J. Marco’s forthcoming album, Days of Surrender is alternative rock in bright neon. Tinged with a static feedback hum–emblematic of Nashville’s indie scene–the record successfully combines strong, catchy melodies with the punchiness and raw emotion of modern punk. Upon first listening, one might guess that Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters have had a profound effect on Marco but the songwriter says otherwise, citing Tom Petty as one of his biggest influences. While the music’s melodic contours and earthy rhythms may have been inspired by Petty, the ability to operate in the transient space between genres is all Marco.
Due for release on September 29th, Days of Surrender is a departure from Marco’s first album. The rock is harder. The rhythms are punchier. It’s angsty without being whiny. J. Marco has touched ground and his sophomore record is indie-rock par excellence. With both Days of Surrender’s release and a show at The High Watt around the corner, we gave Marco a call and discussed pop-punk music, Massachusetts and his new record in this All Things Go extended interview.
You’re from Massachusetts, correct?
So were you really into the pop-punk scene when you were a kid?
Oh totally. That was a big part of my early teen years as far as music goes. You know, some of those albums really hold up. I’ll still occasionally listen to bands like Reggie and the Full Effect and the first couple of New Found Glory records. I still think they’re pretty good.
Did you go from Massachusetts straight to Nashville or did you go to school?
I went to school in western Mass. and after school I worked for a year and really didn’t like it. I was working in property management. I came down to Nashville on a trip with some friends and just loved it and needed to get out of Massachusetts. It turned out to be a very, very good choice.
Why don’t you give me a little bit about your musical upbringing and how your taste in music developed.
There was always music in my house. I remember listening to Tom Petty and Fleetwood Mac as a kid and really liking it. As I started getting older, I started listening to more modern stuff. Pop-punk was really appealing to me because it kept the same structure [as classic rock]. The best Tom Petty songs for example, have a great hook and a catchy chorus. The best pop-punk songs from that time are the same, just way faster. The record that really got me off the pop-punk stuff was the Strokes’ Is This It from 2001. I was obsessed with that thing and it’s still one of my favorite records of all time.
Do you play any other instruments besides guitar? Were you one of those kids who started piano lessons when you were two?
No, I never took lessons. My dad played guitar a little bit and he taught me some chords and then I would just figure out how to play songs that I like. I just sort of figured it out as I went. I don’t really play anything else proficiently.
Was the shift towards alternative rock in Days of Surrender a conscious decision or was that just the type of music you happened to be listening to at the time?
I think [it was] a little bit of both. [We made] the first record in someone’s bedroom in about four months and it was definitely a bit poppier [sic]. I think the switch came when we started playing the songs live with a full band. It injected this new energy into it. [On top of that] a lot of the stuff I listen to is way heavier than the first record. So I think I naturally started writing more rock-oriented songs. I like changing my sound from record to record though. I don’t want to just make ‘part-2′ of the previous [album]. Moving forward, I could see myself going back to pop and messing around with some stuff.
You sound like one of those musicians that are better live than on their records. Did you record live-to-tape?
The basic tracks, meaning the drums, bass and rhythm guitar, were [recorded] live-to-tape. There’s no metronome also which gives [the record] more of a live feeling. The difference between this [album] and the last one is that this one was recorded and mixed in two weeks where the last one was done over a four month span. I had a really specific vision for [this record]. We recorded it at Battle Tapes Recording in East Nashville and the owner, Jeremy Ferguson co-produced it with me and I feel like he totally got where I was coming from and did a phenomenal job. It was a pretty breakneck pace from the start to the finish.
Who’s exciting you in the world of rock music right now?
The new War on Drugs record is amazing. They’re probably one of my favorite bands at the moment. Their last three records have been nuts but the new one is phenomenal.
Tell me a little bit about The High Watt. You’re premiering the album there. Is there any significance to that?
I remember when I first got to Nashville I saw a couple shows there and headlining there seemed like a very far off thing. I wanted to do [the premiere] at a place like that. I’ve always loved the club and I’ve played there but I’ve always been opening for other people. With the traction that the first record got, I’m really just happy to be in a place where I can book something like [The High Watt]. Also, having the support of Lightning 100 in Nashville–who are sponsoring the show–is something I’m super excited about too.
What’s the impression you want to leave on your fans when they see you live?
I want the audience to have a good time and feel some sort of personal connection to the music. I’m not a big fan of telling folks how to feel about a record or song I’m putting out. I’d rather have people form their own opinions and take that to the show and hopefully enjoy it because we’re gonna be doing our best to bring the songs to life in a [different] way than on the record.
When I listened to the record, the first song, Bad News really jumped out at me. Is this a preview of things to come? Are you getting into that more frantic almost like Mars Volta-esque rock?
I kind of have this fantasy about making a side project where I get to do all of the crazy stuff that I want to do but right now I don’t have the time to do that. Bad News was kind of the polarizing track from my new batch of songs. I originally had it as track eight or nine but it sounded too out of nowhere back there so really, the only [thing to do], was to put it as track one and let [the album] be crazy right out of the gate.
Do you write all the music or does everyone in the band discuss and work on stuff together?
It’s pretty much me in terms of writing the songs and making the decisions but my core band has been with me since the start of this. When we’re recording they’ll bring in ideas about arrangement changes and that’s always super constructive stuff that I haven’t thought of because a drummer thinks about things in a different way than a guitarist. That’s sort of the good thing about living here though. There’s so many talented people that you’re always getting good ideas if you ask for them.