Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Sunday Conversation with Nothing Project

All the way from New Jersey, we had our good friend Marcus from Nothing Project drop in, take up some couch space, and talk to us about how he got to where he is today. Being that Nothing Project is a one man band, he didn't have to talk over any of his band mates to answer our burning questions for this weeks Sunday Conversation.

When I was a kid, growing up in a house with Cat Stevens, Neil Diamond, and Simon and Garfunkle, the first time I ever heard Kiss's "Detroit Rock City," it was a moment of musical epiphany. It was just so vicious, aggressive and mean.

What have been your musical epiphany moments?

When I was a little kid my dad used to produce big outdoor summer concerts for oldies music and bluegrass at a ski resort. My brother and I would hang out behind the stage in the lodge or roam around in the boozed crowd with my mom. It was really great to experience that as a kid, specially at the end of the bluegrass concerts when all the drunk shirtless cowboys would get completely belligerent because they never wanted the music to end. The crowd loved music so much that they expressed it in the only way their intoxicated cowboy hat covered brains could conjure at the end of a long day filled with music, log rolling, and excessive drinking... they bombarded the stage with beer bottles. Green and brown glass would be breaking everywhere as the crowd threw countless empty beer bottles at the stage as if to say "encore." This was how I learned that music was so very important to people and it would be nice to be a part of something so special and moving.

Talk to us about the song-writing process for you. What comes first, the idea? A riff? The lyrics? How does it all fall into place?

I became a one man band because I love writing songs. This musical situation with its apparent constraints allows and forces me to focus on the song. There is almost no room for me to be anything other than a song machine or I risk becoming a complete mess. Before this, when I was a guitarist in a four-piece band, I could fall over on stage and the music kept rocking. Now, if I fall over, the rock stops and no one wants that. So guitar solos are few, and drum fills are nonexistent because I can't play a fill with my feet. What I'm saying is every part has a purpose to the construction of the song.

I typically start with a riff. Sometimes the drums are at my feet and other times they're not. I like to write melodies before lyrics, so I usually come up with a melody immediately following the guitar riff. Many times I will start singing a melody as soon as I play a riff for the 1st time. Almost every time I write a bit of music with or without a melody, I will record it onto a cassette tape. I always keep a cassette in my recorder queued up and ready to record. Every so often I will review my tapes to see if I still like what I wrote 2 months ago. If I do, I will work on it some more. The music and melody will give me a feeling of what the song is about and that's when the lyrics show up. From there I refine the song as the lyrics lead the way.

Where do you look for continuing inspiration? New ideas, new motivation?

I'm inspired by many things musical and nonmusical. Writing music is usually a creative expression of how I'm feeling at the time. I don't usually sit down to write about something specific although I have done that at least a few times. Writing is usually more of a stream of consciousness. I grab my guitar and see what my fingers will create today. The writing process is not governed by a purposeful inspired goal. It's more like a path of discovery. I'm an adventurer!

Genre's are so misleading and such a way to pigeonhole bands. Without resorting to labels, how would you describe your music?

Short simple catchy rocking songs performed by me with my feet on the drums, my hands on the guitar, and my mouth on the mic.

What is you musical intention? What are you trying to express or get your audience to feel?

My intention is to rock. I just want people to enjoy Nothing Project in whatever way they can.

The business of music is a brutal place. Changes in technology have made it easier than ever for bands to get their music out, but harder than ever to make a living? What are your plans to move the band forward? How do you stay motivated in this brutal business?

The best way to stay motivated in this business is to ignore that it is a business. The reason I play music is for the enjoyment of performing and creating. I am optimistic about finding the people who will be supportive fans using the new and old avenues of promotion, but even if I don't have as many fans as I would like I will still write and perform music. I've posted my first video on YouTube so people can get a good look at what I'm really doing. It's great to be able to experience music with a crowd so I will keep working at finding new fans.

Describe to us the ideal (realistic) record label and how you'd work with them, and they with you.

