No Context: An Interview with the Magik Markers

The Magik Markers play Death by Audio, Monday, October 1

The Magik Markers, "Bad Dream" (MP3 clip)
The Magik Markers, "Taste" (MP3 clip)

No Context

by Zach Baron

Since only a fraction of this interview with the Magik Markers appears in my short feature on them this week, I thought I'd post the whole transcript here. Boss, their new record on Ecstatic Peace, is queasy and claustrophobic and unsettling; it's also one of the year's best. Both drummer Pete Nolan and singer-guitarist Elisa Ambrogio are hyper-articulate when it comes to explaining their own work; all choppiness and indirectness can be explained by the fact that the interview was conducted over a couple weeks in late August and early September, via email, since Pete tends to "get pretty blank over the phone," and Elisa was traveling. With three of us going back and forth, things went more sideways than linear--which hopefully will explain the meandering. . .

Your sound has changed--that'll be the big news here, why you guys went towards "songs" and away from the anti-composition, more free-form stuff you do live. On top of that I might wonder whether the ideas have shifted--I'm thinking specifically here of the last time the Voice did a feature involving Magik Markers, which was in 2005, and Elisa was pretty adamant about not being interested in modern music of the Rolling Stone variety, let alone, say, the "unfucked pale girls yammering about the gender binary" from liberal arts colleges who even now may have illegally downloaded "Empty Bottles" and are listening to it approvingly in their dorm rooms. New sound, new sociology? New goals for the band? Lets start there, if this makes sense as a question, and go forward. . .

Pete Nolan: I don't think anyone who's been following our output over the last year would consider BOSS to be a radical change in approach. We've been honing these tunes over a period of time. Several versions of some of these songs have appeared spread out over our various self-released CDs. On BOSS the tunes have just come into full focus. We were given the opportunity to spend time in the studio to apply our theories of effective sound formulation in time to the arrangements that we've couched the skeletal framework of our tunes in. I think the result is a full bodied and vivid dreamlike experience. To me the experience of listening to this record from start to finish is no less disorienting than one of our live performances, only more insidiously so. Anyone who's been picking up the bread crumbs will find that at its heart this is truly a Magik Markers record. As appealing and accessible as the songs seem immediately, on repeated and more attentive listening I think this record raises more questions than answers, and in the end leaves you with feelings of doubt and uncertainty.

Elisa Ambrogio: I mean, it was basically, with the Markers writing songs: let's let a couple of defectives reinvent the wheel and see if we can make the car go on four squares. It can go, but it takes a lot more power and destroys more.

There was always something disgusting and too personal about melody before. Something creepy about it. In some ways I cannot explain the sea change in the Markers, other than that it was gradual and baffling. Believe me, I am as surprised as the next fellow that we wrote songs. It is weird. The influence Leah Quimby [-MM's former bassist] exerted within the band should not be underestimated. She did not enjoy recording, it was a very uncomfortable process for her and it felt wrong in the context of the Magik Markers' intent as Leah saw it. Something about our live shows was and is an attempt to shift the perception of a performance. A rock and roll concert with no rock and roll, no concert.

I think we started playing as we did with an innocence of context and a very joyful intent. But eventually, unless you are challenging yourself you become redundant caricatures.

Leah leaving freed Pete and I to act on the fact that only we knew how a Magik Markers record was supposed to sound. Only we knew the Markers record that was playing in our heads. And with Lee [Ronaldo] and Aaron [Mullen] we tried to make it. We still have not made the exact record that was spinning in my head but it is closer, and I am proud of this.

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