Black Marble Lightens Up
If there is one single motif that has carried throughout the music of Brooklyn synth-pop act Black Marble since the project formed in 2012, it could be described as a detached deadpan vocal delivery, drowned in reverb, ensconced in a fuzz of warm bass and icy synthesizers. Previous releases like A Different Arrangement and It’s Immaterial illustrated a sort of restrained and muted dynamic, their mixes sounding submerged in water or melted through a neighbours apartment walls.
On his third LP, Bigger Than Life, however, Chris Stewart pulls back the veil slightly, letting a glimmer of sunlight shine into his dark and austere sonic universe, attributing his shift to a more outward-focused less paranoid perspective to a recent move to Los Angeles. Embarking on a North American tour, stopping at Toronto’s Garrison on November 15th, we caught up with him to talk about his new release, what inspires his sound and why we still long for analogue productions.
“The album comes out of seeing and experiencing a lot of turmoil but wanting to create something positive out of it,” Stewart explains. “I wanted to take a less selfish approach on this record. Maybe I’m just getting older, but that approach starts to feel a little self-indulgent. Like, ‘Oh, look at me I’m so complicated, I get that life isn’t fair,’ It’s like, yeah, so does everyone. So with this record, it’s less about how I see things and more about the way things just are. Seeing myself as a part of a lineage of people trying to do a little something instead of trying to create a platform for myself individually.”
Bigger Than Life still retains the sonic elements of cloistered post-punk bedroom coldwave that have made Black Marble a cult favourite among underground melomaniacs. Muffled drums and percussion are heavily filtered, their high ends sizzling and crackling and a consistent bass drum rumbles beneath a ceiling of sparkling synthesizers on almost every track. But there is also a sense of presence on this record, which shifts Stewart’s voice further into the foreground, trading a melancholic detachment for a certain air of earnestness.
The record is decidedly more polished and pop in nature. Twangy reverb guitar licks and slick bouncy basslines reminiscent of The Cure flit in the background of songs like ‘Call’ and ‘Shoulder.’ Elsewhere on the record cuts like ‘Private Show’ and ‘Feels’ incorporate pop choruses which would not sound out of place on any 80’s throwback mixtape.
“Everything about this record from the album art to the title, to the themes to all the sounds on the record is my response to this particular time,” Stewart says. “Music is what I choose to do in response to this time. I think it’s a time where it’s easy to feel powerless, but I’m trying to express humility because I think gratitude comes from humility and that’s a powerful thing. The people that practice the least humility also seem to be the least grateful. I’m learning the two are connected.”
Describe Black Marble for those who don’t know you and your sound.
Black Marble is the moniker for a reclusive bedroom synth producer that finds solace in the zap of a digitally controlled oscillator and the cathedral echo of a conch shell.
Tell us what this new record is all about why the title “bigger than life”?
I’ve been thinking about what is the logical end for creating something solely for self. The first two records I was more concerned with how I would be perceived. I felt a lot of pressure to make songs that would reflect on me in an exact certain way. It was a lot of pressure and it was unpleasant sometimes. I started to feel like creating in the spirit of just being part of a lineage might feel better. I wanted to stop needing so much to project who I was onto everything, I also thought it felt more right for the times. And I thought it would have an interesting effect on the music.
Where your previous albums had a certain melancholic disposition which was reflected in the production, the sound on this album reflects a bit more clarity and optimism, what precipitated this change?
Just wanting to change things up. I also think its more of a weird time now, an unfortunate time. Half the people can’t even discern what is real anymore. There is so much anger and hostility, partly from not feeling heard and validated so its a vicious cycle. I couldn’t add to that.
Black Marble has been described as everything from post-punk and coldwave to goth-synth.. What kind of music are you listening to currently?
Where do you draw inspiration from?
Anyone who makes things and doesn’t do anything that is not on their terms
The cover of Bigger Than Life features two men embracing each other, talk to us about the meaning behind the visual and how it reflects the tone of the album.
I liked that the visual was connected yet still distant with the lack of facial features. Warm but still a little bit austere, which fit with the direction the music is going in
If this record was the soundtrack to a film, what film would it be?
Revenge of the nerds.
Your records have always reflected a certain fetishization of analogue sounds, why do you think as a culture we’re leaning towards this sort of sonic nostalgia?
Because as profit margins stretch ever thinner, products are made to extract every last penny. There is no love in the things we create anymore. P people instinctively reach for products from the past when the love made it into the object. Old synths are like this. New ones are plastic and break in a year. I have ones from the 80s that are 35 years old and still work fine.
You’ve just embarked on a North American tour, making a stop at The Garrison on November 15th. What can we expect from your upcoming shows?
You can expect to hear new songs but a lot of old ones too! And a couple covers. Hopefully a little something for everyone.
Cody Rooney is a Glossi Mag contributor.
He is a photography aficionado, masters candidate, fashion enthusiast, avid Ariana Grande fan and lover of all things aesthetically pleasing.