Molinski, Chris; Kyle Jones and Bobby DiFazio (Mark 1) (June 2002)

Absolutely Ultramodern Criminals - Mark 1 Interrogated

Mark 1 (l to r: Chris, Kyle and Robert)It definitely is one of the most criticized aspects of progressive rock: lack of humor. Never mind obsession with Moogs, Klingons, and Tolkien, there is a good number of bands today that just can't seem to give their audience as much as a smile due to the risk of losing that all-too-serious demeanor. But out of all this haughty boredom comes Mark 1 with the purpose of bringing a sense of humor back into progressive rock, and of giving the public its healthy servings of youthful "ultramodern rock." And with its sophomore effort, The Criminal Element, having been around a few months already and continuing the development of this oddball trio, it was just the right time to engage in the almighty task that is known by common mortals as an interview ... Ladies and gentleman, with you, Chris Molinski, Kyle Jones, and Bobby DiFazio!

Marcelo Silveyra: Something that comes across as immediately remarkable when considering the history of Mark 1 is the fact that the band has been around since September of 1997. Ok, perhaps the date itself doesn't quite surprise anyone, but things are bound to change if one notices that a beginning date of 1997 means that Robert was only thirteen at the time! That makes you a relatively young band, when most progressive rock units are actually a few years older when they start out. Do you think this will allow you to have more time to evolve without pressures? What is it like to be so young in a genre of music where the average musician isn't your age?

CM: It is true that we started working at a very young age. It is also true that we started as a studio band, not a performing ensemble. This was possible only because of "home recording" technology and the strong development of the personal computer throughout our childhood. We rarely had to deal with others; we could be responsible for our entire product. I believe that much of our music is about how it sounds on the record. Since we are in control of the recording process, we are able to shape the entire musical experience. Our records are our performances for people. We never really considered what genre the music fit within. We only discovered the full extent of the "progressive" genre once we were involved within it. As a band we tried to create an interesting and compelling sound. As individuals we pushed ourselves to create music that was more challenging and more interesting in terms of our personal tastes. Of course, we will have a long time to develop.

KJ: Of course we three spry youths do have many years ahead of us to develop our technical skills/songwriting, just as we have in the past four or five years since our inception back in our high school days (was Bobby really thirteen? Wow!), but I'd say the same thing if we were in our sixties. For us, the development of our musical abilities is an ever-continuing process, and I doubt we'll ever reach a point where we can honestly say "we're satisfied." As for being much younger than the "average progressive rock musician," that doesn't much faze us, as we don't really consider ourselves "progressive rock musicians." Hell, like most kids our age, we'd never even heard of the genre. I just picked up a Genesis album by chance in a used CD store and we liked what we heard. So, rather than considering ourselves prog rockers, we think of ourselves as three young guys that play whatever we like. And if prog rock fans dig us, so much the better! Welcome aboard!

MS: Upon further inspection, one discovers that you released the albums Crossing The River To Avalon , The London Underground , and Redline in a surprisingly short time. Yet the real debut of Mark 1 came in 2000 with the Absolute Zero record. Will fans ever get the chance to listen to those formative records just mentioned? Have songs like "Acid Doctor" and "House Of Cards" somehow found their way into new material?

Kyle: Crossing The River To Avalon, The London Underground, and Redline (produced in that order in a span of around two or three years, if memory serves) were vital stages of our development as musicians. These recordings were made in our high school years on fairly primitive equipment while Chris, Bobby and I were still very much experimenting with the whole recording process. Bobby's continued development on guitar is apparent upon listening to the three chronologically, as is Chris' drumming, and, to a lesser extent, my keyboard work (I've been playing piano since I was about three, so I was a little ahead of the guys' learning curve at that stage of the game). It's pretty fun to listen to some of our more ambitious attempts at songwriting from those early days - from Chris taking a stab at lead vocals, to terrible synth patches, to guitar solos that fall flat on their face. But, while I'm proud of some moments on each of those albums to this day, the fun in listening to our ... less than perfect musicianship in those formative years is probably lost on people that aren't big fans of the band. And, needless to say, at this point in Mark 1's history, our quotient of "big fans" hardly merits the money or resources necessary to make those three albums available for public release. Maybe in the distant future, with sufficient demand, they could be released as something of a historical footnote/nostalgic attempt at making an extra buck (i.e. Genesis to Revelation). "House Of Cards" and "The Acid Doctor" were pretty decent songs we wrote during this period that are probably cited somewhere on our website (I assume that's how you know about them!) [Ed.note: Kyle's right] that didn't make it onto any of these three "pseudo-albums." Once again, good for nostalgic purposes, but I could live a full life without the general public ever hearing these hot numbers. I'd imagine they're only mentioned on the site because we'd produce our own CDs in those heady high school days to sell to friends/early passionate fans of the group, some of who legitimately liked the stuff. And we didn't want our first friends/fans to think that we forget where we came from!

Mark 1 - Absolute ZeroMS: Absolute Zero featured some interesting references that diehard progressive rock fans are just bound to find extremely cool, such as the one made to Genesis' The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway with the song "Again And Again" (i.e. "gotta get in to get out"). How special was it to record these references at the time? Have you ever woken up in cold sweat at midnight with fear of being harassed by intellectual property lawyers?

