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Rothko - Interview

  by Olga Sladeckova

published: 13 / 7 / 2002

Rothko - Interview


Experimental London art rockers Rothko have put out records on various labels but now have a regular deal with Too Pure. Frontman and bassist Mark Beazley talks to Olga Sladeckova about the group's new album 'Continual Search for Origins'

The name Rothko is generally associated with the famous Russian-American artist who earned great popularity during his life with his abstract paintings, but who ended it tragically by commiting suicide in 1970. Rothko is, however, also the name of a London based band, which, increasing in popularity, features Mark Beazley as its core and only original member. Rothko's music is characteristic for its colorful choice of instruments ; for taking all kinds of sounds and noises from our immediate surroundings, and for combining them together to make inspiring music. Mark first formed Rothko in 1997 and since then has successfully released records on various independent labels including Bella Union and Too Pure ; inspired other people to create art for themselves and has also performed in front of both home and also foreign audiences. I met up with Mark at Tottenham Court Road in Central London one Thursday afternoon. It is always hard, at such a time of a day, to find a pub or a coffee shop where it is quiet enough to do an interview. We walked through a few streets and then spotted the British Museum at the edge of Great Russell Street and knew that we didn’t need to look any further. We passed through its big black gates and sat down on a stone bench in front of the building where Mark immeditaely began to open up about Rothko and his music. Mark is known best as a bassist and the bass guitar has been the main instrument in his music, but also his life since an early age. “I was 17 when I started playing the bass” he recalls. “My brother and I started playing together, and we made some really odd, weird sort of cut up stuff together. He went out and bought a lot of music equipment, which he never really used, and I just started playing bass then.And that was it. I was hooked." Before he formed Rothko, Mark was a member of various other bands with which he sharpened and developed his talent. “The first band I was in had bass guitar, guitar, and clarinet” he recollects. “I was also in a group with with a violin, acoustic guitars and bass and we did some great folk music. I was in that band for 8 years.” After playing in these groups, Mark started looking for something more specific to his own taste, and that was when Rothko was born in 1997. “It was just me at the beginning recording on to a 4 track cassette” he explains. “I just used the bass. I didn’t have anything else. I sent the tape to a label called World Domination Recordings, and the guy who ran it wrote back, saying that he really liked the tape and if we wanted he could help us to get a gig. I wrote back and told him that that would be great, and the next thing is he has written back to me saying "I’ve got you a gig." "I thought "Oh, I better get a band together then" Mark adds, laughing. Mark managed to pull his group together very quickly. He already knew Jon Meade, a guitarist from another London group Geiger Counter, and then put an advert in Melody Maker which was answered by Crawford Blair. “It was really as simple as that” he confirms. “We rehearsed and the next thing we were playing the gig.” The band very quickly started getting more offers of live work and also started releasing their music on various labels such as Bella Union (run by former Cocteau Twin members Robin Guthrie and Simon Raymond ), Lo Recordings, Foundry Recordings and Arbouse Recordings. “We played in the Batofar Paris and in Belgium couple of times. That was really great and we also played the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, which was fantastic.” Mark says enthusiastically. “There were some great times and there were some bad times. As we were a bass trio, some people gave us a hard time about it, but I think we achieved a Hell of a lot.” In 2001, however, things changed when Jon and Crawford decided to leave Rothko to work on a new project. Mark spent some time deciding where he wanted to go next with his music. The question about Rothko's musical future was solved when he got in touch with his friends from Delicate Awol, another experimental London group. “We met through e-mail as everyone does” reflects Mark “They e-mailed me and said that they had been to one of Rothko's gigs and we had just finished when they arrived. It was a badly organized event. I e-mailed them back and we just kept in touch. They came to a couple of our gigs and we did some shows together. I really love their band.” When Mark started working on his new album ‘Continual Search For Origins’ and was looking for other musicians to play some of the other instruments on it, Delicate Awol were the first ones he asked. They were more than happy to oblige. “All the vocals, guitars and drums were done in the studio” explains Mark, raising his voice as a wailing fire engine rushes past the British Museum somewhere towards West London. “Then I took them all home on a CD and I played some random stuff, mixed it and pieced it all together.” Mark has used the memories of his holidays in Switzerland as the main theme for 'Continual Search for Origins'. He goes there once a year and stays at a friend’s flat in a village called Origlio, which is situated far away from civilization and surrounded by pure nature. In the year 2000 Mark decided to capture some of the Origlio beauty that he finds so inspiring and to bring a part of it back home with him to London. He packed a tape recorder with him for the stay and recorded some of its noises and sounds. These would eventually become the base for 'Continual Search for Origins'. “There is rain, talking, a lot of crickets, insects and other stuff" reveals Mark. “I’ve got all the sounds on mini disc. Some of them are about 15 minutes long. I just put a microphone on and left it.” On ‘On The Day We Said Good-bye’, the first track of the album, people can be heard talking. “I was sitting outside in the garden and there is a wall and behind it people