As a veteran of the pop/rock scene of the early 2000s, ex-Spitalfield frontman Mark Rose has quite a few years of touring experience under his belt. Apparently though, he doesn't need a break. Rose has been on the road extensively since before his solo LP debut, 2011's Wonderful Trouble, and recently finished performing 33 shows in 26 days alongside longtime friend JT Woodruff of Hawthorne Heights in support of his latest EP, The Sound of a Turnaround.
These days, Rose has gone a more singer-songwriter route compared to his Spitalfield tenure. With that being said, he's an advocate for creating new outlets for struggling musicians. Enter Downwrite.com, where you can request a custom song from Rose and Bob Nanna (of Braid and Hey Mercedes fame) for the time being, but with more musicians and plans on the horizon. Punknews staff writer Laila Hanson had the chance to sit down and discuss his recent ventures.
Your EP is called The Sound of a Turnaround and you have the title track on there, but you also mention that word a few times in "Decade of a Girl." What is the significance for the word "Turnaround" for you?
It's a double meaning to me. The transition that I've gone through in the last five years after Spitalfield broke up has been an interesting one for me. It's always been natural to me that I would be writing songs and playing music. Here I am, years later, from when Spitalfield first released Remember Right Now and I shifted into a world of music and music business as my full time job in life, really. And so often you find yourself doubting that you're ever gonna really sustain making music as a full time gig. Especially now, I'm 29 years old and having done it for 10 years, it's a lot to take in. I often find myself thinking, "Alright, well what happens if this doesn't work out?" And you start thinking about maybe turning it around and packing it in. For me, I've had such a fortunate support system in place, with family and friends, and people who really do put their faith in me, believe in me and keep me focused and driven. This was a pretty personal EP for me, and putting the audio to what I'm going through was my goal, so The Sound of a Turnaround was what I came up with.
Speaking of Spitalfield, I think I was a senior in high school and I saw them and Hawthorne Heights back in 2004. And now, you just finished a tour with JT [Woodruff of Hawthorne Heights] and you also share the connection with [producer] Sean O'Keefe. I was just wondering about the relationship between you guys and how that has influenced your work and your touring at all.
It's kind of funny, because [JT and I] often talk about how we are such different songwriters and we have almost this like, sweet and salty or sweet and sour or ying and yang kind of thing going because JT writes much darker stuff than I do. And we first met, of course, when he was first touring with Hawthorne Heights. We toured together, Spitalfield and Hawthorne, multiple times in the US and in Europe as well. We got to know each other just from being around each other so much, but again, from having such different styles and what not. Both kind of [as] frontmen and singer-songwriters on the side and everything else, we've always had a good connection. We've shared a lot of opinions on things, and in 2010, we went out together and just did a short two week tour. He was playing all original stuff and wasn't playing any Hawthorne material, while I kind of just play anything but focus on my new stuff. The two of us on tour together and teaming up just made sense. Sharing expenses and just kind of having our camaraderie, a minivan versus the world out there, to whoever will listen, it's something we both get into. This last tour, we managed to pump out 32 or 33 shows in 26 days. It was fun, though. It was a little bit exhausting, but finding ways to play more shows and to play in front of more people in a different setting, to me it's nuts that...I told JT that I'm [playing] with someone who sold a couple million albums, but yet he's still willing to play a private show in somebody's living room, or to triple up in one day and play an early show, an afternoon show and a club show. It's inspiring, I think we kind of feed off of each other.
You're connected with a website called Downwrite.com, where you're writing custom songs. Can you talk a bit about that?
Downwrite is something that I've been working on with my friend Bob Nanna. Bob is one of my favorite songwriters from [the] Chicagoland area, and featured with Braid and Hey Mercedes and various other projects. What started as a little thing that Bob and I were thinking, like, "You know, we could team up and write some songs," we eventually flushed out the idea to being, "Why don't we create a network for songwriters to get on profiles and let their friends and fans know that they're available to do one-of-a-kind, custom art for hire." And the idea is really to enable songwriters to make a living writing music separate from what they do with their own stuff. I'm finding more and more in the digital era, where someone's willing to pay $9.99 to have a Spotify premium account, and then not really buy music, it's almost like songwriters are having a harder time actually paying the bills. It goes both ways. There are definitely pros and cons, but we're trying to bring a little bit of value back to the actual songwriting process and level the playing field a bit for those who can write great music that aren't involved in the world of co-writing, and writing for other people and stuff. I think for fans and for music lovers, that is so cool. It's almost like having one of your favorite artists commission a painting just for you, where you provide the direction of the painting.
Bob and I are the first artists, but we're going to roll out [other] artists in a week or so, and a couple weeks after that, some more. We're kind of going through that beta launch period where we're trying out a few things and seeing what works, making sure we have artists on our side, because that's who we're doing this for, and then [open] it to songwriters all over the world. It seems like a lot of people are interested in doing this, and we [would love] to be that gateway for them, that middleman.
Going back to your LP and EP[s], I can tell it's not just you and a guitar; there's a lot of great effects and mixing. Can you talk about what happened in the studio for The Sound of a Turnaround?
