Chunklet to Go-Go: The Mars Interview
Mars never made a bad album. In fact, during its fleeting, 36-month lifespan, the NYC no wave combo never made any kind of album. Having left behind a debut single and four expressionistic contributions to the scene-christening, Brian Eno-curated No New York compilation, its members parted ways in December 1978. A self-titled EP of steel-wool abstractions squeaked out shortly thereafter and consummated the group’s high-concept demolition of downtown, post-Velvets cool.
More recently, a couple of unimpeachable if bootleg-like performance snapshots, 2011’s Live at Artists Space and the freshly minted Live At Irving Plaza, both coordinated by Thurston Moore and supercritic Byron Coley for the prolific Feeding Tube label, further ennobled Mars’ primal yet forward-looking mania. The two sets’ alien psychobabble, aboriginal rhythms, and rattling, detuned guitars thoroughly rupture what were once fixed notions about the tonality, structure, and attitude that define rock music. These pivotal gigs laid the messy groundwork for nonconformist heavies ranging from Sonic Youth to the Boredoms to the Dead C to Sightings.
So why, exactly, is Mars appearing in a column concerned with aesthetic failure? The answer: a rather questionable production decision. In the mid-80s, no wave goddess-turned-spoken word siren Lydia Lunch amassed the band’s catalog into a retrospective called 78. To remix the material, she commissioned industrial imp Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell, who drowned the goods in hopelessly dated reverb, delay, and audio effects. As ghostly ambiance surpassed clarity, the most forceful tracks became smeared, debilitated echoes of their former selves.
In 2004, bassist Mark Cunningham wisely oversaw an ameliorated anthology, the excellent Mars LP: The Complete Studio Recordings NYC 1977-1978, which essentially restores the songs to their original luster. A longtime Barcelona resident and trumpet player for the electronic duo Convolution and the improv trio Bèstia Ferida, he graciously reexamined his Lower Manhattan past from his present-day Mediterranean perch.
VICE: Whose plan was it to remix the Mars stuff in the ’80s?
Mark Cunningham: The idea for the project and Jim’s involvement came from Lydia, for her label, Widowspeak. [Former Mars guitarist/vocalist] Connie Burg and I were involved with it; [guitarist/vocalist] Sumner [Crane] was in one of his hermit phases, and [drummer] Nancy [Arlen] was immersed in her art world and not too interested. The need actually came about precisely because we had no access to any master tapes, we still don’t. Maybe we just weren’t aggressive enough in pursuing them or didn’t have a legal fund. Back in the 80s and 90s, anyone who went asking for licensing rights encountered a brick wall of ignorance. At that time, mastering off vinyl and cassette sources was not easy, so Jim and Lydia felt that we could compensate by using effects and creating something with its own validity due to Jim’s studio abilities and his love of the material.

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Chunklet to Go-Go: The Mars Interview

Mars never made a bad album. In fact, during its fleeting, 36-month lifespan, the NYC no wave combo never made any kind of album. Having left behind a debut single and four expressionistic contributions to the scene-christening, Brian Eno-curated No New York compilation, its members parted ways in December 1978. A self-titled EP of steel-wool abstractions squeaked out shortly thereafter and consummated the group’s high-concept demolition of downtown, post-Velvets cool.

More recently, a couple of unimpeachable if bootleg-like performance snapshots, 2011’s Live at Artists Space and the freshly minted Live At Irving Plaza, both coordinated by Thurston Moore and supercritic Byron Coley for the prolific Feeding Tube label, further ennobled Mars’ primal yet forward-looking mania. The two sets’ alien psychobabble, aboriginal rhythms, and rattling, detuned guitars thoroughly rupture what were once fixed notions about the tonality, structure, and attitude that define rock music. These pivotal gigs laid the messy groundwork for nonconformist heavies ranging from Sonic Youth to the Boredoms to the Dead C to Sightings.

So why, exactly, is Mars appearing in a column concerned with aesthetic failure? The answer: a rather questionable production decision. In the mid-80s, no wave goddess-turned-spoken word siren Lydia Lunch amassed the band’s catalog into a retrospective called 78. To remix the material, she commissioned industrial imp Jim “Foetus” Thirlwell, who drowned the goods in hopelessly dated reverb, delay, and audio effects. As ghostly ambiance surpassed clarity, the most forceful tracks became smeared, debilitated echoes of their former selves.

In 2004, bassist Mark Cunningham wisely oversaw an ameliorated anthology, the excellent Mars LP: The Complete Studio Recordings NYC 1977-1978, which essentially restores the songs to their original luster. A longtime Barcelona resident and trumpet player for the electronic duo Convolution and the improv trio Bèstia Ferida, he graciously reexamined his Lower Manhattan past from his present-day Mediterranean perch.

VICE: Whose plan was it to remix the Mars stuff in the ’80s?
Mark Cunningham: The idea for the project and Jim’s involvement came from Lydia, for her label, Widowspeak. [Former Mars guitarist/vocalist] Connie Burg and I were involved with it; [guitarist/vocalist] Sumner [Crane] was in one of his hermit phases, and [drummer] Nancy [Arlen] was immersed in her art world and not too interested. The need actually came about precisely because we had no access to any master tapes, we still don’t. Maybe we just weren’t aggressive enough in pursuing them or didn’t have a legal fund. Back in the 80s and 90s, anyone who went asking for licensing rights encountered a brick wall of ignorance. At that time, mastering off vinyl and cassette sources was not easy, so Jim and Lydia felt that we could compensate by using effects and creating something with its own validity due to Jim’s studio abilities and his love of the material.
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