Divide and Conquer Interview

Mark Gotthard Interview

Q: You have been writing and recording music for over twenty five years. Can you talk a little bit about your history?

A: Yup. Definitely. A friend taught me some chords on an acoustic guitar my freshman year at Princeton. Something clicked. I mean like I wouldn’t stop bugging this guy for like a week to teach me how to play. Something really resonated even before I picked up the guitar that this was something that was going to be meaningful to me. Now, I had no idea that it would lead to me writing my own songs, performing all over the country, etc….I just had that impulse to learn to play the damn acoustic guitar. After that first taste of learning a few chords, I just ran with it. Bought a “cheap –o” acoustic at the local guitar shop the very next day and started playing like mad, dedicating a lot more time to it than I should have probably…..I was on the Varsity Tennis Team there and I can remember taking my guitar to practice because I had just written a song and was still working on it…priorities clear, right? I started writing a lot of songs then, some very good ones even to this day, I believe, and then after graduating college, it became my constant. I ended up living in the Santa Cruz Mountains, Jackson, Wyoming, Boston, Washington D.C. and New York. All these places I traveled to in my early 20s…trying to find myself and what I was “supposed” to do. A lot of this time was very painful, and writing songs was the thing that kept me going, so to speak, in a lot of darkness. I can remember thinking of writing a song about my guitar being the only thing I had.actually I think I did write that thing…see what I mean? A lot of murky water behind me – and music was my life raft in and out of the rapids. So it’s been an interesting journey, music initially starting off as a very championing expression, and then it turning into a lifesaver, and a manifestation of a lot of pain…and the road continues…and has become very bright, in recent months.

Q: You mention “The past six months has marked a transformation in my life and music career.” What was that transformation and how much do we hear of that on your latest release Cherrylee Sessions?

A: Yes. It’s been since I met and married the love of my life, Lara. She is also an artist, and since we met my musicality and creative resourcefulness have gone electric. I mean, I never thought for a while there that I would be in the position I am now - with a new lease on life, happy dare I say, and with a new, revamped music career. And it is very evident on Cherylee the transformation: the complexity, ideas, thoughtfulness, and depth of the songs and especially the arrangements and production are at another level. For instance, the snare on “Cold Night’s Stare” is something me and my producer/engineer Terry Bailey worked on for a period of over four years. Now we didn’t work on it every day, but we spent A LOT of time to get that meaty, gritty, full-sounding tone…and I think that before I met Lara I would have just settled and moved on, and not really been happy with the sound we achieved. Now, I have a lot more confidence in myself as an artist, and strive for excellence…more than ever.

Q: How would describe your music to someone who hasn’t heard it before?

A: I hate this question…because saying that “I hate to describe my music” sounds so cliché….but it’s true. I will say that my music is something to take in when you’re alone, hurt, wanting and desperate. It’s also music to listen to in good times, driving down the road, hanging out with friends…my influences such as Tom Waits, Joe Henry, Gillian Welch, Nick Cave, Neil Young, Cigarettes After Sex, Houndmouth and XX make me feel a certain way…and I would hope that my music would bring you to a similar place in listening to these artists.


Q: Can you talk about your creative process in and out of the studio?

A: So I went through my phone the other day, and I saw that I have like 300 voice recorded messages – and these are ideas I’ve had for the past maybe four years. And sometimes I’ll sit down with the guitar and specifically try to find something when I’m feeling inspired….and I’ll record a two-minute or three-minute rough skeleton of a song. Sometimes it’s a spoken idea, like the other day, I just spoke into the phone “Cool line…and I cried and I didn’t know why.”.And then I’ve gone back and found ideas that I totally forgot and salvaged…on my computer I was recording for a while on a terrible program called Audacity…and one of the title tracks of Cherrylee is “Next To You” – a song I wrote in the middle of the night one night and then forgot – I’ve done a lot of that – get up in the middle of the night and write and record – and then I’ll not remember what I did at all the next day. I’m rediscovering a lot of material from that era of “sleep writing.” Embarrassing and stupid, I know, but true.

In the studio me and Terry will usually get together and spend the whole day recording, editing and/or mixing. I must say our production is HUGE – we will record guitar, vocal and maybe three more instrumentations like bass, drums, horns or whatever – for two songs at least – so we have a fairly complete version of those songs before the day is done…and then we’ll edit and make changes to maybe four or five songs we’ve done the prior recording session. Cherrylee took four years to complete – and that was the deal…recording and editing material over and over until it was to a place that was totally mature….It took forever but was well worth the wait. I think we maybe had THIRTY songs completed by the end of that time, and I chose what I thought was the strongest of that library. Someday I’ll have to release the “B” sides that didn’t make the cut…but that’s for another day. Anyway, yeah, me and Terry absolutely kick ass in our sessions. We’ve been doing it for almost 30 years now, and our communication, chemistry and understanding of each other in the studio I think is very special. I’m lucky to have him in my life…both as a producer and a friend. 

Q: What are your live performances like? Do you work with other musicians?

A: My live performances these days I must say ROCK. I very much try to make it an interactive experience with the crowd. I hate performers who just go up there and play for themselves and not address an audience who takes the time and money to see him or her. People want to be ENTERTAINED, and they have a right to be a part of the performance. I hand out percussion instruments like shakers, tambourines and bells for people to rock along with my songs. And I’m always keeping their attention, by talking with them in between songs and sometimes singling someone out. It’s either good or bad too….I’ve had rowdy people blab away during my songs and not pay any attention to me…and anyone who has ever got up on stage has known those types of people – rude, plain rude. But instead of powering through, ignoring them, or getting upset, I’ll acknowledge them and try to get them involved too…maybe by asking them what was so important to talk about now…and having something fun to say in response to what they offer…and I’ll be a smart ass if I have to…but whatever is required to get ALL involved I’ll do. Because I won’t waste my time anymore getting up there and just “peeing in my pants” so to speak and play to hear myself sing. I can do that at home. Not anymore.

I am a solo acoustic act but would love to get other musicians involved. I would be interested in communicating with anyone who has something unique and different to offer. Not just someone who will play what I tell them to or someone who will play what they think is right because of a formula. A team of total individuals playing as a group is what I would be interested in forming. Email me and we’ll talk. Heh.

Q: What else should we know about your music?

A: I am currently working on four albums concurrently. First, there is Neon Dreams which is constructed as an album having a variant or alternative space in reality….it’s a strange album, with tones all to their own. I’m also working on a comedy album….”She Gave Me VD!”Is a track that will appear on this effort….My biggest focus so far out the quad release to be The West – a collection of western songs – outlaws, cattle rustlers and Jesse James himself are some of the characters you will encounter on this escapade….I have always had a penchant for western themes, so this album seems natural to put together finally. And then there is The Road – as you might guess is a collection of all my road songs I’ve written throughout the years….I’m so excited to put all this material out…think it will really a crowning moment for me personally and as an artist. And it will be fucking amazing to listen to. 

Check out the full critique

Mark Gothard