MAKAR is husband-wife duo Andrea DeAngelis, and Mark Purnell. Creating glorious Anti-Folk sounds throughout New York City for a number of years, the group are getting ready to release their latest endeavor into the world, Fancy Hercules. MAKAR first caught my ear with their most recent record, Funeral Genius, which saw the light of day a couple of years ago. DeAngelis honest and haunting voice is accompanied by Purnell’s prominent backing vocals. Usually armed with a guitar and piano, the duo bring new life into the genre, and expand their horizons far beyond. I had the great opportunity to speak with Andrea and Mark from MAKAR, in anticipation of the upcoming Fancy Hercules, due out later this year; which you may read below.
When you are writing music, what comes first, the music or the lyrics?
Mark: Andrea is a published poet and short story writer, whose work has appeared in Tin House and many other amazing publications. She’s also working on getting her first novel, Pushed, published, so we mine her beautiful words quite heavily. Everything we do is a full on collaboration as far as music and lyrics, but many times we’ll start at the well spring of Andrea’s literary proclivity and go from there. We’ll either be inspired by a poem and then write the music like Erase Face or After Autumn from our debut album, 99 Cent Dreams, or more typically, be horsing around cannibalizing our own song chords during rehearsals and come up with an entirely new song, with the words being inspired by the chords. This stems mainly from my desire to have one song transition seamlessly into another and yet be completely different. We don’t like any song to sound the same as another, but we do want a unified album and sound for the band, a unique mix of our interests and inspirations that can only be found in Makar tunes. Recently, during a rehearsal, Andrea was singing a melody, but didn’t have the chords for it. I was horsing around cannibalizing a song from Fancy Hercules and the chord progression and key fit perfectly with what she was singing. Within minutes we had a chorus and verse section which we are very excited about for a song called, I Want To Be Loved, which will either go on the next album or may even make it on Fancy Hercules if we finish it in time.
Andrea: Lately, the music and lyrics are originating in a more intertwined process, less of a hammering of parts together separately, less of building from words in poems to lyrics and then to music. Now the music and lyrics tend to grow from each other. Not that one way is better than the other, just different ways to approach songwriting in our repertoire.
Is your upcoming record, Fancy Hercules, a continuation of your signature sound, or is there a different route or approach you are planning to take, musically?
Mark: The similarities between Funeral Genius and Fancy Hercules can be found in Makar’s usual poet, pop, folk, rock, blues, punk mix, but Fancy Hercules definitely veers into weirdest album yet territory with the addition of whacky musical theater musings, songs about insomnia, depression, brain tumors, the meaning of time, family problems, the old ball and chain, a reworking of "Devil in a Dream" and very strange horror film/Mars attacks type chords. Not to mention an examination of the myth of Hercules and how he slaughtered his whole family as our title track. We’re also planning on doing this album acoustically. No drums, no bass, just piano, guitar and vocals, so that’s a huge and exciting departure for us. It’s Makar stripped down to the bare essentials, which is scary because you wonder if radio will care that there is very little production, but it’s just how we want to record this one, especially the song, "Devil in a Dream," which has been reworked with a big chorus and more structure then the first time around on Funeral Genius.
Andrea: I’m especially excited about revisiting Devil in a Dream. We’re going to call the new version – Devil in a Dream, Part II. On the Funeral Genius version, I was just messing around with fingerpicking on my guitar and a capo and Mark started singing over it. We captured it on a low-fi hand-held tape recorder just so we could have a recording to work with. But we liked the old dusty sound of the tape so much that we left it as is, untouched. And all of our attempts to duplicate the song didn’t have the same feel. So when we finally started playing Devil in a Dream out live, it became a markedly different entity from that hand-held intimate recording. Hence Part II. We’ve been debating recording this revisit in my parent’s third floor bathroom because the acoustics sound amazing and haunting and we recorded the outtake on the third floor originally.
Being involved in the music scene in New York, how would you say the scene has changed over time since you started performing in the area, to the current day?
