Nov 2019 25

With a new EP now released and a full-length album in the works, Athan Maroulis speaks with ReGen about the history and evolution of his current darkwave outlet, NØIR.
 

 

An InterView with Athan Maroulis of NØIR

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

Over the course of 35 years (and counting), Athan Maroulis has been one of the underground alternative music scene’s most dynamic figures. With numerous credits under his belt as a producer and musician, NØIR has been his primary outlet since the early part of the decade, releasing the Darkly Near full-length album in 2013, along with the RE:MIT:TENT remix companion the following year, and four EPs, the latest of which is 2019’s A Pleasure. Through all these releases, Maroulis has honed his already formidable songwriting skills into a laser focused gamut of melodic darkwave, taking the band into darker lyrical and ambient territories with each step. Conversing with ReGen Magazine, he offers some insights into NØIR’s development, with special attention given to his various collaborators, as well as the more acerbic observations of a society addicted to overstimulation and instant gratification that helped to inspire A Pleasure; he also takes the time to discuss his work as a promoter and PR agent, the current revivalist trends in music genres and formats, and drops a few hints of what is yet to come from his creative output.

 

It’s been two years since the release of Reburning; what sorts of changes or experiences have occurred in the interim that you feel have had a significant effect on your writing of the new material on A Pleasure?

Maroulis: The new release contains some of the most politically and socially conscious lyrics I have ever penned. I am not fond of preachy artists, so I hope to not come across that way. One evening, I found myself overdosing on the ugly television news; soon after, I channel surfed myself to sleep. I awoke in the middle of the night to the sight of actress Julie Christie (who adorns the new artwork) in Truffaut’s film Fahrenheit 451. I couldn’t tell if I was awake or dreaming, yet Julie’s calming blue eyes against the backdrop of the dystopian future portrayed in the film seemed like an omen for our own turbulent times – instant lyrical fodder, hence the song ‘A Pleasure to Burn’ was born! The title is the first line in Bradbury’s book Fahrenheit 451, which I thought had a sensual sound to it that I liked.
‘Luxury’ was affected by living in New York City, where a once diverse population has been replaced by an army of sitcom clones that require endless luxury housing to suit their neediness. The word ‘luxury’ itself has become so cheap and overused in the modern age. That said, I had read the moving obituary of a forgotten opera singer; later in her life, she was witnessed in full costume walking like a ghost amidst the rubble of the torn down theater where she was once a star. It was so inherently tragic that it stayed with me. I then embedded it in the song along with a piece of a conversation from the film The Third Man and a few other bits. Yes, I tend to make a stew of my lyrics, which have always been a respite exhaust outlet where I can keep an intangible diary of thoughts and events.

The last EP marked the first appearances of live members Demetra Songs and Kai Irina Hahn, both of whom are featured on the new EP. Beyond their vocal abilities, what do you feel they bring to the table that has made the biggest impact on the sound of NØIR?

Maroulis: The Noirettes, as I like to jokingly call them, have sated my desire to bring a greater female presence to the sound, as well as the atmosphere of NØIR. Dark music as a whole often lacks dynamics, and the Noirettes add a great deal with their voices, as well as with their keyboard flourishes that help loosen up the machines that we are shackled to as an electronic based act. I also like the dynamic of being bookended by Kai and Demetra; both are excellent live performers, in pleasant contrast to male musicians usually backing a female vocalist. Lastly, I simply prefer the company of women.

Similarly, you’ve been working with Erik Gustafson, and you’d told us before about how your collaboration influenced the darker direction NØIR was taking. In what ways do you feel this has been cultivated in the newer material?

Maroulis: Erik and I began our collaboration with The Burning Bridge in 2016, which originally took on a decidedly darker path that has continued with A Pleasure, yet darker doesn’t necessarily mean more esoteric. In fact, I feel the subsequent songs are more concise and, dare I say, more memorable with a touch of sophistication. Erik writes with dynamics in mind and has helped me bring out the occasional nod to Japan, Psychedelic Furs, Gary Numan, and even Roxy Music that I think is missing from the scene these days. Contributions from Jean-Marc Lederman, Xris Smack, Tracey Moth, Fires, Seeming along with Kai and Demetra has brought this release more depth and variety.

How do your individual styles of writing/recording contrast, and in what ways do you feel that has strengthened the way you work in NØIR?

