For me, rock and roll is the ultimate gift of pure joy. It provides a great escape from the insanities of the everyday world.
Rock and roll has been explained in many different ways since it was invented in the forties, fifties, whenever. Some people like to say it’s based on sex or violence, but I think of it as the ultimate gift of innocence and fun. What has rock and roll given you in your life?
Rock and roll is a shot of life. A good heavy jolt to the system. For me, it is the ultimate gift of pure joy. It provides a great escape from the insanities of the everyday world. I’m glad to have found it. Or maybe it found me.
When I discovered punk rock, I realized I didn’t have to know a lot about guitar or be some musical virtuoso to start a band. It felt like being handed the keys to the spaceship.
Sesame Street and the Muppets are certainly where childlike innocence and a rock and roll attitude collided. It reminds me of your latest band, Chomper. There’s no pretension or big lofty statement with that group – it’s just noisy and powerful, and everyone on stage seems to love each other. Is that simplicity important to you when you perform?
Yeah, I think maintaining a simple approach is important in many creative endeavors. With a band like Chomper, that simplicity came mostly out of necessity. We were all already very busy and active in other projects when we started playing together, so when we would get together to play, the resulting sound was very immediate and loose. I find that the music I appreciate the most tends to have something very primal and almost childlike at the core of it. It’s about capturing that basic pure joy. Instinct is a heavy power. Overthinking can get in the way.
I didn’t really care about music until I was nine or ten. I think the first inkling I had to play was from an image in a church pamphlet, an illustration of a teenage boy serenading his friends with an acoustic guitar. Was there any flashpoint moment for you in your childhood that rock and roll was what you wanted to do?
Music was always a part of our household growing up. My dad is a pipe organist and pianist. He played in choirs, church services, and local theatrical productions around town. I sang in the choir. I wasn’t really familiar with much rock and roll as a young kid. I didn’t have any older siblings to turn me on to stuff. Then when I was eight years old, I was in this local community theater production based on Pink Floyd’s The Wall. I had no idea who Pink Floyd was. It ended up being quite a production in my small town, complete with a live band and elaborate sets and visuals. It had a big impact at that age. I started getting into other bands, and that’s when the doors kind of blew open for me.
Rock and roll was explosive, colorful, fun, and larger than life. There was this visceral power behind it. It was way more fun and exciting than school. It didn’t initially occur to me that I could actually play that kind of music. I didn’t know how to play guitar. Rock seemed like something from outer space, something played on big stages by superheroes with giant amp stacks. It seemed impossible and unrealistic to be in a rock and roll band. I never really thought of myself as a musician.
Once I started to be exposed to punk a couple years later, that’s when the light bulb came on. Kids in my school that were a couple years ahead of me were picking up instruments and starting bands, setting up shows in basements and community centers around town. Seeing those shows had a big impact and made me realize it was possible to do that. I realized I didn’t have to know a lot about guitar or be some musical virtuoso to start a band. That was really liberating. It felt kind of like being handed the keys to the spaceship. I got a guitar and figured out a couple chords and that was it – I was hooked.
Now let’s flash forward. Tell us about your thoughts when you learned you joined Guided by Voices – one of your favorite bands, and one that has an impressive list of past members. Was that an exciting moment? A nerve-wracking one?
It was a super exciting moment. I was very honored to be asked to join the band. It’s a dream come true. It’s humbling to be a part of such a rich history and legacy, and it’s exciting to be a part of what is happening now in this new chapter of the band. One of the great things about working with Robert Pollard is that he’s always creating, always moving forward. When we’re in the van on tour, he’s filling notebook after notebook with song titles and lyrics and new ideas. He gives 200% in every live performance. His passion and commitment to his craft is infectious and his creativity is boundless. It’s very inspiring to be around. That energy drives all of us in the band to constantly elevate our game. We all have a total blast playing music together. It is a pure joy.
In the midst of all the insanities in the world, music has the potential to be both a great escape and a great unifying force.
Would you like to tell the story of when you and the rest of Guided by Voices took a drive through Los Angeles looking for the house where the Manson murders occurred?
Last summer we were on a West Coast tour, and we had a day off to hang out in L.A. At the time, Bob had just finished reading this book, and it was circulating throughout the van, about the scene in Laurel Canyon in the 1960s and early ’70s, and the dark underbelly of all that was happening. Murders, covert ops, and so on. A few of us decided we should head to Laurel Canyon to see some murder houses. We took a drive up Lookout Mountain in our big high-roof 15-passenger van. As we drove past these old houses, the road started to get very steep and narrow and winding. There were big chunks of pavement missing from the edges of the road and crumbling into the canyon below. Big sections of guardrail were gone. With every turn, our super tall van would lean more and more.
