Being that I’ve been involved with editing music zines full time for over the last ten years, I sometimes get into this conversation with people “on the other side” of the music game; people who believe in glossy magazines and the TV.
Them: You just like obscure music that other people will never hear. You’re just prejudice against the mainstream.
Me: Although can’t say that I follow the mainstream, I can tell you this: the bands that I love, I truly think are the best in the world, that’s who I cover. Just from living in America, from pumping gas, from going to the grocery store, to standing in lines, I’ve heard a lot of the mainstream songs you’re talking about, although I don’t know the songs or the artists by name.
Them: So, they have to be your friends, or you have to know them?
Me: No. But the world I deal with is relatively small and paradoxically world-wide. We barely deal on the commerce side of music – enough advertising to print and ship the zine. We deal with what we truly love. Some of it gets popular, on occasion.
Them: What about Nirvana? (or, lately) The White Stripes?
Me: I have nothing for them; nothing against them. I don’t willfully play them that often. That’s just how it is. Personal choice. Plus, we help give bands a voice they probably won’t have otherwise.
Them: Like who?
Me: (If I’m at home.) Here’s one. The Marked Men. They’re from Denton, Texas. They built their own studio and it’s in a shed one of the guy’s back yard. Their last record, sold out of its vinyl in a matter of weeks because their distributor has a hard time believing that, for punk rockers, vinyl is far from dead. What do they sound like? Take all of those loose ends from the Ramones, from Supercharger, from The Fuckboyz, only you didn’t know they were loose ends. That’s the Marked Men’s genius. They took those ends and and sharpened ‘em and bent ‘em with ‘60s AM hooks. Barbed the ends. And if the world was right, when I’m leaning against my truck, loaded down with zines to ship, I’d be humming “fix my brain, fix my brain,” instead just zoning out to the interchangeable, disposable-by-design music showering down around me.
Todd: I’m being totally serious: what “hidden” stuff do the Marked Men do? It’s beyond proficiency and technicality. If it was just that, we’d all listen to classical music and call it a day. I’ve listened to the albums and 7”s a lot, and every single time, something new hits me in your songs. How?
Mark: Wow! I immediately felt really flattered that someone would think of the Marked Men that way. The thing is, though, I don’t know how to answer these questions without coming off like we take ourselves too seriously, like were a bunch of pretentious fucks.
What you’re pointing to has a lot to do with with the goals of the band. I want the band to have those kind of qualities. The music that I end up liking the most has something that draws me in, like I’m being let in on a secret. I love hearing the dirt. Whenever I’m writing a song—I can’t speak for Jeff—I try to find something that makes me uncomfortable, something that pisses me off, something uncool, that I really shouldn’t put out there, and then I use that. What I don’t like is posturing. I think you can tell when a band is just posturing and not being genuine. It seems like they bought into the program: ‘77 punk, garage rock, pop punk, or whatever.
Jeff and Mike and I have been playing in various bands together for about ten years. That makes it pretty easy for us in terms of writing songs and just knowing how to work with each other. For me, playing in the band is a good place to be, whereas in most of the other aspects of my life, I’m not comfortable in my own skin. Playing guitar and singing is easy. But, at the same time, it can also be self abuse. We just finished recording a new album. We record everything ourselves. We’re meticulous and obsessive about how we want each song, but there’s also the element of chance. Every time we record, even when it is in the same room using the same mics, it’s always different. There are a million factors. When we were working on the final mixes, Jeff and I kept joking, saying, “It’s for all time,” something Chris (from the Reds and High Tension Wires) would say when we were recording. When we put it out there, it has to be right. There’s no taking it back. After we were finished mixing, it was like I had just taken the best shit ever. My bowels felt clean.
Todd: I’ve seen you guys play live several times and there’s some definite magic that you pull off.
Mark: I really don’t think there is anything hidden about the Marked Men. Sometimes when we play a show it works, sometimes it doesn’t. If there’s any advantage that we have as a band, it’s probably Jeff. Even though I play in a band with him, I can say that I’m a big fan. He has really good ears. He hears things other people don’t. He’s really good at adding other guitar parts and vocals that are just below the surface and are not apparent on first listen. Joe is a bad ass bass player and just a bad ass in general. And when it comes to proficiency and technicality, I think that Mike is one of the best drummers around.
Todd: How important is quiet time to the Marked Men? You all seem very reserved and gracious, but it always seems that there’s a lot going on underneath.
