‘It was very interesting to do something different, to leave the distortion behind, the heaviness, and try to be more tonally heavy and bring together all those elements of music we’ve liked over the years,’ says Jodie Cox of experimental guitar duo Markers.
The relatively gentle nature of Jodie and Jason Carty’s debut record Heaven in Dark Earth may come as a surprise to those familiar with their work as members of Sex Swing Geiger Counter, Earth, Art of Burning Water and Exes.
The heavy, and sometimes abrasive, nature of those bands music is rarely apparent on their new collaborative project, instead the duo delves deep into tones and textures exploring space and elongated notes within the compositions, all the while testing their own dexterous playing.
Ahead of the release of their debut we had a chat with Jodie about the genesis of Markers and the challenges and rewards setting aside familiar genres in favour of considered experimentation…
How did you come to form Markers with Jason Carty?
I’ve known Jason for a long time, from my very first band even, many, many moons ago. I was in a band called Ursa and he was in a band called Geiger Counter, and basically the band I was in were playing around with different structures and timings and tunings. We didn’t really know much about the scene and that kind of stuff happening, and then we met Geiger Counter and found like-minded people that way.
We’ve always been in touch, even though there were periods of a couple of years where we wouldn’t see each other. And then a few years ago we decided to play some guitar together, a much more stripped-down idea, and see how emotive we could make it. Just two guys playing guitar [laughs], basically trying to wring every note out and see what we could do.
It’s quite a departure from the music you are both historically associated with, what is it about this collaboration that inspired such a shift?
I think maybe it was that departure, trying to do something new and a bit more challenging. It does rely a lot more on ability. You have to be intuitive this with kind of stuff, and I’ve always been inspired by his playing. We have a mutual respect for each other that way, so it’s worked out quite well. It was very interesting to do something different, to leave the distortion behind, the heaviness, and try to be more tonally heavy and bring together all those elements of music we’ve liked over the years.
What was the process of recording the album like?
Fun and nerve-wracking, as they always are. The hardest thing with this kind of music is that it’s so naked, that any kind of mistakes or anything like that are magnified to the nth degree. So, when you’ve got seven minute tracks and you’re trying to do them in one take, you notice the slightest bit of buzz and think, ‘good lord, I have to do that again’ [laughs]. I have to step outside and have a cup of tea and then go back in. It was really good, and such an adventure doing something like this, with this sort of sound. A good challenge, and one we’ve been quite excited about.
There’s so much space on the album, that must be quite intimidating?
It is, and that’s the fun part about it, letting stuff breath and having patience with it. That’s essential, the silence, and how that’s used. The velocity played out, all those kinds of things. It’s been a lot of fun.
You’ve quoted the screen work of artists like Angelo Badalamenti, Ry Cooder, and Johnny Greenwood as primary influences, what is it about their music that you are drawn to.
I think it’s the mix of how well it complements the films we know and love, there’s something about that. And there’s a conjuring, even the music on its own makes my mind wonder. I put my own scenes to it, or I see different things each time. It’s reminiscent and romantic is some ways, but also there’s a really nice simplicity to it in other ways.
The way they make these weird tones shift, so it can feel uncomfortable, or uneasy, or quite surreal when it’s put to an image in a certain way it changes the tone of that kind of stuff. It can really give it a different feel, which I always find exciting. Whenever we discuss writing, at all, it’s always visual. I’ve got this idea and when I play it, I think I can see this. Like, it’s the end of a nice day, and I can just feel a breeze or a warmth or it’s very cold – that sort of stuff. Also references from scenes or films, we’d also get into it that way.
Heaven in the Dark Earth feels very cinematic, did you have an imagined narrative in mind while recording?
I don’t think for the whole record, in that way, but definitely there are parts. Some songs have working titles from previous ideas, so we thought about that a bit more, and during the writing process I was playing standard guitar and then I got interested in baritone guitar. Once I did get into that it changed the way I play a lot. I found it actually suited my sound a lot better, and with what we were doing, it would suit the frequencies better. We would swap parts over to make them fit better. It’s been a lot of toing and froing and exploration and experimenting without being noisy, you know?
What’s the difference between working on a project like this compared to playing with EXES, Sex Swing or Earth for instance?
There all quite different and these things tend to change depending on the people you’re playing with. Everyone has their own process of doing stuff. Stuff with Sex Swing is always pretty spontaneous. We’ll jam and get a feel for it and see what we can do with it. Earth is pretty much building what Dylan [Carlson] has and the songs that he has, and it depends on what instrumentation you’re playing with. The line-up can change with that band – I’ve played as a three-piece and a five-piece. If I’m playing with a bass player, I don’t have to cover much of the low end, I can be in the middle somewhere. You have those different contrasts.
Exes was more collaborative with me and Oli [Knowles] in particular. When it comes to stuff like Markers it’s very much considered and where it’s supposed to be. We have to consider where the voicing is on the neck to make sure it has the right sort of tonality to shift into the next part, or it can open up a new idea. Again, that adds to the exploration and challenges me a lot in how I approach music. I see it differently. It’s been educational [laughs].
You must deal in extreme levels of detail with Markers.
It can be. Now the songs feel very simplistic to me, just because I know them so well. But even stuff like the tempo, making sure we get that right, really trying to consider all of those things to make sure it feels right to us. It’s that thing when you hear a new song and you think, ‘I really want it to go here,’ and trying to find moments like that.
How is it you end up in so many bands?
I really like playing music. So, when options come up, I’m like, ‘absolutely, let’s give it a shot.’ I’ve always got ideas for things, and things I like to try out. I like having these different avenues and different types of music. I’ve got a new project No Bueno, which is one of the heaviest things I’ve ever done, which is really, really fun. I get to wear different hats and enjoy different ways of thinking. Sometimes these ideas can crossover and conspire to be something new.
I personally find it a lot more fun [being in more than one band]. And as ever, any project you’re involved with has its stresses at times, but then it’s one of those things where, it’s not like I’m trying to do too much, I really want to this stuff. These are exciting creative endeavours to get into and it’s about being excited by creativity more than anything else.
Is Markers a one-off project or are we likely to see more records in the future?
Yeah, absolutely. We’ve probably got about 20 minutes’ worth of ideas for something new already. We’ve got a few different things we’re working on. I can’t see us stopping anytime soon, there’s several things we’d like to do. We might bring some other people in to play on some stuff and we might have some other instrumentation on there. It’s about trying to use the right instrumentation to complement the idea the best.
What do Markers have planned for the rest of 2019?
It’s been a lot of work putting this together and we understand it’s a very niche thing, so it’s not like we can easily book loads of shows. So, it’s been a hustle of sorts to find out where we can play and who we can play with. And that’s been quite good because we’ve found more like-minded people, people who we’ve met in these earlier scenes who are doing very different sort of stuff now but have enough of a crossover that this stuff could work.
So, we’d like to play more shows. We’ve got a bunch of shows coming up through April and planning a few more things. Hopefully get to travel a little bit would be nice. Then get writing the next thing and start recording more music.
Heaven in the Dark Earth is released 22 February via God Unknown
Forthcoming 2019 tour dates
Feb 17 The Prince Albert, Brighton
Feb 26 Album release party, Servant Jazz Quarters
Mar 15 JT Soar, Nottingham
Mar 16 The Triangle, Shipley