Thursday, May 23, 2013

Magik Markers : Interview

I'm beyond excited to share an interview with the Magik Markers.  When I found out they had a new album on the way I got a chance to ask Elisa and Pete about their upcoming work, what they've been up to since 2010's Balf Quarry and supernatural goo.  Special thanks to Chris Tipton for his contribution to this interview..

Magik Markers! I read you just did a show recently in Northampton with Jake Meginsky, Rob Thomas, Da Burdz and Zac Davis – was wondering how it went? 

Elisa: It was pretty fun.  One bummer:  I was sweating so much when we played that half of my weird strapless bra slid out from my shirt, so I had to do the last two songs half and half.  I was casual and just slipped the fallen out half into my pedal bag while I made like i was adjusting the the space echo.  No one noticed.  Mostly because I was wearing a sweater and there was no reason at all to wear a stupid strapless bra. Warning to all bra wearing guitar players: just because you think the strap of the guitar is annoying on the strap of your bra, just fucking wear it you sweaty greaseball. Or don't.  But don't half ass it with some crummy modern strapless number.  It's like Mr. Miyagi says,  'Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later get squish just like grape.' It's like that, if Miyagi was talking about bras.  
Pete : It was cool.  Hadn't seen Zac in a while.  He still sounds sick.  Jake Meginsky makes the sickest beats... total brain throb.  Da Burdz was some great jammed out psych pop.   

Now Magik Markers has essentially been active for 12 years, how would you say your relationship to music and playing alongside each other has changed over time? Are you psychically linked in jam mode or do both write parts separately and bring them to the table?

Pete : Our mode of operating hasn't changed really.  We've always jammed and Elisa would have her various rants that she would go on about.  She had her "songs" that we would do again and again.  Mary Ann Faithful 1969 was one that got a lot of play.  Our sound has changed over time tho.  When Leah was in the band she had a very frenetic energy and rhythm that she would play on her weird cavernous echoey guitar.  That propelled the jams.  Elisa was alway doing kind of fuzz guitar that she would manipulate with a wammy bar... rat pedal.  Then when it was just Elisa and I duo Elisa had to hold it down more.  She had a few riffs.  She filled in for Leah's absence by becoming a total guitar shredder.  More of a Keiji Haino type... she got all jedi master with her guitar.  Now that John's in the band, we're back to having a group dynamic.  Now we're a lot more measured.  More dub space for filligree and trails and ideas to float around in.  We've always given a lot of thought to our studio records, and I think they are productions that hold up pretty great alongside a lot of classic records.  The same holds true for the next record.. but all the new tunes, altho they're still really big sounding, will be songs that we can reproduce easily live.  More stripped back and big.  

Do you go back and listen to your previous recordings?  If so what do they sound like to you now?

Elisa :  Like in a high school year book when someone's senior quote is 'what a long strange trip it's been' even when they have never listened to the Dead; that is how it has been. 

It has always been the same in terms of bizarre stop gaps, certain things which should be incredibly difficult happening easily and vice versa and always filled with weird surprises.  It's great.  Like being blindfolded and trying to break open a piñata.  

The improvisations have always come from everyone playing as a band, playing for long swaths of time, through different feelings and ideas, recording it, and coming back to it.   Some songs come from this process.  

Some structured songs I write the vocal melody and chords, at home on an acoustic guitar, and then we'll play it at practice electric with drums and bass and it will completely change.  

Sometimes I have had just the words and the vocal melody and Pete and John builds chords and rhythms around that.  Sometimes we are all just trying out an idea someone had and songs come out of that.

Both of those guys have such cool and singular aesthetics.  John Shaw is 'new' to the band as of 2009, but it sort of feels like has always been in the Magik Markers, and we only revealed it to him recently.  Like the end of the Shining when they tell Jack Nicholson he has always been the caretaker.   

