Monday 15 December 2014

Interview: Athan Maroulis (Noir)

Darkly near...

“In a strange way, all these decades later I am making music now because I actually "want" to make music with no expectations and perhaps people starting out should think the same way. Then again, what the fuck do I know?”

Intravenous Magazine: You've been a well-known name in the scene with acts such as Spahn Ranch and Black Tape for a Blue Girl. What led to the decision to start NOIR?

Athan Maroulis: I had stopped making music for many years; eventually Black Tape coaxed me back into the fold for a Blue Girl. After cutting an album and touring with Black Tape I really wanted to keep going yet Black Tape take quite a few years between releases. With that in mind NOIR was born as a vehicle for me to mold, alter and change as I wanted, while perhaps giving people that liked my music from my past a little of that flavor as well.


What new challenges have starting this new path presented for you?

AM: I am a lyricist and a vocalist with no actual programming abilities so I need collaborators. The idea behind NOIR was to collaborate with different people on each album to achieve one common goal. This, in and of itself, has been quite a challenge. Second to that the idea of starting from scratch has proven quite challenging. Granted, my "checkered past" affords me the ability to not have to fully start from the first rung on the ladder yet it hasn't enabled me just to write my own destiny either. Ultimately it has all led to a rather challenging learning curve.

IVM: Your first full-length album 'Darkly Near' was released last year. How has that been received?

AM: It seems that a number of writers or critics have given it their seal of approval, some club DJs as well as a handful of specialty radio shows have also been receptive along with a few of my peers. This scene has certain key provincial tastemakers (for the lack of a better word) oftentimes they themselves are promoters, that seem to "decide" what the audience should hear but I gave up rather quickly trying to communicate with them, short of self-immolation, oral favors or somehow attaching myself to the usual list of suspects (as in the top Euro festival acts), these tastemakers seem rather impenetrable. That said, the actual audience seems to like what we do although they too are also a bit tricky, I just find it so baffling that people today have access to mountains of new music at their fingertips, yet they choose to partake or sample so little of it especially in the more Darkwave oriented circles. While we've found favor amongst some Goth/Industrial enthusiasts, we have also ventured outside of these circles to perform with good results.

IVM: What was the writing and recording process like for you?

AM: Electronic music can be a bit removed from human interaction. A few different people worked on the first album, a friend of mine from a different scene who wanted to be anonymous, the producer Raphael Pepi, I brought in an excellent vocalist named Andi Harriman to do some backups and a few others. Like I mentioned earlier, I am a lyricist and a vocalist with no actual programming abilities so I need collaborators. Efforts in the future will also have multiple individuals; in fact, I was hoping to write with at least 4 or 5 different composers on the next album of original material. Lyrically, the 'Darkly Near' album was difficult to write. While I penned a few words with Black Tape for a Blue Girl, the 'Darkly Near' album was the first time I had to write as many lyrics in over a decade. Reaching back into old routines to write was the only way I knew yet I penned the album from the point of view that it might be my last, hence the title. So unless a taxi hits me today that line of thinking no longer seems accurate.

IVM: You've recently released a remix companion to the album in 'RE:MIT:TENT', featuring an impressive line-up of contributors. Are you happy with the results?

AM: I am pleased with the results. At first I thought it would be wise to split them into 2 different albums, then later decided that since it was to only be a digital release by Metropolis it seemed more logical to put them all together on one release. At 20 tracks it features a cross-section of artists who bring their own style to the source material.

IVM: Were there any artists you would like to remix Noir, or even collaborate with in the future?