who were talking" he enthuses. The whole album is full of different sounds. I think the night sounds are different to the day sounds, and there is a different feel to each track. I’m very happy with the record, more so than with all the other records I have ever done.” The cover for the album was designed by Beggers Banquet distributors, but it was important to Mark that it was something that suited him as well. “I wanted it to be blood cells or something cellular. So we went through some images of leaves cells and blood cells that would be really striking. There was an idea to get my DNA code on the cover but it proved really difficult to get it done and it would take too long. There were also a few other unpleasant implications about having an DNA code on the cover, but it would have been really nice if had happened.It didn't though. Maybe next time…” ‘Continual Search for Origins’ was released on the influential London label Too Pure (Hefner, Jack, Laika, Mclusky), which Mark views as a very positive step for the band. “I know Jason who runs the label now” explains Mark. “He used to be a promoter at the Garage venue in London. And someone gave him a tape which we had done and he put out a compilation album called ‘Will Our Children Thank Us’ on Foundry records, which included a track from us. He helped us to get really good gigs and has always been a great supporter of the band. And we just kept in touch. I used to send him cassette and mini disc and CDs, so he knew about everything that I was doing and has always been very helpful. I never knew he was going to run a label! Then he started working on Too Pure. One day he got in touch, saying: “I’m going to run the label. Do you want to come and join us?” which was just fantastic. We have been working together ever since which is brilliant.” “It’s the first time I have actually had a proper deal” he continues with excitement. “I’m permitted to release 3 albums on the label. It’s great. It’s nice not to have to do everything. Jason takes a lot of pressure off and the label organizes stuff generally. A lot of independent labels just can’t afford to do that. It’s so tough, you know. Just to put a record out bankrupts you every time.” Rothko's music has proved inspiring in other ways as well. If you visit the band's website www.rothkomusic.co.uk and click on ‘Images’, you can view several paintings which were painted by Julie Blake, all of which were inspired by Mark's music. “Juliet e-mailed me saying that Rothko's music inspired her when she was doing some painting for one of her art exhibitions” explains Mark. “And we have kept in touch since then. She sent me one of her original paintings which is absolutely fantastic. I sent her a really early copy of the album and she started saying "Oh, I’ve done this painting. I’ve done that painting." She has done eleven now! She is actually using some of the sounds from the album for her art degree course.” “And then there is Matt Inwood's writing as well which I really love as well” Mark adds.” He has his own site called New Inventory. I sent him a really early copy of the record. He keeps his daily diary, Per Diem, and he started supplying some writings for the Rothko site. The web site is not just about Rothko, the band. It has all of a sudden become this shared thing with other people, such as Juliet and Matt contributing and talking on the message board and e-mailing me. It’s been great!” Updated on almost everything on what has gone on in Rothko's past, I wonder what the band is planning for the near future and whether they will be playing live. “We are supposed to have a tour in September” Mark informs me. "But I have no idea what the dates are yet. That should be a proper UK and Ireland tour and we are also doing a festival in Belgium. Gun n’ Roses are headlining apparently.” The majority of musicians and bands find playing abroad easier than in their home country or town. “It’s much easier!” Mark confirms enthusiastically. “The first time we played abroad was in Belgium and we weren’t used to it but it was brilliant. Everything went so well and we got looked after well. Every band will tell you the same story. They give you some money, they give you somewhere to stay, they give you some food and you get treated really nicely, you know, like proper human beings. We were quite shocked. Also we did a gig in Scotland which was great. Those gigs away outside of London always seem to have a bit of an adventure in them." "I am sure that it the same though for people who come and play in London from outside” he concludes. Aas well as music, Mark,as you might have gathered, is also very much into art and paintings especially. The name of the bend alone is enough proof of that. “When I first moved to London” recalls Mark, “I used to spent a lot of the time in Tate. I love Mark Rothko and Francis Bacon's stuff. It just feels really calming there. You just go there to lose yourself. Rothko's work doesn’t give you any sort of answers. It never gives you the whole picture because it’s blurred because of the way he was using the paint. I just love his stuff." Mark has come a long way with Rothko since it was formed in 1997 and has achieved great success with his music, but the challenge is always there to do better and to take it into new areas. “I’m trying to find what else I’ve got to say really." he says in conclusion "I think if I didn’t have anything else to say I would just stop doing it. If you read a book or see a painting, every time you come across that hopefully it will give you something else, depending on how how your mood is and how you are feeling at the time. It gets harder to express myself in music and express myself in general full stop. So, that’s the battle.” As we pass out of the gates of the British Museum and walk back to Tottenham Court Road, I am thinking that, while I personally don't believe there to be any winners or losers in this battle, I hope that Mark will stick to his roots and will continue to make the beautiful music we have been witnessing since Rothko was first formed. The photos that acompany this article are the copyright of skippyscage' and originally appeared on the www.skippyscage.com website

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