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Destined: Magik Markers

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Michael Crumsho sheds some light on Magik Markers and their writing on the wall.

Destined: Magik Markers

  • Download Fuck You from Magik Marker’s CD-R Feel the Crayon

Trying to situate Magik Markers in any sort of pre-existing pantheon is pointless. Since beginning as the manic rumblings of three friends in one of their grandparent’s basements some four or five years ago, the band has cut a swath across noise, improv, free rock, no wave, punk and/or hardcore, usually all at once, bellowing forth a sound that leaves all reference points bloodied in the dust, scratching their collective heads and wondering, “What the fuck just happened?”

“The band started one night in Hartford, Connecticut,” says Magik Markers’ drummer Pete Nolan. “I was getting bored of jamming in the basement by myself, mostly making noise with vacuum cleaners and broken PAs, so I got my friend and roommate Leah to come play some guitar while I jammed the drums. That was OK, but we needed something else, so we pulled Elisa off the couch where she was sitting reading and chewing her fingers. It was pretty tough but we eventually got her down there, and we pretty much sounded like we sound now. Maybe more surfy or something...”

Guitarist and vocalist Elisa Ambrogio offers a slightly different take on the beginnings of the band. "My best friend since I was 9, Leah Quimby, got it into to her easily distracted head that she might go see what was what in the basement," she says. "They seemed to be having fun and I was glad to have some quiet alone time, but then they kind of forced me to go downstairs with them and I was very cranky and put out by it every single time we ever played until very recently."

Since that time, however, the band has issued a trail of CD-Rs and played a series of pummeling shows across the United States. Listening to the Markers’ latest CD-R dispatch Feel the Crayon reveals a band with increasing confidence in their approach, one that is able to lure somewhat disparate elements into their own complex and cohesive brew of free rocking noise. "We've never composed anything," says Nolan of the band's approach. "We've gone down various tributaries, sometimes tiny. Sometimes I feel like an octopus whose arms can touch the back of the room." And yet the three always manage to lock in a heated primal groove, taking the raw energy of hardcore and mainlining it straight to the heart of No New York-era ferocity. Quimby's guitars lurch and sputter, bellowing out walls of blistering, fuzzed out drones and shards of rock wreckage, while Nolan propels all three of them to the limit with his frantic percussion. And through it all, Ambrogio commands attention with her sweetly fucked vocals and lyrics that emerge as a modern analogue to forbearers like Lydia Lunch. "I am generally thinking about wanting to sound more like H.R. from the Bad Brains, John Joseph from the Cro-Mags and Keith Morris from Black Flag," says Ambrogio. "I wish I could think like Conlon Nancarrow and Don Van Vliet. I generally wish I could play sweeter licks on my guitar. I had never liked the no-wave stuff I’d heard until I heard Red Transistor and then Teenage Jesus, but that came pretty late into my music listening. In my mind I am trying to sound like either Minor Threat or Led Zeppelin, but it comes out sounding like it does."

“We all love music and are coming at it from our own angles, Elisa from hardcore, Leah from dancing and hardcore, too,” says Nolan. “I've been hit pretty hard by the no wave bands that you've mentioned,” he continues, responding to my query regarding any influence they’ve gained from the likes of Mars or DNA. “Particularly by videos that Weasal Walter has shown of Teenage Jesus, DNA, Mars, James Chance and especially videos of Red Transistor and VON LMO. I think at our best in a live situation we strike this sort of heavyendrixness.” He also acknowledges a debt to the percussive work Milford Graves and Amon Düül II, the latter reference shedding light on the almost metronome-like backbone he provides for the band. Ambrogio, however, found solace in hardcore at a young age. “I went to a show in Willimantic, Connecticut when I was 13 and saw Born Against, Roachgrind and Mi6,” she says. “My mind was blow-o-o-own. I didn’t know what to think.”

"We all have our own ideas that are very strong," continues Nolan. "Elisa has strong ideas of language and iconography and mind control, sounds and ideas that are serrated. [She] is a bullet sometimes and a shark in the sea of people. Leah brings a massive part of our sound, almost a tidal wave. [She] can be a statue, really tall like 10- or 12-feet tall. I'm always looking to tap an unseen pulse. I want to move around in it, cut across the wave, changing direction and velocity on a whim. It doesn't ever really seem like we control the experience or even try to that much. We only want to intensify whatever it is that we're tapping as much as we can."

Although their recorded material thus far has generally been available only at their shows, the band managed to emerge in 2004 in a somewhat unlikely position - warming up massive crowds of people while on tour with Sonic Youth. "Thurston Moore and Kim Gordon used to come see us a lot when we lived in Western Massachusetts and played at Flywheel," says Nolan "Thurston bought a tape one time from Elisa and she came back and said, 'Who's that tall guy that looks like Thurston Moore?' Anyway he was just like a dude on the scene – supports everybody who's trying to do something forward thinking, a tugboat right? We moved to Kentucky and kept touring and stuff. He and Kim set up some shows. One day I was sitting on my couch watching TV, probably picking my nose. I get a call from some dude, 'This is so and so from the William Morris agency, you wanna tour the east coast with Sonic Youth?' That was it."

"We thought the crowds were probably going to spit on us and tell us where to stick our goddamn broken guitars," says Ambrogio. "But instead it was like, we were on a stage and they thought they were supposed to listen to us. Kids were excited. It was extremely weird and amazing." More than just a series of shows, the tour gave Ambrogio a chance to share a stage with one of her influences. "The year I first heard Sonic Youth was the year I had a boy’s tongue in my mouth for the first time and I got my period. What a goddamn year!" she says. "Kim Gordon made me lose my freaking mind, I crap you negative."

In 2005, the band has a host of activities planned. Apostasy and Ecstatic Peace will be co-releasing their I Trust My Guitar etc. album. "I wouldn't really even think of our album as an album," says Nolan. "It's more like a piece of the puzzle. It definitely raises a lot more questions than answers and will piss some people off, but yeah it's an object like all of them." Magik Markers will also be appearing at both the Kraak festival in Belgium and the second installment of the No Fun Fest in Brooklyn in March, and has accepted an invitation to play at this year's All Tomorrow's Parties festival in London in April. After that, the trio will hit the road in Europe, and possibly do a West Coast stint in America with Sunburned Hand of the Man. "Also," says Nolan, "It'd be cool to have the opportunity to get into a studio for as long as we want.”

For more information about Magik Markers, check the Apostasy Recordings website.

By Michael Crumsho

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