BraveWords Interview: AMERICAN TEARS – The Keys To Rebellion

By Carl Begai

If the name Mark Mangold sounds familiar, it’s no small wonder given that the pop singer / songwriter / producer has a career dating back to the early ’70s. He has written songs with / for Michael Bolton, Cher, Paul Rodgers, Jennifer Rush and Laura Branigan to name a few, as well as making waves of his own with the band Touch in the early ’80s. Most recently, he co-wrote the song “Lost In Time” for Swedish melodic metallers Cyhra’s second album, No Halos In Hell. Prior to all of this, however, Mangold released three albums between 1974 and 1977 with the keyboard-dominated outfit American Tears, and the end of 2020 sees him returning to his old stomping grounds. The new album, Free Angel Express, is a massive 14-track romp of ’70s prog rock for folks that grew up in the era of warm and organic headspace-moving music, when challenging the listener was normal rather than being a contrived move for shock value. It’s a far cry from the realms of writing formulaic big money pop hits, and Free Angel Express makes it clear that Mangold is most certainly in this business for music.

“I really missed playing synthesizer solos, the freedom of American Tears,” Mangold says of resurrecting American Tears, although he is the sole remaining founding member. “I don’t know if you can call it prog, but whatever it is, it’s not normal music, it’s not formula. You don’t have a safety net. It’s very free, so this is almost like I’m rebelling against the pop music and all the generic stuff that’s out there. With all due respect to Whitesnake, Foreigner and all those great bands, how many songs ripped off from those guys do we need to hear? And the record companies, that’s all they want, and I’ve done some of those records. I’m trying to do something original with American Tears, and it was always a case of doing whatever the fuck we wanted to do and being creative.”

“Also, the political feeling of what was happening in the ’70s – it was kind of dark – reminded me of what’s happening now, at least what was happening before November 3rd. We had Nixon, Vietnam, the anti-authoritarian stuff going on, and it felt a lot like what’s going on now. A lot of the new songs are protest songs; it was a way to really find my voice to say something, otherwise I probably would have gone nuts. There’s anger in some of those songs, so it was a peaceful way to get it out. It’s kind of my taking a knee, in a way.”

In this days and age, Free Angel Express sticks out like a sore thumb largely because it’s keyboard-oriented on a level that doesn’t generally exist in 21st Century rock world. Some bands currently kicking around have that warm, classic ’70s sound – no, Greta Van Fleet doesn’t count – but Mangold owns it with American Tears. It’s a brave move putting out a record that’s going to weird out a potential younger audience with its lack of guitars and off-kilter song arrangements. Mangold is fine with that.

“Back in the ’70s people were trying to carve out their sound. The idea of this being brave…. everybody was brave in the ’70s. Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, Gentle Giant, Yes… all the best classic music that we listen to was created in those days, so why would anybody really want to suppress that as they kind of do now? Nobody was thinking about becoming like those other bands, we were thinking about how to be different because everybody wanted to have their own sound, their own signature.”

Maybe so, but it’s a safe bet that many people won’t get Free Angel Express; certainly not the first couple times through.

“It really depends on your mood,” says Mangold. “If you drink your coffee and you’re wired, you’ll want to do your three minute songs. It takes an open mind to listen to American Tears. If someone is open to not hearing guitar for a second and just listening to the melody of the music I think it’s a much more enjoyable experience. When you create a tapestry with a mellotron, an organ, real strings and maybe some arpeggiating synthesizer, it creates an animal that is none of those instruments. My goal was to chase my adrenaline and get the hair on my arms to stand up. When that mesh happens it hits you in another way, it moves you.”

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