The Marked Men
If I have to introduce the Marked Men for you, it's likely that you've stumbled upon this zine after entering "bukakke midget love den" into Google (you'd be surprised how many bizarre web-searches Lastname's column links us to!). If that's the case allow me to get you up to speed. Back in their days as the Reds, Mark, Jeff, Chris, and Mike were widely renowned as one of the finest units in rock n roll. When Chris left the band in order to mover to Japan, the remaining Reds (later joined by bassist Joe) formed the Marked Men, and proceeded to take their place as not only the best band in the USA, but also one of the world's elite bands. I sat down with them after their show at St. Paul's Big V's this past July to probe them about numerous topics. Sweet J.A.P's Hideo Takahashi was also present because, well, he's always where the action is in the Twin Cities. Big thanks to the band for taking the time to do this after the show despite all of them being in advanced stages of tiredness and/or drunkenness.
Marked Men are:
TB: How did you guys become interested in music?
Joe: I saw the MTV.
Hideo: I saw the Marked Men.
Mark: I had a cousin who played guitar and I went over to his house and he had a band. I thought that was pretty cool. I was like twelve.
Mike: I got my first drum set when I was fourteen and I've been playing ever since.
Jeff: Yeah, I got a drum set early on, but at summer camp one time I saw a guy playing guitar and I decided I wanted to play guitar.
Joe: Kind of the same thing for me. My grandfather gave me a guitar when I was three years old. Then I just saw MTV and that was it.
Mark: Your grandfather gave you a guitar when you were three?
Joe: Yeah, I never learned how to play. He had cancer. Before he died he went to Mexico and bought me a guitar. I didn't learn to play until I was like fourteen.
TB: So you guys got into punk rock after you started playing music?
Mike: Yeah, I was probably fifteen or sixteen when I got into punk rock. I heard the Descendents… Well actually some of the earliest music that I ever got was the Clash. I rode my bike up to the local K-Mart to buy the first Clash album and then 'London Calling.' 'Combat Rock' was the one that got me into it. I heard that at a Boy Scout summer camp when I was like…eleven or something…so I guess that was my introduction to punk rock, but for indie punk rock it was the Descendents.
Joe: For me, I heard the Misfits at someone's house when I was twelve. That and Green Day were probably the first time someone said, "this is punk rock." I didn't know what to tell my parents.
Jeff: For me, I started by going to grindcore shows when I was fourteen or fifteen. Eventually those grindcore bands started playing with punk bands…`
Mark: He grew up in Connecticut. It's weird there.
Jeff: Everything is more hardcore there.
TB: What bands did you guys play in before you started the Reds?
Mike: Mark and I played together in a band called the Odd Fellows, that's the only band worth mentioning before the Reds…
Mark: Jeff was in the Vomit Punks.
TB: The what?
Mark: The Vomit Punks.
Mike: Connecticut punk rock…
Mike: For real. You can buy their singles on eBay for a mad amount of money. No shit.
Joe: Like twelve bucks.
Jeff: If I had anymore I'd sell them.
TB: Twelve bucks is pretty high for a single. I paid five bucks for the first Reds single recently…
Mark: Sorry about that. I apologize for that.
Mike: (Laughs) Yeah, no doubt. You got ripped off!
Joe: They should have paid you for it.
TB: The Pagans cover is pretty good though…
Jeff: Yeah, I actually like that seven inch, but I wasn't on it.
TB: When the Reds started who was in the band?
Mike: It was Chris and Mark originally. Jeff and I are just hacks that were hired after the fact.
Mike: (Chuckles) Yeah, we only do this for the money. No, the first recording of the Reds was with a different guitarist, who is actually the guitar player in the Riverboat Gamblers now, and a different drummer, who was the original drummer of the Riverboat Gamblers. Jeff and I did the 'Under Control'/'Pop Action' seven inch on Rip Off. That's where the band really started. We didn't start touring until then and we didn't start doing actual releases until then…
TB: Jeff, did you start writing songs for the Reds right away?
Jeff: I wrote a couple on the first album, but actually Chris wrote the one I sang on that album.
TB: Was it a conscious decision to change the name of the band along with your sound when Chris left to move to Japan?
All: Oh yeah.
Mike: The Reds were done.
Mark: I knew that Chris was leaving so we had been planning something else for a while. I'd already started writing songs with a more pop edge for that.
Jeff: Also, Chris and Mark started the Reds so we didn't want to [use that name] without Chris.
Mark: With the Reds we always wanted to be catchy…the most recent Marked Men album is like the fourth Reds album anyway. It's where we were going anyway.
TB: 'Dead End Town' on the second Reds album illustrates that pretty well I think…
Mike: That could be an early Marked Men song. That's the only Reds song that could have been a Marked Men song. It was a conscious decision to keep the two bands separate.
TB: Were you guys surprised by the overwhelming positive response to the first Marked Men album? Even people who didn't like the Reds that much seemed to be very into that album…
Jeff: We were really happy. I think we were really happy with the album after we finished it, more so than we had been in the past. We liked the recording…there weren't too many things about the performance that we would've changed. To have people like it was really cool.
