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Mark Insley becomes a supermodel

By Rick Bell, May 2003

Page 2...

With "Supermodel," the song mix is as unpredictable as the album itself.

"Some are more immediate," he says. "One I wrote on the way to the studio. One, on the way to cut a demo."

Insley had sung 1 song for several years, while another had rattled around for 10 or 15 years, he says.

"Some are old, and some are especially for this record," he says. Insley co-wrote two songs, which he noted can be a chore in itself.

"Co-writing's not an easy thing," he says. "The ability to get with someone and create something we both like is a challenge. It's much different than doing something on your own. The idea of writing in a collaborative way can be difficult."

But in this case, Insley was quite satisfied with the results - much like his feeling with "Supermodel" in general.

"The whole idea is to make something profitable," he says.

Apparently the hardscrabble surroundings of the Arizona desert around Tucson suit Insley's creativity. Insley, who originally is from Kansas, dropped in on the L.A. music scene at its roots-rock zenith in the mid-1980's. He met the likes of Lucinda Williams, Buddy Miller, Jim Lauderdale, Alvin and members of The Knitters.

"I was in a bluegrass band for several years when you couldn't get arrested for that kind of stuff," he says. He then played the country bars and finally began to focus on his own songs.

"I shifted to my own material, got my first deal and took the next step up," he says. "That was in 1995. It took 10 to 12 years to get to that point, but I'm glad I did it. It was a really good scene."

Among the people he met was guitar legend Albert Lee, who first started in his native England with the band Head, Hands and Feet, then took on legendary status in country circles as the fiery electric lead player in Emmylou Harris' Hot Band of the mid-1970s.

"Albert and I used to do a lot of gigs together," he says. "We just hit it off. He is one of the greatest guitar players I have ever heard, yet he's so humble. I'll never forget that. I was honored to stand in front of a band with him in it.

"Albert loves the old country stuff. And he'd have the audience jumping out of their seats in utter amazement. He's so clean, so right when he's live. The guy's on fire."

While Lee is absent from the new album, "Supermodel" features many of the same artists as his first two records.

"Rick Shea played on the first album; so did David Raven," he says. "It's almost everyone, the same cast of characters from the first album."

Insley says moving to Tucson has proven to be quite positive. Though it's tucked far from the lights and clubs of any major music scene, it has a feel all its own.

"It's smaller, but it's very positive," he says. "Anything you do here the people appreciate, and they'll turn out for you. When friends from Southern California come through I book shows with them."

Insley says he was at this year's South By Southwest music fest in Austin and while a number of acts impressed him, it was a hometown band that he thought shined brightest.

"Calexico played at Antone's," he says. "They blew everyone away, as far as I'm concerned. I'm into three chords of distorted rock, and it was a great show."

Insley gives credit - or perhaps places the blame - for Tucson's musical fertility on its seemingly endless summers.

"When it's 105 here," he says, "you spend a lot of time inside working on your music."

Tucson also has other advantages, Insley added. His touring base allows him to venture to Texas without losing his Southern California roots.

"It's different from Southern California," he says. "They still know my name there. But in Southern California, you have to go a long way to get anywhere."

As with Paycheck, Insley is a big fan of another outlaw - Willie Nelson. Insley opened for Nelson recently in an intimate 1,300-seat theater in Sierra Vista, Ariz. Insley says he was so self-conscious about opening for Willie that he purposely cut his show short.

"We were having a really good time onstage," he says. "His sound men came to us after we finished and said they really liked us, but that we had time to play about five more songs. But I've learned you never overstay your welcome with someone like that."

Insley also got a firsthand look at how someone holds a crowd in the palm of his hand.

"Willie played for 2 hours and I enjoyed every minute of it," says Insley, who talked enthusiastically about how Willie's band has been intact as long as he can remember.

"You know what it is about him? He's accessible to his fans. He stood there as the band played the last song and shook hands for about a half-hour. Then about 30 old people stuck around after the show. They were just sitting in the auditorium. A little while later Willie came back out and played just for them."

Yet, as close as Insley was to Willie backstage, he decided not to meet him.

"When they brought him into the show, I stepped to the side," he says. "If I shake his hand and introduce myself, he's not going to remember me. I didn't want to clutter up the hallway after the show out of respect for him. I just stood back and watched him work his magic."

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