Mark Mallman on making Double Silhouette a $10 million album
Photo by Wilson Webb
Just off the wheels of Marathon IV: Road Rogue, a week-long song performed during a trek from New York to Los Angeles, performer extraordinaire Mark Mallman has unveiled his latest CD, Double Silhouette. Renowned for his high-energy dramatic performances and marathon song cycles, Mallman has won a huge international following for his punk and '70s glam-inspired tunes. He is performing a CD Release Party at the Ritz Theater on Saturday in conjunction with Sound Unseen 13.
He is constantly creating and reinventing himself. Gimme Noise met him at the Bad Waitress. He handed over the new album, which features a beautiful eerie green sci-fi painting with astronauts on a strange landscape and a spacecraft hovering. We talked about his release show during Sound Unseen 13. It's a perfect match, as Mallman is a also a cineaste, and works on soundtracks for movies and television.
Gimme Noise: Let's talk about the cover art a little bit.
Mark Mallman: Steve Summers, a fine artist, is my cousin. He and I had been working on albums since I was about 10 years old. We had a band called Fork City and we had an album Something Fun on Fork and a song called "Attack of the Hell Hamster." He has always drawn spaceships and monsters and nudes and portraits. He did the artwork for Between the Devil and Middle C, and Invincible Criminal. This time I wanted him to do a painting because he does a lot of paintings of fantasy. This fits all the themes of my record, so this was perfect.
What is the theme of this record?
Lyrically the theme is: how do you find yourself after you break up? There are my standard lyric themes -- hidden book titles in songs, there are references to Minneapolis, there's a lot of my traditional lyrical subject matter, and there's lightning and two people in space. Because I don't really live in reality, so I sort of tend to see the world through a lens. That's why there's always a lot of science fiction stuff in my songs.
I wonder if that lends toward your marathons, your experience of reality, how you experience time and space.
Yeah! I think I'm slowly beginning to realize the reason I do long songs and performance art is because I can get into my reality, get in touch with my personal reality, which is different. I'm just coming to grips with that. I thought it was mental illness, for a lot of years. Then I realized it wasn't. I stopped taking medication, started eating healthy and exercising. I realize I just see the world different. In the last couple of years I've been coming to not fighting it anymore. It's just my own version of the world.
And Marathon 4 was definitely about space, and space travel. In a certain way it was like Alphaville by Jean luc Godard. You know that movie?
I do! In that film -- its set in the future, in space, but it takes place in 1950's Paris. Since the character believes it, you believe it. He's on this spy mission in a city controlled by robots. Marathon 4 was definitely that! It was absurdist. It was definitive statement about technology gone awry, about a human being gone awry. It was a narrative, definitely about space. We were getting a lot of comments as this was viewed worldwide. People were asking, "Why does this seem like the Voyager Mission?"
We had a lot of cameras that were black and white. We were traveling a lot. We were referring to cars as aliens. We even took something like a space walk, which was me taking a keytar into the middle of the desert and we were visited by a UFO on the trip. It was very grounding. It had to be very focused. It wasn't like Marathon 3 where I had the freedom to lose my mind. I could not. In this I had to stay focused. I had to stay on point. I constantly had to deal with the equipment and it was a very tight space. In a way it was like a homemade spaceship, like a playtime. Although we were actually breaking tremendous new ground. It was a lot like landing on the moon and we let that happen. It was landing on the moon in that people are still feeling the impact of what we did. It will continue to happen as we develop Road Rogue further.
What are your next plans, in extension from that, or another marathon?
I feel very strongly about the album. I put a lot of time into it. I'm going to do a traditional few tours and shows behind it. It's getting good airplay and traction behind it. It's doing pretty well. I need to fulfill my obligations to this album. I'm fortunate to be in the position where I'm at the peak of my career. I have a lot of creative choices. I'm at a playful time, where I can be inventive and creative. I don't have any demands on me to constantly be on the road. So I can work on my creative projects, that I always keep under wraps. 2013 is going to really be some very new directions, even more than Marathon 4. Mainly now it's touring behind the record, and resting. Because I didn't expect to do Marathon 4 and the record at the same time. So now I'm in a chill-out place, because all summer was spent in a room.
What can people expect at the show at the Ritz Theater?
I'm going to be doing a few new songs off the record, some solo stuff I've never done. Coming back from L.A. and doing the Zombie show -- I'm really wanting to change everything. I've been doing the same thing for a long time. So this whole year's been about changing things in my life. I thought it would be fun to do a show that is a little different than my other shows. There won't be any stunts. It's just going to focus on the quality of songs and we'll have some Marathon 4 stuff. It's going to be about my record and some of my catalogue. It's going to be traditional. For me that's not normal. This is more like a Red Bedroom style record, which is 2002 era for me. I'm going there, kind of.
That gets at what's different about this record than your earlier material?
I've always been on a quest for fidelity. Making a record that sounds like a $10 million album. We did that, with the help of a lot of people who have faith in me, believe in what I do. Ed Ackerson mixed it. I recorded the piano all over. People donated time and helped. It's different because it's very singular in its message. It's very narrative. It's a very singular, emotionally driven piece. Where some of my albums are like the great '70s rock album. Every angle of retro rock. This one is modern and not addressing the history of music in ways that my other records have. If anything refers to music history, its "Dirty Dishes," - I was influenced by late '70s John Lennon. There is that overtone to some of it.
So there is a narrative running through the songs?
