INTERVIEW: The Marches

We get a ton of e-mails here at Globecat. This shouldn't be too surprising: we deal with a lot of artists at any time, so we are inevitably signed up for PR mailing lists, get invited to CMJ parties, and receive lots of e-mails from managers who are kindly helping us contact some of our favorite musicians. Yet, every once in awhile, we get an e-mail from a band, contacting us directly. Obviously, we have not the time nor the means to take time out for each and every upstart act for an interview, but, every once in awhile, there's that one group that is just so profoundly different, new, innovative, and daring that, yes, we want to take a risk on them. This is how we discovered the incredible Pale Young Gentlemen, and this is how we discovered The Marches.

Richard Conti, for all intenstive purposes, is the Marches. Band members flow in and out, their contributions making the Marches seem like it's much bigger than it is. Yet there's something profoudnly magical about this band, as unlike, say, the Brian Jonestown Massacre or NIN, Richard Conti does not have a studio. Or equipment. Or anything. The inside jacket to 4AM is the New Midnight, the Marches' debut, tells of this album being recorded in the houses and homes of family and friends, all on borrowed equipment and borrowed time. It should be the homespun indie-basement masterpiece of yesteryear, but, it's much more than that. Songs like "Need Me Back" feature Aphex Twin-like drumming, sorrowful horn sections, and Portishead-styled female cooing, making for one genre-twisting, head-spinning experience. Vocoders get tossed around, pop songs move in and out of the ether, and even when you hear some voices strain against what is obviously the bad acoustics of a bathroom wall, there's a humanity and vulnerability that seeps through these notes, trasncending their budgets and their surroundings. It's a Major Label album on a nothing budget. It is under these circumstances that the best music is often made.

Speaking with Evcat, Conti details the making of this album, his proudest moments in doing so, and the obvious struggles of recreating such a sprawling set in a live context. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you ... The Marches.


>>The thing that immediately struck me about the album, unsurprisingly, was the sheer wreckless abandon of genres that was tackled, ranging from the simple rock tones of "Wish You Were Here" to the faux-classical leanings of "Sometimes Sex Isn't About the Money", along with the overriding Motown/Dap-Tones classic soul vibe that permiates the rest of the disc. When you're recording a Marches song, do you start by tackling a specific genre or is it more of an organic process?

I have no say whatsoever in what style the songs are. It’s whatever it starts or evolves as. There are so many styles that I listen to, I didn’t want to limit my output. I wanted to make the best song for every song without compromise. With that said, I heard this Quincy Jones interview on the anniversary edition of the Thriller album. And he was saying that he told Michael Jackson that for the album to be the success that they wanted it to be, they would need to have a rock song with crossover appeal and that’s how “Beat it” and Eddie Van Halen’s solo came about. I think I already had the guitar riff for “Wish You Were Here” but that Quincy Jones statement made me think it was (or would be) good to have a rock song on the album too.

>>One thing that seems to be important in the disc is the homespun feel to it, as various rounds of applause and between-song banter appear prominently throughout the disc. What was the reasoning behind their inclusion?

I don’t know how it happened but there is some humor in this album which goes hand in hand with the applause on “Wish You Were Here”, the bickering on “End of the Album, pt. 2” and people laughing in the middle of songs here and there. It feels nice to hear that type of thing. Friendly. Especially since everything on the album is either so sardonic or dark harmonically speaking. A nurse’s smile with your flu shot.

>>Given the sprawling nature of 4AM is the New Midnight, it must be somewhat of a challenge to recreate these tunes in a live context. What can we expect during a Marches live show?

Live is amazing. Completely raw and stripped down. There is no way I can have sax sections or organs or grand pianos at shows. There are vocals, guitar, drum set and then I do vocals, synth, bass, samples, and saxophone. The guitar is clean with reverb and handles most of the albums sax section and piano parts. It’s like hearing different versions of the same album. “Rudolph Valentino” is one of my favorites to do live because it becomes a punk song. The bass is very distorted. And it’s such a juxtaposition, this evil strangling bass line and Brizza’s supple immaculate vocals over it. “Bad Touch” we did in French. I always hate it when I see a band live and it’s exactly like the album except just not as good sound. There’s really no point to that. Live should be different from the album.