Promotion. The ideal record label would be ready and willing to promote the hell out of Nothing Project. Since I am a one man show I have to do almost everything myself. I do get some help from friends and family but the majority is done by me. Being a web/graphic designer and illustrator allows me to design and build my website, draw and design my posters and design and layout my CD packaging. I have financially funded everything myself and now, with the help of new friends like The Ripple Effect, I am promoting myself by any means that I have time for. I give all I can but after all the rocking it would be nice to have professional or at least organized help with promotion. It would also be great to be on a label with other rock bands to help cross promote.

Come on, share with us a couple of your great, Spinal Tap, rock and roll moments?
I got a chance to perform live on NYC's 92.3 FM Radio. This was Howard Stern's old studio just after he left radio for satellite, so I was pretty excited. Since I had equipment I was not allowed to go up in the nice elevators in the lobby, so I lugged my equipment onto a freight elevator with my friend, Mark, and ascended to the 14th* floor of this giant building. We got off the elevator and found ourselves in a room filled with garbage and empty boxes. No signs, no carpet, no receptionist--just a closed elevator behind us and a locked door in front of us. The only door into the studio was locked and nobody was there to open it. I could see some light and civilized carpet coming under the door and I could intermittently hear people walk by. So as they walked by I would yell for them to let us in. Well, for a while they seemed to be, or actually were, ignoring my pleas. I don't remember if I said "Hello Cleveland" at this point but I definitely felt like it. Eventually someone did let us in and I had a great time on the air with Lisa Lampanelli, the comedian, and some others.

*not sure if it was actually the 14th floor.

Where do you see you and your music going in ten years?

I would love to build a loyal following of any size that allows me to play music and afford to record. I hope people look back and say that I was and still am a fan friendly musician/artist. Right now I sell my 12 song album download for $4 and the CD for $7 with free shipping. I've put a lot into this CD and I think it's worth just as much as any other CD but I don't like to pay much for CDs so I priced it low.

What makes a great song?

A great song contains two essential elements: rock and roll. For me, as a one man band, I want the guitar part to be an awesome riff that sounds cool by itself, without the rest of me screwing it up. Sometimes I hear bands playing, and the guitar just goes "chug chug chug chug" until the solo. That can make it feel like the guitar is just filling up space for the singer to cry over. I want some excitement for the singer to cry over!

I want the drums to be driving. How can people dance if the drums aren't driving? They can't.

A catchy melody and a good hook don't hurt unless you repeat the chorus 500 times at the end of the song. I hate when bands repeat the chorus so many times that you get sick of it the 1st time you hear the song. My songs are pretty simple and short but I try to make them as interesting as I can so as not to bore the listener to death.

Tell us about the first song you ever wrote?

When I was in 4th or 5th grade (the 80s) I had to give an oral presentation book report. The teacher said we could be creative so I wrote and performed a rap song about Abraham Lincoln. Of course, I didn't actually read the biography book about Lincoln and I guess this was quite evident to the teacher. The rest of the class helped me answer some simple questions about ol' Abe, the teacher laughed, and I didn't fail.

After that I don't know for sure. One of my early solo hits was "One Chord Song". It was written about a decade before Tenacious D's "One Note Song". It was a bit more complex too. Ya see, it was played with an entire chord as opposed to just one note.

Vinyl, CD, or digital? What's your format of choice?

I think, like many music lovers, I enjoy all 3 because they all deliver music. If I could afford to press some vinyl right now, I would. There's something special about vinyl that you just don't get with the others, but vinyl takes a commitment on the listeners part. I definitely like to have cover art and things to read inside a CD or record and that's one of the downsides to most downloads. But CDs and digital music are so portable and easily sharable that it works great for the flood of music that envelopes us today.

What's the best record store in your town?

I wish there was a record store in my town. Most of them are gone now. There is a cool store in North Jersey called Sound Exchange. In South or Mid Jersey they have Vintage Vinyl and Princeton Record Exchange too. These stores are all worth checking out if you're close by.

Marcus, thanks for joining us and giving us a greater understanding on your approach towards music. Excellent work, my friend!


Seano said...

Great article with this one man band..and a great perspective on his songwriting process...I thought the only one man band out there was the one of a kind Bob Log(check him out!) I found your blog through Barbara(Layla) and I'm glad I did. I'm linking to you from my own blog....have agood one

Anonymous said...

C'mon...what about "Niggy Niggy Nu, niggy niggy nice"...instant hit, I know I loved it.

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