Aug 2016 15

Athan Maroulis is a man of many talents, inviting ReGen into his latest musical endeavor, NOIR, and the act’s latest EP, The Burning Bridge.
 
NOIR

 

An InterView with Athan Maroulis of NOIR

By Brian McLelland (BMcLelland)

Fahrenheit 451, Vampire Rodents, Tubalcain, The Blue Dahlia, Black Tape for a Blue Girl, Spahn Ranch, and now NOIR; Athan Maroulis has been busy. While Maroulis’ name might not seem familiar, rest assured that his voice and his music have likely been heard at least once. In addition to his work doing vocals that are smooth and striking enough to transcend into any genre, Maroulis has done quite a bit of producing. Over the past 25 years, it took concerted effort to purchase a record from Cleopatra Records or Metropolis Records that didn’t include Maroulis’ touch in some way, whether that was producer credit, remix work, liner notes, art direction, or composition. Now, after three years, Maroulis graces us with his voice again as NOIR’s new EP, The Burning Bridge, storms dancefloors and electronic devices alike. Joining Maroulis on this sonic journey is Erik Gustafson (16volt, Adoration Destroyed); the pair wrote the EP’s title track in tribute to the late David Bowie. Given the prolific nature of Maroulis’ discography and credits thus far, no one can guess what he’ll unleash on the world next… but maybe, he’ll let ReGen Magazine know.

 

So, what’s different about The Burning Bridge versus other NOIR work you’ve done? Were any new/experimental techniques used?

Maroulis: All material recorded thus far by NOIR has been exclusively written by e-mail, although these days, that’s about as ordinary as being Chinese in China. The Burning Bridge EP does mark my first full collaboration with Erik Gustafson, who played some guitar on the first NOIR album Darkly Near, but stepped into the role of cowriter, programmer, and producer on The Burning Bridge EP. Oddly enough, I’ve never met him in person – he lives in Austin and I live in Manhattan. Also, The Burning Bridge EP also marks the first appearances of live performance members Demetra Songs and Kai Irina Hahn, both on backing vocals.

What made you pick these tracks to cover?

Maroulis: Originally, I was toying around with the idea of doing an entire album of covers. I once read that Bryan Ferry from Roxy Music would record interpretive cover material in order to break extended periods of writer’s block. Subsequently, I followed the same path, thinking it could free me up to write some originals and it indirectly worked. Duran Duran’s ‘The Chauffeur’ was something I had worked on in another side project but never came to fruition until I presented it to Erik to work on. ‘Same Old Madness’ came about because I wrote the liner notes on a MINISTRY box set of their WaxTrax! material. There, I discovered that the original song had never been released, which I thought would make for a great cover with an ironic twist. The original programming was done by Steve Christie of Deadliner and later completed by Erik. Just as I finished up this pair of covers, I injured my spine, so I had to shelve NOIR and the concept album idea while I recovered. Shortly after, a demo of the song ‘The Burning Bridge’ was being kicked back and forth between Erik and myself. Ultimately, NOIR needed to release something, it had been a bit too long between releases. So The Burning Bridge EP was assembled with the late addition of a live Roxy Music song ‘In Every Dream Home a Heartache,’ recorded on radio station WFMU.

This EP seems to have slightly darker tones than previous NOIR; what caused this shift? Is there anything in particular that helped influence the sound of this EP?

Maroulis: I believe my collaboration with Erik Gustafson might have influenced the darker direction of The Burning Bridge EP, whereas the previous album Darkly Near was done with different collaborators who were coming from an EDM background. Truth is, I never expected NOIR to ever last this long, so the direction was never much of a consideration. Four releases later and it still lives! That said, as much as I am content with Darkly Near and it served a purpose, I feel as if it struggled to find a cohesive identity. Now that NOIR is more of an active entity, I feel as if I can mold it more readily. As much as I am not crazy about the current climate of the music industry, one bright side is that there aren’t any rules or perhaps at this point in my career that is my rationale. As much as I realize that people care less about lyrics than ever before, that hasn’t stopped me from working on them harder than ever. ‘The Burning Bridge‘ is personal I suppose, much like anything I’ve written over the years; in this case, just a guy reflecting over his past. I’ve never kept a diary, so my lyrics are my diary; it enables me to write about things, people, places in a confessional way, intimate yet in an evasive haze. In closing, I believe the EP ended up a bit darker in tone, but a bit more commercial in terms of the arrangements and structure.

