Interview: Marks

Donny Marks is a producer based in Miami, Florida. For the past number of years he’s been experimenting with dark music that takes its cues from a number of sources – predominantly rap, grime and the aesthetic of horror movie soundtracks. His first release, a tape entitled Drain, is out on the UK’s exciting Coyote Records. He was also a writer at Truants once, so it was nice to catch up with him on the cusp of this release. We talked isolation, insecurity and the fun of making music.

Let’s chat on Hangouts! “Aidan what’s good dude?” I’m ok. How are you? Good morning! “Morning haha. Tired, it was a stressful week and the weekend wasn’t all that restful.” And then the week starts again. Hamster wheel life. “Gotta learn to love it though… I guess.” Or live with it. Have you done any interviews before? “I did a little answer email thing last year for Noisey UK.” Oh cool. You mentioned the weather in that one, how’s the weather right now? “It’s been gloomy, overcast and rainy like six or eight days in a row now. Humid as hell.” Damn. It’s been rainy here in Dublin too. (That’s to be expected, sadly.) “It’s going to be a weird summer.” Oh yeah? “Strange weather, I have an EP out, I’m closer to 30, feels weird man!” Lots going on. 

Can I ask how Miami fits in with ideas of the “South”, musically? “That’s a damn good question and I’m not entirely sure how best to answer. To me when I think of the South, and Southern rap/trap/bass music in particular, images of just, miserable fucking heat, sub so low and loud you drown in it but also good food, and strong drink. Doing what you have to do by any means necessary but maybe not being completely proud of it. That sounds way more grandiose and important than it needs to be, kinda what the language of my head speaks.” Nah that makes sense. In terms of mindset it’s not a million miles away from grime in a sense (depending on what type of grime we’re talking, of course).

“One thing I never really expected (when making music) was just how much more enjoyable it was communicating this way. In terms of just pouring whatever you’re feeling/thinking/dreaming at the moment in what you’re working on. The past two or so years for me, it’s felt much better than talking.” That’s really interesting. How do you feel sharing it? I remember a few years ago coming across stuff you put on Bandcamp almost by accident, like you’d put it out there quietly. “Yeah insecurity, haha, it’s hard, I was sharing with a couple people ages ago and then I stopped for a while. I still remember you liked one of my songs and said it reminded you of DMZ. Meant a lot so thank you for that! Learning to let go and just be confident in yourself, in what you’re doing.” That sounds so wise. You referenced Marcus Aurelius and the Tao in that Noisey interview, how much of that kind of writing inspires your life and music?  “Tao more than stoicism, but I wouldn’t say it influences the music, more just stuff I was reading through at the time to help me get through any rough patches. Particularly the idea of not being mad or miserable over things I can’t control. That wherever I am, I just need to be myself, to be grateful and compassionate and things will always be okay. Which has helped me be more open with my music, and sharing it.” I get that. Makes sense!

So the most basic question of all – what’s your setup? “Super basic ha, Maschine, a couple other mini keyboards and pad controllers. Like a lot of people though, I learned/started on FL Studio. Most people tend to use [Maschine] to make their loops and then putting out to like ProTools or Logic or FL etc. but I do everything in it because I’m insane and like to do things the hard way.” Everyone has their own way.  “Yeah, best workflow is always your own right? lol.”

How did “Drain” come about? “I made the original version [on] a particularly manic December night, I always just want to make a good song that accurately gets across wherever I was in that moment. “Drain” was also the first track I’d seriously worked on in a long time, so just coming back to music and then being really engrossed with the process was nice. I was really excited about how it turned out that I threw it up on SoundCloud that same night and posted it on a couple forums I frequent.” Cool to see forums are still going. I’ve been out of them for a few years and only ever still hear talk of a few, like ILX and WATMM. “Haha, ssssh, it’s [a] big secret but uh, the dubstep forums are still a great resource for little production tips and even some music recommendations. I lurk there though, I don’t post.” Hah! “There’s a lot of great bass music being made right now, it’s weird, I go through really short phases of being disillusioned but it never lasts more than a day. I don’t know how people can just be so blah about music, or totally jaded all the time. There’s so much stuff out there, even just frivolous shit on SoundCloud. I love it. A lot of people just making music just to make it. Not for rewards etc. It’s good energy to not have any kinda expectations. It’s going to be sad when SoundCloud goes.” Yeah as you know I’m all over SoundCloud all the time.