One thing about Magik Markers is that we are all open to any ideas.  No one is dismissive out of the gate.  Maybe way later.  Or maybe we are dismissive out of the gate sometimes, now that I think about it. I kind of shot down a keyboard part once; and I have a new song called Shitty Beach that doesn't seem to be getting much traction.   But we are not dismissive of either good ideas or ideas someone is really fighting for.  We tend to grudgingly go along with anything that any band member is really willing to go to the boards for.  If you feel strongly about an idea to try, if you have a strong vision for something, the band will do it.  
Now that I write it all out, it is clear Magik Markers are not open to any ideas.  

My relationship with the guitar has changed, in that I learned chords. 

I rarely listen to old recordings once they are released because it makes me sick feeling. It is bad for making new work, and it just feels like stale bread.   I get bored, I get really critical, hear changes and edits.  It's like if you tried to let yourself into your collage dorm room tomorrow and acted surprised that someone else was in your bed and none of your things were where you left them.  It is not yours, it has almost nothing to do with you anymore.  After a very very long time, I can hear certain things as a total other.  But mostly, I am done with those ideas, so it doesn't interest me anymore.  The best thing about being done with a record is writing the next record, which exists only in your mind, and therein is perfect. 

Pete : Yes, I listen mostly to the studio stuff now.  It all still strikes me with the intention that we put into it at the time.  Some of the tunes even take me back to a particular feeling or frame of mind I was in when we wrote them.  I love music for that.  It's not like reading a diary or something.  The notes and the sounds give a whole new dimension of weight and resonance to the feelings intoned by the words.  

What can we expect from the new album? It's been a while since Balf Quarry - did you take a break to work out where to go next? 

Elisa : Coming out in Fall on Drag City, can't wait.  This record actually came out of the most non-live playing together we have maybe ever done.  Since Balf Quarry Pete has written a few Spectre Folk records, I have co-written a couple 200 Years records with Ben Chasny, did a bunch of different tours, we put out some Markers tapes and cdrs, but yeah, the whole time we were playing new Marker jams too.  

I just finished my first solo record, which was also written and mostly recorded in the time before this Markers record was done.  There was something about Surrender to the Fantasy. It existed on its own schedule.  We had a tape of the early demos of some of what went on the record in some form called 'Isolated From Exterior Time 2010' and maybe that colored and defined the expanse of years the record spread over. 

Pete : The new album's called Surrender to the Fantasy.  It's really cool.  I think it's our most solid jam yet from start to finish.  Chasny from Six Organs has been saying that it's like our Loaded or something.  There's some really cool songs on it and it's a progression for us for sure.  We haven't really taken any time off since Balf Quarry.  In theory we've actually spent more time together than on any other record.  We just recorded a ton of stuff.  I think there's multiple versions of every song on the record.  We just let it develop nice and slow.  We recorded everything on our own terms over the last few years.  It's a total  home-made record.  There came a point where we had to hand over all the recordings to Aaron Mullan to mix it for us.  He's fantastic.  Pro gear, pro attitude.  We came to an understanding after a while and the record was done.  We never really wondered where to go next... we just sort of took our time getting there.  Glad it's finally in the can tho.  We've got a 7" coming on Drag City in September that's got a couple of tunes that were meant to be on the record but couldn't fit.  

Do you find writing music insatiable? 

Pete : Yeah, It kind of just happens.  Creeps into your dreams and stuff. 

When do you know you have an album in the can so to speak, do you have a clear target from the start or is it more about amassing several songs that just work well together? 

Elisa : Initially, you do have an actual architecture, but the recording process kind of decides and changes things.  Invention and serendipity are the best things around creating a record and it ends up revealing itself to you.  I always want two more days.  There is some magical thing in my mind with every record I have ever made, if I just had had about two more days, THEN, I would have made exactly the record I wanted. 

Pete : Yeah, it's more organic for us.  It's good for us to have some time to let the thing ferment a bit.  I don't think we've ever gone into anything with a clear target.  If there's a target it's really blurry.  
Magik Markers songs to me are like a simulacrum of reality – is that a fair interpretation? 

