Monday, November 19, 2012

Chapter Fifty Three: "J. Marinelli: Young Spillers/Interview."

J. Marinelli is an English Professor.

He also pounds Hell out of snare drums with his booted foot and writes punk/garage tunes that he performs with the sound of a full band whilst alone with a guitar, amps, drum pieces and some strange vocal contraption that he wears on his neck. He's been playing guitar, writing and singing original music in a variety of bands since 1988 between Kentucky and West Virginia, and has an encyclopedic knowledge of music that often puts my brain to shame. He moved to Lexington and it's been good to have him as a neighbor.

I first saw him perform at the 2006 Good Folk Fest in Louisville. My two-piece band The Smacks! had been asked to perform and we quickly realized we were one of the black sheep acts of the weekend based solely on our volume that first year, until Marinelli took the stage. With an agitated stomp at his floored snare, I took immediate notice of this attack he delivers as a live performer. His songs had elements of the country/hillbilly styles that can come with many OMBs, but leaned heavier into a garagish sound that came across in such a tight deliverance.

It wasn't just the presentation of a one-man-band that intrigued me, but this style that was on mark always, and at the same time would flick back and forth with a loose nature that allowed for noisy ruminations into what would almost seem improvised. Then with a slammed hand onto a cymbal, he would reign it all in and continue down roads with songs that at one moment convey an aggressive aneuristic punch in the gut and in the next rip your heart out with an earnestness in both the lyrics and the melody.

J., who goes by James when teaching the English language, is also prolific, producing at least eight cassettes, records, or CDs since going solo in 2005. And they just seem to get better and better as they come out. I picked his Pre-Emptive Skankery Sessions as one of my favorite albums of 2011, despite it coming out in October of 2010, because it was that fucking good (and I got my hands on it late). And I'll still stand by my claim that his tune "Lying in State" off of 2007's Keep It Fake is one of the greatest songs ever written in the histories of this slop we call rock n roll.

In 2012, Marinelli released both the Young Spillers EP on Stencil Trash Records out of Germany, and a split cassette with Lexington's The Elsinores  on Karmic Swamp/Space Cadet Records.

Young Spillers was released as a seven-inch and includes three tunes, all of which demonstrate James' bangily clangily style that slides slightly into the red, sounding like he's pushing all he's got through his drums, guitar and throat. "Doves and Vultures" is fast-tempoed, "20 Class A Cigarette Burns" slips into distorted acoustic settings and "You Are Dismissed" sums up J. the best to me. Mid-tempo that doesn't defer into any tin-plate genre descriptions, "Dismissed" almost seems to procrastinate in deciding if it's angry, saddened or just annoyed, hovering over all three like it's waiting for a dam to crack, ready to spew some pent-up shit, but holds back the just enough tears, bile and maybe laughs to keep the song CATCHY AS FUCK.

This is where I admire James' songs the most. His songs can be described as a noisy, DIY garage-punk. There is a lo-fi state that permeates most of them, though not necessarily dodging cleaner production based on lack of technology, but rather because it serves the song. Listening to music, we hear, rate, take away and project all of our own shit, upending lyrics and appraising the meanings with our own viewpoints, creativity and whatever else is popping through our brains at the moment we listen to a song. (This is why I think its ludicrous to try and review music; we all hear something different, and I think anyone who feels they have an "expert" opinion on music and makes "declarative" statements is full of themselves and lame amounts of shit...but hey its fun talking about it.) We may not even know what all the lyrics are, but we apply the vocal sounds to our rounds of living, and make them fit. And that's when you know you're into some good shit.

All that being said, Marinelli's songs speak to me with what sounds like a heartfelt frustration that can either lean into an aggressive punch of rage, a pop of joyous exclamation, or a break into some waves of tear-jobbing sentiment, sometimes teetering between all. I feel like that's what drives some of the best singer-songwriters in punk/rock/garage/what-have-you, and it's that element that fosters people to make connections with such songwriters/bands as Mike Ness, Mike Watt, Blake Schwarzenbach/Jawbreaker/Jets to Brazil, Jeff Mangum/Neutral Milk Hotel, The Pixies, The Muffs, Roky Erikson, Dead Moon, newer bands like The Gaslight Anthem and Titus Andronicus. Thin Lizzy. Johnny Cash. Whatever. There are a million of them, going far back in time. Jesus, I'm sounding ridiculous. But this glass of wine tastes good.

Am I gushing? A little. But its because I've been into Marinelli's songs for seven years, and I always think everyone else should know who the hell I'm talking about when I mention him. His split with The Elsinores features another nine pieces that can range in head-nodding from the distorted ladybugged groove or head-nodding in that 3am emphatic "shit, I've been there" tell-all. And he manages to break this news to you mostly under two and have minutes every time. And what the hell he does with the guitar on "Post Up" makes no sense to me. I can't tell if he manipulated the tapes or is actually bending the guitar in half. His bizarre take on what the guitar can do reminds me of Link Wray and Hasil Adkins being smashed to pieces in Fred Cole's studio.

