the_Network – Pete Marr – guitars
As a music critic, it’s not everyday that you’re able to have a conversation that is longer than the interview itself, but that is the type of outgoing person that the_Network guitarist Pete Marr is. Easily one of the friendliest guys I’ve had the pleasure of speaking to, Marr was colorful and witty in our back-and-forth banter, especially with the topics that didn’t make it onto tape. In-between a deep conversation about the importance of corpse paint in metal, Marr recently talked to SMN News about the_Network’s new album, why there is an underscore in the band’s name, avoiding the sophomore slump, and much more.
What is the concept behind the_Network’s upcoming album Bishop Kent Manning?
I cringe at the word concept album in general because I feel it’s dumb, pretentious bullshit that bands do. To be honest, concept albums have been done so many times, good and bad, but we decided to do a concept based around a story that the other guitar player Kev wrote. Not to get into the story too much, because it isn’t that long of a story, but it’s basically about a televangelist on his death bed that realizes that basically everything he’s meant to believe and taught everybody else was false. For us, it was a way to put a name and a face to a lot of things we expressed on the other albums we’ve done.
The major theme in general with the band is, ‘Fuck the man for everything.’ That has been the overall theme on all the lyrics that were done on previous albums and splits. That’s still the theme for this, but now we have a name and a face. ‘Fuck the man, but who’s the man?’ We call the man Bishop Kent Manning. We used him as the eyes and ears for a lot of things we were trying to express.
Was it hard for the band to focus the music with the lyrics? Did the music come first or the lyrics?
Early on, before the album was written, I think we probably had about two songs done and no lyrics or anything. When we wrote the songs, we had some idea of what we wanted the vocals to do over those two songs, but Kev wrote that story coinciding with when we started to write a lot of the music. We knew where we were going to record and we had a date set out. We only had two songs and we were about two months out from recording. It was good because we had all that stuff set up and the only pressure left was making sure the songs were ready to go.
We’re definitely a band that’s pretty pro-active with that stuff. It gets stressful, but we went through pre-production on this date and we have studio time to record there and we had a concept set up. We did a lot of back story stuff so we could incorporate everyone on the story. Kev wrote the story, but he also wrote an outline to the story to break it down a little bit more and he also did a screenplay, which was helpful for all of us to get a broader aspect of where he was going with it. We had a shit-ton of lyrics and song titles ready to go before the music was even written. Once the music was written, we threw that stuff together and I think it worked out fairly well because from beginning to end, the whole record was written, pre-production, produced, recorded, and mastered in three months.
That’s a huge difference from anything we’ve ever done before. Our first album was two or three years in the making and then we had these weird couple of songs we ended up doing a split after the first-full length from Black Market. Then we wanted to do another full-length and make sure it was done by this time, so let’s book the studio and let’s do it.
How did the band obtain the producing services of Kurt Ballou?
I get confused with the whole producer title. To me, producer can mean a lot of things. They can fucking write the whole album and basically say, ‘Okay, you guys play it and this is your band and I produced it, but I really wrote everything and did it,’ or they can sit back and let things happens. With Kurt, what he did was sit back and let us do what we had to do. We have him some pre-production stuff and he didn’t say much about it. We were wondering what that meant and if he wanted to be involved in producing. We never had a real producer work with us. The first album we did, we had a friend record it. When you go in with Kurt, the dude has so much experience, it’s almost daunting. He’s as good as it gets and there’s so much respect for him. It was definitely a leisurely producing role. If we asked him for something, he would give his two-cents on it, and that didn’t always mean we agreed with what he said. To be honest, though, most of the stuff he said we actually did do.
Do you feel that when the band goes into the studio, is it better to have a producer who is on you guys all the time or one that let’s you open up creatively?
I think it comes down to what stage the producer gets involved in. If you’re writing stuff and feel really confident about it and they might hear it and not see the whole overall picture with vocals and bass and how the drums are going to go. If you’re going in there and you’re just tracking drums with a scratch guitar track, someone that hearing that for the first time may go, ‘Well, I don’t really like that because it doesn’t sound right,’ but they have to see the overall picture.
I think a producer would be great, if we get to work with someone that is outside of the little circle. It allows you not to get too close to your music that you are playing. If you are playing songs that are a year old and you’ve been playing them every night for a year, and all of a sudden somebody comes and wants you to change it, you’re going to argue the shit out of it because you’re so comfortable with playing it and so used to the way it sounds. I think producers are great for the beginning stages of song production and the little stuff obviously.
Is the songwriting a collaborative effort or do individual band members come in with their stuff and it’s all pieced together?
All the songs start with guitar stuff or me or the other guitar player coming up with an idea. On the album we have now, I don’t think there was ever a point where the riffs are written around the drums. It’s always an idea for a riff and building around that. I know early on, when we were stressing out about the timeline for songs, I and the other guitar player cut the list in half and we each wrote five songs. Of course, it didn’t go down as smoothly as that, because if somebody starts writing a song, you get pretty involved in it. For this album, more so than the other stuff, we try to keep a lot of stuff more open. If we’re writing with guitars, you have to have that foresight that there is going to be bass and drums and vocals too, so you don’t want to go in there and doing all kind of crazy shit and have all the other instruments buried. There were a few parts that were really so simple on guitar and it was hard at first tracking without a bass player, because you have to have the foresight that there is going to be a bass player here and there’s going to be bass shit over this and that will be the part that will sound right.
