For this Prefix Artist to Watch, I asked Brooklyn’s Black Marble to send me five videos that were essential to their debut full-length for Hardly Art, A Different Arrangement. The clips could be anything: music videos, songs, films, television, video art, anything that had an influence on the record. A Different Arrangement will be released on October 9, and you can hear the first two singles, “A Great Design” and “Static” here. We talked about their choices sitting on the street after their show at Glasslands in Brooklyn.
Chris Stewart: So that was the first documented cross-country punk tour?
Ty Kube: They went on a tour together back when no one had phones or the Internet or anything. It’s about Youth Brigade and Social Distortion and all them. They did this [label] Better Youth Organization to show that punk was positive. They played with other bands that you know. Like when they got to DC they played with Minor Threat and shit. It was a big thing. They took a bus. I don’t think Social Distortion made it through the tour, do they?
Prefix: No, no one does.
TK: They leave and they’re all depressed. And along the way they interview all these different art kids and punks in each city and what they think about the scene and what’s going on with this new movement. It actually was new around that time.
Prefix: So you’re interested in punk history?
TK: I am a lot. I grew up listening to that kind of music.
CS: [In] my high school, God only knew what the five punk kids were doing. You couldn’t find them if you tried. They were off somewhere, and it was like, “Who the fuck are these fucking kids?” And they were all in printing. All the hardcore punk kids were in printing.
Prefix: Where was this?
CS: This was in Woodbridge, VA. A completely nondescript suburb outside of DC. It was every punk hardcore kid’s dream back then to make it to Richmond and play at the Biograph. Which is all gone now. For me, growing up, my dad was in the army and my mom was a prototypical army wife. My sister was a cheerleader and both my brothers played football. And they literally had no idea what to do with me, not only because I wasn’t good at any of those things, but because I came along like 10 years later, like a weird accident. So they had this family that was this tight-knit, touch down throwin’, military family, and then 10 years went by and they were like, “Oh what is this kid?” I was this cliché misfit. And one day they figured out I could draw really good. And they were like, “Oh he can draw.” They bought me a drafting table for my 16th birthday.
TK: That’s cool though, my parents were like that too. I would rather have a good relationship with my kids, than be mean to my kids and have them be estranged. I had other friends who became punk rockers and they ran away. Seriously, one of my friends ran away to New York actually.
Prefix: To a punk house?
TK: Yeah, he moved from Colorado. I’m from Denver. He lived out here, and I remember when I was 20 years old I went to visit this girl out here, and I stayed with him. And I was like “Oh my God, you ran away five years ago and you’ve been in New York, look at your life now it’s so cool and crazy.” But his parents used to beat the shit out of him and thought he was a weirdo. And he ran away.
CS: I guess to go back to your original point of being into punk history, I really am. And for me it’s the cliché thing like, “Punk saved me.” It’s having this background, having everyone else in my family being good at these prototypical things.
TK: You know what’s funny about my old punk friends? Two of them joined the Army and became Marines and shit. I remember the first one, when he was the first one to join when he was like 18, he was like, “If you want to beat the government, you need to go inside…” I was like, you’re a fucking crazy dude. He would tell me this shit, and now he lives a military life, and has a wife and lives in Hawaii on a base. I remember when he joined he said, “I’m just going inside just because I have no other option, I can’t go to college…”
Prefix: Ladies and Gentlemen: The Fabulous Stains, from the description you sent me, sounds like a Hollywood fictionalized version of Another State of Mind.
CS: The reason I like it is this crazy camp factor. Also Diane Lane, who is this uber-MILF now, at the time was like 16. Might even have been her first movie. I think it was ‘83 or ‘84. And so Hollywood was totally catching on to the punk stuff, and was desperately trying to churn out movies about punk. Lucky for her, she got to be in this movie. Not that it’s all that great. I just thought it was super-cool because it’s super cheesy, but at the same time, it does have a weird element of truth to it. They were making fun of something: if you live in Williamsburg, or if you live in New York for a while, it’s so heart-achingly true about getting older. The main scene that sticks out to me in that movie is when they’re all on tour, with these older guys, and they represented the Pink Floyd/Led Zeppelin era. And these older guys are like, “There are no sounds that haven’t been made before maaan.” And they’re like shooting up. It’s this pretty prescient idea that you can’t keep doing the same thing over and over again.