There's definitely a story. The end of "The Man with Music Instead of Blood" says, "If I start at the beginning, then the end would make no sense." That's why these songs are out of order. There's recurring lyrics, recurring sounds... the more you listen, the more you realize the songs exist together as a unit. But it's not like a rock opera. The last song, "Fight the Darkness with More Darkness" sums up the entirety of the whole album, but you don't get there. In a way you could probably play this record backwards and it would make more sense.
That makes me think of the film Memento.
Yeah, in a way, now that I look at the track order. "So Much for Hollywood Endings" -- you could probably play this backwards and it would make more sense! (Laughs). Because "Its Starts with a One Night Stand" is toward the end, and "So Much for Hollywood Endings" is toward the beginning. My intent was to make all the songs about one thing. From the different angles and perspectives of a singular thing.
It's about finding yourself after breaking up, reflecting on it, and being accepting of it. I think a lot of people write breakup records in the vein of, "Woe is me." It's about taking ownership of your mistakes, celebrating the good shit. It's really a reflective album, about taking a spaceship to a new world to become a better person. And we're all in this together. Red Bedroom wasn't like that. Red Bedroom was about me being sad. Double Silhouette is about me deconstructing what sadness is.
I get a lot of fans -- there are people who thank me for the music helping them through hard times. People gravitate toward my music because I address dark themes in a very positive way. That's how I have to exist in my life. If I had to submit to being dark, I wouldn't be here. I get a lot of times, people saying "I know someone that died and your music has helped me through it." Just really moving messages from my fans. I feel really grateful that my music speaks to people.
Does that help you keep moving forward? Because I imagine it can be isolating to write dark songs and be in the dark territories again?
Yeah, it's really hard! Because you have to tour behind it. Its like Nirvana or Joy Division. What if they wrote a happy song, and played that every night? I wonder if that would've prevented them from killing themselves. When you're on tour, people can only handle so much. People who are unfamiliar with my catalogue, or only familiar with what people call my stunts - which I'm kind of offended by - but that's understandable because that's the way people see it if they don't know about my career.
I think Robert Smith of the Cure said something about that too, writing sad songs when in a good mood...
I think he does that do, because a lot of their saddest songs are in a major key. They write a lot of major key songs. Not only does that create a greater complexity to the song but it also makes it more realistic because nothing is 50/50, but also especially because it makes it more bearable. Because some songs, I can't listen to Death Cab for Cutie because it makes me too sad. There are some bands I love but I won't put it on. Like the new Bon Iver record. I love it but its too emotionally draining for me to hear. I just have such an admiration for that band and they create such joy in my life but I can only put it on occasionally. Loving Bon Iver is a memory for me. It's like I know that I love them but I can't bear to hear it because it makes me so sad.
What inspires you now musically?
About a year ago I stopped listening to music because I do it so much. When I came down from marathon 4, I'd been listening, had headphones on for 180 hours. I really enjoy the music of the world because my brain was so attached to the music that when the music stopped, it started making music on its own. It made music out of the wind, out of cars, its very Eno-esque, or John Cage-esque. But I'm blue collar; I was raised by of a machinist. I keep those ideas rooted in a mainstream reality. I tend to have very arty concepts in a very realistic world. I think I generally haven't been listening to music. I've been making it so much. I'm really in my own world. Music is like eating or breathing. Its something I do. Its something I'd die without. But, what inspires me are flowers and children, a lot of old man things, cars. You know? (Laughs) Its weird. I used to need music until it became the fabric of my being to the point that it was a part of me. I didn't need it anymore because I became it.
Please talk about the band.
They've all been playing with me forever. Peter Anderson has played on every record but one. Ryan Smith is a great friend. Jake Hanson does a lot of Robert Fripp style solos on this. I was trying to push '70s style Eno in some of the production. I play more instruments than ever in this.
Who have you been writing songs for these days?
Movies and TV and commercials and movie trailers and spots and toys... I don't see the process of music any different. I enjoy working for other people because I don't have to be as emotionally invested in the work. When I did Bite Me 2, a TV series for Lionsgate, it was with a very fantastic funny director, Jerry Conaway, I appreciated the challenges he through to me because it wasn't the soundtrack I'd envisioned -- it grew me as an individual. Soundtracks are collaborations. Like Chris Strouth said, "Music is no longer a fist, it's a finger. It's a part of a thing; it's not the whole thing." He's always inspired me. He produced Marathon 3. When I write a score I feel more like longer, bigger projects. I'm in a position where I can choose.
I did songs for the Choo Choo Bob show. Children's music allows you to be very surreal. In rock music there's such a structure where you have to write certain themes. With children's music you can say, "what if a bunch of animals broke out of a circus and rode a rollercoaster?" Its' like a Salvador Dali concept. And kids get that! For some reason when we grow up we're conditioned against those kinds of themes and in society we pander to children and think down toward those types of ideas. But those types of creative thoughts in kids are what allow inventors to lead society forward, its what led Steve Jobs to invent the amazing things he invented. It wasn't about the modern world. It was about being inventive and fantastic. I really like that. The word "weird" really bothers me. I think what I do is inventive. I don't think of it as a stunt. I think its creative and its fun. I don't think it's gimmicky. I see it as a style and a creative endeavor. That's why I like working with music.
Do you want to say something about cinema as an influence?
The title track is about Casablanca. Ilsa's fallen in love with Victor Laslow and she needs Rick's help. The love of Rick's life has met a new man. He can't be negative because the world hangs in the balance. Its not "woe is me." Its about balance and acceptance. Every guy wants to be Rick.
Mark Mallman Double Silhouette CD Release Show w/ Van Stee
Ritz Theater 7 p.m. Sat. October 13th, $10 adv/$12 door
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