You’ve worked with a wide array of artists in various projects, with all of the reunions happening over the past year (RevCo, Cubanate, etc). Have you considered any reunions with your previous groups or is NOIR your main focus for the foreseeable future?

Maroulis: An old tired saying comes to mind, ‘never say never.’ That is, unless you don’t mind being a hypocrite… actually, our world is full of people that don’t seem to mind. I have been a part of innumerable bands and or projects over the years, so many I often have to stretch to recall them all. Either way, we have never fully closed the door on Spahn Ranch and we are regularly asked to perform at festivals. As much as all the former members get along well, we all live in different parts of the country and a reunion would prove challenging. I do perform a few Spahn Ranch songs live with NOIR just for fun. Oddly enough, this Fall marks the 30th Anniversary of my first release with my first true band Fahrenheit 451 and it will be re-released by Cleopatra in a special digital only edition. So as much as none of these are actual reunions, they are definitely recognitions of the past and I am okay with that for now.

Is this EP a sign of things to come for a full-length album?

Maroulis: Possibly? At the moment, I am toying around with some new material as well as a few covers; also, covering myself again. Darkly Near had a song I had written with Reza from Inertia in the late ’90s called ‘Timephase.’ We released it on a compilation under the name The Third Man and I need to re-record it for NOIR. I have a few songs from short-lived projects I’d like to dust off, so I might be doing that. In a nutshell, I’d say yes the EP is a shape of things to come.

Are there plans for a tour?

Maroulis: NOIR has been doing little runs to Pittsburgh, DC, Boston, and such. Touring is a possibility, but doubtful. I did so much touring in the past and while it was a necessary part of the equation and I enjoyed it, I must say there was always a personal cost and my private life always took a beating. I’d like to get to Europe with NOIR. These days, I have a simpler life and a tour offer would have to be nearly perfect to interest me. Again, never say never.

The cover tracks feel so strong and natural, are there other songs you’d like to cover in the future?

Maroulis: I must confess I do have a few ideas up my sleeve. I said this before but I love the fact that covers are so out of vogue these days. Ironically, the first 50 years of the music industry, cover material or interpretations made up about 90% of all recorded music and continued well into the ’60s. Either way, I’m sure to knock out a few more in the not too distant future.

Just to iterate on some things you said here, what about the current climate of the music industry bothers you? I can appreciate that many genres feel very stale, but what are your gripes?

Maroulis: There are certain things I’ve always disliked about the music industry. For instance, indie rock is a sound and dominating scene I’ve always utterly despised. Yet, when I referenced the current climate in one of my responses to you, I think I was referring to the digital into streaming era. I’m glad that I entered music in a different era and that I was able to get a taste of the old way. I’m just not sure I see a brass ring anymore? While getting your music out there is easier than ever, it seems there are now 100,000 projects with the same plan, whereas in the past, it might have been a few thousand. Simply put, it is now a more crowded field than ever before. Yes, I agree there’s also staleness and sameness, although I think every era suffers from this as well. The goth and industrial scene in particular has its fair share of staleness as well as large doses of The Emperor’s New Clothes; then again, it always has. Truth is, I am kind of one of those love/hate people and can feel both equally. The goth and industrial scene has always provided me with a home so I lean more towards the love side of the equation, but also hate it at times.

Do you truly believe people care less about lyrics than ever? As someone who pays attention to lyrics and always has, I hope this isn’t the case since that’s half the experience, but what leads you to this conclusion?

Maroulis: I’ve been a lyricist since I was about 18. I don’t think people ever cared too much about lyrics and it has diminished even more over the years. There are some exceptions – perhaps the most devoted fans or if an artist is truly critically acclaimed someone will get around to talking about the lyrics. I think that lyrics only mattered to a minority of music listeners to begin with. Once we lost tangible product with printed lyrics to downloading/streaming, I feel as if that was last call. Also, since we are moving away from the album format and to a short attention span pleasing single format, the lyrics are just not important to people. Yet I still work hard on lyrics because it still means something to me.

Do you think that being able to collaborate on music via e-mail is a good thing? Has it helped you?

Maroulis: I also have a love/hate relationship with technology, but I must say if I wasn’t able to write and collaborate via email, I probably wouldn’t be doing this InterView with you because I wouldn’t be making music. Although there’s a price and a larger picture, we as a people are losing touch with the world, becoming introverted, lazy, trapped in our own interests as we impulsively stare into the screen of the device. One step forward and a huge step backward.

 

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Photography by Saadia Tiare – courtesy of NOIR

 

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