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The Marked Men have been on a recording hiatus since the release of their last album, Ghosts, in ‘09, but all members have remained active in other projects since this interview took place in ‘04. Jeff moved to Japan, but they still occasionally get together to do shows. Most recently, they made a trip to Awesome Fest 6 in San Diego.
Mark Ryan has been spooking audiences with his new sci-fi-inspired band Mind Spiders. He got a band together after playing most of the instruments on the first LP, adding Mike Throneberry on drums. Their second album, Meltdown, was released in February of this year. Mark has also been sitting on the other side of the table in his homemade studio, recording bands like Bad Sports, Hex Dispensers, and Wax Museums.
Mark and Jeff Burke both play in High Tension Wires along with Mike Wiebe, the voice of the Riverboat Gamblers. They recorded a new record last year on Dirtnap called, Welcome New Machine.
Jeff started a band called The Novice in Japan. They came stateside to play Chaos in Tejas back in 2010. He also has been keeping busy over the years with The Chop-Sakis and The Potential Johns (another one-man-plays-everything band that has morphed into a multiple-person band).
Joe Ayoub lives in Los Cruces. He played bass in the now-defunct Shang-A-Lang and recently formed Low Culture with his buddy Chris Mason.
It’s election year again, but don’t worry. It’s not the end of the world. Well, unless you believe in the 2012 hype, in which case I’d take a break between cleaning your gun and stockpiling Spam to listen to Mind Spiders or any of the other great bands mentioned above. It just may save your life.
–Matthew Hart, 2012
I think the beauty of small town punk rock is its purity. Yeah, it’s scarce and sometimes you really have to search for it, but for the most part, it’s stripped of all the typical “rock” behavior of larger cities. There are no comb-flailing pretty boy bands trying to affect this pose or that pose, no squawking managers speaking on behalf of the band, nobody whispering in your ear, just plenty of time to refine what you’re doing. Don’t believe me? How about Scared Of Chaka from Albuquerque, New Mexico, or the New Bomb Turks from Columbus, Ohio? Two of the best bands of the last decade, and neither of them came from anywhere near some over-hyped rock mecca.
What does all this have to do with anything? The Marked Men are from a small town in Texas, and all they do is play music. No artifice, no bullshit, just slashing rock’n’roll, unaffected by trends. It’s pop, but with daggers for melodies and their fingers jammed in a light socket. In their own low-key, unassuming way, they’ve released two unbelievable albums (The Marked Men and On the Outside) that are both waiting to glue themselves to your record player.
–Josh Lane, 2004
Interview and pictures by Todd Taylor
Originally run in Razorcake #22, 2004
Todd: Mark, take me through the scenario where you’re driving through Los Angeles and you hit a pedestrian.
Mark: Well, that was a real bad day. The Reds were supposed to play at the Garage and we showed up. The place was closed and nobody knew why or what was going on. The whole show got cancelled and nobody told us. We went and ate at this terrible Mexican food restaurant and I’m pulling out and I just run into this guy. I swear, I barely hit him. It wasn’t even a big deal
Jeff: Just kind of bumped him and he fell over.
Mark: And he’s like threatening to call the police and wanting us to give him money and he kept going on and on. I was like, “I don’t care. I’m going to call the police,” so I did. He left and then limped back with his brother who spoke better English, I guess. We filed a report, and the cops didn’t even want to do it. I had lawyers calling me for like a year after that trying to get money out of me. The guy was fine. It was just stupid. That was my first L.A. experience.
Todd: What’s the background of the band? A couple of you guys were in The Reds?
Mike: All three of us (Mark, Mike, and Jeff).
Mark: We were a three piece for a while right after The Reds split up because our old bass player, Chris (Pulliam), moved away to Japan.
Todd: Why’d he do that?
Mark: He lived in a small town, Denton, his whole life. He was just tired of that place and he wanted to do something else. Then it kind of fizzled out and we knew it was over. The rest of us kept wanting to play, so we did. Chris and I started The Reds. It was our thing, so I didn’t feel right about continuing.
