Q&A with musician Ian Margolycz – check out the bottom of the interview for some musical links!
You established Zeptune Records in 2004 for your “musical endeavors” – can you tell me a little bit about what your musical “intentions” were back then?
Sure, Zeptune started sometime back in high school as a result of boredom. If you’re anything like me sitting there in class daydreaming, you find any way possible to pull yourself out of that headspace. I’d just start scribbling and drawing in my notebook like my life depended on it. I’d get home and look through some of this stuff and startle myself sometimes!
This was also around the time my schoolmates and I started wondering what it’d be like to start a band and have songs, and alter egos and stuff like that. We were really into Nirvana and The Pixies. Of course at that point, in the late 90’s early 2000’s it was not so cool to like these sort of groups and be into that sort of music so we were definitely tagged as outsiders in town. The thing about that though was everyone thought you were dangerous and there was sort of a buffer around you. People were afraid to get near, which most of the time was okay with me. The downside was when people would conjure up this image of you, and think you were all these really messed up things that you weren‘t.
The daydreaming and ideas of starting a label or a band were an escape from all of that. It was that place you could dive into whenever, be creative and block out everything monotonous. Back then it was real simple, we were all just seeing if we could even strum an instrument, let alone write songs.
What about your musical interests now – are you currently working on any new projects?
The label itself has really been the only constant, and maybe I knew that would be the case somehow way back when. The bands I’ve formed and been a part of only seem to make it a few years before collapsing.
Dream LAX started as handful of demos intended for the continuation of M.O.T.H. and even The Velvet Ants became an offshoot of that group. Luckily those side projects didn’t have a set formula or goal in mind so there was less of a worry about them fracturing and ending abruptly. I guess you could say that Dream LAX and Velvet Ants are always there too, it just depends on whether I’m in a band at the time or they are the band. I know, very confusing. Trevor Hart (drummer for MOTH & The Velvet Ants) and I still talk and there’s always a possibility of us joining forces again to knock out some more tunes together.
As for my current interests I still have song ideas that I’d been working on towards the end of Lost in Stereo’s run but who knows what will happened to them. I’m still concerned about finishing the “Black Tie Galaxie” mixes that are at risk of being shelved for good. Other than that, I really don’t know where I’ll be in a year or two for that matter.
Things can get to be a bit discouraging after a while, and I don’t care who you are, it wears on you. It would be nice to hang it up for a spell. Then you think about all the random people you’ve met through it all and how they were affected by songs you made, and how you were affected by them, and other songs yourself, and the predicament continues…
I really dig your acoustic stuff, especially Two Sox (awesome!). Tell me a little bit about how you got started in music.
Thanks for checking it out, That happened to be a favorite among people early on. It’s a really simple song, almost transparent in form. I wrote that at 16 or 17. It’s strange how you write a song that’s about something so personal, that really hurt, and it feels completely your own and that you’re the only one that could experience something so terrible yet other people connect with it. It really widens your perspective after the fact. It pulls you back, away from the brush and allows things a chance to settle into their own weird way. Two Sox was one of many sort of ‘break up’ songs that would surface from time to time.
Most of the time I don’t write lyrics with an experience or picture in mind. It’s usually just segments of thought or words that I liked the sound of together in random order. A lot of the time the songs won’t make sense to me until long after they’re written. That’s one of the first songs that, to me, was a more obvious reaction to an unsalvageable relationship. That sort of love that hurts to be around, and hurts to be away from but you know you’d both be better off in the long run.
When you’re growing up and looking for somewhere to fit in, something interesting about yourself, or something you enjoy, you start looking for things that are uniquely yours. Mine happened to be art at an early age, I mean good or bad, whatever it is that you do you, if you enjoy it, it’s like gold.
As a kid my parents worked as photographers in Boston, MA so there was almost always something creative going on in the background. One of my first instruments was a drum kit my father gave me one birthday. I must have been 5 or so, but I think it’s exposure like that, that can spark interest in most things, regardless of what talent it might be.
I really got into listening to records and tapes a few years later, and remember a little hand held Casio keyboard around that age too. There was always something to press and make noise out of. Eventually I’d get the chance to own a really cheap electric guitar (to see if it was really for me.) That’s what really opened the flood gates.
In addition to being a singer and guitarist, you’re also a songwriter. I know for some songwriters, it’s a very quick process where the lyrics just flow right out in a burst, while others spend months tweaking every little detail. What kind of process do you go through when you write?
Yikes, I don’t even know if I’d consider myself a singer… I’ve got the Hendrix complex when it comes to that. Some people just find it strange and out of place to hear their own vocals I guess. I’m still trying to figure out that side of things. I love to play guitar and come up with songs and play them but learning how to sing has been a slow process. You either have it or you don’t, and if you don’t you peg away at it until it starts to fall in place. I like to think there’s always room for improvement.
As for putting words to music or music to words, you never really know until you sit down and experiment a little. Some riffs are really simple to write to and those melodies fly out like there’s no tomorrow. Others you sit there and think …there’s no way I’ll be able to sing something to this, and it takes time. I mean, for me at least, it’s easier to write a chord progression or guitar part and then sing over it, but it can happen either way.
There have been some songs that have emerged from poems. ‘Mars Cut Her’ started off with just lines I had written out one night and I eventually found the right riff for it. Sometimes when you write poems or short stories or verse it becomes very apparent that it’d be possible to make a song out of it.
To be honest, I can’t tell myself ahead of time that I’m going to sit down and write a song. You end up sitting there flinging paper and getting frustrated that your ‘muse’ is late. Of course at that point he or she wouldn’t want to stop by anyway.
