Fall 2016 Perks Up with Upcoming Releases But Makar Leads the Pack for the New Year!
Filled with gorgeous color and stunning imagery, Makar’s Folk-Rock sounds will equally entice and delight you. With their recent release in tow “Funeral Genius,” the group is gearing up for a jumpstart in 2017 on the heels of their long-awaited follow up, “Fancy Hercules.” Their creative and innovative songs drive with a force that is enlightening and delightful, even when the songs gain a dark edge. Makar proves themselves as artists, both musically and lyrically, which makes us want to know more about the rising group.
Recently the group has released the album, “Funeral Genius.” Did the group write the record as a collaborative effort, or did a specific songwriter in the band take the reigns?
Mark: Andrea and I write all of the music and lyrics for Makar songs with the exception of our first album, 99 Cent Dreams, which included three songs by Vicente Viray, our 2nd guitarist at the time, who wrote The Country Song, Soonest Mended and No Shot Was Fired and Andrea’s godfather, Michael Stillman, who wrote the heartfelt poem that Lost Voices was based on.
Andrea: I couldn’t imagine ever writing songs without Mark but in regards to our songwriting process, it has become increasingly organic and collaborative over the years. Devil in a Dream was a completely spontaneous composition. I was messing around fingerpicking on my guitar and Mark just started singing over it. So there has been a progression from more structured formal song writing habits, like one of us coming in with a set notion before working together, to working collaboratively almost from the song’s inception.
Your latest record has been garnering attention from fans and music critics alike. When it came to writing the songs, how long did it take to put the pieces together and find the right sound? How did you decide to choose the pieces that made it on to the album?
Mark: Our albums usually take about three years from conception to distribution. We generally take one year to write the songs, one year to rehearse the songs, and one year to record the songs. The rehearsal phase also entails playing out live where we slip the new songs into our set lists or play the new album in its entirety once or twice just to see how it flows. As far as choosing the songs on Funeral Genius it was a pretty organic process, but one that followed the concept of the album, which was based around a poem Andrea wrote called Funeral Genius. For our first two albums, 99 Cent Dreamsand Funeral Genius, the title came first. Once we had the title we either wrote songs that worked with the overall theme of the album, or included songs we had already written that fit into that theme. And continuing the tradition from 99 Cent Dreams we decided there would have to be a title track. There will also be a title track on our upcoming third album, Fancy Hercules.
Andrea: Sometimes towards the end of the recording process, you look back and laugh at the kismet of it all. That the songs flow well together, add to and influence each other’s final form and you’re not quite sure how that happened. It’s always magical to me that albums come together in the end.
We’ve definitely figured out that it’s crucial to always be writing new songs not just for your soul but so you can pick from a slew of songs for an album. What’s funny is sometimes you will come up with a new song in the middle of recording and realize that this new song belongs on the album and you have no choice but to finish it and complete the album. I don’t think this happened with Funeral Genius but it did with our first album, 99 Cent Dreams. I Hate My Job and All I Know were new works in progress but now we can’t imagine them not being on 99 Cent Dreams. They wouldn’t have worked on any other album. It’s their home. It would be strange to think of any of our songs being disconnected from the album they appear on.
What was the driving inspiration behind the concept of the album?
Mark: A person we know who has no idea the album is about them. The theme of Funeral Genius is about living in the present and not being overwhelmed by the self-doubt that can kill one’s spirit. A Funeral Genius is someone who is a genius at being negative. A Debbie Downer, who obsessively looks at the negative side of things. An uber-pessimist, who is morbid and thinks of death all the time thereby forgetting to live. The person who inspired the album is basically a composite of Funeral Geniuses everywhere and frankly a real deal buzz kill. If they knew the album was about them there would be hell to pay for A and me, so we’ll take that one to the grave thank you very much.
Andrea: To rebell and say yes instead of no, just like when John Lennon climbed up that ladder in Indica Gallery in 1966 and peered through the magnifying glass and Yoko’s painting said yes in tiny lettes. To drown out the perpetual naysayers, and say I’m not going to do what you’ve narrowly prescribed for me. I only have one life to live and I’m going to live it my way. That’s the driving force for me.
The word on the street is that you are recording a new record. Is there any information you can share with us about the upcoming release?