>>It has been noted that a majority of this album was recorded on borrowed equipment in various friends' houses. From a production standpoint, was there ever an attempt to "unify" the record given its various surroundings? What were the pros and cons of moving the Marches around to different spaces?

The album is unified in that it was recorded on crap. Maximum $200.00 mic’s and $100.00 preamps that weren’t even mine. Plus when I mixed everything, that’s going to have my stamp on it, with reverb I used, how many times I layered vocal tracks, where I pan the drums, etc. Even though it was recorded in 20 different places, it was recorded and mixed in my own idiosyncratic way. I mixed a lot of vocals like how Elliott Smith does, even the robotic ones.

As far as pros/cons of moving to different spaces, only cons. Really though, the album would never have been recorded any other way. I feel fortunate that I live now and have a portable studio that is my laptop. If I lived in any other time period previous, this album would have never been made. By being able to go to friends’ houses I was able to get as many people as I wanted on the album and I was able to get the right people for the right parts. There would have been no way to get this many people in the studio at the same time if I had to record in a traditional studio. And I would never have had the money. And all the mixing and tweaking that went into it. Really microscopic, and that all adds up. You couldn’t pay a mixer to do that detailed of a job, to care that much. Because they don’t do that detailed of a job and they don’t care that much. No one else is going to work harder for your anything other than you.

Some of the tracks miraculously really sound like they were done in a studio proper. But the overall sound is not as clear as something like The Good, the Bad and the Queen. That could actually be a good thing. Chris and I have been listening to a lot of 90’s music lately and a lot of it sounds really dated in a bad way. There is even an acoustic guitar in a James album that sounds really 90’s and it’s only an acoustic guitar. Unkle sounds really dated. And these albums were recorded with decent budgets I’m sure. But then you hear Robert Johnson recordings, old Russian Orthodox choir recordings or some Charlie Parking recordings. And they sound like crap because they were recorded on crap. But the music is amazing and it doesn’t sound dated, only aged, and aged well at that. Ghostly and reverent. And in Motown, sometimes the drums are peaking. One time I was transcribing some horn parts for the Marvelettes “Don’t Mess with Bill” and I couldn’t figure out if I was hearing a guitar or a horn section. How bad does the sound have to be if it’s difficult to tell the difference between 3 saxophones and a guitar? But no one has shit on Motown and it holds up. My theory is that the better the recording quality the easier it is to sound dated, the worse sound recording quality the easier it is to age well. So the fact that the Marches 4 a.m. is the New Midnight was done on nothing for nothing is a good thing.

>>Listening to the duetting robotic vocals of "Bobby Brown", I'm somewhat reminded of Kanye's recent vocoder-affected work, but I have a feeling that listening to this disc five years from now, another element will be reminiscent of some other stylized pop figure. Is there any particular song or moment on the album that you are particularly proud of?

In “So Ill”, when the instrumental break down comes in right before the last chorus, for those 16 seconds, if you close your eyes you’ll be in 1965 Detroit.

End Scene. So if you listen to Mark Ronson, and who am I to criticize as he’s not rapping about murdering people, calling black women bitches, etc. He’s doing amazing work by injecting 60’s soul into popular hits with Amy Winehouse, but with all the money, all the $30,000.00 microphones, all the studio time, engineers and orchestras, he’s never produced anything more Motown than those 16 seconds in “So Ill”. And that’s the truth.

>>To what degree is Richard Conti the Marches? i.e. the Smashing Pumpkins -- regardless of band roster -- is fundamentally Billy Corgan. Given the numerous contributors to this disc, how is the Marches, as a band, defined?

I am the Marches. It’s like Nine Inch Nails/Trent Reznor. Personnel can and will change. I don’t know how I can answer the second part of your question. Whatever I do is what the Marches is.

>>Finally, so far in your career, what's been your biggest regret, and -- conversely -- what's been your proudest accomplishment?

Proudest accomplishment is this album, 4 a.m. is the New Midnight. Worst thing is that my Grandfather died in February and I didn’t get the album out before that happened. But my uncle did show him the video for “Sometimes Sex isn’t About the Money”. So he saw something. Another big thing is that all my grandparents’ names are on the album jacket. In print.


Visit the Marches' official website.