Maroulis: I’m really not a prolific writer, so our low pressure brand of collaborating – sporadically trading ideas or knocking out a cover song – suits me just fine. Erik also has a knack for vocal production. I find it very easy to trust him with my vocals and he always goes the extra mile. Part of our individual styles includes the fact that Erik is very into gear, while I am not at all. We both cling to our roles and what we do best, which works quite well. We tend to work on a song over a long period of time, even set it aside for a while before jumping back into it. The process truly makes the end result the best it can be. At the same time, we keep an eye on the calendar to make certain not to wait too long from release to release.

You co-wrote the song ‘Luxury’ with Jean-Marc Lederman of The Weathermen, Lederman / De Meyer, Fad Gadget, The The, Gene Loves Jezebel, etc. How did you come to work with him on this song, and what was the experience like? Will there be further collaboration with him in the future?

Maroulis: I very fond of the end result of this song, yet it was a bit of a fluke. I really liked Jean-Marc’s work. We originally planned to do a project together and cut a few demos. The project never came to fruition, which just happens sometimes. As I mentioned, I am not the most prolific writer in the world, so when it came time to think about a new release, ‘Luxury’ crossed my mind. With Jean-Marc’s blessing, Erik reinvented the song, added a shoegazer-meets-Roxy Music guitar line, a new bridge, then the final touch of Kai’s subtle backing vocal and Tracey’s cello. In the end, a very special collaboration with many contributions… I’d like to work this way more often, but it does take patience.

 

 

Also on the new EP is a cover of ‘Back to Nature’ from Fad Gadget, which had been featured on the 2017 Under What Flag compilation (and interesting since that’s a song that Lederman / De Meyer covered on their album). What was it about this song in particular that you felt compelled to cover it?

Maroulis: I have a great deal of respect for Frank Tovey of Fad Gadget. He really had a fantastic imagination and wrote memorable songs. Oddly enough, Mute contacted me in ’02 to book a tour for Fad Gadget; sadly, I had just started working on the tour when I received the news that Frank had died. Although ‘Back to Nature’ has been waxed by others, I just felt that it had some room to be reinterpreted. I added it to A Pleasure because it fit with the dystopian leaning excess of the new EP.

Also, and this might be my own perception, but it does seem like there’s a renewed interest in the formative acts of early industrial and post-punk (i.e. the tributes to Fad Gadget and Cabaret Voltaire, more reissues of the latter band and Throbbing Gristle, Test Dept reunited and touring and releasing music again). To what would you attribute this? What about the current social, political, cultural zeitgeist do you feel has people going back to these acts?

Maroulis: It is an interesting phenomenon. I was recently in Austin, where I had a conversation with Curse Mackey about this subject. I believe some of these pioneering European acts barely came to the States in the late ’70s or early ’80s. If they did perform here, they merely played a handful of cities, oftentimes with few in attendance. Many of those bands broke up or simply disappeared for years. That said, the rise of the frequently used ‘post-punk’ moniker has certainly drawn more attention to these acts and has attracted people from outside the scene of usual suspects that want to see Severed Heads, Theatre of Hate, The March Violets, and many others. While most of these bands are four decades old, they are brand new to many, and time seems to make some bands more akin to a bottle of good aged wine I suppose?

After the 2013 release of Darkly Near and the remix album the following year, NØIR has released three EPs, and it would seem that smaller EP and single releases are perhaps more economical and allow for artists to release more material – or at least, the same amount of material, but in an incremental time span, rather than making fans wait forever-and-a-day for a full-length album. What are your thoughts on the album format as it pertains to NØIR?

Maroulis: These days, the game has changed. There are not any strict rules. I myself have benefited immensely; shorter formats are simply easier to accomplish. Society is in a deep period of short attention spans and abridged releases seem to be en vogue. In the late ’50s and early ’60s, pop music was sold to a teenage audience with abridged attentions and I think we have returned to that. Personally, I would rather do full albums myself, yet I have evolved to prefer this shorter format and am fond of releasing EPs. It is far more immediate, as are the results and ability to sate your base. Additionally, I have been consciously trying to write shorter songs, which is indeed influenced by this same subject.

In a way, this relates to the previous question, but what are your thoughts on the resurgence of vinyl? There seems to be a greater appreciation for the packaging – bigger artwork, more space for liner notes, feeling more like a tangible work of art, etc. What do you think about it, and does it bode well for the album format?

