MEET THE ARTIST: MARK ROBERTS (WE ARE TEMPORARY)
Hello Mark. The release of your second album "Embers" as We Are Temporary seems to me very personally intended. Do we listen to and see the "true" Mark Roberts in "Embers"?
Ha. Well. To be honest, I’m not so sure there is such a thing as a "true" self or essence. We’re all in a constant state of flux—intellectually, emotionally, and biologically. "Crossing Over" dealt with an extremely hard period in my life and, as the legal maxim goes, "hard cases make bad law." "Embers" still has its demons, but on the whole, my life was more balanced and joyful during the writing of it, so in a sense I think "Embers" captures a wider range of emotion and inner life than "Crossing Over" did. But a "true self"? I don’t think there’s such a thing.
You come up with an astonishing artwork including two booklets, one with the lyrics and the other with your thoughts to each song. What is the reason for you to give so to speak the interpretation of the songs to the listeners?
For those who have seen me perform live or who have been following me online, the intimate nature of the stories will probably seem very familiar and consistent with what I do as an artist. Sharing our stories and feelings is such a powerful and universal way for us to connect with each other. It can heal us, comfort us, and motivate us to change and fight harder.
Many artists I interviewed don't often talk about their songs as they would like the audience to make their own thoughts about it. So could someone also criticize your "navel-gazing" as there is not much more "enigmatic" spirit anymore?
That’s an entirely valid way to feel about my art and the kind of openness I practice. No harm done. This openness I have with my fans, however, goes both ways. The more open I am about my life, the more open my fans are about theirs. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had strangers come up to me after shows to talk to me about songs like "You Can Now Let Go" and the way I speak openly about things like anxiety on stage. So many people suffer silently in life, too ashamed and intimidated by society to share their truths even with those closest to them. Being unashamed about suffering destigmatizes it and robs it of its power, and can give others the strength and confidence to seek help, connect, and heal.
Behind every song, there's a story of your life. Do you recall your memories then when you're singing the songs?
Sometimes yes, other times not. For starters, that level of introspection and sensitivity isn’t something I can just switch on. Sometimes it’s there on stage, and sometimes it’s hard to connect with oneself. What’s more, over time, our memories and histories are subject to reinterpretation, revision, and degradation. Songs that meant one thing to me when I wrote them, can mean something very different to me years later. That said, I do try pretty hard to empathize with the person I was when I wrote the lyrics, as well as the person I was living through the experiences that gave rise to the lyrics.
True arts come from pain, misery and deep thoughts about life in general, so the people say. Would you agree in your case?
No. I’m not one for sweeping generalities, to be honest. They’re frequently lazy, polemic, and while masquerading as clever and profound, are prone to shallow reduction. Art can take many shapes and forms, can communicate a huge variety of meanings, and inspiration can come from almost anything. I think "Embers" is actually a pretty good example of a record that doesn’t wallow in "pain and misery", but rather accepts and expresses the complexity of life and human relationships—including, of course, pain and misery, but also happiness and joy, banality and grandeur, depth and weightlessness. Basically, I don’t trust any concept with the adjective "true" preceding it. It’s almost always bullshit.
As you are a very authentic and honest artist whose albums are also some kind of soul-stripping, is it hard for you to see, that the musical mainstream have more interests in good looking persons than in real emotions?
Not particularly. Everyone should just be their own rainbow. I don’t need a mainstream audience, and absolutely nobody owes me their time or attention. I do what I do, people listen to what they want, and when we connect, I’m glad about it and grateful. But I’m too busy living my life, making music, playing with my son, lying in wife’s arms, or walking my dog, to pine after things that are out of my control.
The title "Embers" reminds me of loss, it symbolizes somehow the end of something, even though there can be also a certain glow in the ember. Is your album the end of something and the beginning of something new?
I definitely think of "Embers" as being more about the glowing, than it is the extinguishing. It’s a record about recovery, forgiveness, and finding ways of putting the broken pieces of life back together. In so doing, it must, of course, acknowledge and give voice to loss and destruction, but, as I said earlier, it’s not a record that wallows. When you open up the CD, the first thing you see is a huge and glowing sentence: "Fight the dying light". That is what "Embers" is about.
Do you often think about death?
Daily. Not with the discipline and intention of certain zen practitioners, but yes, I think about it all the time, and my own thoughts on death inform a lot of my life choices. I chose the name "We Are Temporary" because I consider our mortality to be one of the most fundamental and defining facts of life.
Your last song "Heaven" is about the time after life. Do you think there's a place as the church tell us? The Paradise? Hell?
In as far as "Heaven" is about the afterlife, it’s mainly about the rejection of it. Lines like "there’s nothing here, there’s no-one waiting" and "our life is our last goodbye" are my way of drawing lines in the sand—not to mention the almost endless repetitions of "fuck heaven" during the song’s finale. So no, I don’t personally believe in paradise or hell, or god or the devil, or any other forms of mysticism, supernaturalism, or religion.
Your second album was released very quickly after your debut. So are there already plans for the third?
Yes! I’m hoping to have another record completed by next year. I’m already drowning in demos, sketches, and iPhone recordings.
|| INTERVIEW: DANIEL DRESSLER | DATE: 04/03/18 | CONTACT >
PHOTOGRAPHY © WE ARE TEMPORARY
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