Q&A with Mark Pszenny, hailing from the midlands of South Carolina, offers a soulful but edgy rock blues show

"The blues is at the heart of almost all American music, it must be preserved, fostered and carried forward for generations to come. If, not we may eventually lose the human element from the crux of all music."

Mark Pszenny: Funky Blues-Rock Vision

The Pszenny Project, hailing from the midlands of South Carolina, got their start in 2022 coming off the heels of a global pandemic that left much of the world starving for new music. Mark Pszenny, the band’s namesake, along with a few guys that were feeling the same itch to create, answered that call flawlessly! Pulling inspiration from favorites such as Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Albert King, Robert Johnson, and Freddie King, Mark found his own creativity deeply ingrained into these roots. Blending that with funk and styles of contemporary artists, they offer a soulful but edgy rock blues show that is unlike anything else you’ll hear! Pair that with energy and a fresh approach to tried and true music and you’ll be begging for more! Mark Pszenny started his musical journey after hearing iconic albums by the likes of Derek & The Dominoes, Led Zeppelin and Cream. With that foundation, Mark gravitated to blues greats and discovered the roots of the music that moves his soul. Artists such Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Albert King, Freddie King & Buddy Guy to name a few completed Mark's love for the blues and the blues rock we know today.                             

(Photo: The Pszenny Project are Mark PszennyRoss Fleming IIIJohn Bunucci, Sam Hilliard)

The Pszenny Project’s new self-titled album (2023) crystallizes bandleader Mark Pszenny’s funky blues-rock vision. Tapping into an array of influences from across the blues spectrum and infusing twists of rockabilly, funk and old school R&B (or, as it was called in the 1950s, rock and roll) into the mix, the band knows when to stretch it out and when to keep things close to the vest. Either way, the grooves stay tight and locked in the pocket no matter where the songs take them. He formed the band in 2019 after relocating from New England to South Carolina and began to find like-minded musicians, carefully crafting the right lineup. Across 12 original tracks, The Pszenny Project reveals itself to be a dense, multi-layered album, with touchstones from all over the musical roadmap coming into play. The band melds key elements of the Texas, Chicago, Memphis and Detroit schools of blues into an all-new framework that relentlessly powers through all the forward gears on the shifter to exacting and ultimately satisfying results.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues/Rock music influenced your views of the world? What does the blues mean to you? 

That’s a great question. Blues and rock & roll music transcends to all cultures, languages and regions of our great planet. I have followers on social media from all the above. We are connected in the spirit of music and not caught up in the differences of ideology. Blues/Rock music has shown me that despite any differences we may have, we share far more similarities. The love of blues and rock music exposes those similarities and paves the way to overcome and overlook whatever differences may be present. Blues to me is epitome of emotions, heart & soul. The music itself is based off of a I-IV-V chord progression which, is considered by many, to be very simple. It is however, in that simplicity, that the greatest freedom of expression can be found, and I love that!

How do you describe your sound and songbook? What's the balance in music between technique and soul? 

Until now, I’ve not yet given either my sound or songbook much of any thought. As far as my sound, I’m a minimalist & perhaps a bit of a purist. I prefer a good old fashioned tube amp and play/write music from that mindset. I’m never looking to over complicate a piece of music for the sake of being more technical. I’d rather keep it simple and absorbable to my listeners. My guitar playing and singing is much more based on my current mood than it is technique. Thus far all the lyrics I’ve written come from the life I’ve lived. Chronic Pain for example, was written because I am afflicted with chronic lower back and hip pain. Soul will always beat out technique so long as the technique isn’t so poor that the music suffers.

"Keep at it; the hard work will eventually pay off. I’m not saying it will create wealth or fame but, it will create satisfaction, good times and be a great ride! That’s what it’s all about. Many forces will fight against you, don’t give up. A friend of mine, Stoney Love, once told me write “your” story and he’s 100 % correct. I wrote my story and there is no better feeling." (Photo: Mark Pszenny)

Why do you think that South Carolina Blues continues to generate such a devoted following? 

