground Zero vocalist, "I wasn't impressed until I heard him do "Only The Good Die Young" by Billy Joel. Previously he was doing heavy stuff and it wasn't very good. But I realized he had a very melodic voice, so we started to write. From the first song I knew I had my singer. We changed the name of the band from Ground Zero to Avenue F because of the 9/11 tragedy. I live on Avenue F and we practiced there".

They recorded their first 10 track CD at a small hole-in-the-wall 8-track studio located in their hometown of Bayonne. All of these songs were recorded live and only took 1 to 2 takes to accomplish. Itís not the best quality demo. But who cares? The songs speak for themselves.

But since that last demo was recorded, they have come up with a crop of new tunes that show that the band has stretched their wings. Their new 3-track demo was recorded at Upstart Studios in Hoboken, NJ. These new songs are just plain smokin! They have definitely upped the ante and absolutely no one will be disappointed. You can just hear these songs being played on the radio and burning a hole in the speaker of anyone who dare turn it up!

Their music is undeniably catchy and the lyrics & melodies stick to the brain like crazy glue. After listening to any of these songs, just one time, you will walk away humming them. AVENUE F pulls no punches lyrically either. With songs covering deadly addictions, tragic romance and real life situations, the song topics are easy to identify with. And if it hasnít happened to you, chances are it has to your best friend or a family member. They speak a language we all understand, LIFE! A sample of each song is available at www.AvenueF.com.

The bottom line is; AVENUE F refuses to give up until they have left their mark on the music world, in any way, shape or form. One might say, such big dreams for such a small-town band, but once you listen, youíll see why.

Marino and company already have plans for a new recording. "We are working on another three tunes. Then we will record another two new ones and two older cuts."

Mike MarinoEric Compton1/19/2005

Avenue F
Eric Compton1/1/2005

<< back >>