Mike: It also wasn't as serious sounding as the Reds, that's an advantage. It's hard to act pissed off all the time since we're not that way as people.
Mark: I think that we had been working up to that point for a real long time. Before he was in the band Jeff recorded our first single as the Reds, so it was kind of like a real long process. When we were doing the second Reds album I remember talking to Jeff and saying, "this is alright and everything, but I really want to record what would, at least to me, be the perfect pop punk rock n roll record." We were talking about that then and it just kind of extended from that.
Jeff: We haven't done it yet…
Mark: We still haven't accomplished what we want to.
Hideo: Mark looked scary on stage when you were the Reds…
Mike: Yeah…that's one thing that did change. Mark doesn't charge out into the audience like the angry guitarist and stab people with his headstock or anything.
Jeff: That's why no girls came to the Reds shows. For real…they were scared of Mark.
TB: Mark was relatively calm both times I saw the Reds.
Mark: Those two times were it though.
Mike: There were certain shows that were a lot more aggressive than others. It had to do with the energy of the crowd. Sometimes if the shows really sucked we would just purposely be more aggressive.
TB: It seems like now you guys don't spend as much time moving around or whatever, as much as you just stand there and let all of your energy out into your instruments…
Joe: I just try to look cool.
Mike: You don't have to try to look cool. It's a gift.
TB: If you try to look cool you're going to fail every time.
Joe: I've stared at myself in the mirror long enough to know what I'm doing on stage. I have an image of Hideo in my mind that I try to emulate on stage.
TB: You spend a lot of time studying Sweet J.A.P bootleg videos? Anyway, in contrast to the overwhelming great reaction to the first Marked Men album, the reaction to the new album has been a bit mixed, with some people even going so far as to claim that it sounds like emo in some spots…
Mike: Actually I would contest that, in that every interview I've read except one people have said that the new album is better.
Mark: Except for some shithead on the garagepunk message board. But, what is this guy listening to?
TB: The funniest part was when someone complained that Jeff's vocals sound like the Get Up Kids. What I want to ask them is why they listen have such detailed knowledge about the Get Up Kids?
Jeff: I don't even know what to make of that comparison.
Mark: We've never heard that band. I guess maybe some of us have…
Mike: I've heard of them. I've never bought anything by them. They've never done anything for me.
TB: The first time I heard about that band was in an ad where they were selling windbreakers with their logo on it…
Mike: It's a totally different world from us.
Mark: The thing is, the two people who write songs in this band have never even heard that band.
Mike: Actually, nine out of ten reviews that I've read like the new album more than the first one.
TB: Personally, it grabbed me more immediately than the first one did.
Mike: It's a better recording. That's one fundamental difference.
Jeff: The emo's not intentional.
TB: C'mon, just confess Jeff…
Mike: Maybe we sold out cause we're not in the Reds so we're allowed to write songs that have topics like girls. I guess we sold out, and if that's the case, well okay…
Joe: I just thought our songs were about young boys.
TB: Actually one thing I wanted to ask about was how the Marked Men's lyrics seem less cliché than the Reds' were. The subject matter is a lot broader.
Mark: I think there aren't quite as many constraints with the Marked Men. With the Reds it seemed like the topics you could…..
TB: There was a formula to it.
Mark: And I don't really care [about that]. I'm the nerd I am. I like songs about girls; I like songs with some emotion in them…
Joe: (Interrupting) Emo.
Mark: No, not emo. It's okay to have that [variety] in there. It's not a big deal. You don't have to be constrained by any formula or whatever. We're more who we are now than we were then.
TB: Personally I think that all music should make you feel something. Whether it's happy or touched or whatever…
Mike: Really, if music makes you fell pissed of, or shares in that pissed off feeling, there's only so far you can take that. It's pretty juvenile really. Rebellion in itself is fundamentally grounded in whatever you are rebelling against, and that whole structure eventually breaks down. I don't know if that makes sense but…
TB: No, it totally makes sense. I think it would be almost impossible to keep the Reds sound over four albums. Hardly anyone has made four great records in a row with the same juvenile sound without making some missteps.
Mike: The music wasn't juvenile. Easy tiger…
TB: No…you know what I'm saying, the music wasn't juvenile but the lyrics were…Actually one of the things I wanted to ask you about was how unique the Reds' rhythmic sense was in comparison to most punk rock bands…
Mike: Yeah, that's pretty much what separated the Reds from most punk rock bands.
TB: Why don't you guys explain why you're taking a year off?
Jeff: I'm going to school in Japan for two semesters, so I can't play during that time. Hopefully they'll want to do it when I get back...
Joe: I always want to do it.
Jeff:.Joe, we're talking about the band.
Hideo: Young boys, Joe?
Mike: No, we'll definitely do it when he gets back. We've worked too hard to build up what we have and things have been working out really well for us…the tour has been really great, and we get along really well. There are many reasons for us to keep on doing it.
