“A nauseous, mercurial and caustic post-punk record for the real near-deathers and perverts”.
Mixing tense and angular post punk rhythms with fuzzy garage punk energy, while not despising insanely melancholic ballads, Cincinnati based collective MARDOU (pronounced “mar-dew”) born around singer/ songwriter Dylan McCartney, established as a six-piece with Aaron Watkins, Sarah Hanselman, Jerry Panic, Eric Dietrich, and Dakota Carlyle, have dropped today their sophomore album “Bitter Energy”, on cassette (limited 50 copies) and digital, via fellow Cincinnati‘s DIY label Wasted Tapes.
I had a nice chat with Mardou‘s mastermind Dylan about the lengthy gestation of the LP, Ohio, passions and more. Enjoy!
Let’s trace back to the roots of Mardou. Which ones would you consider your main inspirations?
I was such a spaced out alien living in a vacuum when I started the group named “MARDOU” that’s it’s tough even for me to pinpoint what exactly we started off “going for”. Hypnotic roughly sewn rock. Also it seems to change daily. But currently, as in right now as I type, I’d cite the band Glorious Din….
Mardou is an established 6-piece formation at the moment. What are the influences that each of you bring to the project?
Mardou is a gang. Each of us is a complex being and we at any given moment are experiencing 6 different moods. Often some combination of misery, exhaustion, drunkenness, vigor, anxiety, and ecstacy. One day I may be ecstacy and Eric may be anxiety. One day Sarah may be vigor and Aaron may be misery. One day Dakota may be drunkenness and Jerry exhaustion. Those moods are haphazardly cyclical. It can be a bit hectic when the six of us get into the same room and try and paddle the ship together in unison, but we occasionally succeed. Other times we end up sideways, drowning in hellish noise. In freedom there is chaos, but more importantly in chaos there is freedom.
You’re based in Cincinnati. What’s the music scene like in Ohio at the moment? Has it been a limitation the fact to be based far from the big cities?
D: Almost all art which is meaningful to me is created out of desperation and uncertainty and bewilderment and blind energy. As a prospective artist in Ohio you by default are injected with a degree of that. We don’t possess the accolades of places like Los Angeles, New York City, Austin, Boston, or Seattle. It’s not unfair to say that there is a perception from many outsiders world wide that Ohio is a vacuum of culture, where the ears of corn can hold a better conversation than one of our inbred citizens. But I am proud of our uphill battle. It means that we have to work harder. And we have some amazing groups to show for it– both historically (Devo, Electric Eels, The Breeders, Guided by Voices, Pere Ubu, Post-Industrial Noise, BPA) as well as currently by folks I am proud to call friends, and most of which I share some musical project in our quite incestous scene. Some personal current Ohio favorites of mine are Crime of Passing, DANA, Kneeling in Piss or any group Alex Mussawir has fronted, Black Planet, Sorry Eric, Winston Hightower, Son of Dribble, Swim Team, Smut, The Touch from Mansfield, OH…
Some words about your previous album, do you consider the new one as the start of a new “phase” for the band or rather a logical evolution ?
D: Both… it is boring to make the same record twice. The first album was meant to accompany a gloomy heart-achey and lonely stroll through a forest of icycle-covered rock formations. This second album is meant to accompany an hallucinogenic trip through a temperate wasteland of bizarre monoliths and statues, with no companionship but the the distant yet unignorable caustic glares of hooded occultists … who knows what environment the next record will exist in. France circa 1918 perhaps?
Do you draw on, or are you influenced by, any non-musical cultural resources (eg films, books, visual art) in your creative process?
D: Absolutely. The reason why I am always creating is because I’m always absorbing. I watch as many films and read as many books and walk through as many museums as I can fit in my schedule. Seeing the teeth of a shark in an aquarium can inspire me to write a song. Imagining my life as seen through the eyes of a marble sculpture at the art museum can do the same. It’s endless, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s what keeps me alive–physically and psychologically. I can cite a few books and movies that I absolutely have drawn inspiration from, including recently– for movies I’d say ‘Wake in Fright’, ‘The Seventh Seal’, anything I’ve seen by Argento or Fulci (Opera, Inferno, Don’t Torture a Duckling), Werner Herzog (especially his version of Nosferatu), the Mad Max series, Onibaba, Stuart Gordon’s HP Lovecraft adaptations, etc. I am a massive fan of horror movies and sometimes will watch 2-3 in a night. As far as literature, it has always been a huge source of inspiration. Some favorites I can think of immediately are the works of Laird Barron, Thomas Ligotti, JG Ballard, Colin Wilson’s ‘Mind Parasites’, ‘The House on the Borderland’, a book of ‘Buddhist Zen Monk Death Poems’, ‘The Cult of Pharmacology’, ‘The Continous Katherine Mortenhoe’ and of course Burroughs and the Beat Generation provided an early crash course in the brilliant absurdism of the written word…
What important moments occurred during this period of time that fed into the record’s inspiration?
D: A lot of time spent alone, jotting down vignettes after watching horror or reading horror or fantasizing about horrors. A lot of us drinking and listening to music together, especially the Frigidaire Tango song “Recall”. A lot of live shows fleshing out songs with me wearing a ridiculous whig and flailing about. Each of us going through our own crisis of existence– Sarah sticking it to some petty scoundrels, Aaron working his arse off amongst toil, Eric writing music constantly, Jerry doing the same, a developing friendship with Dakota, etc.
