Words by Tommy Johnson
Everything was not as idyllic as anticipated when Kal Marks’ lead Carl Shane and I began our correspondence in August. An unfortunate turn of events had forced him and bandmate, Christina Puerto, to move out of Boston to a small city in Rhode Island. Along with the heavy burden of having to pack up and reposition themselves came the planning for the first stint of tour dates in support of the band’s latest effort, My Name Is Hell via Exploding In Sound Records. “Moving while prepping for a month-long tour is the worst idea,” he surmised.
After grinding extensively worldwide for over a decade, the fifth installment of Kal Marks’ discography present the band’s most significant transition. His previous bandmates left in 2020 and having a batch of new songs seemingly being wasted worried him. Shane regrouped quickly, with Dylan Teggart reaching out and seeing if the two of them wanted to play some music. Puerto immediately followed, and then drummer John Russell was the last to enlist to form the new version of Kal Marks.
My Name Is Hell continues to steer listeners towards the familiarity of Shane’s snarling vocals but there is a new level of underlining control. Going along with heavily loud guitars and booming bass and drums, Kal Marks instinctively feels in many ways emancipated. Lyrically, Shane comes off as he’s trying to find the epicenter of what will truly make him feel content, even as the world sometimes feels like it’s sprinting towards a dystopian future. In the press release, he says, “A lot of the tragedy and destruction that I’m talking about isn’t happening directly to me, but it affects me. Any anger I have has boiled over and faded anyway. There seems to be no point in being angry because it’s not going to change anything. Anger makes a shitty situation worse. Nobody is coming back to life, and more loved ones will die. I have an emptiness that can never be filled but I’m coping with it.”
Off Shelf: There is a temperament deeply embedded within the infrastructure in Boston. The passion that everyone seemingly showcases reverberates in all that they do. When you began playing music, did you discover that within the scene?
Carl Shane: The one thing I noticed with Boston back in the 2009-2012 era was a handful of top-notch bands that put a lot of hard work into their art, even if nobody cared.
OS: What were those early days of Kal Marks like, in your opinion?
CS: Lonely. I was still living in New Hampshire, recording cassette tape demos and had no one to share or play with. When I moved to Boston in 2007, I met a lot more interesting artistic people, but it was still very hard to share. I’m pretty shy and had a hard time putting myself out there. The music also might not have been that good.
OS: When did it become clear to you and the founding members of Kal Marks that the time had come to dissolve?
CS: It steadily happened. Alex, our drummer, quit in November 2019 and it was a huge bummer. From there it just seemed more and more unlikely things would carry on. The pandemic was the final nail in the coffin.
OS: Did the breakup at any point make you reach a point that you were unsure if you wanted to move forward with music?
CS: That period of time is kind of blurry for me. It was dismal and it clouded my memory. I felt pretty lost. I wasn’t a total mess, but I was in a weird head space. So I just tried to relax and be patient. At this time, everyone’s lives were on hold and many had it much worse than me. I just watched watch a bunch of bad movies and took long walks at that time. I don’t remember making plans to move forward until Dylan reached out.
OS: It feels almost serendipitous that Dylan reached out to see if you wanted to play some music. Did that ever come to your mind?
CS: Not really. I knew Dylan was a great drummer, but I wasn’t sure if he’d want to play with us. I’m very lucky he reached out.
OS: How quickly did you start to envision that this version of Kal Marks could move forward?
CS: The moment we talked. It all suddenly changed like “snap!” I had a lot of songs I was sitting on, but they can only be played to their full extent once a good drummer is in place.
OS: Listening to the new album, the added guitars that Christina provides arguably push the tracks to another level. Do you wonder what could have been with the previous albums?
CS: Oh, totally. We should have always had two guitars. We play a decent amount of older songs with this lineup and it’s definitely more interesting having the two. Christina’s playing is really creative and fits in well with the wacky sloppy stuff I do. It cleans up the band, then just add more noise.
OS: With the new changes in the lineup, did you explore changing other elements, such as your approach to writing?
CS: It’s still kind of the same. I come up with a song idea. Sometimes it’s very finished. Sometimes it’s pretty incomplete and then we screw around with it as a group. I give everyone the freedom to do what they want, and we ping-pong ideas back and forth until we’re all satisfied with the final product. This time there were just more voices in the room, and everyone had strong, well-thought-out opinions.
OS: There is much to unpack with the pandemic, unfavorable political system, life experiences, etc. When piecing together songs, especially with My Name Is Hell, do you find some peace within yourself once those feelings are out?
CS: That’s a hard question. I’m not sure. I’m glad I can express myself, but inner peace… I’m not sure if I achieve that ever.
OS: What were some of the songs on the new album that is some of your favorites?
CS: “My Life Is A Freak Show,” “Who Waits,” “New Neighbor.”
OS: What do you hope to see for yourself and Kal Marks in the future?
CS: I hope people come out to these shows.