TK: I think it is funny they tried to make a Hollywood version of punk shit, that reminds me of how when New Wave hit, Neil Young made a synthesizer album.
Prefix: Yeah he made Trans.
TK: Have you heard it? And Alice Cooper has a New Wave-y album. All these major artists were like, oh fuck, we’re making this rock music.
CS: It happened so fast.
TK: That movie is their idea like, “We don’t know anything about this, but we’re going to try to make a movie about this subculture.” But looking back on it now, the movie is really cool. That’s the idea they had when they made that movie: “This is going to be a hit, this is what the kids are going for.” But it wasn’t at all.
CS: As stupid as that movie was, it did have these certain moments. Towards the end she looks out [to the crowd] and there are all these girls with her same haircut. Obviously it’s super cheesy, but there are probably a million kids who have gotten really famous in bands and had that exact same moment. Imagine the Strokes in 2003, at their first really big show at the Bowery and everyone’s wearing a leather jacket.
TK: Going back to the first question, if you read a lot about early UK punk history, a lot of those bands, the first thing they saw was the Sex Pistols. Like, “The Sex Pistols came to my town in ‘77. That [show] made me want to start a band.” Or the Clash came. It might not have been the same kind of band, but some punk-new wave band. There’s that movie, The Filth and the Fury, about the Sex Pistols with pictures of Shane McGowan as a little kid watching them play. And you can tell it’s him. Then he made the Nips and the Pogues. He saw the Sex Pistols, and even though the Pogues aren’t like the Sex Pistols, it’s crazy, drunk, wild-ass fucking music.
Prefix: What about the movies that didn’t have such a direct connection with your upbringing. What made you choose something like The Holy Mountain?
CS: I wanted to include the Holy Mountain because of all its really bizarre, shamanistic imagery. A lot that weird imagery is becoming really current again. There are a couple video directors that are hearkening back to that stuff. The guy who did our first video was hipping us to these other videos. And they had a bunch of this really weird imagery. It was like the back of a girl’s head, somebody pulling a weird thing off someone’s arm, and a bird flies out of it. Super quick stuff like that. And when I saw those videos I was like, “Oh this is awesome. I want to make a Black Marble video like this.” And it wasn’t until almost a year later until I was talking about this and my girlfriend was like you have to watch this Jodorowsky movie. It only took me 10 seconds of watching to realize this is what people are doing now. For some reason that stuff is really resonant because it’s so odd. I don’t see a lot of it. That guy was on some super weird shit. He started his own religion. And everyone who was in that movie had to take a bunch of acid while they were filming.
Basically it’s about a Christ-like figure, who has to meet seven different people who represent seven different aspects of human folly. They all also represent one of the planets in the solar system. The whole thing is he’s trying to climb the Holy Mountain to reach some sort of enlightenment, and he needs each one of these people to tell him something about what it is to be a human being. But what each one tells him is something negative about what it is to be a human. Each person represents a weirdness about being a human.
CS: I chose that one. Anybody that likes movies can tell you about the French New Wave and the Left Bank weirder guys, but I didn’t really know about the Czech New Wave. Which apparently came into being because there were grant programs in place from the government where they would give young artists and young directors all this money to make these movies.
TK: It’s funny, they still actually have this shit. I stayed with a girl in Finland, and none of her friends worked, they were just artists [collecting] money. None of them did shit, but they got money. I don’t know if they do this there still, but they were definitely doing it in Finland. Not a ton of money, but all these kids are running wild. There’s a ton of punks and shit, a lot of music kids, tons of bands.
CS: It’s about these two girls who are like 20 and 21, they are pretty hot so it’s fun to look at them. But they basically decide that the whole world is fucked up and they’ve gone bad. The whole movie they keep saying they’ve “gone bad.” The whole movie is this weird tactile decadence of them cutting pictures out of magazines of food that they like, and pasting it on the wall, and eating these gigantic plates of crumpets, then completely fucking shit up. It’s like two girls that just decide they are feminine anarchists. They go to an empty banquet hall and eat all the food and swing from the chandeliers and go “We’ve gone bad! It doesn’t matter anymore.”