So, I finally started just talking to J. about his shit. It became an interview. Conversations edited became this:

brine: So, I saw you and first became of aware of you at Good Folk Fest several years ago. Your set blew up my brains, being that you were A) a one man band, a set-up which I am fond of based on my love for Hasil Adkins; and B)you rocked loud and hard. I think I could add B) that I've seen many different one-man bands, but you approached it with a different feel, playing almost a tight punk/garage sound that has its one thing going on. The way you play your snare with a pedal, and the distinctive guitar style you have. Your songs range from abrasive loud bangers to insanely singable tunes that get stuck in my head forever after I hear them. You definitely stood out at all the Good Folk Fests, and I always looked forward to your sets...

So my first question is this...knowing you from that context originally, I need to understand where you came from. I know West Virginia, and I know you have a big history playing with other bands in the past...Let's break this down to some simple one liner questions:1) Where are you from?

J. Marinelli:  I grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia, a nice, liberal college town in north central WV.

b: When did you start playing? Always guitar? When did you start singing/writing original stuff?

J:   I started playing drums in the 6th grade, continued throughout high school (I quit the Morgantown High School marching band to concentrate playing drums in the punk band I was in at the time, and to participate more actively in the bourgeoning all-ages punk/hardcore scene that was brewing. ( /thedarbyswv)

I started singing,playing guitar, and writing original music in 1988 with this band called Vegetable Man (to my knowledge, no recordings exist, which is no loss, as we were pretty terrible). VM represented a shift toward a more 'pop' approach (and it coincided with a late-adolescent discovery of LSD and my older friends' Syd Barrett and Velvet Underground records).

To back up a few years, the advent of all-ages shows in Morgantown began when a very generous and bright lady by the name of Marsha Ferber began booking all-ages gigs at her venue, the Underground Railroad. So, from 1984 to Ferber's mysterious disappearance in 1989, Morgantown played host to Black Flag, Dead Kennedys, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr (when they were still "Dinosaur"), Pixies, and scores of other important bands. More significantly, all-ages branch of the UGRR (called "The Dry House" because no alcohol was permitted in that room) helped build a great local scene, and as a young person, I was profoundly inspired by all of this creativity going on around me.

Here's a link to a list of every artist who ever played at the UGRR/ Dry House:
Newspaper clipping, circa 1985:
Clip of local hardcore band th' Inbred's last show, Dry House, 1988. I can be seen in the pit:

 So, to recap... First bands were the Darbys (late '70s style punk rock), then Vegetable Man (more of a psychedelic garage band - basically, four 18-year-olds ripping off the Jesus and Mary Chain, and not doing it very well, either).

b:  What led you to experiment with the one-man band style? Basically, what's your life story up until that GoodFolk Fest when I met you/saw you play the first time?

J: What led me to experiment with a one-man band format? Definitely necessity above all else. By early 2005 I was fairly frustrated with playing music with other people (dealing with musical differences, conflicts regarding practicing and touring, etc.), and decided to make a go of it.

By February 2005 I played an open-mic at 123 Pleasant Street (the same building that once housed the Underground Railroad). I think it took me about 18 months before I figured out how to keep my snare drum stand from tipping over.

It probably sounds dickish, but not many other one-man bands interest me. Perhaps if they spent less time getting wild with the costumes, personae, and stage names and spent more time getting wild (read: creative/original) with the beats, melodies, and lyrics, I'd have more time for them. Ironically, I've found that I've been lumped in with that scene; in fact, there's even an entry on me in Dave Harris's OMB encyclopedia "Heads, Hands, and Feet" (, which I do not own, as I don't have an extra $55 to spend on buying it.

While I appreciate the fact that the author (curator?) included me, I can't help but see the silliness in it - after all, I've never heard of an encyclopedia of two-piece bands, or, y'know, "The Big Book of Power Trios." And while I understand that the instrumentation of the OMB draws attention to itself (people simply aren't used to seeing person play three or four instruments at once), I take the creative process too seriously to be considered a novelty. I'd like to be appreciated for the songs I write, and the earnestness and sincerity of their delivery, rather than be thought of as a spectacle. Maybe that's why I've been entertaining the idea of (a) saying "fuck it" and playing acoustic shows, and (b) finding a drummer who will put up with me.

That said, there are a few people in that realm whose music I enjoy. My good friend the Limbs (née John Mazzucco) from Denver, CO; Evan Mitchell from St. Louis; and especially Lord Vapid from Lansing, MI.


b:  ...I hear you about being grouped or seen as a novelty, and that's the thing I love about your stuff...the live shows are awesome, but the songwriting is really what sucks me into your stuff...Alright, well, the next question then definitely leads me to the some of the bands that you were in during that gap before you made the decision to do the OMB deal. And how some of those bands that played UGRR/Dy House were getting in your head, and how maybe some of the bands you were in during that time period influenced the songs that would be used in the OMB setting. I mean, I recognize some influences/connections in my own head, and we're basically the same age, but I know you have a more comprehensive knowledge of certain styles of punk/garage/DIY bands than I have. I'm a little more scattered when it comes to certain eras, and still am learning some of the bands and their albums that might have caught your attention at during The Gap (which I'm designating between your bands and OMB). I came from a metal background during the 80s, and moved into surf/garage/punk/indie more into the 90s, but we share an appreciation for the same aesthetics of music and sound. Just curious how it all fleshed out throughout the band histories you were in. Feel free to expand as much or little as you want.