Maroulis: Funny you should ask, I am currently in Austin, TX attending the biggest collector’s record con in the world. I have always been a record collector, I love vinyl, but I also really like CDs; perhaps I just simply like tangible forms of music? The commercial vinyl comeback has been on the rise for about 15 years. Anything that draws fans back into the fold is a good thing. Unfortunately, it is expensive for both the producer as well as the fan. I am not sure if it will deeply impact the album or the longer format as a whole, although I get the feeling nearly all artists want to release vinyl. I believe it is more influential in the indie rock and metal scene for both fans and creators. I think fans of the darkwave variety might buy vinyl at a concert to hang on their wall, yet vinyl simply has not had the same impact in that scene.

 

 

When I was at ColdWaves this year (and last, actually), I did hear from multiple people that they’d love to see a Spahn Ranch reunion take place at ColdWaves, and Cleopatra did reissue recently The Coiled One and Architecture. Is there even a possibility that Spahn Ranch might reunite, even if just for a single show or event?

Maroulis: Yes, I was pleased to see those Spahn Ranch titles released digitally by Cleopatra. I’ve been asked by a few different festivals to have Spahn Ranch appear. As much as I am honored to be asked, a reunion presents some logistical difficulties such as all of the original programming having disappeared. While I would not rule it out completely, for now, my focus is on NØIR.

Besides your own music, you’ve been working extensively as a PR agent/promoter. What about this occupation do you find that you enjoy the most, and in what ways has working in this particular capacity affected your outlook on being a musician, if at all?

Maroulis: As doors slammed in my face, I discovered quickly at the start of my career that I had to learn about the business of music. Those hard lessons would later grant me a ticket to the wonderful ugly world of the music industry as both a singer and behind the scenes. Since I was able to do it for myself, it was a natural choice to start doing it for others. At first, it had a benevolent twist to it as I recall. You see, I rationalized that since virtually no one helped me when I began, I vowed to instead do the opposite and try to help new bands with whatever knowledge I had attained. It was my way of giving a silent ‘fuck you’ to those who slammed the doors; later it turned into a living. ‘Enjoy’ isn’t the word I would choose. This is what I know, and this is what I do. The music industry is filled with countless self-serving lying con men and egomaniacs – some are artists, some are industry types, some are what can best be called tastemakers. As a whole, the music industry has been this way since the days of vaudeville! It’s rather liberating to be able to say these things, I’ve managed to survive somehow by keeping my corner of the ugly machine as clean as possible.

You’d spoken in our last InterView about the love/hate relationship you have with the goth and industrial scene as a whole, loving it for giving you a home and hating it for a certain staleness and ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ aspect of many acts. With this in mind, what are some other kinds of music that attract you that you’d like to pursue if given the opportunity (even just as a lark)?

Maroulis: Now, that’s a rather good question! As I mentioned, I have thousands of records from every decade of the 20th century. There’s music I wish I could do, but I know I cannot. Outside of the darkwave scene, I have already dabbled in jazz, new wave, world, ambient, metal, and rock. Lately, I have considered a trio with myself – acoustic guitar (both 6- & 12-string) and cello – that revisits my own material over the years and possibly some new work. On the other hand, there are some forms of music I would make for myself and not release commercially. I wish other artists would do this. After all, some things should remain unreleased.

The EP is out now… so what’s next for NØIR? Touring is a difficult undertaking (perhaps even more difficult now than ever), but do you see yourself taking NØIR on the road for this EP?

Maroulis: I will attempt to complete a full-length album this year that will likely include material from the last few EPs and singles. At one point, I considered a full album of NØIR doing cover material, which is still an option. As for touring, I often think my touring days are behind me, yet remain open if the right situation were to present itself. NØIR does do occasional road dates – beyond the New York region, we have frequented Pittsburgh, Boston, DC, and such, so I am continuing that pattern at the moment. Spahn Ranch did so many tours here and abroad. Later, I did a few with Black Tape, so I feel like ‘I gave at the office.’ Besides, it’s really hard to keep my suits clean on tour.

Anything else you’d like to add?

Maroulis: In closing, I expect to have a video for ‘A Pleasure to Burn’ soon. I’d also like to mention that Sue Hutton (Rhea’s Obsession, Indarra) and I will be releasing Christmas Nocturne on Projekt Records for the holidays this year. This, for the 20th anniversary of our recording of ‘We Three Kings’ back in 1999, so Sue and I have been planning to get back to some atmospheric dark Christmas carols for a number of years. Now it is finally happening.

 

 

NØIR
Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube
Metropolis Records
Website, Facebook, Twitter, Bandcamp, YouTube

 

Photos provided courtesy of NØIR
Live photo courtesy of Colony, Woodstock, NY

 

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