I'm thrilled to discover a genuine Paw forum!
I wrote the article below about Mark in 2001. Obviously it's not current information, but I thought you might like to read it. I wrote it for "Kiosk," which is the student-run arts magazine for the University of Kansas (where Mark and I both went to school).
Long live Paw. Both Grant and Mark are amazing people.
I hope you enjoy it. I'm a bit embarrassed by the juvenile nature of my writing at that time, but it's still wicked fun to remember hanging out with Mark when I interviewed him.
Sick Before, Better Now
Paw front man Mark Hennessy has conquered the anger that drove him to the brink of self-destruction. His fury may have calmed, but there’s no shortage of passion.
By John Rockhold
“I was sick before but I’m better now,” Mark Hennessy admits in the chorus of “One Handed in the Redroom,” a track from the most recent release from Lawrence’s legendary Paw. Indeed, even as Paw rose to the brink of mega-stardom eight years ago, inner rage nearly drove Hennessy to self-destruction. Never lacking drama, his life has run the gamut of emotions found in Shakespeare’s plays. At once comedy and fame, then tragedy, and finally survival and redemption, Hennessy came through tumultuous years battered and bruised, but never broken. With all the wisdom earned from that tornado journey, the 31-year-old musician, poet, painter and student welcomes the limitless opportunities of the future.
Pups and Wolverines
Given their time of arrival, Paw fell into the alternative category. In actuality, the band’s Midwestern sound arrived like nothing ever heard before.
“I’ve always felt Paw had something very special to offer the word,” said Sean Malle, creator and webmaster of paw2001.tripod.com. “They bring something very unique to the table.”
At Paw’s core is the tandem of Hennessy, vocals and lyrics, and Grant Fitch, guitar. Hennessy’s vocal range falls between savage growl and gentle lullaby. At one moment he is poignant with a soft harmony, the next, Hennessy can roar with primal ferocity.
“When people see that live they just kind of stand there with their mouth open, because the guy has so much range,” said Jeff Peterson, a DJ at Topeka rock station V100.3. Peterson also was a DJ at the pre-boy band version of 105.9 the Lazer, where Paw music was on regular rotation. “Mark just comes out in front. While Grant is a great guitar player, you almost forget about the music and just focus on Mark’s vocals. He has that perfect rock voice.”
After all these years, Hennessy admits he enjoys the harmonic side of the spectrum a little more than the guttural side. That’s not to say that there isn’t plenty of bite left in this “small dog on a short leash,” a line from “No Such Luck.”
“I’ll always enjoy barbaric yelping across the top of the world,” Hennessy said.
Fitch’s guitar also displays a sweep of notes from brutal to serene. Searing riffs flow into acoustic chords and back and forth with the subtlety of water. Fitch’s guitar unravels in each song, spinning musical yarns that perfectly compliment Hennessy’s words.
Unlike his contemporaries, Hennessy’s lyrics are accessible narratives, filled with stories that are his own yet hold common ground with anyone that knows human emotion. The storytelling dynamic is something Hennessy has always thrived on.
“The details that make those stories interesting are catholic to the extent that they touch all of us,” he said. “You write something about a dog or an ex-girlfriend and you have this sort of universal basis to start with. Your job is to avoid clichés and stereotypical language and the way that you do that is by making it real; you make it real by including detail.”
Hennessy said he’s always been “a magnet for freaks and freak occurrences.” That coupled with the fact that he “hazarded everything” and came close to “death, absolute insanity and desperation,” has provided plenty of material.
Dan Duncan, singer and guitarist for Inphobic, a Kansas City-area band, puts Hennessy in an elite class of songwriter/storytellers with Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen. Overall, the Hennessy and Fitch tandem forms “the yin and the yang” of Paw, Duncan said.
“Grant is the devil and Mark is the Jesus, and they trade off playing those roles,” he said. “They have the singer-guitarist dynamic down as well as anyone I’ve ever seen.”
Paw’s Phoenix Path
To understand the fathomless depths to which Hennessy sunk, you have to first look at the rise and fall of Paw. In 1993, Paw released their debut album, Dragline. A&M Records stood victorious among the recording industry’s largest labels in a long bidding war for the quartet. It was the glory days of the Lawrence music scene, when the national media whispered that the city would follow Seattle as the next epicenter of alternative music. Among the local bands driving that prediction, Paw was the thoroughbred. Newsweek enthroned Paw as the next Nirvana, even before the release of Dragline.
Paw’s inaugural album soon climbed into the Billboard top 100. Videos for the album’s singles appeared on MTV (they actually played music back then). “The Bridge” charted in the United Kingdom. The band toured America and overseas several times over, including a spot on the prestigious Reading Festival in the United Kingdom.
In 1995, Paw’s follow-up release, Death to Traitors, met with critical fanfare. Paul McCartney even listed Paw as one of his favorite bands. Inept support from a crumbling A&M, however, led to disappointing sales of Paw’s sophomore effort. Regardless, the band toured the world once more, including Australia. Soon thereafter, the band broke up. The parting was in large part due to volatile relations between Hennessy and Fitch.
