Mark Dwane interview

Featured interview in Dreams Word #7

Rare are the times when the album of a debut artist outshines some of our veteran favorites. Yet such is the work of Mark Dwane with his first album, “The Monuments Of Mars”. This album is backed by more than 20 years of musical experience. As if the excellent quality of this work isn’t enough to surprise you, this entire album was realized almost entirely by MIDI guitar. In a music realm dominated by keyboardists, this new artist has much to offer in quality, style and technique.

Mark’s album “The Monuments Of Mars” was inspired by Richard Hoagland’s book of the same name. The book deals with the mysterious and controversial land formations that suggest the shape of a face and an array of pyramids.

ELANA: How long have you been playing music?

MARK DWANE: I started when I was twelve. I’ve been pretty dedicated the whole time since.

E: All guitar?

MD: Yes. The Beatles got me playing back in those days. I would say my first guitar influence was probably Jimmy Page.

E: Seems that so many musicians in our kind of music had their beginnings in rock. That was you too.

MD: Exactly. The things that people like Hendryx, Jimmy Page and David Gilmore were doing back in those days were much more progressive than what rock guitar has evolved into today. When it began to get into the early ‘70’s, the progressive scene began to happen. Keith Emerson was my next big influence.

E: Just like Michael Garrison! Emerson was his big influence too! (see D.W. Six)

MD: Emerson brought the whole classical thing into context. Musically that was much more interesting because it had so much more technique. At that point I wanted to do the same thing with the guitar that Emerson was doing on keyboards. Being influenced by Emerson back in the early ‘70’s, I was beginning to really get into classical music as well. I was going out and buying a lot of classical albums and trying to zero in on the same inspiration that he was getting for a lot of his music. The first album has a lot of classical things that have been adapted. Interesting enough, Emerson, Lake and Palmer did do an adaptation of “Mars” from “The Planets”.

ln the middle or late ‘70’s, I was becoming influenced by a lot of European electronic music. Tangerine Dream, Vangelis…

E: What e-music album hit your heart first?

MD: The first one that actually tumed my head was Phaedra. I had heard some things from Alpha Centauri. At the time Phaedra had just come out, so I thought “Well I’ll just give this a spin.” I really enjoyed it. Of course there was a lot of really interesting music coming out of Germany in that time period such as Amon Duul. There was also a real good British group called Curved Air at that time. They again, were fusing classical with electronics on their earlier albums too. As a matter of fact, Eddie Jobson used to play with Curved Air.

E: Did you become a collector of the electronic German stuff for a while?

MD: I had a vast music collection that was in that vein.

My brother and I were always inspired by this type of music. We decided to put together a group and play. The whole idea was to try and take a lot of this influence and meld it into a rock influence. The group was called Orb. We were performing between 1975 and 1980. We did an album called “Such Power Exists?”.

E: Is it buried or available?

MD: It’s buried.

E: What made you want to get into guitar synths?

MD: Just the sound of the synthesizer. It just had all this potential. Whereas even though the guitar had a lot of sonic potential there was only so much you could do with it at least texturally.

E: Then for you at the time, the fact that synths were not guitar oriented but all keyboards was a handicap for you at the time?

MD: Definitely. I had to base and compose my music and then bring in a lot of effects that were being used with the guitar to augment the music in a textural sense. In ’75 or ’76, I began working with a VCS3 and a pitch to voltage converter which was a horrendous guitar synthesizer. I was actually writing songs that were designed to have areas where other members of the group wold carry the song while I had some time to reprogram this thing for a different sound. The oscillators would drift every two minutes. When we would play on stage, I would have a set of headphones that I would keep on my neck so that I could put them on my head and fine tune it to make sure this thing was in tune. The glitch ratio was just so horrendous. It sounded like I was strangling some ostrich or something.

E: You were playing in your home town?

MD: Just throughout Cleveland and Northwest Ohio. We did one concert that was really interesting at Kent State University and we played to about 5,000 people so we got a lot of exposure in that respect. There just wasn’t the means to continue the group without record company support. That’s why it disbanded in 1981.

E: How did performing live help you as a musician?

MD: I think it was a very educational experience in terms of where or what the music industry is all about. It also helped me a great deal as a player, performing in front of an audience and getting feedback response from them. Also in terms of writing it helped a great deal. It pretty much has been an evolution up to this point. In ‘81 I decided that I was going to be a solo artist.

E: What was supporting you at the time? Ordinary jobs like everybody else?

MD: I’ve been teaching music for the last about eleven years at a music facility. I do it about twenty hours a week.

E: Cool! So you are able to devote your whole life to music! How long has it been this way?

MD: 1977, fourteen years.

E: That shows that you have a lot of credibility as a musician if you have been able to support yourself that way for so long! Incredible! OK, now… we were talking about your decision to become a solo artist. What happened from there?

MD: In ’81 I decided to build my own studio. I set about that for the next couple of years. I started doing some audio-visual work as well for some companies on the east coast… music for commercials, etc.

E: This was with the guitar synth?

MD: At this point I had gone out and bought a couple of keyboards because the guitar synths were just not giving me the sounds that I wanted. The only guitar synth available at the time was the Avitar. This was at the beginning of the MIDI era. I just started working with those instruments. That was the era when I was still using a tape system around the end of ’86.

E: What did you do from 81 to 86?