Mark: Our upcoming third album is called Fancy Hercules and will be available everywhere, maybe even in vinyl. The similarities between Funeral Genius and Fancy Hercules, can be found in Makar’s usual poet, pop, folk, rock, blues, punk mix, but Fancy Hercules definitely veers into weirdest album yet territory with the addition of whacky musical theater musings, songs about insomnia, depression, brain tumors, the meaning of time, family problems, the old ball and chain, a reworking of Devil in a Dream and very strange horror film/Mars attacks type chords. Not to mention an examination of the myth of Hercules and how he slaughtered his whole family as our title track. And did I say we sing about the devil a lot?
Initially we were going to do an acoustic album, but now we’ll be working with Livia Ranalli, the awesome drummer from the End Men, and possibly either our old bass player, Mark Nilges, who rocked all over our second album, Funeral Genius, or our good buddy Joe Crespo from Hello Nurse fame to round out the sound.
Andrea: There are definitely some similarities, there’s going to be some bratty numbers, again in the vein of you can’t tell me what to do. Always my favorite feeling to sing about.
It’s funny the first song MAKAR ever wrote — Time Flies — is going to be on Fancy Hercules. Sometimes songs really need to percolate until they’re ready to be sung.
We just started playing with Livia last week and the power of the drums just cored me. It’s a strange feeling because we’ve only ever played these songs acoustically so it’s new and exciting to hear drums on these compositions in rehearsal. It’s really weird that we’re potentially recording this album backwards but it’s also exciting and unexpected.
Coming from the New York scene, what diversity do you find within the bands that play in the area? What sense of community is there currently?
Mark: You find every kind of band you could imagine in New York. There is no lack of diversity in this incredible city, and that goes for the audiences as well. New York is the place you come to either make it, do your thing making it be damned or when you’ve already made it, so you get everyone and everything happening here whether it be the most obscure dissonant sound artist playing in a small room atop a building to three people (myself, Andrea and some drunk passed out in the pew), our friend’s now defunct band, Morricone Youth, playing alongside a creepy version of Helplessly Devoted to You while a drag queen fake kills herself with a blood spurting fake knife, a faux French cabaret rock band named Nous Non Plus laying down their super chic and hilarious sounds or The Dead Exes laying down some killer blues at Mercury Lounge. Had a discussion with someone a while back about this topic and they were saying there isn’t really a New York community like there was in Seattle in the 90s or London during the Sex Pistols era, but that’s because New York has it all. It’s too big and too extraordinary for any one scene to dominate. We’ve been on bills with rap artists, heavy metal bands, folk bands, rock bands, pop singers so you just never know what you gonna get when you open up that box a chocolates.
What artists not only influenced your sound, but made you want to create music, even early on in your life?
Andrea: As a kid, my imagination and love for music was ignited by the Yellow Submarine film. I think one of the reasons this film completely fascinated me was the visual element and connection to the trippy lyrics. Those magical lyrics becoming actualized — the face that Eleanor Rigby keeps in a jar by the door becomes a reality in the animation. This visual confirmation and realization of these lyrics was very powerful and seductive to me and most likely inspired me to write poetry with vivid imagery. Yellow Submarine was the beginning of my love for the Beatles and for music in general leading to an all absorbing experience. The songs were alive and had their own individual stories.
Another song that is deeply embedded in my sonic memory is Love is a Stranger by the Eurythmics. When I was about ten or so, I had a 45 with this song as the B side to Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). I doubt I understood the lyrics at that age but the underwater spacey sound of the music and liquid vocals captivated me. I played it over and over in the basement of our house which was also our playroom. The song sounded unearthly, a rich melancholy that rippled throughout the dark room. I would turn it up on our speakers as high as they would go. It never felt synthetic or artificial sounding to me. It was so oddly intimate with these engaging disturbing grunts that felt threatening and taboo as a child. But it fascinated and still fascinates. The love described felt like a car crash that you couldn’t pull away from.
Revolver by The Beatles — I’m a Beatles fanatic but if I had to pick one album, Revolver would be it. I had an analog childhood. I started to collect Beatles albums when I was eight or nine. My brothers and I became enamored with The Yellow Submarine film. Their obsession ended there but I couldn’t get the tunes out of my head. Every so often I would buy a record with my allowance. Of all the Beatles’ albums Revolver has always felt like the most wide-ranging Beatles album while remaining whole. Those songs could never belong anywhere else but on that record. The sheer range is thrilling, the songs vary from dark, bright, droning, silly, romantic, soulful, trippy, angry, melancholic and beautiful. I never tire of listening to Revolver. It always sounds fresh and surprises me. And that’s what I strive for when working on songs with Mark. Will this song continue to resonate and surprise me? Will all the tracks on the album, no matter how different, tie in and complement each other in some tangible intangible way?
All Shook Down by The Replacements — I didn’t venture outside of the Beatles or classic rock genre until I was sixteen or seventeen then I discovered All Shook Down by The Replacements. I played that tape over and over again until quite a few bits were wobbly which only added to its shambly nature. I love the angry sadness and the herky-jerky discord that permeated this album. But still the songs feel so light strangely and they’re loud by being quieter than you expect. All shook down and shook off. How do you carry off such lightness among disappointing times and moods? Sometimes when songwriting I get pulled into the undertow of a song’s meaning or emotion and I feel like I’m drowning, I think of this record as a means to stay afloat.
Exile in Guyville by Liz Phair — This was a handwritten tape a friend made for me at Oberlin. I had listened to women singers before but they were unapproachable goddesses like Joplin or Baez. But here was a voice I could bite into, that was rough, raw and real. Her voice, her songs were isolating and daring. You wanted to live in them and some of their stories you had lived too closely like Fuck and Run. As I began to write songs, I wanted to be as honest and emotionally vulnerable as that album. Her record made making music seem possible because it was indie, it was lo-fi and wasn’t perfect and if it was perfect it wouldn’t have resonated so much because life isn’t perfect, it has tears, dust and skips like the homemade tape my friend made for me.
Who’s Next was the first record I really loved. I discovered it when I was nine years old thanks to my pal Marcus Cederquist who said I had to listen to it. It sowed the seeds for me wanting to be a musician and influenced the dramatic bombast in Makar’s songs and my piano playing. I discovered The White Album in my teens and it’s just such a brilliantly eclectic mix of songs. It’s all over the place stylistically speaking, but it still holds together as an album, which can definitely be said about Makar albums, especially our debut, 99 Cent Dreams, where we threw in everything but the kitchen sink. And finally I really got into The Doors in college and it was their debut album, The Doors, that convinced me to spend the rest of my life recording and performing music. It has everything you’d hope for in a rock album, novelty, singularity, danger, darkness, transcendence, sex, brilliance, poetry, humor, melody, great riffs and mystery, all traits Makar strives for.
These three albums made me feel and think outside the box. The Beatles, The Who and The Doors pushed the envelope of creativity and were fantastic musicians. They made me respect rock music and take it seriously, seeing the heights it could attain both in message, technique and form. The genius of these musicians inspired me to create my own art. If music was just something shallow, commercial and disposable, I would never have been interested, but seeing the universality of the messages in the music backed up by serious thinkers like Carl Jung, who Jim Morrison revered, piqued my interest and made me see that there was more to Rock than sex and drugs. For me the two most important criteria of music is whether it makes you feel something intensely while making you think in a different way than you’re used to, pushing you outside of your own box. These three albums do that for me. The best reviews and comments Makar has ever received are when people say our songs got them to think and feel in a different way. I love that.
What connection have you found in Makar that you may not have found in prior bands? What makes the group ‘click’?
Mark: Well for starters, my lovely wife. I mean when Andrea and I got married I had no idea I had just married my songwriting partner. She hadn’t picked up a guitar since she was twelve, had never really sung before and was focused on writing poetry, short stories and her debut novel, Pushed. She is an exceptionally fine writer, but one night she heard me writing the Monkey, which would eventually wind up on our debut album, 99 Cent Dreams, and just started singing “you are alone, you can’t go home” over this instrumental part so beautifully that I was like OMG girlfriend, do that again. And that’s where Makar was born. The first time I ever sang a Makar song live was at our wedding when I sang Andrea to Andrea in front of 125 guests backed by the wedding band killing covers all night. They had graciously consented to backing me while I belted away. Unfortunately, they hadn’t learned the song very well and were playing some new and inventive notes that didn’t necessarily go with the key I was singing in so the first part was all over the place, but at least they nailed the end because it’s a high note for me and that might have been a little awkward. Everyone was very nice about it and loved the performance, most importantly my lady love, but it was a rather dubious start for Makar. Prior to Makar I was the lead singer in a skiffle band in Jersey until my lead guitarist turned into Lucifer incarnate, started hitting my sister’s German Sheppard (probably not the smartest idea) on the sly because she had lied to him about being a smoker (we were all living together in a house) and I made a mad dash out of there and never looked back. He even went all Lucifer on me one day when I interrupted his laundry cycle not knowing it had to be done in a certain time frame or the world would end. I’m like, brother, it’s not a big deal, but he wasn’t having it and let me know in no uncertain terms what was what, which was the beginning of the end, cause Makar doesn’t suffer fools. Don’t know where he got off to, but he was a very talented guitar player and we performed at folk gatherings in Goldens Gate Bridge and other places around Jersey. Unfortunately he wasn’t the most balanced individual I’ve ever met, so being in Makar with Andrea is definitely where it’s clicked the best. Looking back, he would always say that it was someone else causing the problems in the various bands he’d been in and left and as his friend I took his side, but after he went off the reservation with my sister and her dog, I realized what the common denominator had been all along…him!