Mike: I think that three piece line-up was the first Marked Men 7” we did, on Mortville. There are only three people on that.
Todd: Confirm or deny this assessment of the Marked Men sound: You guys “make music for grease monkeys and people who work with”... mentally challenged people.
Jeff: You were reading an old Reds interview. That’s our friend Dillon who interviewed us. At the time, all of us except for Joe worked with the mentally retarded as a job.
Todd: For somebody who doesn’t know about the Marked Men, can you kind of season them to it a little bit? From my perspective, you’re kind of hard to explain, and that’s a benefit. I hear a lot of Dils. I hear a lot of Buzzcocks. But that’s just kind of starting points, not the end points of the band. I’ve read a ton of reviews and very few of them carry the same reference points.
Mike: I figure the less words you put to it, the better, because I’ve heard people talk about hearing stuff that I’ve never heard, bands that I’m not familiar with. I think that’s cool. People get a “you get out of it what you put into it” kind of thing.
Todd: Is there a band that gets mentioned that you just don’t agree with? Like, “Oh, you guys sound like Yes.”
Joe: That would be a dream come true.
Mark: It’s kind of strange, because we did a real short tour of Europe, but a lot of the places—since we did the first record on Rip Off—most of the people were expecting the rock’n’roll, punk, garage rock stuff, which I don’t really think we are. I want us to be a pop band, but really fast and a lot of energy. I want the songs to be catchy so people will still be singing them after they leave.
Mike: We don’t want to be a carbon copy of ‘77 punk. You want to bring something different to the table, because that’s obviously been done.
Todd: How did Greg Lowery (Rip Off Records honcho) find out about you guys? It doesn’t seem like a natural thing that he would put out.
Jeff: We did two records with him as The Reds, and I didn’t even think he would like it at all. I didn’t think we fit on the label, but it worked out for us because he was the one to do it right then and we were ready to do it.
Todd: Did he have any stipulations that you were kind of leery about?
Jeff: Not really, ‘cause he’s known us for a while. He’s made a lot of bands re-record and stuff like that. The only thing he really requires is that the band has to be on the cover in some way, shape, or form. But other than that, he lets us do whatever we want.
Todd: Would you ever grow a beard?
Mark: Personally, I don’t like facial hair. Joe has a moustache every once in a while.
Joe: I shaved it last night.
Mark: It makes him look real creepy. Driving a van around and talking to girls and stuff.
Mike: Greg Lowery’s asked people to change their names before.
Jeff: The Atomsmashers used to be called something else… So anyway, we have a new record out.
Todd: Is it on Dirtnap?
Jeff: Yeah, it came out in May.
Todd: So why the switch of labels?
Mark: I don’t know. Greg’s a big teddy bear. He’s a nice guy. We love him to death. When The Reds broke up, we hugged and cried and stuff. It works out better for us.
Mike: For one thing, there’s a stigma that follows some Rip Off bands around. You go to places and people automatically think “punk rock assholes” and they wouldn’t want us to stay with them. We’re pretty quiet people, for the most part, so it’s nice to get away from that, to a degree.
Jeff: Dirtnap’s my favorite label going right now.
Todd: Mike, you were in a surf band, is that right?
Mike: Yeah, he and I were in a surf band together. We’ve been playing music together since we were like eighteen.
Todd: How did you get one of your tracks onto a documentary?
Mike: Oh, our friend Kevin Harrison made the documentary.
Todd: What was the name of it?
Mike:The Locals. It’s cool because we did some recordings before we broke up that never made it out. We still have the reels and we might remix it and put it out someday. Anyway, Kevin gave a home to that, so that was really cool.
Todd: Have you had to adjust your drumming at all to be in this band?
Mike: Yeah, it’s real linear. I’m too hyperactive to sit still and play real boring stuff, but there’s always been a lot of surf in my playing. I do a lot of double backbeats and stuff like that.
