Feb 19, 2014

The soul of The Acoustic Basement - Brian Marquis

 The 2014 U.S. Acoustic Basement Tour is coming to a close.  It is the second incredibly successful edition of this tour.  So successful that it was approved for a UK version to provide the same "mid-season" acoustic Vans Warped Tour little sister to the UK VWT.  Brian will be traveling with Geoff Rickley and Koji who were on the bill of the debut ABT last year.  They will be joined by English artist Rob Lynch.  I know Brian as production manager, bus dad, musician, friend and road-kid.  He has garnered himself a very special place in my heart.  What follows is the conversation I had with him at the The Underground/Webster Theater, Hartford CT stop of Acoustic Basement Tour.  

Singer-songwriter Brian Marquis made his appearance on the earthly stage in the small village of Litchfield, Connecticut. Most of his early years were spent in the the northwest corner of the state.  Having discovered his penchant and talent for music at the age of thirteen, he did like many of New England's aspiring musicians and became a student at Berklee School of Music after high school.  Also like many of those starry eyed youth, he left the hallowed halls before finishing his degree.  However, he didn't leave Beantown.  Brian became an active musician in the Boston scene and also started getting his feet wet in production, helping other local bands and soloists getting gigs around the area.

Having a friend in Southern California was what first drew Marquis to the Left Coast.  He made very trips out there but did end up back in Connecticut when Therefore I Am broke up.  After moping around his mom's for a while he realized he needed to either get back into music or end up in a factory job in New England.  About the same time another friend offered in a room in her L.A. apartment so Brian took the opportunity and today calls Los Angeles home.

Since settling in CA, Marquis has really focused on his solo career.  In November of 2011, he released his first EP, Snow Damage and followed in January of 2012 with Beneath The Cover Is Earth.  One of the many things he attributes to the spirituality of Southern California is it has given him the freedom to really look deeply inside himself and write songs that come from the heart and soul.  During his recent performance in Hartford he spoke of his mom's influence in "'84 Rookie Card".  The lyrics of "From Boston" speak for themselves and even though some may smile or laugh, there is a very special truth about the city and it's people.  Being part of that community is definitely part of Brian's core.

Only having the chance to discuss the differences between SoCal, New York and Boston with one other musician, the conversation was steered down that path.  As Brian is also a good friend, this time there was a much deeper look into these nuances.  New York compared to L.A. is the focused, 'success' culture.  Los Angeles, under the mainstream radar, is more free-form, testing the waters, creating community.  But what about Boston.  People outside the Northeast really don't give it much thought.  From Brian's perspective, it is close-knit and despite to major arts colleges; Berklee and the New England Conservatory, along with strong arts departments at BU and NorthEastern, there are not a lot of small club venues.  The city and the surrounding areas do, however, have a great "all-ages" community so a lot of music goes on in churches, VFW halls and other non-traditional spaces.  Coming up through that Marquis not only played a lot of these locations but also helped others book gigs in them.  Everyone just wants to play and they want an audience to play with and for.  Asked of "Boston strong" includes their arts community Brian agrees that it is a part of being a Bostonian that bleeds into everything they do.  But Boston also shares that focus of New York when it comes to making a career of art.  One thing Brian says he sometimes feels is a bit lost in all that freedom and collaboration in L.A.  He has that discipline of the East also in his core and it gets frustrating when presented with the open-plan culture of SoCal artists.  However, as previously mentioned, he does embrace the spirituality of the West Coast and the 'breathing room' it gives him to create.

Going solo has also offered Brian the chance to expand his talent as a tour producer.  After joining the Acoustic Basement stage on Vans Warped Tour and seeing the positive response it received, he pitched taking some of the musicians out on a winter tour.  It was an opportunity to fill in that wait for the summer and Warped Tour's return along with sharing the acoustic experience.  This year the tour included Marquis, a local band from New Haven, Step Bar Secret, from OH Front Porch Step, Nick from Hit The Lights also repping the Buckeye State and Transit also Boston kids. During the show I came away with a new awareness of acoustic performances.  They are raw, heart on the sleeve, genuine passion. There's no effects to hide behind and create smoke and mirrors with.  The idea of taking "the basement" on the road has been a great one just in what audiences get to experience. It is definitely a feather in Brian’s cap.

Marquis was very excited to share that the stage and the tour have been so successful that when the suggestion was made to follow up Warped UK with an Acoustic Basement UK, it was met with a very positive response.  Brian will be planning and then packing up himself, Geoff Rickley and Koji to take the tour across the pond this Spring.