You did the remix for Spokes last year – was this after Tomas [Fraser, Coyote Records] approached you then? “Yeah Tomas and Spokes hit me up not long after “Drain” went up on SoundCloud saying they loved it and then Tomas wanted to release it. I figured he wanted it for a compilation or something but here we are. The remix came about a while after. He was prepping his EP and they thought I’d be a good fit.” And then he did a remix for you, which is nice symmetry. “Yeah ridiculous remix too, have you heard it? I tend to think a lot of my stuff sounds like film scores, particularly horror films and he took it even further. It sounds like something Jason would listen to while hanging campers on meat hooks. Fucking amazing. He killed it. I love it.” I actually mailed Tomas about how dark it was. It starts off like a kind of woozy ’80s synth thing, then gets hard. “Yeah man he took it all the way there. He blew it up then brought it all the way back in. I love it. I think he’s super busy right now, but I sent him a bunch of stuff to play with. Excited to hear back from him eventually.” Oh nice!

I found the trajectory of the release really interesting; To put it simply, it starts off dark and then ends up in this bright place with “Dash”. “Yeah I can be a bit heavy, it’s my default mode. I’m not an only child but I spent a significant portion of my childhood alone and in my head. Self-absorption and all that. So I can easily overthink things and I tend to gravitate to flowery melancholic shit, so every now and then I have to remind myself not to be serious. That it’s a game. When I made a lot of this EP, I was in a space of just being very serious a lot of the time. I’ve lightened up a bit since. “Dash” might be an early start of that. Coming out of a tunnel. Learning to be less ‘wow why am I such a fucking idiot’ and more ‘haha right I am a fucking idiot’. Laughing at yourself is very important to me now.” That’s really interesting. There’s definitely room for different modes though – serious, knowing seriousness and then fun, to put it simply. “Absolutely, it’s just being aware of when maybe you’re swinging TOO much in one direction. You gotta remind yourself hey guy, calm down, come back closer to the middle for a little bit.” Sure.

Outside the studio, as it were, do you play out? “Nah, not yet anyway. No access to equipment (or tutelage) but maybe I’ll learn to spin some day. I’d like to. I’ve messed with virtual stuff before for mixes but I’m sure it’s not the same. I imagine it’s a lot like the first time people go from, say, painting patterns in a piano roll to actually getting a keyboard or pad/controller.” Yeah tutelage is important. Do you feel isolated, musically? The internet is great for so many things but it must be frustrating being part of a “community” like this “It can be, but after a while you get used to it? This sort of isolation has sort of been with me for as long as I can remember. Jamaicans are kinda known for having broad and weird tastes. I grew up around older people who were way into like, Shania Twain for instance. Then after that I’ve pretty much always been in a place where I was the only one in a group or circle listening to rap, or checking for metal etc. That can be good because then you really know what you like, right? But the down side is even if you do find a group, or your tribe, you still never feel part of it because you’ve never felt that. You don’t know what it’s like so you have a hard time appreciating or accepting it. It can be dangerous being a thing out of habit.” Oh wow, that’s a rich experience (not necessarily good or bad, just wow).

I feel like I could read more and more from you. “Haha, thank you. I can navel-gaze with the best of them. Thank you for listening though, glad to still have you in a circle with me. Internet or otherwise.” Of course! Have you any message for the Truants? “Just love. Truants forever. Truants ’til the casket drops. Truants after Death. XO Truants Llif3.” <3

Marks – Drain is out now. Buy here.

Aidan Hanratty

Dublin ...