Mark: The biggest change to the scene is that so many venues have closed as the rents in NY have gone insane. Our dear friend just lost her wonderful tapas bar restaurant out in Williamsburg when the landlord raised her rent from $7,500/month to $23,000/month, destroying an incredible local hangout and a livelihood she had built over the last ten years. The landlord didn’t even have a replacement yet, just did it out of blind greed. Seeing CBGBs close and become a clothing store was also very hard to take. Passing by would send waves of nausea crashing down over Andrea and me because we played there several times and it was like the mecca for so many musicians to come and drink of its essence and authenticity, an intoxicating mixture of so many musical styles. Of the venues still around, we dig playing at Pianos, Knitting Factory, Pyramid Club, Freddys Backroom, An Beal Bocht, Local 269, Leftfield, R Bar, Lovecraft. Other places that closed that we loved either playing or going to hear bands at besides, CBGBs, were Galapagos, Bar East, The Hook, Kenny’s Castaways, and Luna Lounge. Some re-opened in other parts of the city but some are gone for good which is both good and bad. Good because nothing stays the same and change is always refreshing and exciting, but bad because you get attached and it breaks your heart to see beloved places move on to new spaces or just end.
The name Fancy Hercules is surely intriguing! (And awesome!). What is the meaning behind the title?
Mark: Ah, Hercules, so strong, so fancy, and yet no one focuses on the fact that he slaughtered his entire family. Yet Hera put a spell on him that made him go crazy and do just that. Our album title and title track, Fancy Hercules, is a re-imagined Hercules in a blues song living as a hobo/vagrant tramp following the train lines, trying to come to terms with what he’s done, circling the void, which is illustrated by the weirdest chord in Makar history D7b5th, rarely used in music at all, but of course Makar had to bring it out of hibernation. The train is gonna come means he’s going to pay for his crimes and penny on the track felt like a natural addition, an urban legend that a penny placed on the tracks will derail a train. It doesn’t but still seems to be a potent part of modern mythology. Fancy Hercules is not a concept album, but strangely, many songs can be seen as an extension of Hercules’ tormented psyche. I’m Alright is a song about insomnia which he undoubtedly suffers from, living with the guilt of his actions. Devil in a Dream could be seen as the harpies on his trail much like the hellhounds on Robert Johnson’s, Devil Don’t Do Me is about depression which he feels over losing his family. Time Flies is the first song Makar ever wrote and talks about the void again and wanting to see the end of night, which surely Hercules hoped to see after his 12 labors were completed. Ridge Rider is about a fictional character riding along a mystical and haunted ridge in search of meaning and redemption, but could easily be Hercules doing the same, all inadvertent, yet subconscious connections, which aided in choosing the songs for this album.
Andrea: I have never seen it this way, as an extension of Hercules’ psyche. It might be a stretch but I’ll let Mark stretch it. It is a very emotional album for sure. One of the songs, I’m Glad, is about my relief that my mom recovered from a brain tumor. But the album title came from a strange place, a grocery store on the lower east side. It was named Fancy Hercules or at least that’s what I read, sometimes I misread things. [Like a sign in an antiques store in New Jersey that said ‘We Buy Antiques’, I misread as ‘We Buy Angels’. So the title of the album came from that misseeing. For the longest time we only had the music for the song. Then the words came from the title. It’s funny our first album, 99 Cent Dreams, was inspired by a store name in Hackensack and that title track sprang up around the same. Sometimes a title is all you need to inspire the lyrics. I guess poetry works like that.
What do you hope to accomplish musically with the new record?
Mark: We hope to create a powerful album that connects with listeners on many levels and gets them thinking in different ways, and to do that with just piano, guitar and two vocals. We’ve never put out an acoustic album before, and even though we’ve been playing out acoustically for the past few years, I still think of us as a full on rock band with drums and bass. It’s like we’ve been moonlighting as an acoustic duo or going solo from our own band even though Andrea and I are the band and now write all the songs. It’s nerve-racking to be so exposed, to not have the power of the drums and bass and all the cool sounds and musical lines they add to our songs, but it’s also been a growing experience for Andrea and me as we have to rely on ourselves and fill in all that space that was formerly inhabited by the drums and bass…or not. Like a very wise person once said music is what’s between all those notes man.
Andrea - You are also known for your poetry and writing work. How do you incorporate those writings into Makar's lyrics?
