By Jeff Maisey
“The Tragic End of a Dreamer,” the 14-song sixth album from A Bad Think, is a sonic sensation taking the listener on a journey through aural landscapes past and present.
A Bad Think is the studio project of Virginia Beach producer/engineer/ musician Michael Marquart. Marquart is know both for his Windmark recording studio as well as year-long stint as drummer for A Flock of Seagulls back in 1989.
Marquart describes “The Tragic End of a Dreamer” as a concept album. It contains a pair of “singles,” the grunge-like rocker “Win or Lose” and the enchanting “The Animal,” which has a wicked music video made for it – shot in Suffolk and produced by Virginia Beach’s own Derrick Borte.
Songs such as “Stay” and “Loyal Men” are heady headphone gems. “It’s Over Before” is melodic and dreamy.
Michael Marquart spends half of his time in Los Angeles and has a second Windmark studio there. For this album he called upon his West Coast musician/producer pals to perform on the material.
There is a listening party planned Sunday, December 18 at Zeider’s American Dream Theatre in Virginia Beach at 7 PM. Billed as the official album release and a benefit event for the Zeider, Marquart will perform the entire album live with backing studio tracks.
I recently sat down with Marquart before hearing most of the album. Here’s an excerpt from our conversation.
How do you conceptually approach writing and producing an album?
I really don’t know which way I’m going until I get headed down that road. I’m always writing music. Every day I’m writing. The music kind of takes me this way or that way. Where ever I’m headed at that particular time is where that album’s going to be for that particular block of songs.
This one has 14 songs on it. It’s interesting that a lot of these “blocks of songs” end up being concept albums. They never started out that way. I guess it must be my train of thought or where I’m going at that particular time.
What insights can you share about the new album?
It’s about this guy who kind of goes through life thinking everything is meant to happen for him. Everything is revolving around him and what he’s supposed to be doing. He comes to the realization that he dreamed most of his life away, and none of what he thought was going to happen happened.
It winds up being a positive thing at the end when he analyzes where he’s been. Life itself is a journey and the most fantastic part of it. We start here and end in the grave, but there’s the journey, the fantastic moments and deep sorrows.
Concept albums are like a book where each song serves as a chapter in telling the story. What is the story being told in the beginning of the album?
The first track is called “No Way Out.” He’s kind of trapped. He’s starting in a hole, a dark basement with the door locked. No matter how hard he tries he can’t get out.
Musically, what kind of flow did you want from track to track?
This particular album is different from all of the others where I played most of the instruments, did all the programming. On this one I decided to get out of the way and get some really good players. I got some of the best LA (Los Angeles) studio musicians to play on it, like John Shenale, who plays all the keyboards. He does all of Tori Amos’ records. Paul Bryan plays bass. He produces all of Aimee Mann’s albums. All of these guys are producers. I want them to look at my music from a producer’s point of view. When they hear artistic music like this they know exactly what it’s supposed to be. I let these guys do their magic on it, and the songs came out so much better. I wish I had done this five albums ago.
I had this one song where I thought the female voice on a Pink Floyd album would be perfect right here. The engineer said, “You know, Durga lives right down the street. She sings with Pink Floyd on tour and is on all the Gilmore albums.”
So she came in and sang on some stuff. It made the album so much better.
Did you allow them to completely alter the tracks as producers if they had chosen to do so?
No. I was the producer so I kept a pretty firm grip on this thing. It can get out of hand if you let go of the wheel.
John Shenale: the guy is such a brilliant keyboard player. He sends me MP3s. I’ll get 20 tracks from him. I go through them and say, “I really like that or I like this.” I’ll have him rundown 10 different takes to give it a different feel, just looking for moments of magic.
Everyone seems to label music as a way to describe it. How do you, the artist, describe the sound of A Bad Think’s new recording?
My stuff is pretty unique. It doesn’t really sound like anything out there because I’m just trying to be myself. But if I had to guess it’d be a cross between Beck and Pink Floyd.
I don’t listen to a lot of music so I don’t know what’s going on out there.
A lot of your work creates a soundscape – an atmosphere. Can you share your songwriting approach to creating sonic mood?
They’re all different. There are songs I write on piano that have a complete different feel than the ones I write on guitar. Sometimes I’ll start with a groove. Normally, I’ll start with a couple of chords and start humming a melody line with a couple of changes. That’s kind of all you need to turn it into a song.
The song “Win or Lose” has a variety of music threads seemingly woven in from the 1970s, ‘80s, but notably a Soundgarden-esque vibe. Musically, what was your intension?
The single, “Win or Lose,” came out first, in October. It is more commercial with a big chorus and all that stuff. It was number 17 on the FMQB Hot AC chart.
I came up with the first guitar line and it felt like a rocker. I just let it go that way. Then the keyboard guy did all these weird cello parts. I never saw that coming, but it really made it interesting.
The music industry has change so much of the past decade. You are under no pressure to sell millions of copies of the album. Does this make it easier for you to be able to release a concept album and have people discover it electronically?
It’s tough because the music business is in a very bad place right now. There’s really no light at the end of the tunnel. To even get noticed you have to sound like Taylor Swift. Every song sounds exactly the same with empty-headed lyrics.
I do it for the music. That’s the only reason I do it. Other people want to be famous. They want money. They want girls. I’ve never been that way, and I’ve always tried to surround myself with people that think the same way, but if you truly are a musician that’s all you have. At the end of the day all you have is your music. No one can take that away from you. This is who I am at this moment in time.
Everyone expects music to be free these days. No one’s buying albums. No one’s buying CDs. It’s so hard to rise above the fray. Everyone with a home studio can release a song on i-Tunes.
Back in the day being a musician was a legitimate career path, but no there’s not. So what’s going to happen? There’s going to be no great musicians because you have to put 10,000 hours into this to get good. Back in our day everyone played. There were so many great musicians. You had to be better than the next to get the job. A generation from now you’re going to have a bunch of people who don’t know how to play. It’s already going that way now. Everyone does everything on the computer.