It starts with a bracing thump closely followed by the sinister swirling of dissonant strings and a pounding resonant low-end. Suddenly, those lilting, instructive vocals draw you in close before picking you up and hurling you headlong into the wall. This a basic explanation of what happens when you listen to Connecticut noise-rockers Magik Markers, a band who have been at the forefront of cerebral alt-rock since the release of their debut I Trust My Guitar, etc… back in 2005. To say Magik Markers create an uncompromising sound would be a vast understatement. The sound they create inhabits the realms stalked by the ghosts of Sonic Youth and L7, but Magik Markers survey the 90s landscape and make it their own, simultaneously dragging it into the grubby here and now.
Original members Elisa Ambrogio (vox, guitar) and Pete Nolan (drums) have recently recruited touring bassist John Shaw full-time and now the newly formed three-piece are set to release their first album since Since 2009’s Balf Quarry. Entitled Surrender To The Fantasy, the album sees the band on incendiary form delivering dirty noise rock with a razor sharp emotive edge. Listening to Surrender To The Fantasy is like making passionate love to your teenage self by a dumpster behind the hippest club you’ve ever been to.
Ahead of the release of their new album we caught up with Magik Markers to talk about life since Balf Quarry, swelling from two to three members, and life on the road.
Hi guys, let’s talk about the new album, how did it all come together?
John: It built up over time. We recorded bits and pieces as we could in various spots and it grew slowly in that way. But a lot of the songs came quickly, fully formed on the first try. In the end, the album was formed out of these songs, with edits and polishes to help them fit together.
Pete: Our European booker said we’d have to have a record if we wanted to tour, so we handed all our tapes to Aaron Mullan (Tall Firs) and he helped us mix them. He said he spent like 100 hours on it.
Elisa: We decided we wanted to make our best record yet, and then we did it.
It’s been a while since the release of your last album. What have you been up to in the intervening four years?
J: Mostly talking about doing a new album. Just kidding… sort of.
E: I’ve been working out, developing my glutes and my lats. Marched toward the grave with uncompromising velocity.
P: I had a little kid. Got married. Started a jewellery business with my wife. Got to meet Martha Stewart the other day. I’ve made 3 records with Spectre Folk too. A couple of them were recorded out at echo canyon where Markers made Boss.
There seems to be a more dirty, blues orientated sound to Surrender To The Fantasy. Was this intentional or did it happen organically?
E: I felt pretty free. I can describe the feeling as something like finding out you’re rich and knowing you never have to worrying about paying a bill or deciding to commit suicide and giving everything you own away. Or having a dream where you find all these rooms in you use you never noticed. Anything was and is possible, and it still is. That was the way it felt with this record. That we could literally do whatever the fuck we wanted.
J: The overall process was definitely organic. For the most part we just tried to meet our minds on the musical plane and see what we found there.
You released the track ‘Ice Skater’ as a stand alone single and it’s quite a departure from what people might expect from a Magik Markers song. What was the concept behind it?
E: I wrote it on acoustic guitar and thought it was a little treacly, but like a weird story. Then in Aaron’s basement in Brooklyn we ended up turning in into this totally different piece. We had a sample of Jason from Friday the 13th that we liked the rhythm of, like the hit sounds before he makes the kill. Pete did the Jason sound on the recording and we stretched it out and put reverb on it and than the synth melody, playing that on garage band. It’s so majestic, I love GarageBand 08 synth sounds. I was writing it like a Ponytail or The Association song… it came out totally differently of course. But it has that energy, that sort of eager confusing feeling.
You’ve recently gone from a two piece to a three piece. How has taking on an extra member affected your dynamic as a band?
J: As the “new guy” I had to figure out how these two operated in the context of Magik Markers. But we had known each other for about ten years, and played music together at other times, so we already had some history to work with.
E: Pete and I have been the creative force in the band since 2006, written all the songs together, made the decisions, played live, and it seemed like that is how it would keep going. Then John played on a european tour and some US tour and we were just like, SHAW! It felt right, it sounded right and it was right.
P: It’s way easier to play the songs. We can be a democracy now, Elisa and I never agree on anything. John can tip the scales one way or another based on cool rationality instead of unbridled emotion. Makes it a lot easier to get things done.
You’re about take the new album on the road. How does it feel to be touring again?
E: I like touring, I feel like I really know how to do it at this point. I don’t burn out and get a face rash and start having panic attacks anymore. A three month tour is totally different than a three week tour though, so maybe I would still get a face rash.
P: We’ve got a good team. Our man Paul Lebreque from Astral Blessing is gonna roll with us and do sound. It’s gonna rule.
J: It can be stressful and uncomfortable and boring and terrible too, but great to meet people and play music for them and see how it gets received. It is also a good chance for us to keep our focus on playing music. That is the purpose of each day. That and finding a cool place to eat.
What have been your tour highs and lows?
E: One time I slept in the car in the sweat damp clothes I had just played in and woke up in the blazing 6am Madrid sun coming in through the window with business people on their way to work looking at me through the car window with disgust. I got a face rash from that. One time we were packing up and roaches crawled out our amps and synths and guitars. That was a low. The highs are playing. The momentum of playing every night. The best times are playing and having a really good dinner with friends. Touring really exposes you to the kindness of strangers and then you make friends. I got to jump in the ocean right after I walked off stage once, that was really fun. Seeing friends, having weird adventures in bars, and just driving. The best way to listen to records is on a long drive. Trying new regional sodas. Getting to see bands. I love having to play every night, no matter what. It used to be a huge tour highlight to run into this boy I liked and talk to him. Now we live together so I don’t see him on tour too much.