TB: What is the connection between your bands and Japan. With the Reds, Chris left for Japan, now Jeff is leaving for Japan…
Jeff: It's Chris' fault. I probably would never have gone there if it weren't for him.
Mark: It basically just comes down to Teengenerate and Firestarter…we've just been really, really big fans of…
Hideo: Sweet J.A.P
Mark: …and Sweet J.A.P.
TB: They are the best Japanese band in America.
Mark: That's true, that's absolutely true. But the progression they have made [from Teengenerate to Firestarter] and the kind of music they've gotten into have obviously kind of influenced what we've wanted to get into…
TB: It seems like that's the pretty obvious model for what you guys want to do too.
Mike: Parallel might be as good a word as any. Some of it has been by chance and some of it has been by design.
Mark: It's just what appeals to us. It's always been that way. Even when we were doing the Reds I still [was influenced by] pop music. That's what I grew up with, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. That kind of stuff has always been something that we've loved.
TB: I think with the difference between the Reds and the Marked Men seems a lot more organic than that between Teengenerate and Firestarter. Those two band are completely different.
Jeff: Yeah they are.
Mike: Well it's also been a conscious effort for us to not clone the bands that we are listening to.
Jeff: They also had several years in between the two bands.
Mike: But they also had way more bad-ass record collections than we have. They're a lot older than we are, they've been around a lot longer, and they've been clued into a lot more for longer…
TB: They're also a lot more cynical than you guys are…
Mike: I don't know, but I know that just from going to Japan that all kinds of crazy stuff is available and popular there that I was just getting into a couple years ago.
TB: Do you guys listen to mostly older or newer music?
Mark: I listen to mostly old music, but that's just me.
Mike: For me it's a little bit of both. I couldn't ever pigeonhole what I listen to. Jeff?
Jeff: I don't know. I guess I didn't even start listening to older music until the past couple of years.
Joe: I listen to a select few new bands, which seems to be like the Tyrades, Sweet J.A.P, and the Soviettes…
Mike: They are the best bands in America right now. Sweet J.A.P is the best live band in America. They are a stellar recorded band.
Hideo: Marked Men…Tyrades…that's what I'm talking about.
Joe: It's like a sandwich.
Hideo: Is that what you want to eat tonight?
Joe: My favorite place to play is Hideo's pants. (Laughs).
Hideo: Shh…That's indecent Joe!
TB: How were your tours of Japan and Europe?
Mark: They both were really good.
Mike: In Japan we played with Supersnazz, Firestarter, Intimate Fags, Das Boot. The bands that were of note were Das Boot, Howling Guitar…man they were great, Firestarter of course, and Supersnazz were really entertaining.
TB: You played with the Young Ones too right?
Mike: Yes, they were super great as well. The CD we got from them is really good.
Mark: Europe was fun. We were only there for ten days, but we got to play Holland, Germany, and Belgium. It was kind of cool because not many people knew of us, but we went over real well. We were actually supposed to go back there this summer, but we can't afford it…
Jeff: We did this tour instead.
Mike: It was a good choice. This tour has been great.
TB: One last question to round things out…what do you guys like more than rock n roll?
Mark: I don't know if there is anything. I like being at home with my wife and having a lot of sex. That's really important to me.
Mike: Music is the most important thing, but rock n roll is a subsection of music. I'm definitely into a lot of music besides just rock n roll. But I'm also into working a job, working towards a Masters Degree, and having a girl that I love…
Mark: (Interrupting) I can tell you what's more important to Jeff.
Mike: (Continuing) ...I'm getting married in August. It's the best decision I could ever make.
Mark: Jeff likes Japanese girls.
TB: Me too. Mark do you remember what you told me about Japanese girls when the Gamblers were here last spring? You were teasing me and saying that guys who like Asian girls more than American girls were latent pedophiles since Asian girls' small breasts and hips make them seem like little boys…
Mark: (Laughs) Maybe I did say that! That was with that guy from Austin. (To Jeff) How does that work out with you?
Jeff: I have no idea. I've never heard that before.
TB: Nor have I…
Jeff: It's an interesting theory but there are all kinds of theories…
Mike: Does that mean that guys who like skinny model types are latent pedophiles as well since they look like thirteen year old boys rather than women? Kate Moss looks like an archetypal thirteen year old boy…
TB: That's a really good point.
Joe: I would agree with that.
Mark: Back to the question
Jeff: I dunno…just…I have no idea. I like rock n roll and I like having fun. Can you answer that for me in another way?
Mark: No, I'm going to let you squirm.
Jeff: I can't think of one thing……..
Mike: You can't think of one thing that's better than rock n roll? Wow, you live it!
Jeff: It's just that everything together…rock n roll with everything else I do makes my life.
Mike: Music is the most important thing in my life.
Jeff: It keeps us sane for sure. Being able to playing a band makes it so you can go to work and not be depressed when you come home at night, because you have an outlet. It's pretty important.
Interview by Steven Strange
Pics by Canderson
Check the Marked Men out at: www.themarkedmen.com
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