Photo by Jenny Frank
So in being a music journalist (termed very liberally here), there are times when the press sheet doesn’t necessarily do justice to the band. I understand why this is — a press kit is made of amped up facts, things that illuminate the artist without a journalist having to do too much work — many times you can base the questions you ask an artist directly from the press kit, especially in a case where you have no prior knowledge of the band. Marrow is a band whose members have many notable accomplishments: one time members of Chance the Rapper’s Social Experiment, the band Tweedy with Jeff Tweedy of Wilco (!), and having once been members of Kids These Days with Vic Mensa; all of those things are great and provide sort of a context, but they shed no light on how great this band and their latest album, The Gold Standard, is. It could easily be stated that without those previous associations, this album would still be as wonderful.
“I think we didn’t go into (the album) thinking ‘This is what the record’s gonna sound like,’ we kinda just let it happen really organically, we knew that we wanted it to be centered around the songwriting more than anything else, and I think that in a lot of the projects that we’d been in before Marrow, we didn’t exactly write music the same way. I think that the record is sort of a culmination of all of our influences, it’s pretty eclectic I would say,” notes Macie Stewart via phone on the Monday before New Year’s Eve.
Stewart, along with bandmates Liam Kazar, Lane Beckstrom and Matt Carol make up the Chicago band Marrow. Their album includes many varied spices, but the meal is consistently satiating. You know how sometimes you taste a meal and you go, “Is that cilantro?” It is like that, soul and prog leanings, sort of a country kind of thing with a Jill Scott run, all the while making an individual statement and remaining cohesive. It is not the sound of musicians playing their influences more than being a product of those influences.
There is the idea or theme, probably not intentional, of leaving or staying temporarily, having to leave which runs throughout the record. It is a fitting theme in these transient lives we lead, giving time to others while still allowing ourselves time to process, maintaining the stability of a familial or romantic bond while still having to go. Or maybe even relying on going (“Leave It All Behind”) as a way of not dealing with some thing. The idea of a home (“Corsicana,” “Quarter to Three”), a place to settle, to resolve the things, but also knowing that leaving is part of the equation.
“A lot of the songs were written over the last five or six years. We’d been holding on to those songs, sort of waiting on the right time to do them, but I do think there a lot of songs on the record that definitely pertain to loss and returning home, there’s a line in “Corsicana” (“Corsicana is my home.”) even though we’ve never been to Corsicana, but stuff like that. “Quarter to Three” was partially written based on being on tour and the process of leaving Kids These Days, so there definitely were songs that were consciously about loss, but I don’t know if that was a purposeful theme of the record but you’re definitely right, I didn’t think about it that way, a lot of the underlying theme of is this record is definitely loss and coming home which is kind of how it felt, coming home to Marrow and making a record that was true to our songwriting.”
Another aspect of the record that belies the youth of the band is restraint. The melodies, the harmonies, the way that the musicians chose to color each song speaks to a respect of the whole of the song and in larger terms to the album. Each vocal inflection, each strum or cymbal brush services that piece more than the musician, it heightens the moments of climax and anchors the path to crescendo, it gives each song a stage to be explored and revisited.
“We tried to make this record and be mature about it, tried not to throw everything in at once because it’s so easy to get carried away, especially because we were recording in Liam’s basement, we didn’t have to worry about paying for studio time, we were kind of just recording, and at that point it is really kind of easy to just keep adding in things and keep, you know, beating it to death and adding a whole bunch of stuff onto the songs, so we tried to make it a little more restrained, but still trying to fulfill everything that the song and the record called for.”
January 30th at Rudyard’s, Marrow will be in town to present this wonderful album and other songs as well possibly. It will be an opportunity for you to see in action of the ideas suggested in this article. Writing about music can never supersede the actual process of watching the band. The philosophies of live vs. the record differ with every band, but a consensus seems to be that magic is always possible in the moment.
“We definitely try not to tie ourselves to the record when we play live, we definitely want to stay true to it, but there are some things that you simply cannot do (live) because you don’t have the money for it, and also we come from a background in jazz, so we’re into improvisation, so there are some points in the song where we’ll definitely do something different, or they’ll be a moment between the four us playing that is not on the record and could only happen live-we’re not married to the record and how the record sounds when we’re playing, we try to respect it, with this new record that we’re making, we’re also trying to be more conscious of how will pull it off live. I think it’s always cool when bands play differently than what is on the record it gives me a lot of satisfaction-I think it’s cool to explore all of the possibilities that a song can be live and recorded.”