Through the grace of God, Mark Cooke has continued to pursue his childhood dream to become a musician. Born and raised in East Texas, Mark grew up singing and writing songs of all types, especially country. Country music is what he found comfort in.
After graduating high school, Mark took a step away from music and joined the U.S. Navy. As he sailed around the world, he enhanced his vocal and writing skills. His dedication to the Navy made him a much stronger person mentally and spiritually. Throughout all of the changes happening in his life, he felt that it was time to find himself. In 1997, Mark departed from the U.S. Navy and began his music career. With all the work he did in his spare time writing songs, this year he finally has the opportunity to bring his songs to life.
Mark was excited to release his debut single, “Can’t Cheat in A Small Town” to country music listeners in the summer of 2010. His style is sure to awe fans and bring an introduction to his upcoming debut album releasing early 2011. I sat down with him to talk about the past as well as the new song just released to radio titled, “I Love It”.
Bev: Share with me a little of the history on how you got started in the music industry.
Mark: I was born and raised in East Texas in a middle class family. My father is a manager for a welding company and my mother runs hot shots for an oil field company. They are hard workers; nothing was ever handed to them and have had to earn everything they have. It makes you appreciate everything, so that is good. I have a twin sister that is three minutes older than I.
Bev: Is she in the music industry as well?
Mark: No. I think she visualized herself as a singer. She just recently told me that. The closest she has come to being in the business is that she has married my lead guitar player. She has four kids, so she stays busy.
Bev: You did not immediately go into the music business, but served in the Navy first.
Mark: I put in four years in the U.S.Navy. I have another sister, younger than me, who just came home from Iraq. It was her second tour over there. I hope she does not have to go back anymore. During my time enlisted, I saw a lot of countries during my tour of duty and I do not regret my service, although it did push back my music career. There are always things you need to do to prepare for a music career because you cannot rely on it being your career.
Shortly after I got out of the navy, the last home port I was in was Ingleside, TX which is the neighboring town to Corpus Cristi. I tried to do the music scene down there, but it just was not clicking. I went back to east Texas, immediately got myself a band and have been my lead guitarist, Joe Rodriguez, for about twelve years or so. It has been a long hard road. I worked on an oil rig in the machine shop, plus playing in the band three or four nights a week. The money was good, but I had no life and yet we managed to keep it together.
Bev: At what age did you decide that this is what you wanted to do for a living?
Mark: When I was about five years old, I started having premonitions. I saw myself on a bus and seeing signs along the highway, I heard myself on the radio, never at that time thinking about music. Now I am actually living those dreams. It makes me think that premonitions are real.
Bev: Were you involved in church and Sunday school as a young boy? Were you singing in the choir at all?
Mark: I remember back then going to church and singing up front with all the other kids, how petrified I was in front of that small country congregation that I chewed my fingernails the whole time. I remember in Boy Scouts you had to get up and put on a show and I was the lead guitarist for Van Halen on a fake guitar. I was so scared. It is amazing how somebody can change over time and how they can go from being so scared to leading their own band for the last twelve years. Family members and friends look at me and they cannot believe it is the same person.
Bev: Do you play guitar now?
Mark: I had one when I was about five years old, but I never touched it so it was sold at a garage sale. Looking back, it seems strange how everything started moving in this direction. I started writing when I was about thirteen. A neighborhood kid and I were writing parodies like “Weird Al”. They were actually pretty good for our age. I never thought I would pursue a career as a writer, or a singer or a musician. That same guy is a big producer in Austin now.
Bev: Once you decided to do this as a career, which came first, the writing or the performing?
Mark: The writing came first. I was so geared to the singing part and although I was happy about getting to write, I was hoping that the singing was right around the corner. It was not. It took about another five or so years for things to all come together.
Bev: Is this album your first official project?
Mark: Yes, it is. We compiled a few CD’s in Texas, but nothing to this extent.
Bev: You have had very good success with the first single; in your own words describe how you feel about this initial success?
Mark: I feel very fortunate and blessed that the first single went this far on the first try. With an Independent label I think they are able spend more time on one artist and make it happen maybe a little bit quicker. Which is not to say anything against the major labels, but I think these days an independent label has just as much opportunity for success as a major label. It is exciting in Nashville to see who is coming up next.
Bev: Were you part of the writing process for this current single?
Mark: No, this song has been around for awhile and I was fortunate enough to pick it up.
Bev: What drew you to the song?
Mark: I like to have fun on stage and get the crowd involved. I have noticed over the last ten or twelve years that people like that. I know that each artist out there might play the role of tough guy or a fun guy. I am more of a fun guy. I get in trouble in the office for playing pranks, whether or not I am actually the guilty party.
Bev: Along that line of thought, has there ever been a prank that has gone wrong?
Mark: No, I do not think so, although I could tell you a lot of stupid things that I have done over the years.
Bev: You just released new single “I Love It” from your forthcoming self-titled debut album. I know it was written by Philip Douglas, Ron Harbin and Jimmy Yeary and produced by Nashville veterans J.Gary Smith and John Smith of CVR; “I Love It” is already garnering attention from country radio. What do you like about the new song?
Mark: I think it has a good representation as to who I am as far as being a little more playful. It has a summer feel. I think it is the right time of the year to come out. I mean, you know, you always want to load up with a good CD and pop it in the boat when you are out on the lake or just going down the highway. It has some awesome writers on it, Jimmy Urie, Ron Hartman, Philip Douglas, all three really good guys and have good reputations as writers. I feel fortunate to have names like that on our album. I am lucky that they believe in me enough to do this.
Bev: As far as the social media have you had any funny or bad experiences?
Mark: I would say that probably the worst one was from a girl that I have never met who said she was pregnant with my baby. Now, about ninety-nine percent of the people on Facebook are courteous and play by the rules about what they write. I am the one who is actually writing on my page, no one here in the office does it for me, so something like that is embarrassing.
Bev: Do you agree that it has created a “real time” method of communicating with the fan base and getting a true feel of their reaction to the music.
Mark: Oh, I agree. You can get a quicker response today than you could five years ago. It is awesome to read something that someone writes that does not even intend on you reading it, talking about you in a positive way. It makes you know that you are on the right track.
Bev: What has been the biggest thing during a back stage meet and greet or signing autographs that has made an impact on you?
Mark: I wrote a song several years ago; when I was probably a hundred or more miles from home, back when it was all local, about someone who had died. The whole family was crying because the song reminded them of this person. They were singing that song word for word. From their emotions, I knew that they were already acquainted with the song. It was pretty touching.
Bev: Do you remember the first time you saw the crowd singing along with you and knowing the words?
Mark: Like some people can drink a lot and not remember the next morning what happened during that evening, I am one of those people who can play and play and at the end of the night I will remember seeing something from stage, but did not connect with it at that moment. It comes back slowly afterward.
Bev: I know you are busy in the studio as we speak, are there any other songs on it that you are especially excited about?
Mark: Yes, as a matter of fact I think we are planning to cut it today. I have been fortunate to have some really good writers on this album and I am going to try to do them justice and show them that I am worthy enough to do some more later on down the road. I think we are going to make a good run at this album.
Bev: Mark, it has been great visiting with you and I am looking forward to more music from you. Thank you for taking time out of your crazy schedule to share some insight on the music.
Mark: Happy to do it anytime, I will let you know as soon as the CD is ready and we can do it again.
For more information on Mark Cooke visit his website at: http://markcooke.com/