CM: Hopefully that aspect of the album (especially in the subtle details) will be what keeps it interesting in the future. At the time, we were interested in creating a record that would show people both where we were coming from and where we could go. We put in the Genesis references for the fun of doing it. Once we started getting e-mails from one or two people who strongly objected to the Genesis "rip-offs" we got nervous. Luckily we were able to explain our intentions to all, and many reviewers commented that we were, in fact, not copying Genesis. We really were just trying to use Genesis as a springboard towards our own sound. We sometimes joke about getting calls from "Tony's lawyer." But on the up side, we could meet Tony!

MS: The way that the band intends to create "ultramodern rock" by going back to and picking up elements from seventies bands would somehow imply that you believe that there was a lot left unexplored during that decade. How does Mark 1 explore those uncharted territories and bring them into the new millennium?

CM: It's not that we believe there is some giant unexplored area of progressive music; prog bands did some great things in the seventies. It's just that for us, as musicians, there is something missing from most prog records. We're simply trying to expand on the past. Granted, there is a lot of music we haven't been exposed to, so we're only working with the still young knowledge of what we do and do not like. We decided to label ourselves "ultramodern" because we felt that "progressive" did not entirely fit. As much as we are inspired by prog there are many great aspects of music that are not represented within the prog stereotype. "Ultramodern" is simply a new label that allows us to work from a fresh perspective. We are not like the prog bands of the 1970s. Our music exists within different social and artistic surroundings. As a band we exist because of "modern" technology, such as the Internet. As musicians we are aware and responsible for our recorded sound in a way that would not have been possible previously. We use the label "ultramodern" in order to better describe our situation and musical perspective.

BD: Our musical expressions are often irregular because we do not restrict our boundaries when composing material. The sound of the band was progressive before we knew what that really meant. Kyle had been into Genesis, Yes, etc. for a while before he introduced me to traditional classic progressive music. I said something like, "Shit! We sound like Genesis, that's not cool." Then I subsequently became a big fan. It's like filling in the blanks in reverse. We do use similar equipment in the synthesizer department, which enhances the similarity between us and classic prog acts. We explore "uncharted territories" by disregarding preconceptions about the way the music should be constructed. From there we can create music with an artistic intent that is uninhibited. So by virtue of similar musical intent and processing we resemble older progressive acts. I hope that makes sense!

MS: Corporations trying to reach absolute zero in order to conquer the Earth, a CEO by the name of Blueblood, a rebellious gang of office supply thieves led by a man named Oscar...where the hell do you guys come up with this stuff? Was tackling a concept on Absolute Zero a way to allow your sense of humor to be extended even further? Have you ever seen the movie Brazil?

BD: No, I haven't seen the movie, but I think Kyle and Chris certainly have. It may have had something to do with the concept. I just thought that the ideas were cool. We have always been into weird shit. Absolute Zero was a long pet project with no clearly defined goals in the beginning; at least none that I was aware of. It just got better and better, because we were in the studio all summer. If we were not using our sense of humor, I would have fallen asleep more often.

KJ: Absolute Zero's plot was developed by the band as a unit, and I tweaked the lyrics a bit on my own while vacationing in Maine. Chris and I did see Terry Gilliam's fine film Brazil together a few years ago (I don't know where Bobby was at the time - probably passed out), but, while we both enjoyed it a great deal, and it may have planted the seed of what was to develop into our minds, we weren't consciously thinking of the movie whilst brainstorming for the album. The story itself deals with life in Western culture as viewed through the skeptical eyes of we three middle-class youths from the Eastern seaboard. I think it really struck a chord with a lot of kids our age and in our situation, as there is a general feeling amongst America's many troubled youths that no matter what you do, the machine that is our society (in the U.S., predominantly upper-class white Anglo-Saxon Protestant males - represented by President Blueblood) will mold you into whatever it damn well pleases, no matter what your individual goals and ambitions may be. A little heavy, I know, so we threw in such comic elements as the recurring character of Oscar the Office Supply Thief to ensure that we didn't take ourselves too seriously. In retrospect, it was a lot to take on for the three of us who, at that point, still hadn't had an official release. But despite its ambitiousness and certain weaker moments, I'm still incredibly proud of it.

Mark 1 - The Criminal ElementMS: The Criminal Element sees the band moving into a different area, as the sound is more live and visceral, whereas Absolute Zero had an overall sense of slickness to it. Even the art design goes down a completely different avenue, looking a lot more informal. What made you decide to make those changes to the approach of Mark 1? Why leave behind the sharp look of your previous album?

BD: All of this is very intentional. The changes were made as a group to simply do something new. The atmosphere in the studio was still rigorous, but we were more relaxed and interested in live performance. The Criminal Element is us doing what we do, and we would not want to "slick" it up. The look of each album corresponds to the intentions of the work. Also, we wanted our faces on the album, so people knew that we we're not fat and old!