Is there any difficulty in balancing the aggressive and melodic sides of the band?
It’s not really difficult, to be honest. With two or three songs, there is a more melodic side taken. We do a lot of jamming. I, the other guitar player, and the drummer have played for so fucking long now, it’s just depressing how old we are and we’re still doing this shit (laughs). That’s also lent itself to showing up in the practice space, not saying a fucking word to each other, and playing for a good hour. Some of that stuff, it’s a little harder to make it always chaotic and heavy. If you playing for an hour, the drummer is eventually going to go, ‘Dude, my arms are going to fall off.’ It lends to more atmospheric, melodic stuff. If we’re feeling it and it sounds good, let’s fucking play it and see how it goes. We’re not afraid to have nine songs that are crazy heavy and a song with a dude singing on it; it is fine with us.
The sophomore slump is something that has haunted countless bands. Was this predicament in the back of anybodies mind during the recording?
No, not really. We never really thought the first album was a good representation of what we were. The production sounds fucking weird as shit. The snare sounds really fucking bad and it was an old vocalist. We got two new dudes who are just like the three guys already in the band and they were really fucking good. We went on tour for a good year and a half straight and they always did everything with us, what we wanted to do. So that’s why the three months we wrote, recorded, and mastered all this shit wasn’t all that bad, because we already knew what we wanted to do and we were all on the same page with ideas and whatnot. I guess the sophomore thing wasn’t really much of an issue because everything was so different now. I kind of still look at it as a start-over kind of deal.
So would you consider this to be your debut album, in a sense?
Oh man (laughs). I wish I could, but we’ve been doing this for so fucking long. We’ve been a band now for close to seven or eight years. I couldn’t be comfortable saying this would be our debut, but I’m sure in a lot of people’s eyes, yeah it’s going to look like a debut. I’m sure this will be people’s first introduction to us, if that makes it like a debut.
Is there an interesting story behind using an underscore in the band’s name?
I wish there was; not really (laughs). There was a good friend of ours who went to college with me and the other guitar player. He did samples in-between songs and in songs, on keyboards, adding that element to the music. We were trying to find a name for so long, and then it came down to, ‘What about The Network? Yeah, that’s cool man.’ This was before that fucking horrible Green Day band had the name. We already had something released before they even had the name. That kind of fucked up everything. We never went to court for any of that bullshit because it didn’t feel necessary. That underscore was there before that other band was there.
I think the underscore was there because those dudes wanted to get a stamp done and wanted to do everything DIY and stamp everything. So our first release, the 7’, every one was hand stamped and for some reason, they put an underscore and a period at the end. I don’t know; maybe that was suppose to be fucking cool, but I thought it was dumb as shit (laughs). I guess it was one of those dumb things that stuck. Maybe they still want to use it because it makes us differentiate between that other Green Day band. It doesn’t do shit; it’s dumb (laughs).
Any tour plans lined up in the near future?
We’re getting an Australian band to come over to tour the States, which is the first time we’ve ever brought a band from a different country; it’s kind of like a fucking exchange program. This band from Australia contacted us almost a year ago and asked us if we wanted to come to Australia and we said, ‘fuck yes!’ You get all these crazy messages over MySpace, since anyone can message nowadays, so you don’t know what the fuck to believe or not. We kept in touch and it ended up working out, we went over there and tour and it was great. So now we’re going to reciprocate the favor and bring them over here.
That Australian band is doing the west coast and then they are going to meet us in Texas. A couple of the dudes in the _Network are driving the van and trailer down to Texas. Myself and the drummer are going to fly down to Texas to see them all. From Texas, we’re going to tour our way back up home to New Hampshire. I think we’re doing two or three weeks of touring in direct support of the album. After that, we’re going to play the West Coast in January. We’re going to do like a week out, flying from Boston to Tucson and then up to Seattle to tour for a week and fly back home. Next year, we’re trying to get Indonesia, Malaysia, and Japan. That’s a priority, as well as Europe.
Bishop Kent Manning is being released on September 15th. A lot of great things have happened on that day, according to the band’s MySpace page, including the battle of Signal Hill in 1762 and the first use of tanks in battle during World War I. What makes the release of the band’s second album more important than all these other events?
(laughs) I wish I was witty and had something very smart to say; unfortunately, I’m not that kind of person. I don’t know, nothing: just an arbitrary date. That was more of the point of that. You could type in any date and a bunch of things happened. It wasn’t supposed to be, ‘This is on par with everything else. This is all this other dumb stuff that happened, including a dumb album by a dumb band.’ (laughs).
If you could tour with one band, past or present, who would it be and why?
Neurosis, just because they are my favorite band ever. If somebody was going to ask me what my favorite band is, Neurosis is my fucking favorite band ever. It doesn’t get any better than that band. If I had to see a band every night, I want to see my favorite band play and that would be Neurosis.
Early Neurosis or present day?
I love everything they’ve done. They have probably had a few one-offs in the past. When they started to transition to their own label, it got kind of sketchy. Some of the singing stuff is a little ‘eh.’ Through Silver In Blood; music does not get any better than that album.
By Dan Marsicano