MD: I built my own studio and recorded three demo albums. The first two were upbeat “Progressive Rock” with a female vocalist. The third entitled “The Myth” was all instrumental and was recorded in 85/86. It was the last thing I did using organic guitars and an analog tape system. There are a few copies of “The Myth‘ out there floating around.

Around ’87 a guitar synth finally came out that was fantastic, a Roland GM70. Didn’t like the guitar. I then bought an Ibinez 2010 Xing midi guitar controller with it. When I mated those two together I got a system that to me was just like heaven compared to what I was used to using. It’s really funny because a lot of MIDI guitarists grumble about getting MIDI delays and glitching and stuff like that. These guys should go through what I went through working with things like DCF3’s and pitch to voltage converters, etc. Anyway I have got my system fine-tuned now to where it’s almost perfect.

E: In other words you always had the kind of music within you that we all know you for now. However you had no way of truly expressing it until then because the guitar is your primary instrument and there was no other way for you.

MD: Exactly.

E: What was happening just before Richard Hoagland’s book came out into your life and inspired the album?

MD: At that point I was really getting to focus and fine-tune my direction into the so-called New Age market for the lack of better terminology. Also the audio quality was going up to a very high caliber. I knew that if I wanted to be competitive, I’d have to go all digital. So with that in mind, I got rid of my tape system and bought a Sony 501 processor which only cost a couple of thousand dollars. I also got the interface unit, a computer, the sequencing software, MIDI modules, samplers, etc. I had come to a crossroads where I asked myself, “Am I a guitarist or am I a composer?” The answer was very plain to me. The ego thing that goes with the guitar just went by the side because I had no problem facing the fact that to me, being a composer was the most important and my music is the most important thing at any cost. I don’t know if you can relate to it, but among guitarist there is a mentality where… “Hell if I can’t plug my Strat into my Marshall, I don’t want to look at it.”

E: I see you as blazing a new path with the way you compose. You have the same musical thinking of all the keyboard artists that Dreams Word is written for. However you travel and arrived here from a COMPLETELY different direction. That’s why your music is so original!

MD: That’s the fun thing about it because over 90 percent of the e-music being made today is by keyboardists, where I’m approaching it from a new direction.

E: I don’t know of ANY other albums that approach our music from MIDI guitar like you have, and it’s amazing. Very surprising. Anyway you had gotten all this equipment. What happened then?

MD: At that point, I was just beginning to formulate ideas for an album when a friend of mine said “Hey look at this book!” Coincidentally he is the same guy who later did the cover to my album. Anyway I spent about a month one summer reading it and thought, “I could write a dynamite album around this!” I wrote a letter to Hoagland’s publisher and asked them for permission to use a paragraph from the book on the album sleeve. Originally, I was going to call the album “Pyramids of Mars.” About three weeks later, Richard Hoagland gave me a call. He was real curious to hear the work in progress, so I sent him a tape. He called again a week later saying that he really loved it and asked me if I’d consider changing the title to “The Monuments of Mars; The Music.” So I said yes, I’d be flattered to. So we worked out a suitable royalty with his publisher. The rest is history.

E: What happened after then? Did the book help to promote the album in an indirect way?

MD: Richard Hoagland had some wonderful ideas for a marriage of the two. He wanted to put them all of the major bookstores across the country. He presented the idea to his publisher and they weren’t too crazy about it.

There hasn’t been as much spinoff from his book on the album. I‘ve got people that are writing me saying “I loved the album so much, I went out and bought the book!”

E: Interesting symbiotic relationship. That’s wonderful. Your album is an independent release. You had, of course, no record label to help you. What was your first big break in selling the album?

MD: Having Backroads pick it up was a good break for me because they’ve been a very good distributor up to this point. They said “We’ll take a look into it and see if we like it.” I said fine and waited. Finally they called me a few weeks later and said, “Everybody here loves it! We’ll take it.”

E: Too easy! What was the original pressing on “Monuments?”

MD: Around 2000 cassettes and 500 CD’s.

E: How well has “Monuments” been selling?

MD: Considering that “Monuments” is actually my first release, and that there has been absolutely no advertising behind it, I think it’s selling fairly well. I have been getting a lot of really encouraging response and airplay from fans and radio thrdughom the U.S., Canada and Europe.

E: Tell us about your second album, how is the work progressing on that‘?

MD: I have three completed works at this point, and I am targeting Fall of 90 for album completion. Conceptually, everything is in flux, so I had better assume a stealth maneuver to this question. Ask me again in September. I would never rush an album just to get it out there.

E: No, no, not with your stuff. You have created some fans and now that you have done it, these fans are going to be very demanding.

MD: That’s just it. I know from past experience when I have bought something by a particular artist that I have been crazy about and the next thing is a letdown, there’s nothing worse. I’d rather wait an extra six months or whatever and create something that’s really worth it.

E: That’s GREAT! You have integrity!

MD: I won’t disappoint people. When I create music, it’s as though I go to someplace wonderful and I want to share that experience with you… I want to take you back with me next time. There’s no ego whatsoever involved at all. What’s really important to me in music are depth, empathy, passion, intellectual challenge… Fashion and disposable product is worthless to me… it just doesn’t have any place in my music.

E: There! Right there! That way of thinking makes your music so utterly timeless and beautiful. You have the key. Thank you for giving us this interview!