Elisa : Like hologram Tupac.  I agree.  Actually, I don't know.  I have no idea.  Any interpretation you have is fair; my understanding is skewed.  I am mostly psyched you have heard any of our songs and thought about them enough to consider their relationship with reality.  

Pete : Yeah, I think when they're successful, a good Markers song gives you the feeling you get when you've been sucked into the worldview of a really good long novel as opposed to the experience of being moved by a poem or something.  If you let it, the song closes in around you and blots out the outside world for a bit.   Makes you live with it.  Elisa's got a way with words and we do what we can to craft something cinematic around them.  

What’s your definition of Magik?  

Eilsa : My definition of magik is how incredibly good I am at Settlers of Catan.   It has to be sorcery at the level I play at. 

Have you ever experienced or witnessed anything otherworldly?

Elisa : No.  Live performance contains some kind of weird feeling.  The audience and performer is always weird feeling.   I grew up in a house where a man died scraping at a wooden door to escape a fire, and I spent some creepy little kid hours kneeling in the spot where he asphyxiated, trying to have some fucked up thing happen, but nothing ever did.  Unless it is that man now writing this whole interview from beyond the grave.

Which it is. 

Pete : Yes, but I'm well seasoned at this point.  

I usually like to ask bands if they prefer playing or recording – listening to earlier Magik Markers stuff it seems like you blended the two for a while, so I was wondering what was the decision behind moving away from stuff like ‘Feel The Crayon’ to the approach on something like ‘Balf Quarry’?

Elisa: In the past, Leah really hated recording at all,I found it difficult to hear my own voice on tape, and in general it was a very fraught process.   One of the songs on new record were recorded in the same place and in almost the same way as we recorded Feel the Crayon.  My dad's basement in CT.  When I first moved back from the west coast and Pete still lived in Brooklyn, and John Shaw was in Holyoke, my dad's house in CT was the middle place to meet and play.  My dad plays drums so those are always set up in the basement, and we wrote a lot of Surrender to the Fantasy there.  

Earliest markers had themes or ideas we'd play around, and then over time, it just focused itself into things that became songs.  Every person has songs that rattle into their heads, so, the longer you play, the more the songs start to assert their rattle.  It requires a trust, because it is so private and easy to dismiss. People can feel manipulated by melodies.   My first pass of not being a total coward was playing shows, and my second pass of not being a coward was writing melodies. It is  my animal brain, comforted by singsong, soothed by repetition; I like to write songs. 

I like building a song.  I like the secret building that happens, the transformation that can sometimes come.  Joe Meek is a really interesting song building person for me, Al Simones, Gucci Mane and Richard Youngs. There is something narrative in arranging after the fact, where it must build or come apart like a story. I only have perspective on a song listening back later.  Sometimes things in your head work, and sometimes they are complete garbage.  It is great. 

Balf Quarry was a cool and weird experience; I feel like I learned a lot from Scott Colburn. I was listening to a lot of Die Kreuzen.  

Pete : Yeah good question.  We certainly were once a band that existed purely to play live and we could do some things that were truly remarkable.  I think from a recording standpoint we kind of reached the apex of that version of the band with the Southern Record Volodor Dance.  We had a lot more that we wanted to say and crafting tunes in the studio really seems to make your voice hold up over time.  I'm hoping that this year will finally see us come to terms with the focused flame we project in the studio with the unbridled version of the Markers that exists on stage. 

What’s the most memorable show you’ve played? 

Elisa : I can never remember anything from live shows, best and worst. 

Pete : The memories are a bit hazy, but once at tonic I believed that I was a giant squid whose tentacles could reach the back of the room.  

What’s the most memorable show you’ve seen? 

Elisa : These are some of my most memorable shows of the past while that came to mind immediately, but there are a bunch missing, and the list is already too long.  

