I'm old enough to be Dan Mariska's dad, but when I heard one of his King and the Thief CDs, I knew this was an artist I needed to see live. A road trip to the Triple Rock sounds like just the ticket! I advise others do the same.
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Based on the assiduous nods to early-'90s collegiate classics like Beck's Mellow Gold found on Dan Mariska's debut album, It's All Okay, one might peg him as an Alternative Nation alum whose teen years coincided with the ascendance of flannel fashion. But Mariska was all of four years old back when "Loser" was burning up the airwaves.
Just two years removed from his high school graduation at Perpich Center for Arts Education, Mariska nevertheless sounds like a fully formed talent throughout It's All Okay. Mariska's quavering understated tenor recalls Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan, and he appears to possess a similarly eclectic muse, taking confident stabs at both hypnotic mid-tempo indie-pop (the epic and excellent title track) and jaunty alt-country (the sassy slide-guitar-powered kiss-off "Girlhouse"). Recorded with the aid of local scene veteran Knol Tate (Askeleton, Ela), Mariska's minimalist tunes have a sly pop charm that is accentuated by his collaborator. Tate appears at the ready with just the right spiky guitar riff or woozy keyboard figure fill whenever Mariska's acoustic tunes call for a pick-me-up.
Mariska is quick to credit the elder statesmen for helping his tunes realize their full potential. "Knol Tate rules," Mariska offers with a chuckle, when asked to sum up Tate's influence on his burgeoning solo career. "I met him through a friend of a friend and hadn't really even heard any of his music when we started working together. Right away it became apparent that he was the right guy to partner with on the recording. He's just really good at getting things done. In the past I would always get hung up on listening to every little bit of a recording a million times. Knol's a busy guy and we were recording at his home studio so I knew I couldn't waste his time doing that. We didn't really have a budget and basically just used whatever instrument he had on hand and pushed through to make a record as quickly as we could."
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While Mariska's previous frontman foray on the local scene in the King and the Thief saw him focus on dark and stormy rock, his fledgling solo career encompasses both subtle acoustic sentiments and full-band rave-ups, an intentionally wide-ranging sound that Mariska intends to support both with a backing band dubbed the Boys Choir and on his own, as the situation merits.
"I've been in a lot of bands, and even when they've been a lot of fun it was always hard to get everybody on the same page," explains Mariska. "With this set of songs it's really nice to be able to take them in whatever direction I want and figure out support accordingly. Rocking out with the band [drummer Ben Neitge, bassist Lee Carter, guitarist/keyboardist Izaac Burkhart] is awesome, but I can also do touring on my own. I'm taking the Mega Bus and doing some solo shows at the end of January in Chicago and Madison. It's easy for me to do some of the more grueling and maybe not-so-glamorous things on my own and then bring along the band when it's a fun situation where that makes sense."
While dedicated to pursuing music as a full-time occupation—and with the songwriting talent to make that hope more than a pipe dream even in the current challenging industry climate—Mariska holds goals for the immediate future that skew decidedly modest.
"Music is just supposed to be fun," says Mariska, when asked what hopes he has for his debut record. "I want to go play some shows, hang out, and get rid of all the records we made. Beyond that I can't really say. My short-term goal right now is to just get rid of all the CDs piled up in my room. It's really lame to be the guy surrounded by a bunch of his own records in his apartment all the time."
DAN MARISKA AND THE BOYS CHOIR play their CD-release show with Askeleton and Mourner on THURSDAY, JANUARY 5, at the Triple Rock Social Club; 612.333.7399