How did the tracks come together? Could you talk about the title, the influences, the recording process and the ups and downs that have brought to the final result?
D: A decent chunk of the songs from the record were spawned from roughly hewn demos created in my village attic. Influences ranged from Central and Eastern European post punk to New Zealand rock, with a little bit of midwestern PUNK for good measure. The album was one of the final records made at the legendary Ultrasuede Studio in Cincinnati’s industrial district. The studio was a workspace for Ronnie Spector, Patti Smith, The White Stripes, and many more in the past but recently closed its doors. It was recorded onto 1”4 tape by our dear friend and skilled engineer John Hoffman. Most of the tracking was done live, and stoned. Just how we like it. We wanted to make something clear, present, biting. After plenty of reflection time, the title “Bitter Energy” stood out, a quote from Eric’s track on the album, ‘Elephant’. I think it summarized the overall mood quite well. Just like our first album it took a frustrating amount of time to eject into the world, but so it goes and here it is finally….
Especially in the first part you have introduced a brass section. Is it a one time experiment or will it be developed further?
D: Eric, our bassist, is an excellent saxophonist. He was trained at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. Why the hell would we deprive him of showcasing his talents? It’s a beautiful instrument.
Did you have an all-encompassing vibe or themes you wanted to portray with this release?
D: Disillusionment. Debt. Outright anger at infrastructure and bureaucracy. The desire to see through the cracks of everyday life for something more eternal and apocryphal. I spend a lot of time working to pay my rent and a lot of time daydreaming about being an ancient warlock or a cave goblin or something of the like. Fantasy and reality are interchangeable to me. I don’t think I could join a cult because my schedule is too busy and I don’t respect authority but the idea fascinates me. A pervasive collective feeling of viciousness and misanthropy exists on the album as well.
Lyrics-wise, could you talk about your writing technique and its sources and inspirations? How much does it draw from personal experience and how much from external sources?
D: Perhaps I’ve touched on it enough already but I’m obsessed with the extremes of the human experience and lyrically I’m perfectly comfortable being oblique and cloudy– most of the time I frantically scribble into a notebook when ideas pop into my head or I’ve read a phrase in a book and I don’t question it too much. Instinct. There will always be personal injection in the lyrics but don’t expect a diary reading. I’ll leave it to the listener to decipher fact from fiction, absurdity from true meaning. I promise it’s all there. I have a lot of feelings.
What about your quote ‘dedicated to the sharks and minnows swimming in the cosmic waters of grim perversion, sordid existence, and esoteric lore’.
D: It’s for the freaks, baby! Of all shapes and sizes. The ones with perverted thoughts, endless creativity, superstition, mystic potential. The ones who think about life and death once a day.
What’s your favourite part about playing live? Do you recall your first gig as Mardou and what are your highlights so far?
D: I am pretty good at hypnotizing myself once we start playing. It’s actually very enjoyable. I may fall around like a adolescent deer and my eyes barely open but it is the closest thing to transcendence I can experience, I think. We’ve played a lot of wild shows over the years, in blown-out warehouses, vomit floored basements, etc. We had one shot at the big stage in town at the Cincinnati venue Bogart’s but our gear malfunctioned and I tossed my guitar and bailed. It’s been an underground cave venture since.
The very first show under the name “Mardou” was when I was 18 years old.. I was a young collegiate and very energetic about the prospect of being in a band– I knew nobody who was in a band and most of my friends were too timid to the idea of going on stage and making an ass out of themselves. I suckered a friend Chris Spinney into playing some songs I had written and we were put on a show at MOTR Pub in Cincinnati. I think we played for 6-7 minutes to an empty bar, but it felt like eternity. He decided it wasn’t for him after that, and I started over and met the rest of the gang eventually.
There will be a physical vinyl/ tape edition? Do you think it’s still important compared to the cold digital? Are you a vinyl collector?
D: I couldn’t find any labels interested in financially backing a vinyl release this go around– perhaps that tells you something about the content? But guitarist Dakota runs a cassette label called Wasted Tapes and we have done a limited run of 50 completely handmade cassettes on it. They look great! Physical releases are absolute essential to me, there is no option for strictly digital. So if any of you readers want to be my benefactor and release the album on wax get in touch! Hah! And yes, I am a vinyl collector! Sometimes I question the economic viability of me spending hard earned money on them, but I still think they are an excellent format for music to be presented and enjoyed on.
Are there any pivotal records and gigs that changed indelibly your perception of music?
D: I have had so many profound connections with particular albums or shows I’ve attended, it is hard to narrow down the list. One of my earliest childhood memories is dancing to ‘Blue Monday’ by New Order or ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ by Nirvana or ‘In Between Days’ by The Cure, so there’s that. My childhood was saturated in music and that’s never changed. As long as I am alive there will be records and gigs that change my perception of music. The last one I can cite specifically was seeing Faust in Cincinnati… or seeing the group ONO….
Any current bands/artists are you excited by at the moment?
D: Certainly the ones I know personally and mentioned earlier– but otherwise I’ll mention a few that come to mind– Rays from Oakland, Molchat Doma from Belarus and other Detriti Records stuff, Black Thumb, Minneapolis Uranium Club, and any music coming out on my friends labels (Let’s Pretend Records, Wasted Tapes, State Champion Records, Starcleaner)
What’s next for Mardou or your final thought
D: The future, as always, is murky. We plan to do an official tour for the record at some point soon although no official details exist. Stay tuned and keep on rockin’ in the freak world.
Keep up with Mardou: