I'd been out of prison for about a year when I was asked to contribute a track to Fierce, a benefit compilation for my friend Jennifer Holmes. I had no real plan where writing, recording and performing music were concerned beyond following whatever felt like the next right thing to do. Jennifer's benefit felt like that next right thing. I called Jordan Richter - who had engineered Nowhere Nights and Heart of a Dog, and who owns Room 13 Recording in Portland - and asked if we could get some folks together to donate a track for Jennifer. Jordan, Lewi Longmire, Jesse Sutherland and Capers Ogletree were amenable to the idea and so we cut "Wiseblood", a Tender Mercies song I'd loved as a kid and rediscovered when my band went out with Mercies and Counting Crows in 2012. We tracked and mixed the song in a day at Room 13 and got it in under the wire to make Jennifer's record. At the time, it felt like a pretty natural place for me to leave things. I'd spent most of my 20s and 30s making records and touring with mixed results and after prison, my focus was on earning my certification as a Peer Support Specialist for others who live with mental illness and addiction.
I stayed in touch with Jordan as 2016 came to an end and most everyone I knew recoiled in horror and then stood back up and fought for themselves and each other the best they could, in the ways they knew how. Songs started to show up for me around that time. Some had been around before and during my time in prison and hung around long enough to stay, and others came along as one year gave way to the next and the world seemed to be trying to shake all of us off like a dog does its fleas. That spring, more as a distraction than anything else, I started playing with Jordan, Ben Landsverk and Jesse Moffat on the rare days when we were all free of other obligations. Because our practice space was Jordan's studio, we recorded whatever we did. Why not? Our intention was to have a record what we were doing in case we happened upon an idea one or two of us might want to chase around sometime later. I'd been playing the odd duo gig with my friend Peter Ames Carlin, who was insistent that making another record ought to be at least somewhere near my radar. I told him I thought it was asking a lot of people to expect them to want to hear what I had to say after the things I'd done and for the most part, we left it at that. The shows with Peter, though, and the occasional nights at Room 13, reminded me that long before I'd let everything in my life run off the rails, making up songs and playing them with friends was something I loved very much.
In June, Bj Barham came through Portland on his Great 48 Tour, and in the middle of catching up after the gig I blurted out that I was probably through making records. From then on, BJ joined Peter in insisting that pursuing a career in advocacy did not have to mean abandoning writing, recording, and performing. Songs kept showing up and summer found Jordan, Jesse, Ben and myself with a little more free time on our hands than any of us had expected. Rehearsals turned into recording sessions, and we started to hear an album in there. BJ and Peter's voices had been joined by some other very generous, very supportive friends, and so I sent them the tracks and invited them to play or sing along if they felt so inclined. Eric Ambel, who produced my first three records, gave us a guitar part for "Chasing the Sky", as did Andrew McKeag. McKeag sang too, which was a nice reminder of how lucky I had been to play with him in the Honkies. McKeag said he loved "From a White Hotel" and so he put some guitar on that, as well. Kurt Bloch and Ralph Carney lent guitar and sax, respectively, to "Get Low", a song I'd had around for a few years that hadn't managed to find its way onto a record. Dave Jorgensen played some trumpet(s) on "Every Once In a While", and Marisa La Fata Mazur sang on that one. Kay Hanley sang with me on "The Dangerous Ones", a song I'd written as I watched what looked for all the world to me like a country beginning to eat itself alive.
It's Autumn now in Portland as I write this and we've got ten tracks that sound to me like a finished record. I'm grateful for the opportunity to write and play and sing these songs, and to have my friends around for it. The life I lead is a lucky one, and I try each day to be deserving of it. I make no attempt to ignore or forget the things I did, and I don't expect anyone else to ignore or forget them, either. I spent a long time covering up and the only thing that came from it was a lot of pain for people who loved me, and people who trusted me, and and a lot of time lost I'd love to have back. To make sure the things I learned and the changes I made remain a part of my life is important to me; just as important is making sure I don't allow the past to define who I am and what I do now. Which brings me to this:
I'm proud of these songs and so grateful and honored to have been able to record them with my friends. I'd like for people to hear them. I believe they're worth listening to. I hope they'll be available to you sometime toward the middle of next year. That feels, to me, like the next right thing.