Jandek in 2006 at the Camber Sands ATP, the Fall in Atlanta in 2003 or something, Kim Gordon and The Sweet Ride at the first No Fun Fest in 2004, Eat Skull in Portland in 2009, seeing Mouthus in New Haven in 2008 or so getting shut down by the cops for vibrating, seeing Sic Alps in Madrid in 2008, Six Organs and Steve Rueker at Arthur Fest, Colossal Yes, every-time, Dinosaur Jr. In 2012 in Northampton, MA, seeing Om in 2008 at the Daunau Fest, Jan Anderzén in 2007 at the Hemlock in San Francisco, Chris Corsano and Mick Flowers in a small bar in France in 2008, Rangda in San Francisco 2013,  Estonian band Stella, Charalambidies at ATP in 2008, Mike Gangloff in Charlottesville in 2012,  Bill Nace and Chris Cooper duo at Flywheel 2011, Christoph Heemann at Flywheel in Northampton 2012, Matt Krefting and Aaron Rosenblum at Feeding Tube Records 2013.  

Pete : Neil Young at Primavera a few years ago was pretty great.  

I really love 'White Map Laid With White Inks On White Walls' - can you tell me a bit about that song? 

Elisa : Thanks, I like that song too. I think I can say that without being a egomaniacal shitdick because John and Pete are really ruling the song, and it is completely improvised. It came from a 'plan' of really letting all ideas fully form before the next idea happened.   The rhythm, locking in, no one worrying about 'starting' and being oblivious to time.  Just listening.  Like that Thelonius Monk quote about not only the drummer needing to keep time--  everyone is keeping time in this song.  I was sick of basing thing around my lyrics too, so it  grew also out of just wanting sometimes totally new to start from.  We talked about it, then we recorded it.  

Pete : Yeah.  That's a song we recorded in a practice space we were borrowing from our friends Fat Worm of Error a few years ago in Northampton MA.  The space was really great.  A very very big room behind a mechanics shop.  We used to play there till very late at night.  We actually recorded a lot of stuff for the next record there.  Anyway... I think we kind of hit a sweet spot the night we recorded the split rec with Sic Alps.  We really found what our new sound was.  John's bass is really groovey and epic.  Elisa was really masterfully manipulating her fuzz and echoes.  Some kind of sweet spot between Funhouse and Yeti.  As they say on the Mighty Boosh.  We're always looking for the new sound. 

What's your hunch about star rot / pwdr sêr / meteor jelly? Slime mould or supernatural goo? Only asking cos I thought one of your CDRs referenced the phenomenon once?  

Elisa : I read that in Mexico pwdr ser is called caca de luna, or moon shit.   So much scope for the imagination.  

Pete : I don't know?  That's the kind of science thing that gets swept under the rug right? I think if I remember right, that's one of those mass halucinations that was spreading across Europe in the middle ages around the time when everyone was seeing wherewolves and stuff.    

I think glowing goo was falling from the sky and landing in fields and stuff.  gross.  I'm hoping some of it lands on us.  Seems like weird shit happens in the sky all the time.  Remember those spinning lights that appeared over russia a few years ago?  No theory, just digging the mystery.  
I read that there’s a place in Connecticut called ‘Moodus’ that has ‘Moodus Noises’?  Have you been there?! Have you heard this?!!

Elisa :  I can't believe you know about Moodus.  Only about 1000 people live there.  I grew up near there, but never visited the cave where you are supposed to be able to hear the sounds.

Pete : I've never heard of this, but I feel a camping trip coming on.  Micro earthquakes causing strange noises in the woods.  I think my 4 year old will like that.  Thanks for the tip. 

“I’m full of dust and guitars” Syd Barrett – if you were sliced in half what would be inside?

Elisa : Probably an empty bag of cool ranch Doritos, some bad drawing of Wallace Stevens, tissues, dust motes, a baseball bat, perfume sample vials, 87 notebooks and a broken cassette with sticky stuff spilled on it.  If you sliced me in half it would be a lot like under my bed.  

Pete : guts and blood and bumble bees

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