After years of reunions and additional partings, Paw stabilized long enough to release a collection of rare tracks, Keep the Last Bullet for Yourself, in 1998. Two years later, the band released an EP, Home is a Strange Place. Paws fans worldwide held their breath in anticipation of a return to prominence. With the sudden retirement of the band’s manager due to the death of her husband, tour and publicity plans fell apart. Despite the strength of the album’s songs, it failed to reach many of the fans who had long forgotten Paw. The band was subsequently dropped from their new label, Koch.
Paw’s window of opportunity to reach a mass audience has closed, Hennessy said. Future plans are up in the air, but there is hope for a new Paw release.
“No doors have been closed,” Hennessy said. “Grant and I could get together this summer and record a Paw album and release it. I would like to record again and I know Grant would too.”
“Master of my own defeat,” is the admittance Hennessy releases at the end of the desperation-ridden song “One More Bottle.” He acknowledges the band has had the same role in its successes and failures.
“Everything we did was a personal choice,” he said. “The label wasn’t responsible for anything, nor were the world’s musical tastes. We were the authors of everything that we did. We achieved the perfect amount of success. If we’d been more successful I think that would have added to some of my problems.”
Someone Call a Doctor
For all of Paw’s immediate success, Hennessy’s personal demons constantly tore at him.
“Nobody could have stayed as angry as I was and lived,” he said. “It was sort of an incoherent rage that became self-destructive.”
The intoxicated blur that was Paw’s tours across the world loosed Hennessy’s anger.
“I didn’t have any responsibilities, I felt like I was a cowboy,” Hennessy said. “All I did was go from the van to the bar, and then go to a different town. I had a playground in which to splash my violence around me.”
Even now, Hennessy has a hard time explaining the origin of his fury. He always had a short fuse, a constant will to fight. That flammability was only exacerbated by an ironic frustration: Hennessy never felt capable of adequately expressing the thoughts he wanted to convey. Having something to say was much of what led him to sing. Perhaps that outlet unleashed emotions he was not yet ready to control.
“I think it was a product of something in me, something that went wrong in my hard-wiring when I was young,” Hennessy said.
That harkens to lines in “Hard Pig,” the last track on Dragline: “I am reborn, feeling new weight. I’m born of motion. Born of hate.”
Regardless of the cause, Hennessy was stumbling on a tightrope, without a safety net below. One statement summarizes his position: “I either had to find a way to live or find a way to die,” he said
Hennessy reached that crossroads while derelict in New York City. One Sunday afternoon, he began to work on his truck. Without tools, he had propped up the truck on cinder blocks. It wasn’t long before they split in half. Trapped underneath, Hennessy’s screams were heard by Brooklyn cops living in the neighborhood.
“The first guy came out, picked it up, and dropped it right back on my leg,” he said. “Then he got his brothers and the four of them picked it up. Nobody was more surprised than I was when I pulled my whole leg out from under it, because I thought I had lost it.”
Time spent immobilized in a hospital gave Hennessy plenty of time to evaluate his situation. For all the chaos in his life, Hennessy accepted responsibility.
“It was all things I had brought on myself,” he said. “That was definitely rock bottom for me. And it wasn’t because of the injury and not being able to walk or breaking up with my girlfriend and not having a job or a home. It was that I felt like I came close to giving up, like I was close to saying, ‘OK, that’s it.’”
That Sunday, four Brooklyn cops pulled Mark Hennessy out from physical peril. It was Hennessy, though, who left his reckless anger behind.
“I pulled my act together and it’s been rewarding in terms of what I do musically and artistically and definitely in terms of my personal life,” he said. “I’m able to communicate in a relationship for the first time in my whole life. There’s been a lot of tough decisions that have brought very positive results.”
For all of the tumult Hennessy has careened through in his life, there has always been an infallible will to survive. In the title track to Dragline, an account of Hennessy’s relationship with his father, one line defines that strength. Its subtle delivery comes with a boyish innocence, but also with a hint of weathered confidence: “Papa, you’re gonna have to kill me, to keep me down.”
Let the Wind Blow
These days, Hennessy creates in just about any medium he can find. Music is still there, as well as poetry, fiction, painting and sculpture. Each platform has its unique parameters, allowing Hennessy to express his experiences in different ways. In every effort, though, there still exists that accessible, emotional and honest narrative.
“I don’t call myself a painter any more than I call myself a construction worker, but I’ve done both,” he said. “I just classify myself as somebody who is interested in all the opportunities that life has to offer.”
The energy with which Hennessy once stoked his anger now goes toward making the most of his future.
“I have learned that my life will go on until it stops,” he said. “I have a finite amount of time, but within that I can do anything that I want to.”
Hennessy is happily married. He’s close to finishing an English degree at KU. He counsels troubled youth. He continues to write songs, books and poetry. After how close Hennessy came to falling off the tightrope above insanity, he has a passion to simply live.
“You just can’t take away from the fact that we have been given a gift, we are blessed to be alive,” Hennessy said. “To whatever degree I can use that gift, I want to. I want the world to be a better place for me having been here.”