Orlando-based recording artist Marc With a C is as prolific as he is obscure. Though he’ll be playing his first South Florida show in nearly 10 years on
Friday – as part of jam-packed bill at Churchill’s in Miami – Marc rarely tours outside of Central Florida, save the occasional pop or nerd festival he’s invited to.
But his cult following in the Sunshine State is practically peerless. Since 2002, he’s released nine albums and an EP of original music, four albums of cover songs and three live albums, all independently and all for free on his generous website, marcwithac.com (“I just didn’t want to tell anyone they were too poor to enjoy the songs that I made up,” he says).
The hard work has been paying off. With each passing year — and the inevitable Marc With a C record that comes out of it – his profile increases that much more beyond the Orlando music press. National indie-rock blogs have taken note of his lo-fi pop sound, a timeless confection that has always felt far removed from the prevailing trends of independent music. The humor, austerity, naivety and earnestness of Marc’s largely acoustic-driven sound link it closer to Jonathan Richman than any other recording artist of the past half-century, a comparison that Marc would relish (songwriter Steve Poltz, of cult California act the Rugburns, would be another reference point).
Here are a couple of his earlier favorites, starting with “Stuck With Me.” WARNING: All of these videos contain explicit language.
But things may be changing for Marc, if his latest album and the rare tour appearance in Miami are any indication. Released last week, “Motherf***ers Be Bullshittin'” is Marc’s magnum opus. It finds him stepping out of his lo-fi comfort zone and embracing more refined recording techniques, while also expanding beyond his often autobiographical songwriting to craft a 10-song narrative about a guy who loses his girl, stalks her through the Internet, finds religion (sort of) and ultimately his salvation in the local music scene. It’s ambitious, visionary and utterly different, and Marc just couldn’t wait to talk to me about it.
Is “Motherf***ers Be Bullshittin'” a rock opera, a concept album, a song cycle … what would you classify it as?
It feels like a concept album to me, but really it’s a 10-song story. It doesn’t necessarily follow most concept album or rock opera rules. With rock operas, it’s most common for people to revisit musical themes and the same lyrical hook many times during the record, and this record is only about 33 minutes long. It doesn’t have much time for that. The lyrics tell a story, and that’s the end of that concept.
Where did the narrative of the album come from?
It came from the initial demoing. The narrative wasn’t necessarily in my head when I was writing the genesis of the first few songs. I just couldn’t figure out how to make some of the songs fit next to each other on the record, and it seemed the only excuse “The Kindergarten Steely Dan” would have to fit next to “You’re My Princess” was for there to be a narrative link. So when I got to about the eighth song, I realized, yeah, I’m going to need to tell a story here. I based a story off the first song that was written for the album, which was “Brian, Jenny and the Mayans.” I decided to make the events of the album become those of Brian and Jenny.
This album seems like it’s your “Pet Sounds” in terms of ambition and scope and taking yourself out of the comfort zone. Was that your intent with this album?
Yes and no. While I really appreciate you saying that, I think it’s partially that I’ve grown as a recording artist, and I mean as a recording artist, as far as getting my ideas on tape exactly the way they sound in my head. I really wanted to bring the best out of each song, and that meant that there was going to have to be some heightened recording techniques. Each instrument was going to have to sound like itself, instead of just putting a microphone somewhat relatively close to it and hoping it was listenable later on, like I used to do.
How does a record like this, which is your most full-sounding record, translate to the live environment, which is usually solo?
I was doing some two-piece shows, and I will still do some in the future, but the catch is that all of the songs on the record have dual meanings. They mean something to the story I’m trying to tell, but each track was written with something else in mind. When I’m playing solo, I tend to give the story verbally, and that becomes the setup to the song’s punchline, for lack of a better term. It’s not really a funny record, but I can see how some people would take it that way. Some of the songs are much funnier in a live context.
“Since I Left My Baby, I Can’t Stop Flossing” is very funny. That brings a smile to my face every time I hear it.
I like that one a lot. That came out of someone writing a fake record review of an album of mine that didn’t exist called “Stomach Flu.” I got a few emails asking me about the songs on that album, which were like “Chef Boyardee,” “Sexy Bedpan” and “Since I Left My Baby, I Can’t Stop Flossing.” I got sick of answering these questions, so I thought it would be best to try and set some of those titles to music so that if anyone looked later, it would look as if this deejay who wrote the record review had actually stolen early demos.
That title alone sounds like a song that might be in a parody of a Time Life commercial with the scrolling titles -“you’ll hear lost ’60s hits like ‘Since I Left My Baby, I Can’t Stop Flossing!'”
Yeah, I kind of imagine it as a grizzled bluesman who’s just running out of things to be sad about. But it was a way to really challenge myself. When you already have the parameters of the title, you have a really strict confine to work in. I know that most people who don’t write songs probably feel that even if you have a title, you can still do anything you want with the song while you’re writing it. That’s not really the case. You always have to bring it back to the original point of the title.
Haven’t all of your albums, in one sense or another, been thematically connected, and how different was the process of writing this one?
That’s a tough one. I would say most of my records have had a thematic link. Maybe not so much “Losing Salt.” That one might be the odd duck out. But I wasn’t really thinking conceptually when I first started writing these songs. I was originally writing about things that either I wanted to say or that I thought would be funny to say. There were songs that were left off this record that I’m sure would be quite catchy and fun to play, but they had no place on this record, so I’ll save them for a future release.
Most of your music, at least on the earliest albums, was very personal and obviously autobiographical, to the point where certain songs were almost uncomfortable to listen to for that reason. Are you or anyone you know in this record?
I did know people named Brian and Jenny who worked at the same fast-food restaurant 10 years ago. But this is not based on their lives in any way. Brian and Jenny are both nice -or I assume they still are. The only song on the record that has much personal relevance to me is “Goodnight Miss Oliver,” for reasons I’ll never explain, and “The Kindergarten Steely Dan,” which was very much how I felt about the music scene that I’m involved with. To an extent, “Motherf***ers Be Bullshittin'” could stand on its own. That’s very much how I feel about social networking.
You started pressing things on vinyl a couple of records ago.
Yes, with a compilation called “Retrolowfi.” It was a scoop of things that audiences have told me they’d enjoyed over the years. The two-disc vinyl version that has about 30-something songs is a mix of my very, very favorites, like “Stuck With Me” and “The Earth Didn’t Move” and “You Do Not Exist” mixed in with audience favorites like “Laura I Need Medicine.”
It’s expensive to press vinyl – have you gotten a strong enough response to continue doing it?
Artistically, yes, but if you are making music in 2011 for a profit, you are in the wrong industry. I’m not skipping any meals because of putting it out on vinyl, but I’m also not buying a third car.
But releasing music on records is something you’ve wanted to do from day one, right?
Absolutely. If it were up to me, every song I’ve ever recorded would be on vinyl. It’s my preferred medium of listening for enjoyment, and I don’t really feel like I own anything until I’ve got it on a black circle. When you’re dead and gone, someone, somewhere, will want to collect an obscure record that no one else has ever heard of. I can guarantee that these records will fall into the hands of people who like sort of obscure things. Obscurity is the goal. Obscurity is success.
Marc With a C could perform as early as 8:30 p.m. Friday at Churchills, 5501 N.E. Second Ave., Miami. Other bands on the bill include Sci-Fried, Dyslexic Postcards, Phoenix Nebulin, NoEmotion GoldMask and Razor’s Edge. Tickets are $8 in advance or $10 at the door. Call 305/757-1807 or visit www.churchillspub.com.