Interview with Mark Williams from MarineVille!

MarineVille is an interesting creation by Mark Williams, also featuring loads of members from the past but are currently based of Greg Cairns, Jeremy Coubrough and Denise Roughan. In the lifetime of the band, there have been three album releases and one single release. I got the opportunity to talk to Mark Williams from the band about his inspiration, how they have developed over time, what he thinks of the music industry, which genres he like to listen to and also some other nice topics. You should check it out.

Could you tell me anything about the background of MarineVille – why the name and how did you start off?

- The name came from the Swell Maps record ‘A Trip to Marineville’. We had our first gig coming up and just flipped through a bunch of records to find a name. Last year I got to meet Jowe Head from the Maps and gave him a copy of the Fowl Swoop LP, and say thanks!

The 3 studio albums released so far have all been with different line-ups, Generally people have left as a record has come out, so I have brought in other people and we have carried on as MarineVille.

What would you say were your initial influences for the band both musically and aesthetically?

- Around the first album the rest of the band was very into American post-rock groups. I was very inspired by The Go-Betweens, The Verlaines and an album called Li-lo-ing by the Australian group Crow. Also ’60s minimalist stuff like Terry Riley. I didn’t know much about music and couldn’t play the guitar very well. I assumed all those people must be using really weird chords. How else did it sound so good? So I tried to write songs around strange chord shapes. I tried to make the structures of the songs non-traditional, even counter-intuitive. It was all about finding something new. For the 2nd record I ditched most of these rules and relied more on intuition.

Aesthetically, the drummer Simon Waterfield made great posters plus the cover for the first album. All of that was really fantastic. Myself and Adam Ring rejected style more than anything else – we made the odd poster with wallpaper or photos we ripped out of 1970s cook books.

In what way do you complement each other in this band and who does what?

- I write the basis of most of the songs but I am technically pretty sloppy. Sometimes the band has a conversation – ‘Is he playing 8 bars? Is he playing 7 and a half?’ It’s pretty funny. For me, anyway, ha ha. Jeremy (aka Tlaotlon) has the musical chops to play anything on keyboard or guitar, Greg has that sense of ‘feel’ for the slower stuff and ploughs into the fast stuff like a madman, Denise is solid as a rock on bass and likewise on vocals. Hopefully we can write more material just jamming.

Tell me about your first album Ready for the Dance, how do you feel about it in comparison to the others?

- For the 1st album the group used to practice 2-3 times a week and it was an incredibly exciting time. Anything seemed possible musically, creatively. Those are the first rock songs I ever wrote. Afterwards I felt some of it was a bit angsty lyrically, and the second album Diving the Wreck was more an attempt to write more concise material. The 3rd album Fowl Swoop is like a mixture of both, quite tightly structured songs but quite sprawling in parts. Over the past year we practiced just once before a gig, and played mostly upbeat stuff.

It also sounds quite different from the later one’s, but one thing I can hear throughout the albums is that your voice really have stayed in the same category. In what way do you think it’s developed throughout?

- I generally work between singing and speaking, or pretending I’m on stage in front of an audience. Between the 2nd and 3rd albums I spent about 3 years in another group singing revved-up versions of Jacques Brel songs in French and English. So there are a bunch of unused vocal takes for the 3rd album that are pretty theatrical and full of vibrato. Greg said “Are you sure you want to sound like Fiddler on the Roof?!”

What singers in the history of music do you look up to and try to mimic or at least sound like? Or do you have your own concept?

- I like John Cale, Robert Forster, Jacques Brel, and Richard Hell is probably my favorite lyricist. The lyric dictates a certain approach. There are a lot of in-jokes and oblique references but you don’t want to come off like a comedian so I try and play it fairly straight. Partly my singing is informed by struggling to hear myself in the PA when we play live. You end up shouting.

Could you tell me anything about the video for your song Let’s Build A House? What inspired you to make a video for it?

- It’s from the write-about-what-you-know school. Myself and guitarist David Hall just decided to buy a keg of beer for our friends, get them drunk and film them dancing like idiots. I dressed in a suit jacket because the prevailing fashion was for American trucker t-shirts and baseball caps.

What would you say are the best elements in indie and psych-rock? Are there any other genres that you’d like to pluck some from?

- I rarely listen to indie these days. There are a few good lyricists but I find it a bit bloodless musically. There’s still amazing stuff from the post-punk era to be found. I guess it has an art school influence… there is room for ideas and humor. Over the past year I have been obsessed with the  the blog site Awesome Tapes from Africa. I’m trying to become more rhythmic in my guitar playing… the African stuff is great for that.

The best elements in psych-rock are just pure wild electric sound overload, sound that affects you physically… makes you feel like your head is lifting off…

You also have a music-video for the song Time – could you tell me what it’s all about and how it came to be?