One of my favorite things thus far about doing solo singer-songwriter stuff is the collaboration process with all sorts of different musicians. The first thing I did when the band broke up was write songs on my own and put together a couple of EPs and do some touring. The reason I wanted to do that was because I knew that it wasn't just going to happen; it was going to be something I had to dive into and feel my way out a little bit. From the final Spitalfield release in '06 to [my] first full-length in 2011, that's quite a bit of time. I knew it was a reinvention process, and that the first thing I was gonna do wasn't gonna sound like what I'm doing right now. It took a little time and effort, and part of that process was going out with a full band, or with a trio, or just me and a guitar and feeling out all the different versions of myself I could feasibly do and perform. And going into [my first solo LP] Wonderful Trouble, bringing [producer] Sean O'Keefe on board, and bringing in soul sections and horn sections, organ players...it really opened my eyes and it forced me to up my game as a player and as a writer, and that's something I really enjoyed doing.
The transition from Wonderful Trouble to this EP helped me open my mind a little bit further, and this time around we did a little bit more tracking in a home setting. We did the drums for The Sound of a Turnaround in my buddy Jon Walker's house. I tracked out the vocals in a hallway, or a bathroom, or my own kitchen. Then we took all that stuff we had worked on for a number of weeks and gave it to Sean, and then Sean dialed it in with his ears on the mixing board. It was definitely different but it was really cool for me, and I really do feed off of other people's idea[s] and energy, but I've also found that sitting in my apartment at 2 a.m. and getting in the zone and working for hours...I like that too.
It gives you a lot of flexibility, it sounds like.
Yeah. And The Sound of a Turnaround is...there's four tracks on it. And one of them has no percussion, and one of them just has shakers and hammering, which is quite different from Wonderful Trouble. I like the flexibility in general of being a singer-songwriter. You can always go a different path for a release, you can always reinvent yourself. Listening to the catalogues of some incredible lifetime songwriters, like Paul Simon or Billy Joel, you hear all these different eras and sounds. I obviously can't compare myself to [either] of them, but I can say that I now understand how you can go through those phases.
Going back to when you mentioned your hometown of Chicago and Bob Nanna, how do you feel about now versus 10 years ago with how the Chicago music scene has evolved?
For starters, I see it differently now at 29 then I did at 19. Even five years before that, when I first started to go to shows, when I was 14, 15 years old. There's so much great music in Chicago and so many great talents, it's a big city. It's always kind of feeding itself and spitting something else out. What's so beautiful about Chicago is that every genre is represented and always present, it's just a matter of who's covering it. Growing up and listening to the punk rock scene of Chicago, I didn't even realize half the stuff [that] was out there at that time. When I started touring full-time, I started to see all the different music scenes across the country and the world, and began to realize how special Chicago was.
And now, it's tough. It's almost like there's more competition [than] ever because of the availability of such great home theater recording stuff and all the different types of venues. There's never any shortage of anything. There are some great bands in Chicago, some of which are gaining recognition, some of which aren't, or there's some in the middle, but that's kind of the music industry in general. You can never really gauge why something is taking off or why it's not, so you just kind of got to keep at it. I've seen some of the people that I grew up playing music with, bands like Fall Out Boy or the Plain White Ts, bands that have these monster singles that are playing arenas. Then you see other artists that have just been plugging along, playing anywhere and everywhere all along, and sometimes they get a good moment, sometimes they don't. I don't know, Chicago's awesome. [Laughs.]
When you've been on the road, have you encountered any Spitalfield fans? What have their reactions been to your new stuff?
There are a handful of Spitalfield fans that naturally grew up with me, with the new music and made the transition with me, and have been [there] ever since. Of those people, there's two sides of the coin. There's those that secretly are excited when I play the old stuff, [hoping] that the band [gets back together], then there's the other side, that are really into what I'm doing now. And that's to be expected. I'm not upset with anybody who doesn't really dig what I do now, because I know it's a different kind of thing. But I am excited when the people do like what I do now, or just naturally gravitate towards my voice and my songwriting. I think that's cool. And every once in a while, I'll do something that fills in a certain way, kind of reaches those older fans who otherwise don't know I'm doing solo material, and that's okay too. I don't expect anything anymore, I just kind of deal with it as it hits me. I'm not one of those guys who gets mad when people are calling out old songs, because that was such a huge chapter of my life. The band didn't break up so I could go solo; I went solo because the band broke up. So I appreciate it when people like anything I play.
What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond?
The immediate future has me still playing more shows. I've got this EP under my belt, so I'm going to tour it as much as I can. I'll be down at South by Southwest, which will be fun. I haven't been down there as a performer since 2006 with Spitalfield, so it'll be cool to get back on that horse for a little bit. It's obviously a crazy week, but it's a lot of fun. And past that, spring and summer, I just expect to be out on the road a whole bunch and now with Downwrite starting to move forward, I'll be working on that too, helping develop that. I'm just going to keep at it with touring this record and hopefully catching a few baseball games.
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