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Beyond the Record: Welcome! Tell us a little bit about who you are, where you're from and where you're living now.
Mark: Thank you and thanks for interviewing Makar! My name is Mark and I play piano, sing and write songs for the indie rock band Makar. I was born and raised in New York. My wife, Andrea, and I currently live in Long Island City.
Andrea: My name is Andrea and I play guitar and sing and write songs for Makar with my husband, Mark. I’m originally from New Jersey where only the strong survive. My own musical journey is a complete and pleasant surprise since I never imagined I would be involved in music growing up.
BTR: Your music is outstanding and you have a rapidly growing fan base. Tell us a little bit about the growth process of songwriters and what it's like to 'climb the ladder' so to speak.
Mark: Thanks for the kind words! Songwriting is an incredible process that starts with the very first chord or note you learn. I studied music in elementary school where I sang in an all-boys choir. We would perform at Lord & Taylors department store during Christmas time dressed up in our tiny jackets and ties. I took some piano lessons in high school and college, got a minor in music theory in college and took voice lessons during college and later in New York. I was studying piano at the Keyboard collective, down in the East thirties and asked the teacher how to write a song. He said, “it’s just chord progressions with a melody sung over them.” This blew my mind because I thought I’d have to learn everything there is to know about music theory before I could ever write a song, but this guy was like absolutely not. He was also one of the first people to get me improvising on a blues scale to show me that the music was already in my brain. I just needed to release it. Just needed to know a C major blues scale and move my fingers the way I felt like moving them. Total musical freedom! Once I figured out which chords went with each scale I started picking scales that I liked and then playing around with the various chord progressions and singing whatever melody came into my head. The first song I ever wrote is called Time Flies and strangely enough, 20 years later, it’s going to be on our upcoming release, Fancy Hercules. It’s a basic song structure (verse/chorus/instrumental) built around a 3/4 Waltz with lyrics about the nature of time. A dark and heavy doozy about how time waits for no one. As you get older your thoughts on time become more pronounced and time becomes both fleeting and more precious. I felt it was the perfect song for where Andrea and I are in our lives. We all want time to wait for us, to live forever, but over time we learn to accept that it won’t. In the end, no matter how strongly we rage against the truth, time pulls aside the curtain exposing the reality of our plight. And yet what is immortal is our continued love and hope in the face of this stark truth, the time we’ve shared, what we’ve created together and the love that we’ve shown to one another. There may be no meaning in the ultimate sense of the word, but we each can create our own meaning and paint a bleak universe with a multi-colored paintbrush.
BTR: As far as climbing the ladder of musical success, AC/DC said it best, “cause it’s a long way to the top if you wanna Rock ‘n’ Roll!” We’re enjoying every minute of the climb, not just waiting for when and if we reach the top, whatever the top means. There are many ideas of what the top is besides the toppermost of the poppermost Beatles style. Just ask Ari Herstand, whose idea of making it is being a working musician. I like that.
Andrea: The climb has been rewarding and exasperating at times. Whenever I struggle I think about what my guitar teacher the late great Steve Tarshis said that most bands don’t make it past the first gig or even record an album. He also quelled my fears of feeling like an impostor. He said simply “Act as if.” A phrase I had never heard before, that I think of whenever I’m afraid.
Over the years, I’ve become increasingly comfortable with trying things I didn’t know how to do at first. This has translated into my songwriting effort, when I’m stuck on a song I have faith that I’ll figure it out somehow and surprise myself. Our songwriting in general has become more collaborative over the years. I don’t feel I have to wait until I have a budding song completed before showing it to Mark. Maybe other songwriting partners pull away from each other as the years go on but we gravitate closer together.
BTR: MAKAR has been around for several years. Can you explain how this was able to be accomplished, seeing how many bands break up after their first show?
Mark: Ha! Yeah, there have been many variations of Makar’s lineup over the years, but at the heart it’s Andrea and me, writing all the songs (save for three written by Vicente Viray by way of San Francisco California on our debut, 99 Cent Dreams) and doing the singing, so that has kept it together. Otherwise, the exploding drummers would definitely have sunk us. I think there were some exploding bass players too. The key is to marry your songwriting partner. If you have problems staying together at that point, it’s a much bigger problem than just being in a band.
Andrea: What Mark said – it’s truly because we have each other. We’re a team in every sense of the word. What I don’t like to do, Mark does and what Mark doesn’t like to do, I do. I think a lot of indie, DIY bands break-up because the burden of all the “administrative” stuff, i.e. booking, social media, website upkeep, promotion – sending out to radio and press, usually falls on one person and they burn out. Additionally, a few past members (who will remain unnamed) became unduly obsessed with “making it” which can take all the fun out of it as well as overlook the fortunate nature of even being able to play, sing and write songs. Paraphrasing what Jesse (aka Ethan Hawk) said in Before Sunset, when he was in a band the singer was so focused on making it that none of them enjoyed the experience. Also, said unnamed annoyingly fixated past members did very little actual work towards making it. Showing up drunk and somersaulting into their drum kits at 6:30 pm rehearsals also didn’t help.
