On Brian Eno and Behavior Modification
By Mike Faloon
It took a while but I finally saw the Marked Men in the spring of 2011. That winter felt really long. When I heard about the Marked Men playing in Chicago, along with the Arrivals and Toys That Kill, I treated myself to a plane ticket (and a ticket to the show — not much point in flying to the Windy City just to stand outside the club).
To my way of thinking this wasn’t just a show, it was a cultural event—the Marked Men, the Arrivals, and Toys That Kill on the same stage in the same night! It merited significant documentation. I couldn’t muster much in the “significant documentation” department. I did, however, think that interviewing the three bands would be a lot of fun.
It was. At the time I was convinced that having interviews with bands of this caliber would spur me into publishing the next print issue of Go Metric. A year and a half later said issue is still draped in cob webs.
The interviews went really well, though, and I hated the thought of them remaining on my mp3 player, especially the following interview with Mark Ryan, singer/guitarist for the Marked Men and the Mind Spiders.
The interview went well despite two factors: one, it was incredibly late by the time we talked--it was after the show yet Mark was incredibly patience and gracious, never hinting that he wanted to split. Two, I kept thinking, Holy crow, it's the guy from the Marked Men and Mind Spiders!
Go Metric: Thanks for bearing with me. I’m a novice with this technology (recording on with my mp3 player). I’m like a cave man—I don’t understand fire but I appreciate it. And thanks for taking a couple of minutes to talk.
Mark Ryan: Yeah, man, no problem.
GM: I’ve have waited so long to see the Marked Men. I’ve been listening to those records for years. We actually met once in Tucson. (Sounds like a Johnny Cash line.) You were playing with the Riverboat Gamblers. You guys played with the Knockout Pills at that old hotel.
MR: The Knockout Pills were a great band.
GM: I was touring with Todd Taylor at the time.
MR: Oh yeah, I remember it now.
GM: Todd had said, Not only are we going to do a reading in Tucson, but we’re going to a show: Knockout Pills and the Riverboat Gamblers, you’ll like these guys. You came up to him and you were like, Hey, Todd, here’s the new Marked Men record (On the Outside, Dirtnap Records, 2004 — being there for this handoff is, to me, akin to Joey Ramone giving a copy of Leave Home to Lester Bangs. Wish I’d framed it that way at the time).
MR: Yeah. (Politely, patiently nods along, waiting for me to arrive at something — anything — approaching a point. Despite the late hour I’m fully wound up and giddily talkative. It’s Mark Ryan for Bloch’s sake!)
GM: A few months later I was listening to that record all the time. Then Fix My Brain (Swami, 2006) came out. So after all these years I finally get to see the Marked Men. Obviously I was enamored with the show tonight. How would you rank tonight as a Marked Men show?
MR: Pretty good. It’s always amazing to have a shit ton of people screaming, yelling your lyrics.
GM: And punching out all those accents on the drums.
MR: There’s nothing else quite like that. Chicago’s always been a fun town for us to play. We’ve always enjoyed it. Even with our old band, the Reds, we came up here a lot. It’s been a long time building that.
GM: There hasn’t been a lot of Marked Men activity the past couple years. What led to this show? Is this part of a tour?
MR: We’re playing Chaos in Tejas. We played last year and that was really fun. Then right after that we played a couple shows in Sweden, which was really great. We decided to do it again this year (Chaos in Tejas) but we wanted to come back here and Minneapolis because those are some of our favorite places to go. It’s real hard because Jeff (Burke, guitar) lives in Japan and him being able to get off work is really difficult, trying to avoid earthquakes.
GM: Oh man, I’d forgotten he was living there. Wow. In the meantime you’ve started doing the Mind Spiders. I just got the full-length (Mind Spiders, Dirtnap, 2011), so I haven’t totally absorbed that but I’ve listened to the first EP (World’s Destroyed, Dirtnap, 2010) so many times. With my favorite bands and records I enjoy trying to figure out why I like them so much. Yet I haven’t been able to pinpoint it with either the Marked Men or the Mind Spiders.
GM: I’d like to run this by you: when I watch you play it seems really taxing physically and very intricate, very involved. When I listen to the records it’s like an outfielder snagging a fly ball, equally impressive but seemingly easy and nonchalant. Is this really simple stuff or really complex stuff or assembling simple pieces in a complex way?
MR: I don’t know how to answer that.
GM: I know, I gave you a five-part answer to the question. As a teacher I should know better.
MR: No, no. I guess we’ve always been into the rhythm of the way that we play guitar. I’ve been playing with Mike (Throneberry), the drummer, since I was 19 and I’m 36 now. He’s an exceptionally talented drummer and it’s worked on my rhythm, and over time we’ve developed the way that we work together and it’s kept gelling. It’s hard to explain. It’s the way you do the downstrokes on the guitar and pound it out. I guess coming from Denton (Texas) for years we didn’t have much of a following.
GM: The Reds or the Marked Men? Both?
MR: Initially, the Marked Men. We had good shows but it wasn’t anything great. It was just a matter of continuing to pound it out and make it better and better to get people to respond.
GM: Do you play drums?
MR: No, but whenever Jeff or I write songs we know what we want from the drums. We plan it out meticulously.
GM: You don’t make it easy on him (Mike) as a drummer. He could keep those same tempos with quarter notes, it would be a lot easier. But it’s always eighth notes, always twice the work, twice the intensity.
MR: You’re right. We always used to joke around that if Mike wasn’t in pain or exhausted after the show then we weren’t successful.