Prefix: Isn’t there a moment when they feel the guilt of all the decadence?
CS: Yeah I think it’s right after that banquet scene. They find the banquet hall– I can’t remember if it was for a Wedding– but they lock the doors and eat this entire fucking banquet. And they’re like feeding each other and like, “We love olives!” It’s a movie about complete anarchist decadence. It’s probably not that different from the environment the people who made the movie were living in. They were like, “Oh we get this money.”
TK: Peter Pan syndrome. People around here.
Prefix: What about Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr’s animated one, The Point?
CS: Oh man that movie is fucking crazy. When I was 17 I met these girls and they lived in this abandoned mansion on a hilltop. It was all run down, and their mom was like a single mom, and she would get all dressed up in a push-up bra and be like, “I’m gonna go meet Daddy.” And she would go to the bowling alley to try to meet dudes. Meanwhile, one of them was 15 one of them was 16, they would just call everyone in the town to come over and eat acid and shit. But this one girl told me about this illustrated book and showed it to me. This really kind of cheesy metaphor of like…there was a pole of ants and little animals and larvae and stuff that was climbing this pole. And one of them was like, “Why are we climbling this pole?” and the other was like, “There is no reason, but we have to climb this pole?” And it was this really easy societal pressure kind of thing. When I started watching this movie, it struck me as the same. It’s pretty interesting. Ringo Starr doing the narration, and Harry Nilsson doing the soundtrack is obviously amazing. But everyone in the town has a pointed head, but this kid gets born with a round head. So it’s about being different.
TK: It almost goes back to the first movie in a way, these kids.
CS: I forget the name of the town, but I think it’s like “Pointville.”
Prefix: Yeah everything’s pointy in the town.
CS: I thought it was really cool because the illustration style is really cool. It reminds me of being a little kid and my parents getting HBO for the first time, and watching animated The Hobbit.
Prefix: Did you ever go to art school?
CS: Yeah I went to VCU for a weird amalgamation of film, and video art, and illustration and some graphic design. For the band we do all our own everything.
TK: Different bands have different aesthetics, and for this band, the aesthetic matters about things. I feel like some of the others don’t care as much.
Prefix: You guys have had a consistent typeface since the first EP.
CS: Bodoni BE.
TK: That’s the logo of the band. That’s going to be on everything. We just made a mixtape and that’s on there. That’s on the new album. That’s on the first EP.
Prefix: Has it always been just you two making these recordings?
CS: I’d always wanted to do something more than be a designer. And all my friends have always been in bands. I got to this point, where you can get up and finally see the terrain. And I literally saw myself like ten years ahead of time, like going into meetings with coffee breath. Talking about like Colgate. Making banner ads about Colgate. And I thought, this is just not going to fucking get done. And I’d gone through a tumultuous typical cliche break up, where I didn’t shave for a year. I had a gigantic beard. So I taught myself all these music programs. Pretty quickly I figured out that what appealed to me was synthesizers. Because I didn’t really have to know how to [play music in a traditional sense]. Since I’ve learned how to play bass, it’s getting to the point where I’m good enough at it, but when I started Black Marble, I literally could not play anything. I didn’t know anything about anything. I just made these songs because I wanted to see if I could make these songs. I would play these songs for some of my friends who have been in bands their entire lives, and some were good and some were shitty.
TK: I remember the other day we were listening to the first songs.
CS: Yeah and I got enough encouragement that I continued to make more. I started accumulating analog synthesizers and figuring out how they all work together. Figuring out and buying an MPC, figuring out how drum machines can be strung up through MIDI to clock the BPM and clock synthesizers’ arpeggiators. As I learned more and more about it, I never thought we’d play shows. I remember the original thing was, I’m going to make this band, and I’m going to make a mixtape, and I’m going to give it to my friends. And it’s going to have cool outtakes. Then it got to the point where I really wanted to make something of it, I was like, “Let’s really fucking do this.”
CS: It’s more about learning all this old technology.
TK: We had to practice 30 days in a row for the first show. We have other bands in our practice space and they make it more of a party– I’m getting too old for that shit.