Tell me how you got started in the music business.
MB: I guess I started playing guitar as a pre-teen and had a high school band later on. As a teenager I also started to play other instruments and got into recording/writing songs. I had a little cassette 4-track recorder and I’d try and play all the parts to the songs myself. Sometime it turned out cool, other times not so much. By the time I hit college, a friend and I had put together a respectable recording studio in his parent’s basement. This was before every musician had a computer-based studio in their home so it was kind of a weird thing and we go a lot of attention from it. As such, in addition to recording our own music we started to produce/record local artists for beer money. This was sort of my first foray in to semi-professional music work. Beyond college, I started do more serious solo recording and I haven’t really looked back since.
Tell me three musical heroes who inspired you. you.
MB: Wow, that’s a tough one. There really are so many but if I had to choose, I’d say –
1. Paul McCartney
2. John Lennon
3. Brian Wilson
Kind of obvious coming from me I suppose.
What is you opinion on all the digital tools out there that bands use (I.e. ProTools, etc.)?
MB: I think the modern recording tools are great. Contrary to the retro feel of my music, I’m not a staunch analog purist. I think the current means of recording afford us endless creative possibilities. Obviously, like any great advancement, it will have a potential down side as well – i.e. new generations of musicians coming up will potentially be worse players because they know they can ‘fix everything in the mix’ or an overuse of the tools can (and has) led to overly slick, soulless music. It’s true these things are real problems but I think it’s more a result of people’s misuse of the tools rather than the technology itself. If you use these tools and exercise some self-restraint they can be wonderful assets. The question I always throw out in the middle of these kinds of discussions is – Would The Beatles have used Pro Tools if it were available to them? I think the answer is definitely, yes. Ultimately, it’s a somewhat redundant discussion anyway because is still all comes down to quality of material. A terrible song recorded on a vintage tape machine is never going to sound better than an awesomely catchy tune recorded on Pro Tools.
What do you find works best for your creative process when bringing a song together? Does it evolve from jams, riffs, lyrics?
MB: It varies, it can work in reverse but I generally write from chord changes I like that happen to find themselves under my fingers while I’m absentmindedly playing guitar or piano. I also usually find myself marrying a hummed or nonsense-word melody to these changes pretty much at the same time I’m coming up with the chords. After the pure inspiration part, comes the perspiration part for me – adding lyrics and building a proper song structure from the raw materials.
Other than the opener, "Queens English", the album is pretty laid back. Is this all a result of your current life experiences?
MB: Yeah, I think this new album, in general, is definitely a result of my current life experiences – settling down, building the nest, having children, dealing with those changes, etc. That said, I didn’t set out to make a laid back record, it just sort of happened. Ultimately, the mood of the music needs to suit the subject matter of the tunes and that subject matter just happened to be a little more thoughtful this go-around.
There is a huge gap between "Queen’s English" and "Million Dollar Milkshake". So were you just "busking around?"
MB: Ah, I like the reference to my “Muffin…” lyric there, nice 😉 Actually, a lot went down in between the two album releases, some of which I already eluded to like buying a home, having a child, etc but during that time I also built my personal studio, started a production company, was writing/producing for TV/film as well as for other artists, etc. So a bunch of things were happening both musical and non-musical although to anyone interested it probably seemed like I was off the grid.
How did "Queen’s English" finally come together?
MB: Late 2006, three years after the release of “Milkshake”, I was sort of getting burnt out from the freelance work I was doing so I thought the best way to remedy that feeling was to start work on a record for myself that had no rules and basically no ties to the more commercial music world I was running in at the time. A personal, “art for art’s sake” kind of album. After about two years of working at it a little at a time, the album was born. It took another two years for the record to see the light of day but that’s a whole other sordid story more a result of music business weirdness than anything else.
Will you ever return to that quick bouncy pop sound, like on "Pop Job"?
MB: I don’t think the music on “Queens English” is a huge stretch in my mind from “Pop Job” although there’s certainly an obvious difference between the two albums. That said, I’m not the same guy I was when I made “Pop Job”. The music I write for myself, whether I’m conscious of it or not, always seems to be an extension of who I am when I write it. I think that’s a good thing and a natural thing. I want and like that from the musicians I admire. I enjoy seeing movement and development in other artists so I hope I’m exhibiting that in the progression of my art as well. I never want to repeat myself too much. I think that’s the challenge for any artist – How do you expand your palate and grow without alienating your audience? Ultimately, I don’t worry about that too much because I think at the core, I always have and always will write pop songs and I think that’s what folks identify me with at the end of the day.
Any touring in support of "Queens English"? and tell me about the best or worst experience you had playing live"?
MB: Well, I’m still running my freelance music production business plus I’m pretty committed to being there for my young son, so the road just isn’t realistically and financially the right place for me now. My band and I will do some regional shows to support the record and I also intend to continue to be very proactive in terms of my web outreach; hopefully spreading the word about the new record and connecting with folks utilizing things like Ustream broadcasts and my new video Blog which is kind of like a mini-music show wherein I’ve been inviting some of my favorite artists to join me in some live music making.
As for best/worst live experiences, I’d say anytime I take the stage, for me, there’s always a little of the two mixed into every performance. By nature I’m a bit of a perfectionist/studio rat, so I’m always a little worried about things sounding as good as they can but usually as the set progresses I tend to loosen up and enjoy the ride. Sometimes things sound a bit dodgy but sometimes the music goes to an amazing place; both a terrifying and exhilarating experience every time.
Thanks so much Mark!