How can you stick around as a band? Simply, you have to love making music and writing songs and that has to be your focus above all else including conventional success.
BTR: I find labeling the group’s music to be very difficult. If you had to pin point where you fit and what genre you are associated to, where do you think that would be?
Mark: Poet, pop, folk, rock, blues, punk
Andrea: We have a little blurb about what we sound like and it goes something like this. Indie Rock that makes Punk and Poet rejoice and dance together! Punk and folk feel like a natural symbiosis.
BTR: After listening to several tracks, I could hear various inspirations. Who inspires you to play and create music?
Mark: I guess to name a few would have to be The Beatles, The Velvet Underground, The Doors, Tricky, Portishead, Dandy Warhols, Goldfrapp, Ramones, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Belle and Sebastian, Sigur Ros, Radiohead, Robert Johnson, Bowie, The Sex Pistols, Big Mama Thornton, U2, Soul II Soul, PJ Harvey, Elvis, Depeche Mode, The Replacements, Prince, The Cure, Blondie, New York Dolls, The Smiths, Otis Redding, Bob Dylan, Pulp, Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger, Jaco Pastorius, John Cage, Charlie Parker, John Cale, Miles Davis, Susie Quatro, Sharon Van Etten, Cat Stevens and Nick Drake.
I love punk and folk music. Love its ethos of anyone can play as long as you have something to say. You don’t have to be a virtuoso, you just have to love music and want to share that love of music with other people, maybe share your feelings and thoughts and connect with this beautiful world. There is something so honest about folk music and how it has spoken to the workers in songs like, Old Man River and inspired the protesters and unified the races like in Blowin’ In The Wind. There’s a romance to it, like in On The Road. You can see yourself being Woody Guthrie travelling along them dusty roads with a guitar in hand battling societal ills. As a sociology major that’s about the most perfect music for me to write and you cross that with my love of Rock ‘n Roll, blues and punk music and you get the stirrings of Makar’s indie folk rockin’ pop lockin soul.
Andrea: Indie rock encompasses a lot of the kind of music we enjoy – punk, garage, folk, pop and blues. It’s a very freeing genre overall. We like a lot of different kinds of music and combine different elements deliberately and subconsciously, but I did grow up with my family’s love of Peter, Paul and Mary and Pete Seeger. I remember us all singing This Land is Your Land around the fire. So folk music was imprinted on my brain early on. And I would be remiss to not say that Riot grrrl movement was a heavy and vital influence on me.
BTR: Elaborate on the recording process. Take us through all the small details if you could.
Mark: We self-produce all our albums. Less cooks in the kitchen so to speak. We’re currently in the middle of recording Fancy Hercules and we’re doing it all backwards. Usually we write the songs, rehearse them with the band, play out live, then go into the studio. That way everyone has time to develop their parts and when we hit the studio we’re super tight. We laid the drums and bass down in one day for our last album, Funeral Genius. Then Andrea and I took the tracks home to our Pro Tools setup and laid down vocals, guitar and piano.
However, for our upcoming album, Fancy Hercules, Andrea and I are recording the final vocals, guitar and piano acoustically to a click track first. Then we’re giving the final versions to our friends, Livia Ranalli, the awesome drummer for the End Men and Joe Crespo, the awesome bass player of Hello Nurse fame to practice to. Joe lives in Colorado so he’ll have to learn his parts long-distance. Livia, we’re actually rehearsing live with in the city about once a month. When they’re ready, Livia and Joe will hit the studio together after only one or two live rehearsals with Andrea and me. They’ll have to lay down their parts over the pre-recorded parts we already laid down, so it’s pretty much a Makar experiment that I think is going to turn out amazing! Hopefully, our best album yet!!
Andrea: As an indie band, you have to be flexible and have a Plan B or C since our usual Plan A – recording live with drums and bass – wasn’t an option this time around. You just have to roll with the punches. Personally, I feel looser and more willing to try different guitar overdubs and vocal harmonies than ever before. I’m finally feeling more comfortable in a recording setting. Perhaps because we’re recording the bulk of it in our apartment.
BTR: At what point in your life did you pursue music to the fullest as to make a career out of it? Some artists start at a very young age while others take years to discover their passion for the arts. Where do you fall on this spectrum?
Mark: My love for music was always there, lingering in the background, but it wasn’t until college that I said this is what I want to do with the rest of my life. Win, lose or draw I’m a musician for life. Not going to quit just cause I haven’t bought my Zep mobile yet and probably never will. I love making music, writing songs, performing and being an artist. It’s the most fulfilling thing I’ve ever done. The truest thing I’ve ever done. The most courageous thing I’ve ever done. And most of all it makes me incredibly happy. Being able to create music with my wife makes me even happier. That’s about all I can ask for in this short sweet life.
Andrea: I think I always knew I wanted to be an artist. I wrote in a first grade school project – All About Me –that I wanted to be an artist and that I would paint paintings and sell them everywhere. I’m not a painter but that was the only idea I had of what an artist looked like when I was young. Someone holding a paintbrush and wearing a colorful beret.
I never expected to write songs or sing and play guitar. It all seemed quite beyond the realm of possibility, like it was this rarified sphere only a virtuoso could enter. I started playing guitar when I was nine, following in my older brother’s footsteps, taking lessons with the same difficult, stern classical guitar teacher. All I wanted to learn was how to play the songs I loved from The Yellow Submarine. Unsurprisingly, my lessons didn’t go well. That guitar teacher fell ill and stopped teaching and my parents had a hard time finding another teacher who taught children. By the time they located a more appropriate guitar school, a year had passed. My new guitar teacher was great, a Beatles fanatic, but the damage had been done. I’d lost interest and confidence that even if I practiced I would never be worthy. I put my classical student guitar away in the closet until I met Mark when I was twenty-two and even then I was very hesitant to play because if you weren’t good right away how could you ever be? It took me several years after that to build up the confidence to start playing again and imagine writing songs. Mark encouraged me greatly, otherwise I wouldn’t be here.
I think self-defeatism is learned behavior. You are told you are not good enough and never will be and then that prediction starts to sink into your skin and sink your dreams. There is this obsession with perfection but life isn’t perfect and neither is art.
On the other hand, I have wanted to be a creative writer since the 4th grade.
BTR: Take us through the lowest moments in your career and in your recent personal life.
Mark: The lowest moment in my musical career might just have happened last night when the headphone adaptor broke off in my Digi 001 pro tools rack, which we use to record all our music. This weekend of recording might be out the window and my trusty Digi 001 that has recorded our debut album, 99 Cent Dreams, our follow up Funeral Genius and is presently recording Fancy Hercules may not be useable anymore. I love that little guy. He’s like a part of me, a part of my creative process along with the 2002 Gateway he’s attached to and I can’t lose him. Can’t lose ole yella! Not yet. I’m not ready.
Andrea: Realizing that there is this unfortunate one-upmanship/zero sum game that other artists play whether writers or musicians. The belief that someone else’s success is your failure and so they do their best to sabotage and undermine you. This phenomenon has been more my experience in writing and writing groups than in music.
The inherent sexism when people assume it’s Mark’s band and I’m peripheral because he’s a guy. Having a bandmate telling me “guitarists don’t tune their guitars.” The balancing act of a day job and my creative ambitions and bosses and colleagues finding fault with me since I’m not fully committed to them like I supposedly would be if I didn’t have “outside interests.” I find I rarely share with people at my day job anything about my creative life because they either don’t get it or will use it against me. I’m a lot more guarded these days.
Another low point in our career was living below a crazy neighbor on 58th street. This guy would make the loudest and craziest noises until 4 am, four to five days a week, the walls would actually shake. It sounded like he was doing construction or moving furniture. Then he would complain that we warmed up our vocals for 30 minutes at 6 pm before going to a rehearsal studio. It made it very hard and dispiriting to practice. Thank goodness we don’t live there anymore.
BTR: And on the flipside, what have you overcome? What successes are you most proud of in your career?
Mark: Well, if I can find a decent tech repair shop I’m going to overcome losing my best recording friend, Digi 001. And let me tell you, Makar shall overcome! You can bet your boots on that.
Successes we’re most proud of would have to be having our first video for our song, I Hate My Job, played on MTV2, reaching the top 10 spot on The Deli Magazine’s Top 300 Best NYC Indie Bands along with Vampire Weekend, Fun., MGMT and Santigold, playing CMJ’s music festival at the Pyramid Club, being named Rust Magazine’s Critic’s Pick, receiving continuous airplay across the United States, Canada and the UK, on such stations as KBOO, WROM, CIUT 89.5 FM (Toronto), CKRL 89.1 (Quebec), The Waiting Room (UK), and being top 25 on The NBTMusicRadio's Top 100 Tracks/Singles and Top 100 Albums of 2012, ahead of Sigur Ros, David Byrne and St. Vincent. I love Sigur Ros so that was ridiculous.
Andrea: Charting ahead of Rush on the US College Radio Charts! FU Prog Rock!! And overcoming stage fright whenever we play.
BTR: Aside from music, what else are you passionate about?
Mark: Art! Anything to do with art or New York or just walking around the city on adventures. Checking out all the different neighborhoods. We also want to travel a lot. We just went to Iceland in November and it was a magical place. We went on the Game of Thrones tour and have pics on Instagram of us getting fake stabbed with a sword by an extra on the show at one of the film sites. It was as close as we were going to get to paying the iron price.
Andrea: Writing. I love to write short stories and poems. Still working on my first novel, definitely a labor of love and obsession. I have so many ideas and stories I want to tell a lot of which involve folklore and mythology. I hope I get to tell them. I dream of pursuing more photography as well. I’ve been fortunate to get some of my works published which you can check out on my website -- http://www.andreadeangelis.com/
BTR: When we can expect the next release from you?
Mark: Fancy Hercules should be out end of 2017!
Andrea: You know how in passenger side windows it says – “objects in the mirror are closer than they appear”? Well, recording takes longer than it seems.
Beyond the Record