As a listener of music, when trying to connect with an artist, I'm often left wondering what was going through their mind when he or she composed and performed certain tracks. As a reviewer, I often try to piece together the puzzle and guess at influences, meanings, and emotions. From this was born my inspiration for this feature: how to remove myself from between the artist and the listener (get rid of the middle man you could say) and really convey the essence of a song.
Keeping that in mind, what better source to go to than the artist? So, that's what you're going to get with the Sunday Spotlight. I'm going to be asking artists that I particularly enjoy to open up to the world; crack open that mystery of their muse; shed light on their craft.
For the first post in the series, Marco Mahler has agreed to talk about Fields, a track off of his self-released album Design In Quick Rotation. Marco draws upon his Swiss and American heritage, as well as a diverse range of music (from Irish folk to mainstream hip-hop), in the creation of his own. Here's the song; listen to it while Marco talks about its birth, its personal meaning, and his music in general. Text in red is Marco's voice, text in black is mine.
With most of my songs I have a rough idea and then add and finish it while recording it. 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. For Fields, as with most of my songs, I came up with the music and recorded it within around two hours.
I hear Outkast, Bert Jansch, Lou Reed and Stephen Malkmus in the music.
Outkast are one of my all time favorites. Listening to Andre Benjamin always puts me in a good place.
Bert Jansch opened a whole new world to me. The first song I heard by him was The Gardener and I felt like this fascinating new world was opening up to me. I spent a lot of time sitting in front of the stereo and went to any of his shows that I could get to, trying to figure out how to play his songs. It made me aware of the infinite possibilities that an acoustic guitar holds and how one can create complex yet simple and solid multi-layered music with just an acoustic guitar and vocals.
Bert Jansch - The Gardener : The Best Of Bert Jansch
Part of the electric guitar solo in the last part reminds me of Stephen Malkmus guitar on the Silver Jews’ American Water, one of my favorite albums, and one that I think stands up to, and keeps standing up to the greatest albums of all time.
I wrote the lyrics while laying on a golf course that was just being built on what used to be farm land. A big bird kept circling around. It looked like it was looking for something, maybe mice.
“New notions of aesthetics may seem pathetic to youIt’s a defense and justification for me to stay true to my own musical standards and ideas.
Because you're nostalgic and you do,
What’s already been done, I don't see the fun”
“The senses perception is pastIt’s the idea of seeing things for what they are, of describing what’s actually really there instead of what it seems to be on the surface, deranging the senses, breaking down patterns in perception, becoming a clean slate and then you’re able to really see. Bob Dylan, Henri Poincaré, a mathematician and physicist who was influential to both Einstein and Picasso, Charles Baudelaire and Arthur Rimbaud are people I was into when I started thinking about those kinds of ideas.
Conception will last
The vast ignorance, delivers the difference
Between reflecting gases
In front of dark space and the sky”
1.) On many albums, there is often almost a battle between vocals and instruments over which will be heard, which will be front and center. Your album feels almost exactly the opposite. It's almost as if you and the instruments are striving to be more silent than the other. Was this a conscious element of the album on your part?
I don't like to over do it in the recording process. I don't like adding something if I don't feel like it really should be there. It feels right to me when there's only a handful of elements, each with its own solid purpose and clarity, that complete each other instead of interfere with each other or fight with each other over the space available.2.) I've read that your wife is an accomplished poet and reading her work has influenced you. Have any of her verses found their way into your music?
Nothing directly but my writing changed after I read hers. In 1's And O's [another track from the album] her writing's influence shows the strongest, I think.3.) Not being familiar with Swiss music what-so-ever, are there any elements of it in your work, or have you been more influenced by English / American artists?
Mostly by English / American artists, some other international, and very little Swiss. The Swiss music market is small and can sustain only a small number of full-time bands and musicians.
In addition to Fields, listen to Orange Chinese Car below for a better feel of Marco’s work. The entire album is just as richly and deeply constructed as Fields and deserves a concentrated listen. This isn’t the type of album that you can play in the background to fully appreciate. Its hushed lyrics and instrumentation require undivided attention. I’ve seen it described elsewhere as “music that captures the dawn of Sunday morning and embodies it through verse and song,” and I couldn’t agree more. I can’t think of a better way to experience the album than listening to it while lying in bed as the sun rises on a quiet morning.
Many thanks to Marco for being so open and generous with his thoughts and inspirations. His album, Design In Quick Rotation, is available now and would be an excellent addition to your holiday wish-list.
Marco Mahler - Fields : Design In Quick Rotation
Marco Mahler - Orange Chinese Car : Design In Quick Rotation
Bert Jansch - The Gardener : The Best Of Bert Jansch