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Mark Insley becomes a supermodel

By Rick Bell, May 2003

Perhaps it would have been a bit less coincidental if Mark Insley had planned it this way.

The singer-songwriter now based in Tucson via the L.A. club scene was taken quite by surprise when he heard legendary country singer Johnny Paycheck had died. The fact that Insley included a Paycheck song on his new album was, he admits, merely out of respect for the old outlaw's contributions and was planned long before Paycheck died in February of emphysema at 64.

"I was completely surprised when I heard he died," says Insley, who was on his way to Los Angeles to finish up work on "Supermodel," his latest release on Rustic Records.

There were a couple of interviews to do, a photo shoot, and he planned to tie up a few loose ends before the album's April 22 release.

"Paycheck's the master. He taught George Jones to sing. I picked a Gary Stewart song for my last album, and after that, I wanted something darker. I've been doing Paycheck songs all my life, and this one seemed right."

If Insley wanted deeper and darker than neo-honky tonk singer Stewart's "She's Actin' Single (and I'm Drinkin' Doubles)," which was included on his "Tucson" album, he found it. Insley chose "Pardon Me (I've Got Someone to Kill)" for his ode to George Jones' former bassist, who ultimately carved out quite a niche for himself as a solo performer.

"Pardon Me," written by Aubrey Mayhew, has made the rounds of the alt.-country scene, and curiously crops up on the lists of "best of the worst" country song titles. And it fits quite appropriately on Insley's "Supermodel."

"I wanted a twisted country record," he says quite simply. "It starts like a country record, then rapidly changes pace. The first song ('Deep End of the Bar') is country, but by the third song ('Running Back to You'), it's Tom Petty rock."

Insley is hoping the record meets the same success as his past records have attained on alternative radio stations.

"Americana radio has been really good to me," he says. "I think there's just shy of 100 of them across the country. And (satellite radio company) XM radio has an all-Americana station, so I'm hoping it will get some air time."

The new album's sound and feel at times fits Americana, but also ventures into straight-ahead rock and occasionally borders on pop. While ragged at times, there's an earthy immediacy that's undeniable.

"We made the record pretty quickly," Insley says. "We went into the studio, and the way you hear the songs is pretty much the way they went down. I co-produced it, and I like to roll tape. I don't give a lot of warning."

Except, it wasn't exactly put down on tape, he says.

"It was my first foray into the digital format," says Insley, who co-produced "Supermodel" with Paul du Gre. "The entire process is much easier. I can spend a lot of time messing with it, and I don't have to cut tape. Digital is very cool. I knew when to stop, when to start, when to lose this thing and when to keep that."

Insley tracked the album in a remarkable 3 days and finished it in about 10 days, he says. The vocals are virtually live.

"Doing it live felt good," he says. "That way you can make a record for not a lot of money. We made this one for under $10,000. Anyone with a big budget can make a great record. I know guys who spend more for lunch."

Call it a junkyard budget, and Insley won't argue much. In fact, he takes a certain pride in the fact back yard items were literally picked up and used to make the record. On "Meat, the Devil," a Weber barbecue grill cover is thumped until it ultimately gave way to a palm seed pod, he says.

"It's a way to make a record that most labels would frown on," Insley says. "(Phoenix-based) Rustic Records let us do it the way we wanted. I think it's live and vibey, and makes you feel like you're in there with us."

The album is so spontaneous, people just dropped by to lend their talents, Insley says.

"(Jaw harpist) Dan Heffington showed up one day. I'd seen him at the (Ronnie Mack's) Barn Dance (at Crazy Jack's in Los Angeles) and he asked if I needed some jaw harp. Then he just showed up while we were recording. He sat down and played. Then he got up and left. It was all very spontaneous."

If there's an evolution in recording albums, perhaps Insley is more into de-evolution. Insley recalled his first album, "Good Country Junk," was done under a much different process.

"'Good Country Junk' was much more of a country record," he says of the 1997 disc. "It has that early '90s feel, real rootsy but glossy. It's a great record, and all the guys from Dwight's (Yoakam) band are on it."

Insley's next album, "Tucson" out in 1991, was a little less formal.

"'Tucson' came out right after I'd moved here," he says. While it maintained a hard country bite, it also offered a more immediate feel and featured a who's who of L.A. session people as well as Dave Alvin and Claire Muldaur.

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