I couldn't forget to ask what other arts Brian creates in.  He definitely sees production as an art.  It takes a good sense of creativity along with organization to be successful at it.  He doesn't see himself doing it full time just yet.  Music is still his number one passion right now.  But he also might like to try his hand at stand up comedy again too.  Marquis had a memory flash of the Warped stop in Toronto. Throughout the tour he and a few of the other musicians had been doing impromptu gigs at local bars during the tour.  The bar they picked in Toronto was doing open-mic stand-up when they arrived.  With a little goading from his friends, Brian took a turn, creating his schtick on the fly.  People actually laughed.  He felt he did ok cuz no one booed or threw anything at him and he enjoyed doing it.

This is the first time I've had a chance since last summer to ask Brian about his lightning strike in Key West.  We did see each other back in the Fall on his solo tour but the subject didn't come up.  He says that the new music he is working on is partially due to his electrifying experience with Mother Nature.  After realizing that he had to leave Warped Tour and go home to recuperate he found himself pretty depressed.  Leaving behind the Buss #22 crew and contending with physical after effects caused him to withdraw. Getting back in the studio has helped get him out of that funk.

Watch for new music later this year. The U.S. Acoustic Basement Tour is still going on.  For those in the UK watch for your chance to catch the tour soon.  AND DON'T FORGET Vans Warped Tour this summer. Tickets are on sale now.  Five new bands announced every week on "Warped Roadies" on Fuse TV.


Feb 16, 2014

Gods how I hate violins...or not!

 The violin is probably my least favorite instrument and yet over the past decade or so, I've learned that that statement is the farthest thing from the truth.  It probably started with an old friend took me back to my Celtic roots about twelve years ago.  Between discovering Eileen Eivers and Natalie McMaster along with all the background strings in other modern Celtic music, I began to realize that the scratchy, squeaky, annoying sound of the highest register of that instrumental family was somehow necessary.  It was needed to soar above the mellow tones of the viola and cello and even to call attention to the resonance of the stand-up bass.

A few years later my youngest introduced me to Yellowcard.  Sean Mackin's fiddling sometimes gets lost in live mixes when dealing with sound techs who don't understand the instrument's role in this band's music.  However, Mackin had a chance to really shine in the re-release of Ocean Avenue the band did to celebrated their 10th anniversary.  Both the record and the subsequent tour were performed acoustic.  Without Sean's violin, it would have been every other indie album.

As I progressed through the alt and punk rock worlds, my Irish blood was stirred by Floggin' Molly, Dropkick Murphys and Flatfoot 56.  'Molly's fiddler is female and now the wife of the band's founder, Dave King.  Bridget who can "go to worship" with the boys and come to a Sunday set in her "Sunday best" and throw back Guinness with the best of them.  Surprisingly neither of the afore mentioned have a violin in the line-up.

2008 would bring the first face-to-face meeting with a young man who has become one of my longest standing and favorite "road kids".  Last summer I was finally allowed the chance to get him to tell a side of his story I'd wanted to share for quite a while.  'Jinxx' Jeremy Ferguson is a classically trained violinist who, I am convinced, carries at least a piece of his biggest idol's soul in his - Wolfgang Mozart.  Jinxx also got to reveal a tiny bit of his Irish heritage in our chat too.  Most have no idea that underneath all that black dye and make-up lives a freckle-faced strawberry blonde. Today many who are into the metal scene are very familiar with Jinxx and his part in Black Veil Brides.  So far this band is his most successful addition of the violin to rock and roll.

by Courtney Campbell 2013
I stumbled across Lindsey Stirling this afternoon in yet another fall of dominoes started by my friend Meghan Tonjes.  Lindsey had collaborated with the artist that Meghan had suggested.  When I dug into his catalog I found his collaboration with Lindsey for one of my favorite current mainstream pop artists, Bruno Mars.  You have to love how YouTube works with the listings down the side.  I was quickly drawn to another video/song collaboration Stirling did with one of my favorite a cappella groups, Pentatonix, to that chart burner, "Radioactive" by Imagine Dragons.  You know, that one long fucking hook that you can't hate.  Lindsey is a brilliant violinist and performer.  She reminds me of my dear friends in Lucent Dossier.  Actor, dancer and fiddler.  This gal has it all going on and her look is one that could work alongside my dear, dear friend, previously mentioned, Jinxx and the rest of Black Veil Brides.

So can I honestly say that I hate violins?  I guess not.  I mean I'm still glad neither of my kids took it up because I'm sure I would have taken my eardrums out with a fork a long, long time ago.  But could I sit and listen to someone scratch out a great rendition of "The Irish Washer Woman"?  Yeah, probably.