Todd: Everyone has to add to this. What do you think is the blueprint or the skeleton key for the band?
Jeff: I think it’s just since The Reds and since we’ve been playing with each other for so long, we trust each other what with what we’re going to do, and we work real hard on writing songs.
Mike: I think a common point of departure for us is that we want to have a good time. We all get along pretty easily.
Mark: We’re pretty boring. We’re not like rock’n’roll guys. We don’t do crazy shit and get drunk constantly.
Joe: We’re still all a little bit off in our own way. We’re not average people. Above average. [laughs]
Todd: Outside of music, where do you get most of your inspiration? Not necessarily playing—what inspires you to continue to be an above average person?
Joe: Anytime my hair looks all right and I think my hair’s growing thicker from the thickening shampoo. When a girl kisses me… I don’t know.
Todd: Were you ever picked on as a kid?
Joe: Yes. I was a chubby kid and I was really shy and really timid. I’ve never really been the kind of person to stand up to anybody, so I was picked on because I would take it, being a little fat kid. At the same time, I don’t have too many horror stories. I’ve got whore stories, though.
Mark: I bought Joe a whore.
Joe: You’re clean over there, though. And she said I was her first one ever.
Mark: Basically, it was a joke of mine. I kept saying I was going to buy him a whore because he’s the only one who doesn’t have a girlfriend. When we got there, I pulled out fifty Euros and he took it and went and did it. I didn’t think he would but he did.
Joe: I proved everyone wrong that night.
Todd: Can you give me some Marked Men lyrics?
Mark: No. [laughs] Actually, on the songs that I sing, you can probably understand them pretty easily, but with Jeff, you can’t understand anything.
Mike: There are a lot of bands that you can’t understand what the hell they’re saying and you can make up your own lyrics. Teengenerate’s a really great example of that.
Jeff: One of the songs on the new album was titled by my friend’s four-year-old. She had a demo CD and she would sing along with her own lyrics, so we just used some of her words for the title.
Mark: “Master Wicked.” That’s what she titled it.
Mike: You’ll actually be able to understand the lyrics a little better on the new record because it’s a little cleaner produced.
Mark: We just don’t really care about that part very much. We were talking about it with Teengenerate and the Registrators. Those bands are incredibly poppy and you can sing along, but you don’t know what the hell they’re singing about.
Mike: Sweet JAP’s the same way. I’ve got to say, they’re god’s gift to punk rock. Every time I see them, it’s just a blessing.
Todd: What’s the most creative act of vandalism you’ve seen lately?
Joe:I saw this guy who showed me digital photos of him stealing the Texas flag that’s on top of the Alamo. Seriously.That’s federal and stuff.
Mark: What was one band? They played at the Hard Rock Café in Dallas and they smashed the case where…
Joe: That was at South By Southwest. The Icarus Line.
Mark: Yeah, that was pretty cool. He ran out with Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar.
Joe: The Motards from Austin did the cardinal sin. They have a 7” cover; it might be a Rip Off 7”, where they’re all pissing on a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughn, which in Austin is the ultimate sin, which is ridiculous.
Todd: What’s the best part about being from Denton, Texas? Are you all from Denton?
Mark: Pretty much. Joe’s originally from El Paso.
Todd: How does it shape you, though?
Mark: It’s a college town and it’s really insular, like everybody plays in everybody else’s band. It’s pretty much just been a really tight-knit scene and we just keep doing it and we love it. For a long time, there wasn’t much as far as places to play, but it’s getting a lot better right now. One thing that happened that was real cool was that the Riverboat Gamblers played a high school, and now a bunch of high school kids are coming out to see the Marked Men and the Gamblers and stuff.
Mike: There’s really nothing to do in Denton, so that really helped foster the music scene. There was one point where there were a lot of really cool house parties.
Todd: What about the geography of Texas as a whole? It’s kind of isolated just because of the mass of the state, but also, you’re oddly centralized.
