Mark Heylmun Interview: Jackson Guitars, ‘Stranger Things,’ & Metal – Hollywood Life

Mark Heylmun’s Advice To New Metal Fans Is To Stay Open-Minded: ‘Everyone Is Welcome’

While celebrating the new line of Jackson guitars, Suicide Silence shredder Mark Heylmun shares a word of advice to metal fans -- especially those flocking to the genre due to 'Stranger Things.'

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Image Credit: Courtesy of Jackson Guitars

It’s safe to say that Mark Heylmun is no stranger to metal. Since 2006, he has been the sick six seven-string-slinger in Suicide Silence, shredding solos and faces equally with his blistering riffs and neck-crunching breakdowns. And long before joining the band —  and partnering with Jackson guitars for the 2022 launch of their American Series Soloist SL3 — he was, most importantly, a fan. So, Mark knows that thrill Stranger Things fans experienced when they first heard Eddie Munson play “Master of Puppets.” While some have christened that moment the birth of a new generation of metalheads, Mark tells HollywoodLife that he’s been seeing these new fans at shows for a while. “I think no matter what metal is a niche thing  — and that’s what makes it cool,” he tells HollywoodLife.

“It’s not for everyone, not everyone gets it, and they’re not supposed to,” he says in an EXCLUSIVE interview. “I think I’ve been so engulfed in the metal world and the scene that I see people gravitating to metal at all times. I also see people being repulsed by it, and I honestly love that too.” Mark notes that he “can’t really say” that he’s seen more people gravitating to metal than normal, but he does see how the underground has made its way to the spotlight. “I do recognize that metal is a bit more standard knowledge these days,” he explains. “Everyone from Ozzy to Metallica and all the way to Slipknot have kind of made it common for there to be some sort of surface level awareness of metal and what it’s about. It’s almost like metal is a part of the counterculture, but counterculture has become a part of the mainstream, to an extent.”

Courtesy of Jackson Guitars

That said, Mark has noticed a difference in the new generation of fans. “I think modern metalheads are a bit more open-minded than they were when I first started getting into it. As I’m doing the interview, I’m in Texas on tour, and I just saw an old-school dude I probably met over 15 years ago, and he was a young kid at the time, maybe 13 or 14. Now, I see him wearing a metal-looking Billie Eilish shirt, still rocking long hair, and the standard metal look. For me, that would be the equivalent of someone wearing a Backstreet Boys shirt or a Britney Spears shirt, and that would get you scoffed at by any metalhead.”

“My advice to the next generation of metalheads is keep the open-minded attitudes and the inclusion that you guys and girls bring to the scene,” he adds. “This may not be for everyone, but everyone is welcome if they wanna be a part of it.”

For those who want to take their newfound (or their years-long) love of metal to the next step, there’s the new American Series Soloist from Jackson Guitars. Advertised as being “Fast as F#*!,” the new line has been radically engineered for innovation and speed. The high-performance Soloist is the next chapter of the Jackson brand, and Mark has been proudly playing his Custom Rhoads for a while now. In an EXCLUSIVE interview, Mark discusses what makes Jackson the ideal guitar for metal, the first time he fell in love with a Jackson guitar, and what he would play if caught in Eddie’s position in the Upside Down.


HollywoodLife: With the Jackson American Series Soloist SL3, the brand launched a high-end guitar that’s finely tuned for metal performance. However, Jackson has always been synonymous with metal, from thrash to heavy to all sorts of shredding. What is it about Jackson guitars that makes them a fit for metal?  

Mark: I think there are a lot of factors that come into play on why Jackson’s have been synonymous with ripping and all genres of metal. The slicker neck radiuses come to mind first and foremost. Prior to Jacksons, you’d likely pick up a Strat with a U contour neck or a Les Paul that was also a baseball bat. Jackson perfected the D contour shred necks and the addition of a compound radius. Sleeker necks lead to easier playability which means shredders can play faster and harder and have more command over the instrument. Now with that said, I think the necks are a given why metalheads choose Jackson, but there’s an aesthetic to Jackson’s guitars — which you have to bring up the invention of the Rhoads V and how metal that guitar looks and the impact Randy [Rhoads, the late guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne] had on the generations of metal guitar players to come.

Now, this was all before my time, but I know these things because they were a part of the prerequisite knowledge growing up as a young metalhead. Jackson set a precedent long ago and the reverberations of that still last to this day. The American Soloist maintains that precedent with a classic, modern, and high-caliber metal guitar.

Courtesy of Jackson Guitars

Judging by the forums I found, gear heads noticed your shift for Jackson last year. Since switching to the Custom Rhoads, has your playing changed at all? Has the instrument challenged you or enhanced your skills?

I’m sure most guitar players know that no matter what gear you play, you’re gonna sound like yourself. No matter what amp you use, pedal you buy, or new guitar you spend a million dollars on… it’s still you playing it. If you don’t know that, trust me — it’s true. But there’s a certain power that lives inside certain guitars and Jacksons are as powerful as they come. Doesn’t matter if it’s an import, one of these new American Series or a made to your specs custom shop… they got some serious damn mojo living in ’em and all of ’em hold a different energy.

The way that I play when I pick up my Rhoads is definitely like an amplification of me — it’s like a level up. My bandmates have said it too, telling me “sounds like you’re playing a Jackson.” I think I’ve been such a fan of Jackson my whole life that playing a seven-string Jackson has just helped me step into my own a bit more. I feel at home, and truthfully it helped me channel my favorite album we’ve written to date that will come out next year called Remember… You Must Die.

Do you remember the first time you fell in love with a Jackson guitar? Like, you saw a Jackson, and you knew that either you needed that guitar, or that you wanted to capture that feeling that guitar gave you? 

It’s kind of an amalgamation of memories to be honest. Randy Rhoads pictures in the Guitar World with his Jacksons, old Metallica photos, and Marty Friedman… but one that sticks out later was Alexi Laiho when he was still rocking Jacksons. I think if you’re familiar with his guitars, you can tell I gathered inspiration when designing my first custom with Jackson. This question kinda reminds me of why Jacksons are so synonymous with all forms of metal, so many great guitarists played them and the current lineup of guitarists who play Jackson are top-tier innovators as is the team building the guitars. The legend of Jackson is strong, and it continues to this day.

In April, you teamed with Jackson for Behind The Riff. You showed off Lux, your first Jackson custom — which you said was “a perfect blend of classic Rhoads aesthetic with a modern twist.” Why does that continue to endure?

Well, the Rhoads is an insanely metal-looking guitar, first and foremost, so I think this is why it has lasted to this day. The story is etched in stone in the book of heavy metal and owning one is like holding onto a legacy. It requires you to play with a certain ferocity. Randy was such a powerhouse and wielding the guitar he drew on a napkin in the early days just makes you feel great; no matter what, it’ll make you look like a badass. When it comes to V’s it’s just got a certain style just like Randy had… unique and original.

What would a teenage Mark play with his Jackson if you were to pull your own Eddie Munson in the Upside Down?

If I wasn’t playing “Master of Puppets” just like Eddie… I’d be playing “Domination” by Pantera. I still think that’s one of the best metal songs ever written. The riff, the pulse, the lyrics, the exotic guitar solo, and what I consider to be one of the first, if not the first breakdowns.

For more information about the Jackson American Series Soloist, click here.