There is a very devoted underground blues following in the South Carolina Midlands. However, there are very few venues, particularly the medium to larger venues which, would be a great fit for blues & blues rock, that show next to zero interest in this genre. The underground mesh for SC blues survives off of sheer love and passion for the genre. I think this passion is driven by the network of local musicians who will always carry the torch and continue play, sing and write blues music despite the challenges of landing local gigs.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many to chose from years gone by but, one that immediately sticks out is from the South Carolina, Midlands, underground blues scene.  It was 2019 just after I relocated from my hometown in New England to South Carolina. Due to multiple surgeries, I had a lengthy hiatus from playing music with others or at least in a serious jamming or public situation. I had heard of a blues jam that took places on Tuesday evenings at a place called the bluz shack. This wasn’t a night club or a bar; it was literally a run-down shack where the areas finest blues musicians gathered to just jam. The 1st time I walked into the bluz shack, I was in awe; it was pure magic. These cats where fantastic in every sense just laying down some of the best blues I’d ever experienced or heard on any level. They took me in immediately and treated me like I was always there. The feeling was pure bliss and surreal. Sadly, the Bluz shack died with COVID and many of those great players either since passed away or disappeared from public. I will never forget them or what they did for me both musically and personally.  

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I miss shopping in record stores and listening to music as it’s meant to be heard. So much is lost in hearing music from our devices and small Bluetooth speakers. The music is way too compressed from those mechanisms. I remember spending hours at the record store listening to the likes Led Zeppelin, Derek & the Dominoes and so many more before deciding which album to purchase that week and crank through my massive hi-fi stereo system. I miss going to great concerts at reasonable ticket prices. I miss that music was more about music than it was about perfection. Auto-tune is making it too easy right? My hope is, despite advances in technology, that the human factor remains at the crux of the arts, especially music. I fear technology will slowly ameliorate the human factor from the arts and especially music.

"There is a very devoted underground blues following in the South Carolina Midlands. However, there are very few venues, particularly the medium to larger venues which, would be a great fit for blues & blues rock, that show next to zero interest in this genre. The underground mesh for SC blues survives off of sheer love and passion for the genre. I think this passion is driven by the network of local musicians who will always carry the torch and continue play, sing and write blues music despite the challenges of landing local gigs." (Photo: The Pszenny Project are Mark Pszenny on vocals, lead guitar; Ross Fleming III on drums; John Bunucci on bass, vocals; Sam Hilliard on rhythm guitar, vocals)

What is the impact of Blues and Rock music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Blues and rock music holds the ability to bridge the gap between emotions and life’s experiences. It houses the potential to draw out sadness, joy, anger or uncertainty and channel it to something good. A song from start to finish can magically jettison the negative emotions and harness the happy emotions. We sing and dance in unison to music, forget about our differences while celebrating our common ground. I would like to see our love for music continue to foster our common grounds and bring us together despite our differences.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Keep at it; the hard work will eventually pay off. I’m not saying it will create wealth or fame but, it will create satisfaction, good times and be a great ride! That’s what it’s all about. Many forces will fight against you, don’t give up. A friend of mine, Stoney Love, once told me write “your” story and he’s 100 % correct. I wrote my story and there is no better feeling.

Do you think there is an audience for blues music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

There is a very big audience for blues and blues rock. However, the genre needs help at the grass roots level; local music scenes and venues must help foster a resurgence. As long as young players keep immerging, there is hope. King Fish, at the rightful age of 24 is carrying a huge torch, Eric Gales, Derek Trucks & his beautiful wife, Susan Tedeschi and The Pszenny Project are all bringing blues to younger generations ad/or helping to keep the blues alive & well. I would encourage local venues at all levels to incorporate blues and blues rock back into the local scenes. If not, they could single handedly aid in the demise of the world’s greatest musical genre.

"Blues and rock & roll music transcends to all cultures, languages and regions of our great planet."

(Photo: Mark Pszenny)

Why was the Blues never a part of the pop/popular music? Why is it important to we preserve and spread the blues?

I would offer that blues has been a part of popular music for many years. All that early R&R from the likes of Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and many others enjoyed immense popularity and they, brought the blues along for the ride. At the time however, the true blues greats like Muddy Waters, Albert King, B.B. King and so many others were largely ignored in popular music sadly due to segregation and racism. It’s very ironic as without those guys and the likes of them, there would be no blues and other sub-genres. We literally owe the greats our gratitude and then some. Unfortunately, in recent times, blues has all but disappeared from popular music. I think blues is very misunderstood and often written off as slow, boring, repetitive music that will empty a room. This is why local venues shy away from booking blues acts. This stereotype couldn’t be further from the truth. Why is it important? The blues is at the heart of almost all American music, it must be preserved, fostered and carried forward for generations to come. If, not we may eventually lose the human element from the crux of all music.

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