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Interview Fri Oct 30 2015

How Will Mars and the Massacre Shock Subterranean On 11/2? We Sought To Understand The Blistering LA-Based Rockers

I'm looking for a word to define Los Angeles three-piece Mars and the Massacre, and it's proving impossible. So I'll just show you this:

I hope that encapsulates everything I want you feel about this band: there's raucous punk influences, a splash of Bowie-esque glam rock, and maybe a little less display of the psychedelic themes that pervade their other work, but most importantly you can see how absolutely CRAZY these guys can get in concert. Comprising John Newell, Ethan Walden, and Peter Doherty, Mars and the Massacre will be taking their Basset Case tour to Subterranean on November 2nd, and regardless of what outfits they're rocking on stage they should provide one hell of an energy release. I got the band on the phone as they drank beer with their breakfast in Austin, Texas earlier this week, and our conversation ranged from Pink Floyd and an onstage Mario Kart setup to the ways they create a huge sound with just three guys.

You guys are in Austin right now, right?

Yeah, we're playing in San Marcos tonight. We camped by this beautiful lake that's fed by the Colorado River.

So you're camping out on the tour, you're literally in a tent?

Yeah, we were last night.

I guess in Texas, it's probably still warm enough to do that.

Oh yeah. We were in Cloudcraft, New Mexico, which is 9,000 feet and that was just fucking freezing, man. It feels good here.

What's been the most memorable moment of the tour so far?

I don't know, it's always the people we meet and the friends. I know that sounds cheesy. In Alamogordo, we played this cool house party, we'd never met anyone there. And this guy Scott put us up and we went to play in this cool ass house. That was a pretty fun time, we just got kinda blasted with these people and played a badass show in a living room, and I feel like that was one of the most crazy kind of nights--we just stayed up all night getting kinda wild.

That's what rock and roll's supposed to be about, right?

Yeah, perform, and stay up til five or six in the morning, and do it again the next day!

I know you guys are originally from Indianapolis. Did you ever play here when you were living there?

We did, but we were a different band at that time. So yes and no? We've played there a couple of times since as this band, just on tour. But not as Mars and the Massacre back when we were living around there. We used to be in a pop rock band, which is way different.

I know you've said that Indianapolis was really limiting to you guys, and so you moved out to LA for more opportunity. How has your sound grown out there, besides the movement into your blend of psychedelic and garage rock?

It's developed...well, we started out just kind of playing around. After our old band broke up, me [Ethan] and John and Peter all lived together so we'd just play every night, just mess around on stuff. So it started out with a little bit of a punky vibe, and I feel like since then, this sounds cliché and stupid but our sound has matured as we played together and worked together on new songs. I think our sound has just developed in the complexity but also in the simplicity of it as well. Does that make sense? What I'm trying to say is, yes, we're incorporating more elements of music, but I think they're still accessible. We were also working together on music a lot more. Originally we'd come together and one of us would be like "I have this song, let's work on this thing," but it's a little bit more of a group effort now. So everyone's putting their two cents in, so we're getting these songs that have more minds on them than just one mind.


You've really tapped into some psychedelic stuff. I read that you've played Dark Side of the Moon all the way through, and that during your residency at the Silverlake Lounge you did the same with "Echoes." Have Pink Floyd and those psych-ish bands always been an influence?

[John:] I used to have their whole discography, and they've always been a force that's been present in our minds. But it wasn't even so much a conscious decision, it's just that that started to be what happened, that kind of music just started to take hold, so we followed it. We did "Echoes" because we just wanted to do an epic song. At the residency we did a psychedelic night, and we wanted to do something weird and crazy so we chose "Echoes" because first of all it's just a badass song and second of all it was gonna be most of our set. So we thought that people would be kinda freaked out and weirded out that we were just gonna play one song for the whole set. So that was kinda cool.

"Echoes" was only one of the themes you did at the Silverlake--there was Glam Night, there was Party Night. How did you guys pick the themes of your shows, and is that something you've continued to do on this tour?

Right now, we're playing our new songs mostly. We don't really have themes for this tour, not to say we won't do crazy shit--like we'll dress up or do whatever. But for those nights I remember we just did songs we liked and we were like let's kinda go with that. So for the punk night we wanted to do this Andrew WK kind of thing, and same with the other nights. They were just kinda four different sounds that were reminiscent of how we sound. We draw a lot from David Bowie and other glam rock artists as well, so we did the glam night. And obviously we draw a lot from Pink Floyd, so we did the psychedelic night. They were just four elements that have roots in what we're doing.

You talk about Bowie, and I gave your EP Blackout a listen and for much of that you're straight up channeling him. But with that whole album, that must've been a single concept, right? With "Blackout" split into the beginning, middle, and end?

Yeah, we wanted it to all be fluid and flow together, kind of like how Pink Floyd did some of their early records and everything. We had "Blackout" as a full song originally, but we kind of, since that song has so many waves and so many different parts, we kind of came up with the idea that we could totally use that as a backbone and then interweave these other songs in there with the same kind of topic and same kind of tone. And we also were thinking of Wish You Were Here and how they have "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" split apart. So we had a few extra songs we didn't end up putting on that EP, we just picked the ones we thought flowed along the best with the whole groove of it.