You’ve been a part of several bands, including Malfunction of the Head (2003-2005), which have had a wide range of musical influences. M.O.T.H, for example, lists AFI and Stevie Ray Vaughan, two acts with completely different sounds. For yourself, what singers/groups have had a lot of influence on the type of music you want to play?
Roscoe Tanner (guitarist from MOTH) and I share an interest in the blues so that’s where Stevie comes into play. We’re both fans of Hendrix, and blues-influenced rock stemming anywhere from 50’s era blues to artists like Bob Log III and on into country with Steve Earle. AFI on the other hand is Trevor Hart’s favorite group, and he’s got the tattoos to prove it! Trevor’s influences are much more punk-rock influenced. You’d have to ask him to get a better interpretation of it, but we’ve listened to a few Descendents and Social Distortion records together.
My influences change all the time but during M.O.T.H. I was really into heavier melodic music like Deftones and Failure, who are still some of my favorite artists, but you go through phases where you’re into it really deep and then it leads you somewhere else for a while.
I’m also a huge fan of Iggy Pop, and David Bowie, and bands like The Lemonheads, and The Smashing Pumpkins. Not sure what really decides what your music ends up sounding like but there is some sort of familiarity there. My own influences look strange alongside each other. I’m really into a wide range of stuff. The Police have always been huge for me, as well as Pink Floyd. So you’ll hear about that and then the next week I’ll try to get you to listen to some obscure record that one of the guitarists from The Posies put out that sounds completely different from everything else.
In M.O.T.H. our influences were similar but we also came to the table with a lot of individual tastes. That made for an interesting template. Singers for me are the same way, and a part from loving Doors music I think Jim Morrison had a really big impact on me. I think most good records have pretty solid singers attached to them, listen to STP or Weezer and you’ve got to admit that those vocals are exactly what the songs needed.
I was checking out your YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/user/zeptunerecords) and you recently posted an old “Mothumentary” clip where the band was having fun on the way to a show – how important do you think it is for bands to have fun with music? Do you think tension among band members affects the creativity and/or it affects the performance on stage?
I think it’s extremely important. I’ve been in a few bands by now so I know what it can be like when you’re in that rehearsal space or up on stage and things just aren’t working. Some bands can even get through performances and practice without flaw but still not be able to have any sort of healthy relationship. It’s really no fun to avoid each other like that in close quarters, especially when something tangible and initially unbreakable used to exist.
You’ve got to have some sort of humility when it comes to this line of work, it can only get more depressing and harder to deal with in any other sort of mindset. I mean you can’t be making a joke out of the whole thing all the time, but when you’re in the same company for that long you have to be able to look at each other and just laugh about what you’re about to do or what situation you’re in at the moment.
The people I’ve worked with have all put a lot of their selves into everything they contribute whether it be a song idea, drum fill, bass line… regardless. It’s meaningless if you can’t share some of the creative process, and it’s even worse if you can’t share it with an audience somehow. I’ve also had shows where we’re all about ready to implode and go postal on each other, and we get out there and perform great. Doesn’t matter what occurred earlier and it almost improves your focus and integrity. Although, this doesn’t mean you should go around causing spats before a show, that would be a bit much on the system.
I imagine being in a band is like this: collaborative moments where you go “A-ha! Great sound!” mixed with moments you just want to scream because your band mates want to play something you aren’t feeling. Am I anywhere close to how it really is?
(Laughs) Definitely something like that, actually a lot like that. Especially when you’re the one who doesn’t wanna play that song! Of course, more reason to not have written it to begin with, what can you do.
A lot of the time it’s about sharing that “A-ha” that can be difficult because people get off on different things you know? Sometimes just being able to put your own spin on it is reward in itself, other times you trudge through the writing or rehearsing process not knowing whether you’ll get that feeling again. Eventually it bears itself and you keep on keepin’ on. It gives you the energy to search for it again and again and again.
I’ve heard that some musicians absolutely hate the writing process and playing live is the pay off. I’ve also played with people that enjoy the writing process and would rather stay in than play a show at all. I think the whole thing can get overwhelming at times but when it comes down to it, it’s an art. It can be frustrating at times, but it can also be the most beautiful thing ever.
Since you’ve been a part of several bands, I’m sure you’ve played your fair share of bizarre shows (I went to a show once where the bassist leapt off the stage and on his way down kicked me in the mouth and gave my friend a concussion) – any interesting stories you want to share?
None that would be appropriate for daytime reading.
Going to the other side of the stage – greatest concert/show you’ve been to – and why?
Man, to be honest I haven’t been going to many shows lately. I remember a while back seeing one of Rage Against the Machine’s last concerts before they disbanded and that was pretty amazing. They were last in a long line of acts that day and by the time they took the stage the crowd was literally sending clouds of steam into the air above them. The band opened their set, the crowd just went apeshit and started to jump in unison. That was pretty awe inspiring. You’ll see a show like that and it can change your life.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d like to hope not, I feel like my answers could have been a bit shorter in length but I guess I had something to say. My apologies for the long read, unless it gave you that ‘escape’ I talked about earlier. Sometimes it’s nice to detach yourself and lose some of that daily baggage. I wonder if people know that’s even possible in this ‘plugged in’ day and age. Hopefully we won’t all turn into lost, fragmented souls in a false digital reality. Do we even have a choice in the matter? Thanks for the interview! If anyone would like to check out some of the bands I spoke about during this interview here are some links:
New links for new projects!