AM: There are a few artists that are on 'RE:MIT:TENT' that I am already working with on material like Erik Gustafson who mixed under the moniker Souless Affection. Erik actually played some guitar on the first album as well. I've chatted with Decoded Feedback about writing together. In the past PBK and I did a song called "An Ending" that I was thinking about resurrecting down the road. Reza from Inertia and I composed "Timephase" many years ago which was utilized on the last album, perhaps he and I will work on more material at some point? As for other artists to work with or have them remix, well that's a bit of a slippery slope? Many remixers tend to be a bit pricey so I tend to not think in those ways. I wish I had an instance whereby I could work with Jim Thirlwell of Foetus fame. He's an interesting guy with innumerable skills.

IVM: The first album is a sensual mixture of retro and futuristic. What were your thematic influences when writing the album?

AM: In part, I returned to a few of the themes I toyed with when Spahn Ranch did our album 'Architecture.' What I call yesteryear's perception of tomorrow, the way the old World's Fair would show the future yet it all seemed a bit surreal. Taking that surreal idea and merging it with faded tragic film stars from the 1930s, veiled intimacy, flashes and moments of my life, the remnants of the New York City I grew up in and throwing it all into a pot. I realized I could do this because there aren't any rules and storytelling doesn't have to be real but it should in the very least be interesting.

IVM: On the album you chose to cover 'A Forest' by The Cure and 'In Every Dream Home A Heartache' by Roxy Music. How did you come to choose these tracks and can we expect more covers on the next album?

AM: Oddly enough, "A Forest" was chosen by my anonymous collaborator and was really more of an afterthought as in something to add to the first single back in 2012, which was "My Dear." "In Every Dream Home A Heartache" was an accident; it was an instrumental that I thought needed a vocal when I forced the lyrics to the Roxy Music song on top of it. A wonderful accident I suppose? As for covers, I've considered making the next album all cover songs. Truth is that the early albums by the Beatles and the Stones were nearly all covers or interpretations of classic 1950s material written by others. From the 1920s through the 1960s that was the standard way of doing things (with some exceptions) then it changed by 1963 or 1964 when bands like the aforementioned started writing their own material. That said I'd like to perhaps do an entire album of material from the kind of artists that influenced me to create NOIR (like Bowie and Bryan Ferry once did) or perhaps an entire album of obscure covers of esoteric artists that are only now being heard because of the Internet. Not quite sure but it is on my mind.

IVM: You started making music in the 1980's, and have been involved in numerous projects covering a range of styles. How has making music changed for an artist like yourself in that time?

AM: Good question. Everything has changed rather drastically, some things for the better, some things for the worse. Recording has changed immensely; elaborate studios are certainly no longer necessary. Oddly enough because of the nature of electronic music I have been collaborating by mail for many years but it changed from sending tapes via snail mail to sending files via email. The drastic change in product sales has hurt me as well as many of my peers. For me it hurts as an artist but also as a reissue producer, not long ago I worked on upwards of 25 different CDs a year where I compiled and wrote liner notes on vintage albums from Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, Patsy Cline to name a few. When those sales started drying up so too did the work. Shopping for music in stores is a thing of the past now and people are far less apt to pay for music via digital download or otherwise. Then one would think that at least the Internet could bring more music into peoples lives yet I find the more gadgets people have the lazier they become about finding new things. So sales and the ability to survive off of them have subsided yet the live performance environment has also suffered. Hence, these are trying times, yet I have tried to adjust the best I can. I've said it before and I will say it again, I am much happier to be some 20 releases into my career then at the start. If I was a 20-year-old singer just starting now, it makes me wonder what the goal would be?

IVM: You've released a music video for the lead single 'My Dear' so far. Are you happy with the result and are there any plans for any more videos?

AM: Oddly enough after the initial "My Dear" video, which was completed on a tiny budget, Artemis K made a video for his remix of "Timephase." It was assembled purely from public domain silent film footage and it is rather good:

Similarly, Falcotronik cut a video for his remix of "The Voyeurs" which was just posted to YouTube:

The video gives a snapshot of Noir live.

IVM: How has the band translated to the stage and what has the reception been like at shows?