MS: Another thing about the sound and style of The Criminal Element in comparison to Absolute Zero is the fact that the concept thing has been shunned this time around and that the songs extend into more varied musical styles. Even the humor seemed to be toned down a bit. Excuse the perfectly predictable question, but is this a result of natural maturation? Do you find that Robert has to shave more often now?

KJ: Yeah, we shed the whole musical storyline idea in writing for The Criminal Element because, while we found the story format to be an excellent outlet for our creative juices/ideas on our first album, Absolute Zero, we realized that it could be rather constricting, both musically and lyrically. Also, we didn't want people to start pigeonholing Mark 1 as "another weirdo epic story band," or even necessarily as a true "progressive rock" outfit. We want to be able to make any kind of sounds/music that we feel like on a particular day and, so long as it's good, not worry how people feel about it. With each song on The Criminal Element essentially its own entity, we were enabled to delve into entire formats of music that, were we working on another all-out concept piece, we might have had to ignore. The calypso section in "The Raven," or the MIDI "disco drums" on "...On The Run," for example ... it was the next logical step, we felt, in expanding our musical horizons. The fact that the humor was a little subdued on The Criminal Element was purely coincidental, however. Humor is important in the work we do, because we really believe that if you take the whole music scene too seriously, it's depressing. You've got to have fun. Otherwise it's just long hours with people you already spend an unhealthy amount of time with trying to perfect something that you aren't even sure that people will appreciate. So for us, it's just the boys having a good time. We're not trying to break new musical ground here - we're just playing/writing what we like and having fun. I think a song like "Captain Labrador" reflects our collective personality as a band better than any twenty-minute magnum opus could ... and Bobby's a hairy Italian. He's been shaving since he was just a wee young scalawag.

MS: The Criminal Element was mastered by Chris Blair at Abbey Road Studios, certainly something that will be noticed by those who know something about the process that goes behind forging the sound of an album. How did Blair's mastering bring out the best of Mark 1's sound? Did you have to sell a kidney in order to afford him?

BD: His work certainly lived up to our expectations. We wanted that analogue, live, classic sound. Blair's previous work, including Genesis, the Beatles, etc. has the quality of sound we were looking for. Granted, The Criminal Element is nothing like that of those artists, and therefore has a sound all of its own ... I'm sure he cost a million dollars, but I had nothing to do with it.

CM: I wanted Chris Blair to master the album, rather than Roger Nichols (who mastered Absolute Zero), because I wanted different elements of the album's sound to be brought to the surface. I shot for the sound of a "live" album when we recorded The Criminal Element. By using the same EMI consoles that so many classic records have gone through, I hoped that Chris could bring out a particular warm tone in the recordings. Needless to say, we were all very excited by his work.

MS: Who exactly is probation officer Dick? And why do I have a feeling that you're actually the band's criminal element?

BD: Probation Officer Dick is my probation officer and has been for about two years. The rest is none of your damn business. A while back the band was planning to go to England, but old Dickey wouldn't have it and he made me stay. So his mention in the liner notes is my way of thanking him for that bullshit. But really folks, he's just doing his job!

MS: You mentioned once that you probably got all the chicks because of the denim ... I thought Joey was the one who got all the chicks?!!!

KJ: Wow! I didn't think they'd put those video clips on the site! Well, while denim has served me well in the past, you're right, no one gets more women than Joey.

MS: This is your last chance to set things straight. What drummers have influenced you, apart from yourself?

CM: Let's see, certainly Steve Gadd. Actually I feel inspired the most by Max Roach. There's a tremendous edge to Roach's playing, you can feel his contribution as an individual musician, not simply a rhythm player.

MS: You own a studio called the Briar Patch in Gloucester, MA. Considering the fact that writing an album seems to take quite a while for you guys, this must be quite a blessing. Haven't you ever been tempted to just record somewhere else and leave all the engineering to someone else though? If Mark 1 were ever to split up, how exactly would you decide who keeps what from the studio? A Mortal Kombat match?

BD: Just for the record, our first two albums were released within eight months of each other, not a long time I think. This is precisely because we do have our own studio, and we can stay there until the cows come home. We have recorded at other studios, but for album-making of our design, we prefer to do it on our own time. We are all very busy boys and we keep strange hours, so having our own space is to our advantage. Over the years we have amassed quite a bit of equipment, which, for the most part, is owned by individual members. If we ever broke up we would take our shit and leave. It's not very easy though, because there is a lot of it, and we have no intention of splitting up the group in any way. Word up.

MS: Was the laser show as good as the one in 1973? And what exactly does Captain Labrador do with his cat? Wait a second; do we really want to know this?

KJ: No, whom are we kidding; there hasn't been a better one since '73! As for the good captain's relationship with his cat, there are some interview questions that are better left unanswered...

Mark 1, l to r: Robert DiFazio, Chris Molinski, and Kyle Jones)
Mark 1, l to r: Robert DiFazio, Chris Molinski, and Kyle Jones

Absolute Zero (2001)
The Criminal Element (2001)

Added: June 2nd 2002
Interviewer: Marcelo Silveyra

Hits: 1290
Language: english

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