Mark: Quiet time? I think that some people need to go out and hang out with other people. That’s how they deal with having such shitty, boring jobs, or shitty, boring lives. Other people need to get away from everybody and everything. For me—depending on my mood—every day I have to have at least two hours in a quiet, dark room, with my headphones on, listening to the calming sounds of the ocean or the rain forest. This can be a big problem when The Marked Men are tour. If it becomes a problem, I start punching myself in the face repeatedly until I get my way. The other guys in the band know that if I don’t get my quiet time, I may not be able to play the next show due to severe self-injury, so they’ve learned how to deal with it.
Todd: I don’t usually pay too much attention to such things, since I’m not a musician myself and am not in tune with studios and things, but you guys have a unique situation with your studio.
Mark: I wouldn’t say it’s a studio; it’s more like a converted garage with a bunch of crap in it. We’ve been doing our own recording for a long time. It all started with the Reds. Before Jeff was in the Reds, he recorded the second 7” we did on Little Deputy. It was really fun recording with him, so he joined the band. He was using a Tascam 8 track cassette tape machine at that time. I bought a reel to reel, then Mike bought some mics. It just kept going. With every album, we have continued to upgrade. Over the past year, Mike went crazy with buying stuff.
Our experiences with regular recording studios always sucked. I was never happy with it. They never seemed to understand what we wanted. When we started recording ourselves, we could have some control and take our time. I won’t say that those Reds recordings are great, but they worked. After the Reds broke up, as The Marked Men, we went into hiding for a while. We honed our skills, sharpened our blades, and took some time to really work on stuff. Being able to record ourselves is one of the most important things for this band. Most of our songs are not really complete until they are recorded. It’s really beneficial to have the time to experiment. We can flush it out, work on it until we like it.
Todd: You, Jeff, and Mike have pretty intense day jobs. Do you think that—considering what you do on a daily basis—that playing music is a type of therapy, of a healthy way of dealing with the day-to-day grind?
Mark: Mike has also done the same kind of work as well. In fact, he probably has had the most stressful job out of all of us. He used to work as a Mental Health Tech at a psychiatric hospital on the adolescent unit. I worked at the same hospital for a while, but I worked mostly with severely mentally ill people and on the ER unit. Now, Mike’s a counselor. Jeff and I have worked with people with mental retardation for many years. Most of the people I have worked with are in the profound to severe range of mental retardation. With that population, they often have physical limitations as well as emotional and behavioral problems. Right now, my job isn’t too intense because I just do a lot of paperwork, writing behavior management plans and stuff like that.
It’s interesting, but I think that it’s pretty easy to get burned out doing work like this. There’s a lot of frustration involved. Playing in the band definitely helps. It’s something to look forward to. I don’t know if it’s exactly healthy, though. It may help me keep my head straight, but it sure doesn’t help me have more money. That’s a pretty big source of stress. I think you have to be a little bit crazy to play in a band. Just like everybody else who does this, it’s hard for us to have any kind of regular job, no health insurance, very little money….
Todd: Jeff went to Japan for a year. Instead of breaking up, you guys recorded more songs. Do individual members write and practice the songs—like, all of the instruments—before introducing them to the rest of the band? Or how did that work?
Mark: It varies. Jeff can play every instrument really well. He sometimes records his songs before he brings them to us and sometimes he just works on them with us. Before he left, he recorded about seven or eight songs, just trying stuff out. We used one of those songs for the Shit Sandwich 7”. Mike and I recorded my song while Jeff was gone and then Joe added his part later. So, the whole band is on the 7”, just not on the same side. Even though it sucked that Jeff was gone, we knew he was coming back. Instead of just waiting around and crying, we took that time to work on improving the studio and working on more songs.
Todd: Why don’t you guys ever print the lyrics with your releases? Is the “shadowiness” intentional?
Mark: Writing lyrics is a pain in the ass; something we just have to do. I like some of our lyrics when they are sung, but whenever I read lyrics they always seem stupid. I’d rather people just hear them instead of read them. It’s a weird thing. For Jeff, I think that the shadowiness may be intentional. He’s a real private kinda guy. For me, when Chris and I started the Reds, he was like, “Well, I can’t sing”—which isn’t true—“so you’re gonna have to do it.” I understand that some people really listen to the lyrics, but it’s not the most important part to us. I think you can get the idea without knowing exactly what is being said. It’s like getting hints.
Todd: Is it true that Jeff was a musical prodigy as a kid?
Mark: Yeah, pretty much. He started playing when he was about thirteen. He took lessons from this guy named Dug who latter became the guitarist for WASP. He had poofy hair. Dug would write out a song for Jeff in tablature and then Jeff would take it home and figure out that the guy had written it down wrong. So he had to figure it out himself.
Todd: What’s the one thing—aside from music and aside from work—that keeps the individual members grounded and happy?
Mark: Who said we are grounded and happy?