Mike: Yeah, a lot of bands, if they’re touring the West Coast or East Coast, they’ll often make Austin their first or last spot. That’s good. It’s only a three-hour drive to come down here.
Mark: I like being isolated. I like not being in the big scenes or whatever, just because I feel like I can look at it more objectively. We just do what we like, and fuck everything else.
Joe: I think what’s crazy about Texas is there are small towns right now that you would never think of, like Odessa, which is just oil derricks. They’re catching on and having shows. Three hundred kids are showing up for pretty big indie bands. Places that you wouldn’t even expect people to live; there are kids there who are getting something started.
Mike: One thing that was cool about Denton was that the community was really supportive of the scene and Dallas was getting shittier and shittier. It’s really corporate and real pop. Basically, every band wants to be Weezer. Weezer’s cool, but it’s been done. A lot of shows would skip Dallas and play Denton. There’s been a couple of places that have done that, have kind of stolen the thunder of Dallas as far as cool indie bands and punk bands, and that helped the Denton scene for sure.
Jeff: It’s always more fun to play Denton than Ft.Worth or Dallas.
Mark: I used to really hate Denton and think, “Oh, I live in this shitty small town and there’s nothing cool here,” but then the more I travel, the more I like home. I appreciate it more.
Joe: It has its problems like everywhere else. I wish that there were cooler bars or something, but we’re lucky to even have venues, because there are towns that size that have nothing. I find that I meet more people who know a lot about music and are really open minded about music than where it is to be cool.
Jeff: We got an Olive Garden now.
Mark: We got a Popeye’s recently, which I was really happy about.
Todd: What’s the best heckle you’ve heard?
Joe: Usually it’s just friends making inside jokes or stuff that embarrasses me.
Todd: Did any of you actually come to blows with the guys from the Promise Ring? Is there any validity to that?
Mark: No. I think we made up some story about how we got into a fight with them or something. We were mad that they were doing so well and we weren’t.
Todd: Can you tell people about the phenomenon of Time Bomb Tom?
Mark: For a while, when The Reds would go up there (Green Bay, Wisconsin), it was just so fun. It’s kind of like Denton now, where you have kids coming out to the shows. It was his record store and his club, Rock’n’RollHigh School, that made that town. That one guy made such a huge difference. He’s crazy, too.
Mike: That club was all ages, and somebody was drinking out in the parking lot and it attracted the cops or something like that. In the middle of our set, Tom came up on stage and just screamed into the PA, scaring the shit out of everybody. He said, “Hey, I need your attention,” and people weren’t paying attention. So he just goes, “SHUT UP! SHUT THE FUCK UP!” You could hear crickets chirping, and he basically just laid it out. In order for something like that to work, they can’t have any alcohol. They can’t attract attention from The Man or whatever, because that’s how all those places get shut down. In that respect, I think that’s where the “Time Bomb” part of it comes up.
Jeff: One time, he couldn’t pay us or something, so he was like, “I’ll give you some candy bars or something. I’m sorry I can’t pay you enough.” He would fly in bands just because he liked them and he would have other bigger shows to pay for that kind of stuff.
Todd: Yeah, he flew the Humpers in one time.
Mike: It was cool because fourteen-year-old kids had an environment where they could see cool punk rock bands that didn’t play everywhere, and there were so many kids in Green Bay who got to see cool shows at such a young age and went on to start bands like the Mystery Girls and the Catholic Boys. I’m real jealous. I didn’t get into punk until my late teens. There was a scene in Dallas, but it was pretty isolated. They got lucky.
Todd: Why were there only 500 copies of the 7” (“I Can’t Be Good”) made? Was it a self-esteem issue?
Joe: That’s like the best-selling Mortville 7”.
Jeff: That’s what he said. I don’t know if it’s true, though.
Joe: I like to think so [laughs]. I thought it was great [laughs].
Todd: You guys record yourselves, too, is that correct?
Mark: It’s mostly Jeff.
