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