AM: I am pleased with the reaction to our live shows. After completing the 'Darkly Near' album I knew I needed to assemble a live band. I befriended Kai Irina Hahn and asked her to join on vocals and keyboards while also adding Demetra Songs also on keyboards and vocals. It is one of the most harmonious bands I have ever been part of; I love performing as well as travelling to road shows with them. The reception has been very good, although we have only done about 10 shows in our first year together. I wanted it to be an elegant presentation, colorful and so forth. I liked the idea of all of us wearing masks on stage, a bit of dark camp you might say. I wanted to give people something entertaining, a spectacle of sorts, after all that is my obligation as an entertainer.

IVM: Are there any plans for European/UK shows in the future?

AM: I would love to come to Europe with NOIR although it's just not in the cards right now. Perhaps, if you the reader might know a logical way to make this happen? Please let me know.

IVM: Would you consider NOIR to been your main project now, and if so are there any plans to continue with Black Tape For A Blue Girl?

AM: There's serious talk of another Black Tape album for next year and I look forward to it but NOIR is somewhat my main project mostly because it is mine. It is almost like a solo project in that I must work on it regularly because if I don't then nobody else will.

IVM: You've also been heavily involved behind the scenes as well, running Sepiatone Records as well as managing and booking a number of other bands/artists. Has this impacted on the way you work as an artist and how?

AM: Sepiatone Records was a label that I ran and consisted of 1940s artists, it was a rather short-lived venture between myself and a Japanese distributor Yet mostly what I am doing these days is serving as an advisor in a managerial capacity (along with booking agent duties) for bands like Ego Likeness, Ludovico Technique, Dead Voices On Air, Die Sektor and others. Effectively, I help bands secure record deals and so forth from the contacts I have made through the years. During my decade of inactivity as an artist I went fully behind the scenes and served in this capacity, upon my return to performing and recording it was a bit different. I learned a long time ago that music is indeed a business yet this time around the stakes were a bit different for me in that I don't see myself as an artist 24 hours a day as I once did.

IVM: As a veteran performer and someone involved in the management side of the music business, what advice would you give to an up and coming band?

AM: I must say that I try to remain positive about the future of music but it does look a bit grim to me. I have certainly made references to it here yet I am just not certain what the goals are these days? With product sales evaporating, digital sales fading and the live environ beginning to dry up as more clubs choose DJs or different formats such as sports, where does one then go? What is the goal when there is no playing field? Granted an artist can "express" themselves on the Internet to a massive audience yet that expression is not likely to pay your electric bill and might not even buy a pack of cigarettes. Compounding all of this is the fact that while there are far less streams of income for artists, there are far more actual artists out there than when I started my career. So in a climate where there are literally five times more bands fighting for the same tiny crumb it leaves me with rather grim thoughts indeed. The only advice I can give an artist is to try and move to a city that has some kind of nightlife yet is rather inexpensive to live. When you are just starting out there is no need to live in excessively expensive cities like NYC, London, Los Angeles, SF and the like, so choose something manageable like Providence, Cleveland, Richmond or any small city that has a museum, an arts friendly movie theater, a café and so forth with a few small accessible venues. There, find some sort of part time job that enables you to survive but affords you the time to spend on your art. Try to hone your craft, make your music then post it, build your social media outlets. Create an entertaining live show, find other like minded people, network, try to understand the business of music, keep your ego in check, don't burn bridges, steer clear of the drama of relationships (both platonic and intimate) that devour time. There's plenty of time later to get married and have children, for now those things will only force you to literally "be" those things. There's no need for managers and lawyers until there is a need for that and you will know if and when that happens. In a strange way, all these decades later I am making music now because I actually "want" to make music with no expectations and perhaps people starting out should think the same way. Then again, what the fuck do I know?

Noir's 'Darkly Near', and 'RE:MIT:TENT' are both available to purchase now through Metropolis Records. For more information on the band, including forthcoming releases and live shows, please visit their official website.

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