[Interview] Marbs weaves a musical story on a fine Atlanta evening.
By Kristin Gray
Photos by Sara Vogt
Tonight at Sound Table, Marbs of Desert Hearts is playing alongside Bobi Stevkovski (Project B.). I waltz into the venue before the DJs appear. The dinner crowd is wrapping up and a few music lovers come trickling in. They gather on the dance floor in anticipation of the evening ahead. Bobi and Marbs arrive and we sit down to enjoy some appetizers. I can instantly tell Marbs craves meaningful conversation and is excited to be in Atlanta. Ryan Orey (Deep Jesus) recently passed through with only good things to say about our growing little city. Undoubtedly setting an expectant energy for our newest visitor, Marbs.
You just wrapped up your City Hearts Winter Tour. What made this tour so special for you?
It’s still a little surreal, traveling around the nation with my best friends. I mean, besides Lee Reynolds, I’ve known the rest of the boys since at least elementary school or high school. I grew up with Ryan Orey (Deep Jesus) since preschool. Traveling is easy and it’s been a really big pleasure to be able to experience that with people that I’ve grown up with. We get each other. Whereas, other situations with musical groups, if they meet each other later on in life that may be more difficult.
Something really special about going into different cities with different communities, all having their own vibe. But at the end of the day, they are connecting with us on the same level as if we were at home. Every time we get nervous about going into a new market, it's proven that we should just be going in with opens arms. Everyone has their own vibe but has accepted us. And we leave happy. We haven’t had a bad experience, yet. We feel really, really good about it. I’m blessed, I’m really blessed.
Is there one moment or memory during the tour that really sticks out for you?
That’s really hard. I think the first tour when we took the RV and drove to Colorado. That was a fun experience. That was the first time we did a really long road trip. It was the longest road trip of my life. It wasn’t this last winter tour, it was our first tour. But we put a QSC monitor in the middle of the RV and we were basically partying the whole way out. It was a really good bonding experience. We ended up doing a hike on the way home. It was amazing. This year it’s us just getting closer and closer. Getting to know each other more. Getting to meet all these people. It’s hard to pinpoint on one memory. It’s been really special.
You have a mix series, The Yin and Yang that explores the relationship of light and dark and its necessity for a balance in life. What was your headspace like while concepting Yin vs. Yang?
I felt like I was getting kind of pigeonholed into playing dark music. I love playing dark music because I think there is beauty in the dark. There would be no light without the dark. And that’s where the whole Yin and Yang concept comes from. But at the same time, as an artist and a DJ, I wanted to explore other things that I liked. I was playing a lot of 4 a.m. slots. Slots where techno, dark and hard music really fit. I started this podcast to explore other sounds that I love to play and to show people out there sounds that I would like to mix that I don’t get booked for. The first one was Yin, and that was more mellow, deep, melodic and emotional. Where the second one was my live mix from LA, which was very high energy, techno - very driving. The whole idea of the project is each one is not necessarily going to be one or the other. Eventually, there should be enough mixes in it that they should all blend together. That’s the whole idea of it, the Yin and the Yang. You’ll be able to see that there’s a way to connect the mellow, the deep, the dark, and the high energy. It will all flow.
Can you tell me about your first time really being immersed in electronic music and how that led you to where you are today?
I was always into electronic music growing up. As with a lot of people, you go through that initial growing pain of not hearing the greatest electronic music. You hear what’s mainstream and you get into that. I had this one experience where I went to a festival in San Francisco, Love Fest. It was back when they still had the Burning Man art cars and they would drive down the road that leads to the Civic Center. Then the art cars would all circle around the Civic Center after the parade. And this was before I went to Burning Man. It was the first time I candy flipped. I took some acid and ecstasy and had an amazing time. I ended up at this art car with Lee Burridge playing. He was all painted up and in this crazy suit. I didn’t know who he was but some of my friends did and I just couldn’t keep track of a track. It was all just instruments layering on top of each other. It just was good music. I couldn’t put a genre to it. That’s kind of the point where everything changed. I realized I wanted to surround myself with this type of music because I could hear influences from jazz, rock, hip-hop, and dance music. Growing up I had been a multi-genre music person. I loved Pink Floyd and Tool, Immortal Technique and Hieroglyphics, the whole hip-hop scene, as well as reggae. To come to a place and basically hear this music getting layered, it was an eye-opening experience. I remember when I got home I couldn’t find any of the music and it was a frustrating period. But once I started finding it, it got more exciting.