Everybody in the van got really quiet. We passed an old man on the street, yelling and waving his hands at us, as if to say “What are you guys doing? Turn around!” We started realizing we couldn’t even find a place to turn around this van if we wanted to. Finally we reached the top, turned around, and got back down as fast as we could. We thought Lookout Mountain might eat us alive and we would never been seen or heard from again. But she let us go and we made it out in one piece.
I moved from my rural California hometown to New York City in 2016, without ever visiting here before. I’ll never forget the shape of the city blocks as I navigated through the completely unfamiliar streets at five in the morning. Can you tell us about the first impression you ever had of the city?
That’s a heavy move! My first impression of the city came when I was very young, maybe 6 years old. It was on a family trip. I don’t remember a ton about the trip itself, but I remember being sort of both terrified and amazed by the sheer scale of it all. I moved to the city later in my early twenties. Coming from a small town, I fell in love with energy of it. It felt like anything was possible. I loved getting lost and wandering the streets in some intoxicated haze at all hours of the night. There was a thriving underground music and art community that was very nurturing and inspiring to be a part of.
So many of those show spaces have been shut down or have had to move over the years as gentrification takes over. It’s the nature of this city. I’m glad to have had those experiences. New York is constantly changing, but you can always still find pockets of great stuff happening.
We live in interesting times. In your travels of America – on tour with Guided by Voices or not – what do you see happening to the country and planet at large?
We do live in interesting times for sure. It’s hard to not be affected by all that’s happening. The planet is experiencing a great deal of heavy turbulence and division. In the midst of all the insanities in the world, music has the potential to be both a great escape and a great unifying force. I think that rings true in our experiences on the road with GBV.
Finally, can you tell us exactly what you’ve done today so far? What do you plan to do tomorrow?
I woke up and made some strong-ass coffee. We’ll see how far that gets me. If it works out, I’ll give it a shot tomorrow.
Does The Music Last Forever?
We asked Mark how he relates to these rock songs of the 20th century, and whether or not the music holds up for him today.
‘Wild Thing” was the first song I learned on guitar. Three chords and you’re off to the races. There is a great old drive-in burger and milkshake joint in my hometown in Staunton, Virginia called Wright’s Dairy Rite. They always had a good jukebox. I went there a lot as a kid, and that’s probably where I first heard it, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know this song. They had The Troggs’ “Wild Thing” and ‘Love is All Around’. Those songs blew my mind. “Wild Thing” is simple and powerful. It’s timeless.
Instantly catchy and recognizable in the first two seconds of the song, and it doesn’t let up. Iggy is great. I loved this song instantly the first time I ever heard it. It’s a shot in the arm.
That opening guitar riff is killer. I love this era of the Stones with Brian Jones. I could listen to this song any time of day. It’s like comfort food.
Hearing this Hendrix record makes me wish I could travel back in time to experience it live. There is such a power and soul to the sound and the production and it’s on full display here.
Primal and powerful. I love this Stooges record and Ron Asheton’s guitar playing on it. There’s something really ominous about that repeating riff and the droning behind it.
I distinctly remember first hearing this 13th Floor Elevators song and thinking it came down from outer space. It’s killer.
An unforgettable soulful groove from the Zombies that sticks to the ribs. It’s always the time of the season.
Great song. A friend gave me a copy of Ramones Mania in high school and that’s when I remember first hearing it. Classic summer-in-the-city anthem for the ages.
Steve Jones’ guitar is just mean and snarling on this Sex Pistols anthem. The production is great on this record and it really holds up.
One of the all-time great rock and roll anthems. Every time I hear this song, no matter how many times I’ve heard it, it sends chills down my spine. It’s magic. Guided By Voices do a cover of “Baba O’Riley.” Bob will sometimes say that, at the end of the day, this is really the only song truly worthy of a cover. The Who will always blow my mind. The powerhouse combo of Daltrey, Townshend, Entwhistle, and Moon is dynamite. Desert island pick.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: September 27, 2017
Total questions: 9 + 10
Word count: 2021
Reading time: Seven minutes
Hometown: Staunton, Virginia
Most relatable: Kermit
Dynamite: The Who
State of the planet: Turbulence
13th Floor Elevators, Beech Creeps, Brian Jones, choir, Chomper, church, desert island, dynamite, Gonzo, Guided by Voices, Iggy Pop, Jim Henson, Jimi Hendrix Experience, John Entwistle, jukebox, Keith Moon, Kermit the Frog, Laurel Canyon, Lookout Mountain, New York City, Pete Townshend, piano, pick, Pink Floyd, pipe organ, punk rock, Robert Pollard, rock and roll, Roger Daltrey, rural, Sesame Street, Sex Pistols, shot, spaceship, Staunton Virginia, Steve Jones, The Muppets, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, The Stooges, The Troggs, The Wall, The who, The Zombies, theatre, virtuoso, Wright’s Dairy Rite
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