- I suppose it’s running away from death, hence the grim reaper. But the video was the idea of the film-maker, John Lake, so you’d have to ask him. The ending where we throw cream at each other was shot in Jeremy’s kitchen which is also the bands practice room. For weeks after it smelt like a butchers.  My girlfriend made me shampoo my beard 3 times that night. Shortly after that we had a massive mouse problem. I caught 20 of them in 2 weeks. I think it was the remains of the cream but maybe they smelt my beard?

Would you say that you’re a live-band or a studio-band – or both for that matter? What means the most to you?

- As a group we struggle to fit in to the New Zealand scene at the moment. We’re considered too weird for the pop audience and too straight for the experimental audience. We feel an affinity with some of the older grips we’ve played with – The Terminals, The Puddle. So it’s sort of an uphill battle to find our place here… I totally love studio arrangement and overdubbing, it’s like assembling a puzzle.

How do you feel about the music industry, what do you make of it? Have it affected you in any way?

- NZ is a small place without much music press, so with the 1st album I would send cd’s to music magazines asking for reviews, etc. It always felt kind of bizarre as these magazines were also reviewing boy/girl groups, rap, whatever. In a bigger place with more people there would be more specialized press. Having to recoup costs also pushed the band to get photos, a website etc, none of which anybody in MarineVille has ever really felt entirely comfortable with.

Nowadays I’m interested in writing, recording and releasing music as quickly and low-cost as possible. I need to learn more about recording and mixing so we don’t have to pay someone else to do it. Ideally we’d have labels in the US and Europe who would release everything in a small, sustainable run and send it to distributors who understood it.

If we’d go back in time for a short while, what decade would you like to stay in and who would you jam with?

- Prince in the ’80s.

You’re from the wonderful New Zealand, so nature must be somewhat of an influence, or do you have anything else in mind when you write your songs?

- Too much nature can be terrifying… it’s like a void… sometimes I’m amazed my ancestors came to this outpost…

Could you tell me something about the creative process when you write songs, what does it take for you to concentrate extremely much and write great lyrics?

- Generally I harvest ideas and they percolate slowly in the background. Eat Toast is inspired by the slogans of social networking sites eg: ‘Myspace – a place for friends’. It’s an absurdist response to this rather forced idea that we’re all happy participants in this capitalist model… Face is a collection of phrases from a museum display about the face and communication. When I wrote them down they seemed more like instructions to someone with Aspergers about how humans communicate.

Do you have any tip for those inexperienced in the field – what was the first thing you learned about writing music and lyrics? 

- A long time ago this guy Roy Colbert said to me “Excitement is the most important thing in rock music”. I’ve been thinking about that a lot in the past couple of years.

About a week ago, you released your latest single on Epic Sweep Records – what made you choose that label? 

- Teneti who runs it seems like a nice guy. He’s made it easy to release things quickly. There’s no real financial pressure.

What would you say inspired the wonderful cover where you’re all eating marmalade(?)

- That’s not marmalade Jonas… it’s a special protein paste made by our keyboard player Jeremy Coubrough. It is colour coded by Jeremy to fit our personalities. Every practice begins with a round of this paste. I cannot tell you the ingredients, except to say it has nine herbs and spices, which, importantly, is one more than the Colonel’s secret recipe. Jeremy is currently developing a range of products for the consumer food marketplace, which will be released on his own brand ‘Jeremy’s Kitchen’. You can see Jeremy’s kitchen on the back of our new 7″!

Your latest record, especially the song “Eat Toast” sounds much rougher than anything you’ve ever done. It also reminds me a lot of no-wave – what relationship do you have to that genre?

- I love it! Especially DNA and Theoretical Girls. Obviously those band played songs but you sort of feel the style of music was a way to gazump musical ability and get straight to some sort of communion with electricity and instruments. I’ve drawn on it playing in noise and improv groups but it’s exciting to bring that into MarineVille.

In what way have MarineVille changed since you released your first album, because I saw that you’re being backed up by folks from The Verlaines, The 3D’s and Tlatotion – on this latest single?

- These days the songs are a lot more direct and more consistently upbeat. Greg and I workshopped a lot of the material on the last album together. I had kind of lost focus and he really helped knock a bunch of ideas into songs and restored my confidence. Denise is rock solid and gets things very quickly. She has gotten sick of playing live and will stick to the studio, which is fine… Jeremy is just incredibly musical. We’ve been neighbors for the past year so he and I have workshopped a lot of new stuff together.

By the way – what’s so good about toast? Do YOU want to eat it?

- Absolutely Jonas, the miracle of Toast is that it provides a low risk avenue for culinary exploration… without Toast how would I have combined Peanut Butter and Black Olives? Peanut Butter and Marmite? Jam and Banana?

Are there any other bands that you like in particular that have emerged from New Zealand recently? 

