Last.fm is a great place to discover new music and even to make contact with artists. Marco Mahler contacted me via my group New Weird America to alert me to the release of his excellent self released debut album entitled Design in Quick Rotation.
My review of this can be found at Whisperin & Hollerin’.
Marco currently lives in Portland, Oregon although it was in the contrasting locations of the Appalachian foothills and Brooklyn that this record was conceived, a fact which explains how it the music seems to explore both the old and the new aspects of the folk traditionMarco Mahler’s music has a depth and intimacy that draws you into his world and I wanted to find out more about how this sound came about. Via e-mail I put a few questions to him :
On your website, you talk about a contrast of location between Appalachia and Brooklyn – how do you think the album would have sounded if you had made it in just one of these two places?
In the Appalachian mountains: less vibrant. In Brooklyn: less relaxing.
Could you describe the recording process for the album? One laptop, one interface, one condenser mic. I don’t give myself too many options. That way, instead of getting lostin them, I stay focused on the substance.I only use a few effects. One reverb, one equalizer, some distortion, a little compression sometimes.The album was mostly recorded at night in a log home in the Appalachian Mountains while doing carpentry and construction work throughout the day. With most of my songs I have a rough idea and then add and finish them while recording them. Many things are improvised, meaning I play a guitar line for the first time while recording it and I don’t go back to it. I very much like the energy that comes from improvisation. It’s fresh and honest. Most songs don’t take more than two hours to record
I read that you used do busking in New York – How did you come to terms with the indifference of commuters?
By not paying attention and just doing my own thing as if I were by myself. I tried to figure out people’s reactions for a while but it was too complex.
I find the lyrics intriguing with the strange juxtapositions of words & images – How did this style come about – were these created randomly with a cut-up technique or are they more carefully crafted?
Some lyrics, like “Fields”, I wrote very quickly. Other ones, like “Design In Quick Rotation”, were more of a coming together of different images that have been floating around my head for a while, more like a visual world made of elements that keep rearranging and reappearing in different versions. I don’t think they’re randomly. Even though some of them don’t seem to have an obvious connections, my brain thinks of a certain image after a certain other image for some reason.
Which writers / artists have particularly inspired you?
Music: Bert Jansch, Bob Dylan, Pavement, Silver Jews, Q-Tip, OutkastWriters: Jack London, Gustave Flaubert, Max Frisch, Charles Baudelaire, Arthur Rimbaud, Berthold Brecht, Jack Kerouac, Alfred Andersch, Arthur I. Miller, Henri Poincar, Else Lasker-Schüler, Norman Mailer, Ulrich Plenzdorf, Friedrich Dürrenmatt
The songs feel warm and friendly – did you filter out any that have an angrier, sadder or more pessimistic tone?
Yes, I had a few pretty dark songs, depending on how you look at them. But I didn’t feel like putting them on the album. At the time, I just didn’t feel like that was something I wanted to give to people.
Have you ever written a protest song – if so, what was it about?
I used to write songs about social and political events and played them on Bob Fass’ “Radio Unnameable” and some other places. They weren’t really the traditional kinds of protest songs but more like musical newspaper articles made of abstract images. I thought that would be more interesting to listen to, more fun for me to perform, and maybe have stronger effects than just straight up protest songs.
I see that you now live in Portland, Oregon which I gather is another place with a buzzing musical atmosphere. Do you have much contact with other musicians there – do you feel part of any scene? (For instance, Yellow Swans are also based in Portland – theirs is obviously a radically different sound to yours but I wonder if your paths have crossed – do you like the kind of ‘ambient – noise’ they make?)
When I first moved to New York City I searched the whole town for a scene that I could identify with, from anti-folk to indie-rock to freestyle rap. But I didn’t feel like I really fit in anywhere, even though I really wanted to. I just moved to Portland, Oregon, and I’m just starting to get to know it. I find Yellow Swans strangely meditative and recreational and, no, I haven’t crossed paths with them, yet.
What do you think of ‘New Weird America’ as a musical label?
I think the Old Weird America split into two directions. One is symbolized by what Bob Dylan did. The other by what The Incredible String Band did. Usually the label “New Weird America” is used for people like Devendra Banhart, who I see more in line with The Incredible String Band. How about The Silver Jews being “New Weird America” in line with Dylan?
What do you say when people ask what type of music you make?
I’m not good at describing my own music, so usually I mix up some quotes from recent reviews, like “stark natured mellow indie-pop with a sturdyundertow that rescues the music from the negative space of haunting” that’s kind of a mouthful so sometimes I just say “indie-folk-pop”
Do you perform live a lot ?
I played a show in Olympia, WA, last week and I’ll probably start playing some shows here in Portland and nearby places, maybe make it down the West Coast and play in New York again sometime.
Are you planning any tours outside the USA?
No plans but if things go well and enough people pick up on the music to make a European tour pay for itself, then yes, I would.
Finally – can you put me out of my misery? The tune you play/hum on ‘Orange Chinese Car’ sounds very familiar but I just can’t place it. Is it a borrowed refrain – if so, from who/where?
I wouldn’t know. The closest I can think of is “It Kills” by Stephen Malkmus.
For more information about Marco Mahler go to his website.
MP3 links: Design In Quick Rotation