Kasey Anderson | Portland, OR | October 31, 2017
From New York City by the way of Gainesville, Florida, and now fairly new to Los Angeles, Sam Marine has already made himself an integral part of the LA roots-rock music scene. Playing alongside up and comers Rod Melancon, Jaime Wyatt and Sam Morrow, it makes sense that he tapped former Dwight Yoakam sideman and producer of Melancon’s Southern Gothic, Brian Whelan, to produce his new EP, Big Dark City.
Big Dark City is Marine’s 3rd CD. His first two, Lacktown and New Home were both mixed by heavyweight producer John Agnello (Sonic Youth, Kurt Vile, Drive By Truckers) and mastered by Greg Calbi (Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty). His raspy, urgent vocals often earn him favorable comparisons to Springsteen, Tom Petty and Paul Westerberg. A Thousand Guitars music blog has described his songwriting imagery as “…recalling a dust-choked, windblown existence that somehow still manages to look up from the gutter.”
With Big Dark City, Whelan and Marine took a few weeks carefully arranging the music on acoustic guitars and singing without microphones as they sat on Whelan’s front porch. “Everything was worked out and arranged front-to-back,” said Marine. “It was as bare bones as it could be before we took it into the studio to record.”
With Marine on lead vocals, and guitar, Whelan not only produced, but added his own guitar and played organ. He also brought in Dwight Yoakam drummer, Mitch Marine and completed the rhythm section with Aaron Stern on bass. The result is a tight collection of catchy guitar-driven Americana songs with an edge that some would deem ‘Heartland Rock’. “Two guitars, bass, drums and organ,” Marine speculates. “Just about as meat and potatoes as it gets.”
The title track is a song about a man who was once a hell raiser and after trying ‘domestication’ finds out it’s not for him so he rebels. “Parts of the song are specifically about my own experiences while living in Brooklyn,” Marine said. “Musically I wanted there to be a vulnerability felt, an unstable ground of loud and quiet taking turns moving back and forth. I also knew I wanted it to be a rocker, to show the regression of this man.”
“Dawn Come and Gone” is a boogie that is the Saturday morning prior to “Big Dark City’s” Sunday night. “I’m a bartender and a musician,” he said. “Sometimes when you have a late-night lifestyle, the sunrise can sneak up on you before you realize what time it is.” “Freeze ‘Em Out uses Marine’s very personal lyrics set to a surf track which he arranged with friend and former band mate, Aaron Goodrich.
“I’ll Soon Be Gone” was a song that was recorded on his first record Lacktown, but was made new again by Mitch Marine adding a different drumbeat. “He really changed the song for the better,” he noted. “Having heard the song played a certain way for a number of years, it was a little jarring for me to sing where the new beat was, but once I wrapped my head around it, it was obvious that the song should be recorded this way.”
Marine wrote the song “Mike Lee” as a tribute to a friend who had passed away. “He died of an overdose, but it’s not about that. This song is about what a good guy he was and how he always had your back, “ Marine points out. He gives lyrics as an example, “If you get along with him, you’ll get along with me, and if you got time for one, we got time for three…now to the other side of town, with the solitude you found, and all the way back again, Mike Lee.”
Marine’s brother, Chris Marine is also a musician who plays drums with the band Phosphorescent. The two brothers were in a band together in Florida (Apollo Quartet) before Marine decided to try his luck in New York. He credits their choice of music careers to their parents. “My parents and all of their friends were very young and always had the television turned to MTV or VH1,” he remembers. “They always had loud music playing, they always danced, they always seemed to be rockin’ and having a good time. I saw what music did to people and had a feeling that if I played music I could make them behave that way too.”
Big Dark City is simple, classic, personal and honest. It’s sure to establish Sam Marine’s footing in the roots-rock genre while finding it's own place in any listener's heart.