Andrea: I’d never been in a band before Mark and I formed MAKAR. It was something I never even allowed myself to fantasize about because the few times I tried out for anything involving singing it was a disaster. And to be fair, I didn’t know what I was doing.
I auditioned for an acappella group with The Beatles’ song You Got to Hide Your Love Away. They asked me what key I was going to sing it in and I didn’t know because I thought the whole reasoning with acappella is that you sing without accompaniment. Needless to say the audition didn’t go well.
I had a similar experience trying out for a musical my senior year in high school. I was a very shy kid so I never considered acting in a play and the drama clique always had all the roles locked up with our current drama teacher. There was no point in auditioning but then my junior year that all changed with a new teacher Gene D’Onofrio who didn’t play favorites and encouraged everyone in my school to audition but none of those supporting roles I played included singing. D’Onofrio moved on and when I auditioned my senior year for something as alien as a musical I was hopelessly nervous and music theory illiterate. Again they asked the pivotal question — what key are you singing in and I didn’t know the answer and fumbled through whatever song they played.
In college my freshman year I became a dedicated fan of a campus band called Jazz Cactus. There was something so exciting and unreal having a band composed of students on a small college campus. The band members were all a year or two older than me which made it even more thrilling and made them seem less approachable because they were older and therefore cooler. I loved their songs and the way the singer sang like she wasn’t too worried about anything, casual, confident and sassy. They were mythological figures to me and my similarly besotted friends on campus but they also walked among us. To go to their shows and participate as a fan close up was so exciting but so was watching them eat tator tots in the snack bar or be simultaneously mysterious and surly while crossing off my name for picking up my New York Times subscription at the student union desk was also exciting and unreal. They were the first flesh and blood band in my geographical vicinity. They were inspiring but I never imagined joining a band myself it seemed so out of the realm of possibility. I doubt I ever would have joined or formed a band if it weren’t for Mark. I was always afraid to try something I didn’t know how to do. Which is a catch-22 because how can you learn something if you aren’t willing to screw up? Mark pushed me to pull my dusty guitar out of the closet and to play and write songs and even to sing which has been so rewarding and fulfilling for this former shy kid from New Jersey. I can always rely on Mark and it’s wonderful and freeing to share this experience with each other.
If you had to choose 1 song from the upcoming record as your absolute favorite, what would it be, and why so?
Mark: We’re pretty excited about all of them, but if I had to pick one, it would be our title track, Fancy Hercules. No one really thinks of Hercules as having slaughtered his entire family, but Hera put a spell on him that made him go crazy and do just that. Fancy Hercules is a re-imagined Hercules in a blues song as a hobo/vagrant tramp following the train lines, trying to come to terms with what he’s done, circling the void, which is illustrated by the weirdest chord in Makar history, D7b5th, rarely used in music at all, but of course Makar had to bring it out of hibernation. The train is gonna come means he’s going to pay for his crimes and penny on the track felt like a natural addition, an urban legend that a penny placed on the tracks will derail a train. It doesn’t but still seems to be a potent part of modern mythology. Can’t wait for this myth heavy blues doozy to be fully realized!
Andrea: I’m excited about all of them but I’m especially excited about a song we haven’t even finished called I Want To Be Loved. The melody and words originated in a dream I had about a zombie singing and dancing loose-limbed and spasmodically (if you can combine such a thing). I kept dreaming about her and my pressing need to write it down when I awoke, getting stuck in a repetitious cycle of false awakenings. When I finally woke up, I recorded the melody but had no idea what chords would accompany the vocal. It was a mystery to me until recently when Mark noodled around on the piano and now it’s almost there.
In your own words, how would you describe the Makar sound to new listeners?
Mark: Anti-Folk meets poet pop art rock, meets the blues, meets punk, meets Rock n’ Roll.
Andrea: Guitar and Piano driven Indie Rock that makes Punk and Poet rejoice and dance together!