Todd: All right, Jeff, you’re going to have to answer a question. Is it out of necessity or do you like the entire process of making music and recording music?
Jeff: It’s cheaper. We’re very picky about sound, and we couldn’t afford to spend a lot of time getting the mix right. Doing it ourselves, we can work as much as we want on it and make it sound the way we want it to.
Todd: How involved is that? Did you make a studio?
Jeff: Oh, it’s not like a studio.
Mike: A shed.
Mark: There’s a shed in the back of his house, and I think between Mike and Jeff and I, we put together enough stuff to have pretty good equipment.
Jeff: We’re lucky, especially recently.
Mark: I don’t know if other bands do this, like how much time they spend on recordings. I mean, it’s still kind of lo-fi, but that’s our most important thing in the world—to make recordings sound cool, so we spend lots and lots of time mixing it and hours and hours working on it.
Todd: It’s apparent, though. Your records sound great.
Mike: We want to be able to look back in five years or so and be happy with it then, not have a bunch of stuff like, “Aw, I wish we could have done that differently.” The problem is because we have all the time we want, for the most part, that can lead to total OCD. Endless mixes and remixes and re-remixes, so having deadlines can be a good thing.
Todd: So are you guys doing analog?
Todd: That’s fantastic.
Mark: Yeah, we borrowed this old one-inch reel machine. There are two or three tracks that don’t work on it. It’s a thirteen track.
Mike: It makes this crazy sound when it runs. It’s like, “rrreeeeuurrrrrrrrrreeeeeuuuuurrrrrrrrrrrrr.”
Jeff: I love it.
Todd: When was the last time your eyes failed you?
Jeff: I don’t know what to say about that. That song’s basically about how I freak out in front of people.
Mark: Some of the new songs on the new record, I don’t know if he’s real sad right now, but it’s a little bit sadder. Maybe he’s depressed. I don’t know. I like to try to get him to talk about lyrics, ‘cause they’re a little embarrassing sometimes.
Todd: You guys all went to Japan?
Mike: Yeah, we went there over Christmas. We played three shows over there, one on Christmas Day and then on the 27th and 28th, and Tetsuya from Das Boot helped set us up with shows. He’s gold as well. The goldest of the gold. We couldn’t say enough about how much he does to help the scene out there and to help us out. I’ve never heard anybody say anything bad about him. They couldn’t. They’d be wrong.
Jeff: They were the most amazing bands we’ve ever played with. We played with Japan’s best bands, in my opinion.
Mike: We played a show with Firestarter. We played with some other really, really great bands.
Mark: They’re my heroes. I was star struck to meet those guys. They put on a great show and then we had to fucking go on after them. That was horrible. I wanted to just cry. When I was watching them, I felt like a girl at a Beatles concert or something. I was so excited to see them.
Mike: I was amazed how down to earth they were and how they were just all about keeping the rock alive. They’ve been through so much and they just keep on playing and they seem to respect that in other bands who do the same; just doing it for the sake of doing it, having fun. When we got compliments from them, I didn’t know how to take it.
Todd: What was the biggest culture shock going to Japan?
Joe: It was my first time. I’ve never been in such a huge city with so many people. I thought I was going to flip out. I would get anxiety attacks just thinking about it, but I was so comfortable. I guess just seeing a million people everywhere…
Mark: And they’re all Japanese [laughs].
Todd: They’ve got a different word for everything.
Joe: Also, just the language barrier. I didn’t even try talking to anyone, ‘cause it was just like, “Well, you’re not going to know.”
Mark: They don’t like to heat and air condition things very well, either.
Mike: The toilet seats are heated. Oh, man. I don’t really care about the bidet feature, but they had three types of bidets.
Todd: I take it you get it through connections with The Reds, but you’ve toured Europe, too, is that correct?
Mark: The Marked Men did, yeah. That was one of the best things Greg did was hook us up with this guy named Robert, who lives in Holland.
Mike: He plays in the Hot Pockets.
