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Wauwatosa resident a one-man band

Love, loss and a passion for music inspire Mark Lansing's work

Mark Lansing strums one of the acoustic guitars from his collection in his home studio where he produced his solo CD "Solstice".

Mark Lansing strums one of the acoustic guitars from his collection in his home studio where he produced his solo CD "Solstice". Photo By C.T. Kruger

March 5, 2013

With over thousands of hours and three years of work put into writing and recording every instrument and vocal track of his CD, Wauwatosa resident Mark Lansing is a veritable one-man band.

His album, Solstice, which he recorded in his basement, isn't his first foray into solo recording. Rather, it is another step on his long and musical road of life.

California dreaming

Lansing knew from a very early age that he wanted to be deeply involved in music. A child of the 60s, his heroes, whose influence can be heard on his album, were greats of the time like Jimmy Hendrix, Eric Clapton and, of course, the Beatles.

As a 17-year-old, Lansing would play at a venue called Teensville in Thiensville. One night after a particularly rowdy performance, which Lansing said consisted of him playing guitar with his teeth, a Warner Brothers record executive gave him his card, telling him he was good and asking him to come to California some day.

As soon as Lansing graduated from high school, he packed up his guitar and headed to California, where he played in various bands including The Flying Machine, whose song "Smile a Little Smile for Me" saw national radio play.

He continued touring and playing with various bands including Tony's Tigers and the Skunks, even helping Alice Cooper record the guitar track for "School's Out," while their guitarist was sick.

Everything changed in 1974 when he landed a full-time job at General Motors. Although he continued recording music and touring sporadically, his day job was his main source of income.

Cars to guitars

Lansing married, remarried, had a son and toured sporadically during his 30 years at GM. He said that GM was very lenient with him, allowing him to take leaves of absence while he toured with bands like the Doo-Wop Daddies. His wife worked as a food manager for WE Energies.

In 2004, Lansing and his wife both decided they were done with corporate jobs and both switched to working full time on their art. His wife operates the butterfly garden at the State Fairgrounds and paints guitars, most notably painting a guitar for Three Dog Night.

Eventually, Lansing moved on from GM.

"I feel great," he said. "How can you not? I get up in the morning and can start working on my art. My wife can work on her stuff and sometimes we'll work on projects together."

Life for Lansing, however, ground to a halt when his son died at the age of 30 in 2005.

According to Lansing, his life was a train wreck for five years. He couldn't write or record music, but he still toured with the Doo-Wop Daddies.

To overcome his sense of loss and grief, he recorded "Fly With the Angels," track nine on his album.

"I had to make that song happen," he said. "After I did that song, I felt a certain sense of relief and I felt like I was free to explore over avenues of my musical psyche."

Castles, rock and compost

"Solstice" covers myriad topics, from a simple rock and roll question in "What Would You Say?" to 16th century England in the song "This is Love" and to Lansing's first wife and divorce in "Goodbye."

According to Lansing, he pulls motivation from anywhere he can. Most of his songs are personal, but he said he could find inspiration from a person walking down the road.

"I usually write a song that's in my head and I take that song and just let it compost inside of me," Lansing said. "Different parts then come to the song. Different word verses, different chord structures come and eventually I get what I call a finished product."

Lansing first records a rudimentary beat on a drum machine, then adds more rhythm layers including bass guitar, rhythm guitar and eventually drums. He then continues to add layer after layer of instrumentation and singing. Some of his songs can have over five voices, all his, in the album.

Admittedly his own worst judge and taskmaster, Lansing agonized over the details of his album. Everything had to be perfect for him when he released it.

He released "Solstice" Feb. 19 via many channels, including Amazon.com, iTunes, CD Baby and on his website. Amazon sold out of its hundreds of CD stock within five days of release.

As far as how the album sounds, Lansing said, "I haven't had anyone throw it at me and yell 'pull!'. Nobody is using it to balance their chair. I'm very happy. I'm doing what I love and like. It's my art and I couldn't be happier doing that."

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