ON HIS LATEST RECORD, ‘FAST IDOL’, BLACK MARBLE’S CHRIS STEWART CREATED A STUNNING COLLECTION OF EARLY ’80S PASTICHE COLDWAVE SONGS FULL OF EMOTION, CAPTURING THE HIGHS AND LOWS OF HIS OWN ISOLATION AND INFLUENCES
Anyone who has been listening to Black Marble’s music for a while can probably guess that Chris is a thoughtful person. Whether he’s digging deeper into his own feelings of isolation and frustration, taking a clear inventory of his daily bus route, or trying to connect with someone dancing by themselves on the subway, Chris mines both his own subconscious and the subconscious of our culture for the things that can make us feel a little less alone when we’re moving through the world with our headphones on. What follows is a discussion on learning a Mariah Carey song, reality check, urban loneliness in New York, and the inspiration behind his latest album ‘Fast Idol’, out now on Sacred Bones Records.
yeah: I wanted to start off by asking about the ‘All I want for Christmas is you’ cover you did, I was curious as to what the inspiration for that was?
chris stewart: I originally was thinking that what I would do was kind of make a youtube-y kind of video where I was just playing guitar, and singing the actual song, but it was hard for me to play and sing at the same time, so I thought; ‘Well, what if I can’t actually play this properly and sing it at the same time?’. And then I thought, ‘All right, so maybe I’ll just make an actual song’, like the way that I make Black Marble songs where I produce it, and then I’ll just kind of sing over what I pre-produced. So basically in like the span of 3 days, it went from like an acoustic guitar version of ‘All I want for Christmas’ to this more post-punk version of it. I really like how it came out and people seem to like it.
your latest album ‘Fast Idol’ was released on October 2021, how much did the pandemic experience kind of influence you?
Well, for me, I would say, maybe this is kind of counterintuitive, but like the pandemic, it was somehow kind of good for me as an artist, I think, being able to really concentrate and having no distractions is a really good thing. And you know, I basically had a year where was almost like a sanctuary to be able to come to my studio and just not really have to think about anything, but like my work there, and wasn’t anybody sort of breathing down my neck in terms of deadlines, because like everybody had bigger problems, you know? Making music is a way to take my mind off of the other things that were going on.
Living in a pandemic world and having a studio to come to every day allowed me to leave the world that I was in, then allowed me to maybe do a better job of creating worlds that could allow other people to leave the world that they’re in.
I wonder if you think that people kinda need that feeling of personal connection and to escape into your world?
What I was feeling when I was working on ‘Bigger Than Life’ was based on what was happening here in the States. Things that I didn’t expect, that were changing my opinion of who people really were, and showing that who we really were as a country is different than who I thought, and how we’ve all had to sort of grow up a little bit and see kind of the seedy underbelly of our society. Some of the things that have happened in the last handful of years, I almost didn’t think that it would be possible in this country to see that kind of stuff. And it bothered me so much that I couldn’t do what I usually do when I make music, which is to just, I kind of tap into the sort of somber side of my personality. But I think that people are drawn to that. And so I felt like with this record, I just stuck with more of an intuitive sense of mood and how I was feeling, and trust that other people would respond to that. Nobody’s really looking to me to change their mood or brighten the world for them. And that’s the way that I always made music in the past. So I’m happy with the way that this record came out and I’m hoping that people connect to it in a more nonverbal kind of way that they may be connected to my music in the past.
I think it connects as someone who lives in New York City where I’m surrounded by people at all times and still feel that sense of loneliness and gloominess…
My natural self is more of a solitary self. And I think people can get really lonely in New York because they’re so many people, but they’re not necessarily like paying attention to you, you know, it’s almost like wallpaper, but I always kind of like that, you know what I mean, I like that about it, and I definitely do feel like there’s a bit of a somber tone to it, but I always kinda liked it. And to me that just feels like life, you know? I definitely amplify that in my music, and I think I make music for people who are kind of by themselves. I guess I’ve made it dancier lately, but I’m making it for somebody who’s just on the train with their headphones on and going through something, you know, like all of us. Music has an audience, and that’s mine. People that are primarily in cities, and in this insular world. I’m trying to kind of give them a soundtrack that they can have, you know, a mood that they can sink into that can help them to forget about what’s going on outside if they want to, but can also be like a soundtrack to what they’re seeing if they wanna do that.
one of the things I’m curious about is how you manage to keep finding new ground in a style of music that’s largely based on using 40-year-old electronics?
I sort of have an idea of it, but I don’t a hundred percent have an idea of it. I can’t quite fully put my finger on exactly what sonic fingerprint or like territory I’m trying to use in order to get across this feeling that I’m trying to get across. There’s almost a bit of a cinematic sense. And then also a bit of an off-kilter sense where you feel you don’t have immediate access to something, you know like it’s either coming through whether it’s like a bad, one speaker’s blown or something, I don’t always nail it, but it keeps me on track most of the time. I’m not trying to create noise music. I’m not trying to create unwanted sound, you know? I’m trying to create sounds that people are going to gravitate to, but I’m not always trying to create the most purest version of them. I don’t mind there being interference, and I think that’s part of what makes things seem like I made them as there’s that sensibility that I think is kind of important.
what kind of impresses me is it still feels like with each album you’re finding something fresh and new within that…
I definitely think that trying to figure it out is what’s giving me the material.
- NYC indie label Sacred Bones turns 15 this year, and they’ll celebrate with a special anniversary show at Knockdown Center on May 28, featuring Black Marble, and more acts.