Andrea: I think as a poet, you become used to phrases floating around in your head or fascinating you as you drive past a store with a name that snags your vision. I think I will always consider myself a poet first because that’s how my mind works. Even though I think it’s how most people’s minds work because why have so many people written poetry at some point in their lives? Because it’s natural and I think it’s the language of the present. Poetry records a moment, a feeling more so than any other written medium in my humble opinion. And songwriting is a natural offspring of poetry because when I’m writing poetry I also think about how the words sound and that’s musical as well as rhythmical even if it isn’t a poem that rhymes.
My most successful poems also contain a strong visual element so when I write lyrics I try to see the story. But lyrics and poetry can also be very different and almost oppositional to each other. Like I’ll just go off on a tangent and Mark definitely uses his keen editorial eye and red pen machete to shape and chop down my song ideas. Sometimes I think of songs in a too non-structural way like forgetting a chorus and Mark has to reign me in.
Fiction wise – I definitely based our song "Damion Day" (from our first album 99 Cent Dreams) on a conflicted character in my novel-in-process Pushed. So writing does feed my songwriting but not as much as it used to. Songwriting is becoming its own separate entity.
I’ve always been interested in folklore and mythology and some of those themes and stories are now working their way into my lyrics.
Does the band produce and record their own records, or do you head into the studio? How did you record (or are recording), Fancy Hercules?
Mark: We record, produce and mix our own albums. We usually go into a professional studio with an engineer for a day to get the bass and drums down (which we can’t do in our apartment) then take the tracks home to add the vocals, guitar and piano parts, but this time around because we’re going completely acoustic, no bass, no drums, we’re probably going to do everything at home using our Digi 001 Pro-tools setup, which we’ve used to record 99 Cent Dreams and Funeral Genius. Once everything is sounding how we want it to, we have it mastered and manufactured at Discmakers. We create all the album artwork as well then send it to Discmakers to include during the manufacturing process.
Andrea: As an indie artist, you always have to think about how can we record this album feasibly? And unfortunately bandmates drift apart, life gets in the way and we’re just left with the core of ourselves. One thing we’ve been unconsciously fighting is that MAKAR is really just us – Mark and me. We can depend on each other. Everyone else has been transient in hindsight. So we’re going to try to record that way for the first time. It feels especially vulnerable but also so honest.
What are Makar's key musical goals for 2016? (It seems like you are off to a great start!)
Mark: Thank you! In 2015, we received a very positive response to our second album, Funeral Genius, whichwas called “essential” by Rust Magazine. It got us featured in M Pire magazine, interviewed in Vents, No Depression and Independent Artist Buzz, and earned us a top 10 spot on The Deli Magazine’s Top 300 Best NYC Indie Pop Bands along with Vampire Weekend, Fun., MGMT and Santigold. We played CMJ’s music festival at the Pyramid Club, were named Rust Magazine’s Critic’s Pick and have had continuous airplay across the United States, Canada and the UK, on such stations as WROM, CIUT 89.5 FM (Toronto), CKRL 89.1 (Quebec), Radio Alchemy, The Waiting Room (UK), Rutgers Radio, Hub Radio and Insomnia Radio’s “Daily Dose.” Makar was also included on The NBTMusicRadio's Top 100 Tracks/Singles and Top 100 Albums ahead of David Byrne, Sigur Ros and St. Vincent and we charted ahead of Rush on the US College Radio Charts, which warmed the prog rock hating cockles of Makar’s indie folk pop rocking souls.
Most of this attention has been a result of a lot of elbow grease, sending CDs out, and making friends with a lot of cool bloggers, DJs and music lovers in the indie world, but is also due to our amazing publicist, Melissa Nastasi, who signed us to our first record deal with her then label, Sizzleteen Records. We can’t wait to drop our third album, Fancy Hercules, Fall 2016! It’s going to be very exciting to see what happens, and some amazing DJs that we love are waiting to play it in the US, UK and Canada! We’re just a little indie band from New York doing what we love and sharing that with whoever else loves it. And that’s pretty much what we’re going to continue to do this year and every year after that until that cold black cloud comes down and we knock on heaven’s door. Peace and love.