Thursday, August 12, 2010

Interview - Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes

Matt Marks and Mellissa Hughes performed this past Saturday at Most Wanted Fine Arts. You can find the review here. They were kind enough to answer a few questions on how they began playing together and how their album, The Little Death: Vol. 1 received the genre title "post-Christian nihilist pop-opera". You can find more information at their site

How did the two of you meet, and what made you decide to collaborate with music?

Mellissa: Matt and I met in Miami FL in 2006 on one of those televised PBS music specials. I was singing backing vocals and he was playing French Horn. We got together there and have been together ever since. Within a year of us meeting Matt started to write the opera, which was his first large scale composition work. I guess you could say we started to collaborate together simply because we were already spending so much time together and he had unlimited access to my voice.What began as tinkering around with an idea quickly became a desire for a fully staged production, and 3 years later we have an album! I don't think there has ever been any question about the two of us not playing the roles of Boy and Girl. At this point it's perfectly tailored to our individual voices.

Where are you from? Do you think that it has any influence on your music?

Matt: I was born and raised in Downey, Ca., which is a suburb of L.A., but have lived on the East Coast - now Brooklyn, NY - ever since I growed up. I think growing up in the rather artificial and sterile environment of the sprawling L.A. suburbs, mixed with the heightened pop-culture consciousness of living in a big city, gave me an innate familiarity and hostility towards the modern American pop-minded lifestyle. Most of my music is based on my harsh reactions against that mindset and my natural tendency to identify with it.

Do you enjoy playing concerts? Do you prefer small and intimate shows, or large concerts?

Mellissa: Large scale concerts are always a blast, but I always enjoy the smaller more intimate crowds. It's amazing how much I feed off of audience energy. I definitely make spontaneous musical decisions based on how the audience is reacting in mid song, which you can do in larger venues, but it's more effective in the smaller houses I think. Intimate shows are also a challenge for that same reason. We just finished a two week run of The Little Death in New York, and each night we greeted the audience they entered by selling lemonade and homemade chocolate chip cookies. It was our way of embracing the church home atmosphere of the opera, and a way of making the audience feel like they were in a church, but it was a challenge because you had a sense of how the audience was going to react to the show before it even began, but regardless we sold it every night.

Where do you you get your inspiration?

Matt: The inspiration for The Little Death: Vol. 1 came from of my Christian upbringing, both from the modern Baptist church I attended in Southern California and the small, one-room Baptist church I often attended in Arkansas. Musically the opera is very influenced by music from both of these locales: I'm fascinated by both contemporary Christian pop music and southern gospel music.

Of all genres, why post-Christian nihilist pop-opera?

Matt: Ha! That genre was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek way I began using to describe the project. It's sort of a play on the prefix-heavy sub-sub-genres so common in indie rock and dance music. That said, it actually describes the opera pretty well in my opinion, so I decided to stick with it. It's an opera; it's pop; it's Christian music written by a non-Christian (me); and the nihilism aspect, well, it becomes more apparent in Vol. 2. The song OMG I'm shot is a preview.

Matt Questions

How long have you been playing music?

I started playing piano when I about 7 or 8, picked up french horn when I turned 11, and started working with electronics and audio when I got to college. I didn't really start composing seriously until about 5 years ago.

What kind of music do you listen to?

The more music I write the less I listen to other peoples music. I used to be a huge record collector, but it's dropped off drastically since I've started writing and producing my own stuff. On subway rides I used to listen to all different types of music, but now I often spend it listening to mixes and pieces I'm working on while taking notes. Meatloaf is pretty great.

Any plans for Little Death in the future?

We're touring Vol. 1 right now and we're looking to do some more fully staged runs wherever we can. Eventually, down the road a bit, Vol. 2 will be out and about. It's mostly all written, I just have to write a couple more songs to connect the narrative and finish producing it all.

Melly Questions

What is your favorite kind of music to perform?

I enjoy performing in projects where the voice is used as more of an instrumental texture, which sounds strange because I also enjoy performing these wild electronic opera like The Little Death where I'm featured as a soloist, and I am the vocalist for Newspeak, a hybrid rock-classical band so I'm definitely used to being center stage, but given the choice, I really feel at home when I'm an integral part of a larger texture.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

I desperately want to be writing more of my own things and want to incorporate voice and electronics, so I've been listening to a lot of Juana Molina and Imogene Heap. I've also been blessed to work with Shara Worden on a few projects this year. She's truly an inspiration to me, like a vocal soulmate. We both have degrees in classical singing but balance a pop-indie career as well. A lot of my other colleagues might look down on some of the career choices I've made, but I've learned that the musical choices I make when singing supporting vocals on something like a Victoire track are just as important as writing ornaments for a Handel aria, it's all about artistry.

What is your next big project?

Newspeak has an album dropping in November with New Amsterdam Records, which is the same label that Victoire and The Little Death:Vol. 1 have albums on, so I'll be pretty busy with some concerts on the East coast this fall promoting that. I'm also gearing up for a week long run of Timberbrit, an electronic opera about Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake by Jacob Cooper in which I'm playing Britney.

--Interview by Laura Lee Burkhardt