GM: Drummer abuse, basically.
MR: But the thing is there’s something about Mike and his style. If you listen to bands from Denton they’re influenced by Mike. The drummers that are there now when they were younger they loved watching him. That’s part of the sound.
GM: He doesn’t do a lot of fills.
MR: He used to. We had to calm him down. It was too ADHD. Had to tell him to quit that shit. We used to let him go at it however he wanted to but we decided not to do that. (Speaking to other dude who has just come downstairs) You want in on this?
Unidentified dude: Just an old friend passing through. Just an old friend passing through.
MR: I’m still recovering from that feedback. Just about knocked me out.
GM: That’s ironic. Bands are usually saying that they can’t hear enough of themselves on stage. Going back to the Mind Spiders EP. I love how wide the sound is, how expansive, like a really wide, desert landscape.
MR: On the record I double a lot of the drums, it’s two drum kits. I like that Phil Spector big sound.
GM: Playing the same beat?
MR: Yeah, but I think it sounds cool. I write really stupidly simple songs and I try to make them sound good. I got really into that first Brian Eno record, Here Come the Warm Jets. The drums are doubled. That’s one of my favorite recordings. I’m kind of obsessed with that record. That’s what kind of spurred some of that one (Worlds Destroyed).
GM: I love that record — it’s the only Eno record I know — but I never would have connected those records. Eno's vocals are very prominent, very sweet.
MR: I tried to sing and carry melodies and things like that.
GM: Like I said, I’ve just started digging into the full-length (Mind Spiders), but it sounds really different. Is that just because I don’t know it well yet or…
MR: The Mind Spiders is just a recording project I started. It’s not really a band. It’s something I started when Jeff was leaving. I had all these other songs and I was doing things on my own. It’s just my way of seeing if I can try to pull something off—let me see if I can do this kind of song.
GM: It’s pretty great. Your role sounds almost like a conductor.
MR: Yeah, well, it’s more of a band now. I’ve started a band and I’ve started recording another record. It should be coming out at the end of this year (2011). I know it’s funny for someone from Chicago, but in Fort Worth, where I live, it snowed a lot in February and everything shut down for a week. I didn’t go anywhere. I just hung out at the house and worked on another record—a lot of it was done then.
GM: Actually, I'm just visiting Chicago. I’m from New York, but I know what you mean. This winter has been miserable. That’s one of the reasons I made this trip.
MR: For us it was crazy. If we get just a little bit of snow nobody goes to work, schools shut down, so it gave me some vacation time.
GM: What do you do for work?
MR: I work with people with mental retardation and write behavior modification plans.
GM: I teach fifth grade, general education teacher. I don’t write plans like those, but I try to implement them for some of my kids.
MR: I work for a psychologist. I got my master’s degree and I work under his supervision and go to a lot of different places around the Dallas/Fort Worth/Denton area.
GM: I know different schools are on different places on the continuum…
MR: Oh, I don’t work with people in schools—group home or big facilities. That’s been my main work for years.
GM: That’s not easy work.
MR: I know you can relate.
GM: I was talking to someone about that earlier—it’s a tough time to be in education.
MR: It’s gotten worse in Texas, a lot of the budget cuts. It’s been intense. A lot of similar services have been cut, so I have to do just as much as I did before but with less time.
GM: Do you ever watch The Wire, the season where they focus on the local newspaper? “We’re going to do more with less.”
MR: I always think about that line whenever I think about this.
(Why didn’t I linger on this point longer? I drove right past a potentially fascinating moment in the conversation — one of my favorite musicians and my favorite dramatic TV show? Geez!)
GM: In our district it seems like the first place they cut is where people are the most vulnerable.
MR: I completely agree. It sucks, but it’s cool whenever you can make a good decision here and there. You can do some good things. I like it. It is wearing me out.
GM: How long have you been doing it?
MR: I started out as a direct care person in the facilities. Actually, Jeff and Mike did the same sort of work for years — you could do PRN work on call, as needed.
MR: It just means “as needed.” It’s a nursing term. We could work for a while, a bunch of shifts, and then take off and go on tour. I started doing that and then I met the psychologist I work for and I went on from there.
GM: Does your work ever find it’s way into your music?
MR: The song “Doctor Dan” (from On the Outside) that’s my boss. Good name. He’s a really good guy.
GM: That’s not how I think of the typical song about a boss.
MR: I just used his name, everyone calls him Dr. Dan. It’s not about him. It’s about someone being crazy and not wanting to go into the psych hospital.
GM: Any chance the Marked Men will tour again?
MR: No, I don’t think so. We all have projects that are going on. Jeff, since he’s been in Japan he’s recorded 20-30 songs but they’re all demo versions. He’s had a hard time getting them recorded properly. It’s hard to do over there. Also, the recent earthquake destroyed some of his recording equipment. He’s got a new band. They’ve been playing over there. And Joe’s been doing a new band and I’ve been doing the Mind Spiders.
GM: It’s weird when a favorite band breaks up. In the next band I want to hear echoes of that prior band but I’m also hoping for something new and different.
MR: I want it to be different.
GM: Are the Mind Spiders a band you’d tour with?
MR: I don’t think so. Everybody in the band is in other bands, so it’s more about the recording. We’ve got to do some cool stuff. We went up to the Atlanta Mess Around back in April. We got to play with the Testors. That was pretty amazing. It was original line up. They’re getting up to close to 60 now. This was crazy because it was the original band and they were spot on, everybody. The guitarist had white hair and looked like an old school teacher and they were talking shit to the crowd. It was great.