Words by David C. Obenour
Kal Marks is loud and angry in the best ways possible. They are veterans of the scene making music for other veterans of the scene and if that sounds like a slight it’s only because you haven’t heard their music. The music is visceral and caustic, bringing to mind The Birthday Party or some great Steve Albini produced album from the 90s.
A batch of songs left on the cutting room floor from their last album, Universal Care the band went back into the studio with the intent of banging out a tour-only EP. What ended up happening resonated much more deeply with the band and the songs from Let the Shit House Burn Down fought their way onto a proper release.
Off Shelf: A lot’s been said about how loud you are as a band. I know it’s got to be a question you’ve answered before, but how did that become a part of who you guys are? Is it still as important to you as it once was?
Carl Shane: I’m not quite sure how we got branded and I don’t really think we’re the loudest band on earth. I think we intend to make a sound and reach a certain tone, and you have to get it by turning up. I don’t think we’re trying to be loud just to be loud, and I’m sorry if it’s obnoxious.
OS: Not in the cliche sense, but do you prefer your music played at “maximum volume” at home too? Or do you see the live and home stereo experience as more disconnected then that?
CS: I totally don’t play music loud at home. My ears need a break. I’m usually listening to some mellower music at home.
OS: The press release says that Let the Shit House Burn Down was “a batch of songs that band weren’t always sold on prior to recording” – what were your initial issues with the songs? Why did you decide to take them into the studio?
CS: Yeah we probably shouldn’t of said that in the press release. Really doesn’t help sell it. Originally we had these songs leftover from the previous record. We didn’t even know how to finish the lyrics and music. We had a European/UK tour in the spring and we thought the songs would make an “ok” tour EP to sell. We were just going to make tapes. I finished the lyrics literally the night before and when we went to studio we kind of fell in love with the space. Pretty bare bones space but it had a lot of useful equipment, and Miranda, our engineer, knew the place like the back of her hand. Tracking went extremely well, and when we listened back we were really surprised by the rough a mix. The songs were way better and we realized we might need to take a little longer on finishing the mix.
OS: Did you have other songs that stayed on the cutting room floor? What about these songs hung together for you?
CS: We have a bunch of songs that we didn’t record that we’re saving for a new LP. Yeah, all these songs share a common theme of being the rejects.
OS: Let the Shit House Burn Down reminds me of some of the really raw, caustic sound coming out on labels like Touch & Go and Amphetamine Reptile earlier on. What were the things fueling that when you wrote these songs?
CS: I think we took a lot inspiration from 80s Tom Waits and the first Nick Cave album. Portishead is a big influence. I like how they combine sounds that wouldn’t normally go together. We’ve always had that Jesus Lizard Touch & Go influence, but that’s not on heavy rotation right now.
OS: Is it at all hard to play songs like these live? Like the anger of the music, but being met with an audience that is excited and supportive; how do you balance the intense feeling of performance versus the excitement and appreciation of an audience that follows?
CS: I really like entertaining people. I kind of get lost in the music a bit. That’s super lame and cliche to say, but my mind kind of goes blank and I’m just feeling the moment. The crowd also has a vibe that can heighten the moment. If they love us we give it right back. There’s a lot things to do on any given night. The fact that anyone comes to see us is mind blowing and super gratifying. We can’t give them a half assed show.
OS: The album isn’t without its breaks in the aggression though, the chorus to “Nu Legs” and the beautiful “It’s So Hard to Know How to Say Goodbye” – how do you balance those dynamics?
CS: We crave dynamics because you need relief. If it was all aggression and brutality the albums would be way shorter. You need a break, and dynamics kind of fold in on themselves and compliment each other.
OS: What’s your “fuck it” music? When you just need something to help let off some anxiety or despair or anger?
CS: Well if I’m angry I think Converge is great to listen to. Listening to Converge and going for a run is a killer combo. I’ve trying to exercise more to get a handle on my anxiety. It’s like I have to burn it off. Dealing with despair isn’t really consistent for me, but you know sometimes you feel blue. In those moments I like something mellow. It kind of helps me to reflect and compartmentalize my thoughts. Something like Talk Talk album “laughing stock” is a big one in those times. The sadder Randy Newman songs are huge, like “I think it’s going to rain today” or “wondering boy”. Also Tom Waits’s ballads and Grouper float into rotation. Shit…. also Thin Lizzy. They have stuff to lift your spirit and dance, songs to do push ups to, and numbers that are truly heart wrenching. Maybe a perfect band.