Mark: Yeah, he’s real cool. He does a good job booking shows and stuff like that, so having him book our shows was awesome. We had a really great time. It was beautiful weather, beautiful girls everywhere. Real nice.
Todd: What’s the most mismatched bill you’ve been on?
Joe: I wasn’t in the band when this happened, but in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, they played with a Stevie Ray Vaughn blues band. That’s pretty mismatched. In Hamburg, we played with a metal band.
Mike: Somewhere between cock rock and black metal.
Joe: The singer was really influenced by Ozzy.
Mike: It was cool playing in Hamburg, though, because it was right by the red light district. I’ve never seen anything like that, all the girls in the windows.
Mark: We almost got attacked by a prostitute.
Todd: What’s the strangest thing someone’s tried to pay you with? Like, “Oh, you did a good show, here’s a Twinkie.”
Mike: We told you about Tom giving us candy bars and emptying out the change drawer of the register. It was like forty bucks in change. He gave us a case of Mountain Dew.
Todd: Has anybody tried to back out of paying you?
Mark: It’s been pretty cool. I mean, we don’t get paid shit as it is, so it’s not usually that big of an issue. We had some problems with the clubs in Denton a lot. They were real shitty, Rubber Gloves. It’s been a lot better lately.
Mike: On tour, we usually set stuff up through other people, friends, and the friends take care of us.
Todd: What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
Joe: Telemarketer for a day.
Todd: What did you telemarket?
Joe: Selling cable packages. Like, there’s a silver package, a gold package, whatever. I think what I hated so much about it was the first day I did it, they put me on the phones, and I didn’t care. I just worked the phones for a couple of hours, and then the next day was just terrible. This one guy, who I’d never met, scared the crap out of me. He said, “Don’t. Ever. Call. Me. Again.” I took off my headphones and went home. My roommates had a bet going about how long I was going to last.
Mike: My first job, when I was fifteen, I worked at a Braum’s for like two or three weeks, and it was just hell.
Joe: What’s a Braum’s?
Mike: For those of you who aren’t from the South, it’s an ice cream shop, basically. They sell baked stuff and burgers. Man, it was just misery. They were all militant about the ice cream had to weigh the exact amount or whatever. The people I worked with were total slackers, though. The managers needed work so badly that they would let people get away with murder. They would just sit in the back and inhale the Reddi-Wip whippets.
Jeff: I didn’t have anything that bad. I had a couple temp jobs in factories and stuff, assembly line stuff, but I’ve been doing the same thing for about eight years now.
Todd: What have you been doing?
Jeff: Just working with people with mental retardation. I’m tired of that, but it’s not terrible.
Mark: I was a case manager for mentally retarded people and I’ve worked with them forever. I make jokes, but it’s a cool job, actually.
Mike: You’ve got to blow off steam because it’s so intense. It takes a lot of patience.
Joe: You’ve got to hit them sometimes. [laughs]
Mark: Slap them around.
Mike: Actually, now that I think about it, I had a job that I did for a couple weeks. I was disposing toxic waste. Seriously. There’s this stuff called PCB’s that are in fluorescent lights, and we had to break these lights down and put them in these huge ton-and-a-half barrels. Looking back, it was so dangerous. We were supposed to wear these big spacesuits, radiation suits, and of course we just wore gloves. I didn’t even wear goggles. My hands would be all arthritic and crippled by the end of the day, and god knows what I exposed myself to, ‘cause the EPA still puts out stuff about how crazy PCB’s are.
Todd: Name one thing that you have no reverence for whatsoever.
Mark: The Riverboat Gamblers. [laughs] (Mike Wiebe of the Gamblers is standing nearby.) Stevie Ray Vaughn.
Mike: People who are militantly religious really bother me. I think spirituality is cool, but if you’re going to try to cram your beliefs down my throat, I don’t hang there.
Jeff: I think Joe’s is celibacy.
Joe: True. I’m vegan and straight edge.