What is "RL Stine Ate My Sandwich" about?

[John] That actually started because Ethan texted me--
[Ethan] And I said can we please have a song called "RL Stine Ate My Sandwich." But when we started writing it and it actually became a song, I think we kind of turned it into a song about literally losing your mind. And it's just the craziness and bonkers of just being insane. Believe it or not, we do go insane sometimes.

The music video for that song is pretty crazy too, you guys put on the eye makeup and the wigs and the dresses.

It's actually funny, because we get asked a lot on the road, people will ask us, "Oh you guys didn't wear the wigs!" And it's like, yeah, that was just a video. For some reason, a lot of people, that's the first taste they get of us, and they just figure we're always gonna wear wigs and dresses. So sorry to disappoint people.

Have you guys brought them back at all in subsequent shows?

Yes, yes we have. I think we have something in store coming up this weekend, some outfits for a Halloween show. It should be some good surprises.

Given the crazy things you were doing on not-Halloween--pouring fake blood on yourselves, doing all sorts of crazy dress-ups--I can't wait to hear what you'll do for actual Halloween.

Well shit, if you wanna make the trek down, come on over!

Wish I could! That's one of the great things about being a band, you get to travel all over, have beer with breakfast.

Yeah, man, that's actually one of our favorite parts, is going around and seeing the little differences between all the people in different areas. Because it really is kind of a general mindset with a lot of people in different regions, and it's cool to observe that and learn about it.


Speaking of the people, you've encountered a lot of different ones in shows but you don't like to talk to them onstage, you just like to create sonic bridges between your songs. How do you create a connection with your audience through the music alone when you're onstage?

Well we personally think that people aren't there to hear us banter or tell jokes because we're not trying to do that. They came to hear the music so we play the music. The one thing we have done in the past, and we will incorporate more, is we used to do samples in between our songs or some sort of interlude, so that everything sort of runs together. That's our thing, we like to be as fluid as possible. But for incorporating people, we've done a few things in the past, for example we'd have Mario Kart tournaments onstage while we're playing, like we're the theme music to it. We've set up the stage to look like a living room and just had people chilling on couches and stuff. Just weird stuff that hopefully you don't expect.

You guys have a new single out, "7DS," and you put out "Basset Case" before that, and it sounds a lot more SoCal--the vocals have that LA jangly reverb to them, and at least on those two singles you don't hear as much of the really extreme psychedelia and extreme hard rock that you hear on Blackout. How has your sound really morphed for this new album, and what's guiding you sonically and lyrically?

Those songs are just the tip of the iceberg for the album. We feel like those songs are ones we thought are more accessible potentially. I mean, we love those songs. But the rest of the album, I feel like we get more psychedelic. I think we put those songs out first because we feel they're a little more accessible and it's easier to get them on something as opposed to throwing our eight minute piano psychedelic ballad at somebody. There's that on the album and some crazy interludes--yeah, it's weird, it's so crazy. Just those two songs are a little bit more reserved.

What has the recording process been like for the new album, and when can we expect it to hit the streets?

It's all recorded, we actually recorded it in Indianapolis at this place called Pop Machine and I also thought it was funny--I guess the California influence does come through a little bit, but I thought it was funny we recorded it there. We're just waiting on it to be finished up, mixed and mastered, which is almost done. And we're gonna be releasing it digitally before the end of the year and we'll be releasing it hard copy--vinyl, we always do cassettes as well--so we'll be doing those two mediums early spring. We'll probably be touring them around in the spring.

So this is a taster tour, really. Are you gonna be playing a lot of the album tracks?

Yes. Currently, we're playing all of them but two songs, one of them is the piano song and that's simply because we don't have four musicians in our band, we would need a fourth to pull that one off so that would be more of a song we're doing with big shows. Like I said, we're a really tight knit community back in LA, so we have guest musicians play with us all the time. And we're also not playing this other spacey vocally-centric shit tons of reverb shit tons of echo kind of song, that's the only other one we're not playing. But everything else we're playing, eight new songs on the road, and we've been writing a couple new songs. We just wrote one last night. So there's a ton of new shit coming out.

Have you guys considered adding a fourth musician to the band on a more permanent basis instead of using samples and loops to fill out the sound? It has to be decently limiting to only have three of you up there.

One of the comments we get a lot is, "Wow, you have a lot of shit going on for three people." But we're just thinking we could have a lot more shit going on with four people. So once we're able to afford it, we're just gonna end up hiring musicians, because in terms of creative, we're content with what we have going on for that, so we would just want more of a hired gun coming and playing for us, that kind of deal. It's kind of been the plan for a long time to have a seven or eight-piece band in the future, and big-ass production, but really we're just kinda limited with resources right now, so that's the only thing holding us back.

If there's one thing you want people to take away from your music, what is that one thing?

Hmm...well, obviously we want people to have fun, but we also want them to be shocked, like, "What the fuck did I just see?" We don't want it to be any one reaction, we just want people to take away the experience of something they've never seen before--damn, this is a tough question, especially after a couple beers in the morning.


You can catch Mars and the Massacre live on November 2nd at Subterranean. Be prepared for anything. Get your tickets here.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

Read this feature »


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