You seem to be a deep thinker who likes to spend a lot of time in your head. Does this affect the way you create music, and has music affected the way you view the world?
It’s funny you pick up on that. I’m glad you are able to. I am naturally an introvert and I have been an artist my entire life. I draw and paint. Music came later. Music has been a way for me to speak to a lot of people without actually having the conversation. That’s what I love about music. It’s a universal language that everyone can connect with. Even if speaking to people isn’t exactly your strongest point. Me and the people in the crew, we all play different styles. I think my style can be very emotional and dark. It can take you places that you weren’t expecting. It’s not always happy and I like that. Music should take you everywhere. It should be a journey. And maybe where you start in a mix, or where you start in life, isn’t where you’re going to end. That’s what I want to express through my music and art. To get a little glimpse into my mind. It’s been a growing pain for me. One of my biggest growing pains as a DJ was breaking out of my shell. Ryan Orey really helped me with that. I remember this one time we were back home from college, he was just out of the Marine Corps and we went to Voyeur, we were on the second balcony and there was a bunch of art around. I created art but I had never put myself out there. We looked at each other and were like ‘why don’t we do this at home in North County?’ That’s when we started doing bar parties with art, house and techno in North County.
What was it like, taking the plunge of quitting your day job to commit to music and art full-time?
It was scary for sure. Being that kind of person, I liked the security of a job. I knew what kind of money I was getting. The process of doing that job while also trying to build my career as an artist and DJ was very hard. I was working from 8-5 then going to DJ jobs whenever they came. There was this transition period where I was running myself into the ground to save up money in order to have this cushion to quit my job. Once I did it was like a puppy chasing a car but once you catch the car you don’t know what to do with it. I’d heard that analogy somewhere. Once I didn’t have a job I was like, oh wait, now I get to focus on what makes me happy and what drives me. I was able to focus on goals and what I wanted to do for the community. As a group, I think our intentions have been so pure that we attracted that ‘life is a mirror’ vibe. Once I quit my job and put my full thought towards it, it kind of came back to me. While there was a period of transition, it was the right choice and it felt like it was timed right.
I used to work for my dad. He's had a construction business since he was sixteen that he built from the ground up. He lived in an apartment complex and helped his neighbors fix things until the word spread. He was able to build a construction company out of nothing. I helped him with his company. When I quit and told him I was going to DJ and do parties he was encouraging but you could tell in his face and expressions that he was like, ‘what the hell are you doing,’ and kind of hesitant. I took him and my mom out to Desert Hearts, and they saw me and Ryan. When we DJ'ed together it was a very eye-opening experience for them. After leaving Desert Hearts, they never questioned me again. They have been the most supportive thing to me ever. It was just reassurance that I was on the right path and I have been better with my family than ever.
You have mentioned an upcoming release with Desert Hearts Records, "Love Ish." Can you tell us what went into the creation of the new production?
I’m new to production. I’ve been getting into it the past couple of years. I grew up on a lot of classic rock, blues, hip-hop and jazz. I have been trying to sample a lot of my old favorite music. The "Love Ish" vocal comes from a Ray Charles interview where he’s talking about love and how music should move people and be for the people. It’s him talking and then an acoustic sample I found off a sample pack, and just went from there. I’m working on a track right now that has some Doors samples. And another one that has a bunch of Pink Floyd samples. I’m trying to get back to my roots and see where it takes me. I don’t have any musical background besides DJing so I’m just having fun with it and seeing where it goes. I don’t know when the EP will come out. As an introvert, I’m a little self-conscious about the music. When the time is right I’ll let it out.
Marbs' music seeks to tell us a story and lead us through all ranges of emotion. Both joyous and dark. His set proves this as dark techno is intermixed with moments of melody and house, leaving you wondering whether you are happy or sad and creating an angst that can only be danced to.