- Wellington has had a thriving free jazz and improv scene for many years now. Many groups come and go quite quickly, then the members form another group with other people… anything Jeff Henderson and Dan Beban do is pretty good… there was a big influence from the Sublime Frequencies label here for a couple of years, lots of ecstatic crazy party music. Orchestra of Spheres are a great South Pacific voodoo boogie band, they came out of that. Terror of the Deep are like a lost early Flying Nun group, great songs.

What other genres do you like very much and what do you normally listen to?

- Lately I have divided my record collection up into sections and I get the most fun out of ‘novelty’. In terms of new discoveries, Aby Ngana Diop, Group Inerane, Ephrem Tamru, Scritti Politti… Jeremy has given me a lot of amazing stuff… Lukas Ligeti. Actually I ‘ve been listening to Richard Lloyd’s album he recorded in Sweden in the ’80s called Field of Fire. Mostly that song – actually mostly the lead breaks… mind-boggling.

In what setting does one listen to MarineVille to get the ultimate feeling for what the band stands for and is musically?

- Slightly on the wrong side of drunk, with the stereo very loud!

I also read a review on your debut album that described it as having an “intriguing stylistic range” – would you agree? 

- That’s a nice compliment. Some of our music is quite pastoral, some dramatic, I guess I want us to be as varied as possible and often I write to keep it that way.

If one is in New Zealand – what should one visit? Are there any great places to go to? 

- The Clyde Dam in Central Otago never fails to bring a tear to the eye, Jonas. Apart from that, Jeremy’s Kitchen!

Who have made all the covers, if we start with your debut album and walk all the way up to your latest single? 

- Ready for the Dance – Simon Waterfield, Diving the Wreck was a photo taken by me, ugh – so bad (!), Fowl Swoop and the new single were done by Jeremy Coubrough. The single was photographed by John Lake.

Where did you record your latest single and how was the creative process in doing so?

- We did it in the warehouse space off Jeremy’s Kitchen. We hired an industrial heater as it was so cold, we did 2-3 live takes then picked the best one. Fowl Swoop took 3 years to finish, so we agreed to be more focussed and ruthless with this stuff. No fixing mistakes. The band often work from my vocal cues but I couldn’t sing while we recorded the music. So some of the musical changes are in the wrong place and I had to re-write the lyrics to fit the recorded version of the song. It was actually quite a good creative prompt and keeps things fresh. We recorded 6 songs in 1 day and then I added the vocals over a week. So we have 4 more songs ready to go for album number 4.

In what setting would you want to have a music-video if you were to make another one for one of your songs?

- I would like me and the band to drive a Rolls-Royce into a swimming pool. We all come up wearing tuxedos. The band climb on to floating barges around the Rolls-Royca with drumkit, amps, etc. In one hand I would be given a cocktail by Darryl Hannah and in the other a microphone by Susannah Hoffs (circa 1988). Fans line the edge of the pool, wearing bathing costumes, drinking cocktails, etc. Tom Hanks is there. And Brian Wilson. Everyone is yelling, smiling… happy… it is very sunny… like California. Everyone is having a good time, like they’re at a party with Huey Louis (me) and the News (the rest of the group).

If we talk about the song-titles, do you have any exquisite memory of a certain song/songs that have moved you in an emotional way?

- Yes, but I try not to think about it too much.

What would you say that MarineVille means to you and what does music mean to you if we’d analyze it from a philosophical point of view?

- I still love songs and find it a great challenge to write a good one. I am very proud of what we have released, even though I am driven to ‘fix’ certain songs that make me cringe by doing something new that is better… apart from that, everyone must feel they are making a creative contribution.

Could you mention any songs that take you to an all emotional high?

- At ear-splitting volume, I would say ‘Heaven on Earth’ by Belinda Carlisle. I think because it is so awful, so amazing and so loud, and as a teenager I found her so foxy.

I seem to be talking a lot about women from the 1980s in this interview!

If you would’ve been contacted by MTV on the premise of changing your sound to fit a broader audience and getting a lot of money – would you do it?

- You bet. Why not? So long as I could go home and do whatever other music I wanted. I’ve had worse jobs than making music. Like counting trucks driving on a highway from North to South, or vice versa. Actually that was pretty good, I sat in the sun, I had the radio and I would just put a tick in the box when I saw a truck. Tick!

What would be your dream if you’d be featured somewhere – on the web, in the radio or on TV? If so, what programme or what site would it be?

- It would be a re-make of the Monkees ‘Head’ but set in Jeremy’s Kitchen.

Thank you for the interview! Do you have any last words?

- Thanks for the interview! Got any good Richard Lloyd in Sweden stories?

Listen to their latest album FOWL SWOOP:

And to their brand new single Face:

Do also check out their music video to the song Time:

Also, here’s the music video for the song Let’s Build A House:

You can also find them over here:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/MarineVille/200992963274363

Bandcamp: http://marinevillenz.bandcamp.com/

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