J:  From '90 to '93, I was involved with a few bands, most namely Swiss Army Tractor (despite our releasing a 7" and being on a compilation, nothing seems to exist online, which is too bad), who were very much like a noisy Husker Du/Dinosaur Jr dealio. One notable thing about SAT is that we opened for both Yo La Tengo and Sebadoh. During this time, the Underground Railroad changed hands a few times, and eventually became rechristened the Nyabinghi Dance Hall by these two reggae dudes who bought the space at 123 Pleasant Street.

Around October of 1993, I got a call from my friend Jay Demko, who had been in one of my favorite Morgantown bands (Lincoln), and had since movedto State College, Pennsylvania. Jay was looking for a second guitar player to round out this band he was playing with. So, after selling some gear and saving enough dough for a Marshall half-stack, I moved to SC and joined Jay's band -- Glendale. We released one 7" on a label called Art Monk Construction, the Slint-meets-post hardcore "Matchbox Martyr", "Brown Recluse" 7", and played up and down the east coast several times before splitting up in early '94.

Download the Glendale 7" here:

After Glendale broke up, I joined a band called Samuel, who ended up being very active, in terms of touring -- unfortunately, we broke up before we could record the first LP. However, we did manage to release two 7"s of our own and. Split with our friends and tour mates Texas is the Reason, who went on to subsequent fame and fortune. Here's a clip of us in 1995, in Andy Tinsley's (manager of the hardcore band Endpoint) basement, Louisville, KY:

 Here's our side of the Texas split:

One the notable things about that band was that collectively, our musical tastes were all over the map. At any given time you could hear anything from Guided by Voices to Government Issue to the Flying Burrito Brothers playing on the cassette player in our van. It should be noted that right around this time I started discovering traditional folk and country music. In my mind, Woody Guthrie and the Louvin Brothers were (are) just as emotionally intense as Black Flag.

 ...which leads me to the discussion of where my current (2005 until now) sound comes from... As I suggested earlier... The angularity and aggression of punk, hardcore, and post-punk, and the tunefulness (and chording) of country, folk, and ('80s and '90s) indie/lo-fi. I guess it's something I've been developing since Samuel broke up in early 1996 (after moving to Washington, DC as a band), through basement/4-track recording, and a band I was in from 1997-2006 (after moving back to Morgantown, spring '97) called the Braille Drivers.

 But I'm getting ahead of myself here... I was in a band, in Arlington, Va, called Les Trois Malheures, in which I played drums (and sang a bit). Check out this page (Carcrash Records) and scroll down...

 L3M were a weird-ass band... Garagey post-punk mistakenly played on 45 instead of 33. Unfortunately, I moved back to Morgantown after playing only three shows with them. However, I'm still very close with singer-guitarist Jonathan Krienik (who travels the globe as a sound engineer for the Rapture, the Gossip, Le Tigre, etc.), and a reunion is imminent.

 ...and I left out a crucial piece of the Marinelli equation, which would be garage rock of the mid-'60s variety. When every high school kid had a cheap hollow body guitar and a shambolic, gnarly rock and roll band.
I can trace my weird obsession with garage rock to seeing Pittsburgh's THE CYNICS at the Dry House in 1986-ish, then then later picking up a copy of the Nuggets compilation on cassette about six months later... Then more compilations (the various Nuggets, Pebbles, and Back From the Grave series of '60s garage rock rarities)... What had begun as a curious search in 1987 had developed into a full-blown obsession by 1990...

 ...couple this with a teenage discovery of the New York Dolls, Stooges, and especially the Velvet Underground, and you have the roots of what I'm doing now.

b:  Your solo material is definitely a mash of indie rock AND pop, mixed with lo fi garage. I think the thing that kicks my ass with your songs is how melodic they are, and I've never put my finger on the country/folk influence. I completely agree with you as far as stating that the right country/hillbilly and/or folk tunes can slay you just as much as the best punk rock. When I first saw you play at GFF, I was struck by how aggressive and rockin' you were, and the fact that most OMBs mine that country aspect a lot. I mean, even Hasil's rock n roll came from the history of combining blues and country music and turning up and playing had a Sun Records style, which is all based on his influences. You come from a punk/garage/lo-fi/indie world combined with the country music, and it gives you a completely different style/sound. Your songs can be abrasive as shit, but even the most abrasive ones have this sweet melody that comes through that makes me sing along, or rips my heart out, or dance.

J:  I am playing at the Green Lantern with the Blackfoot Gypsies on the 24th of November. I have a WRFL show scheduled for December (5th I think) that I think I'll play acoustic for. Sorry for the bad grammar and shit.

Thanks for the kind words regarding my songwriting - though I'm not sure if I've answered your question(s) about it adequately...


End of Line.

There you have it. J. Marinelli will be performing at Green Lantern on Nov 24 with Blackfoot Gypsies, and live performance on WRFL, which you peoples can stream. Also, look and buy stuff from him at his bandcamp

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