No Repression for Todd Pasternack (and a Hint of Seapods To Come…)
Former (and future, read on) Ominous Seapods guitarist Todd Pasternack has busied himself with the Lo Faber Band as of late. Pasternack, recorded and toured the group and recently donned the horns and a red union suit as Busby Beals in the stage performance of Faber’s Henry House musical. At the same time he continues to write his own music and earlier this year he tapped his bandmates to join him in the studio to record White Out. This disc, which he released as Marlow, presents a series of songs thematically linked by a romantic relationship gone awry (an understatement).
Beginning at the end of October, Pasternack will be joining Faber Band keyboardist Devin Greenwood on the “No Repression Tour,” where they will present much of this material. The dates begin on Halloween at Da Funky Phish in Bay Shore, Long Island and then the pair route south before returning to the northeast in mid-November. A full list of shows, mp3s and the like can be found at marlowmusic.net
DB- Let’s start out with the Marlow album. How did that come about?
TP- A couple of tunes from White Out were going to be Seapods songs but obviously we took a break so that never came to fruition.
DB- Hold on, does “took a break” imply that there are plans for the Seapods to perform again?
TP-WellYeah, there’s been some talk recently. There’s been some talk about doing a few shows with a full cast.
DB- By a full cast I take it you mean there will be three guitar players? [editor’s note: i.e. Including Max Verna. Who left the group at the end of 1998]
TP- Yeah. Everyone seems really into it because the pressure of being in the band won’t be there. It’ll be “Let’s just go out and play these songs, do them justice, have fun with it and not worry about the bullshit that sometimes goes along with being a band and being on a label and having to deal with the pressure of getting ahead.” I think we’re going to do a few shows just to have fun and keep the music that the Seapods created alive.
DB- Well, I hope that happens. It would be a cool thing. With any luck we’ll bust that story wide open here on the site [Laughs]. But back to White Out. In listening to it, it’s clear that’s a pretty heavy album, talk a bit more about its origins.
TP- Throughout the last years of the Pods I had this ridiculous, intense relationship with this woman who I fell stupidly in love with. I wanted to marry her, I just thought this was the one. But over time that year I started to see signs of an unbalanced emotional and psychological state and it really weighed heavily on our relationship. In effect, it also weighed heavily on the band because it was the most stressful time in my life. My music with the Seapods was my heart and soul and then this woman came into my life, who was tearing me away from it. And that’s what the album is about, concluding with one of the most horrific events of my life which was seeing her trying to kill herself. The music just came out from there, man. There was no stopping it. The dam burst open and thank god I had the support of my family and friends, my musician friends especially. They encouraged me and said, “You’ve got to write this album.”
DB- Given the nature of what happened, were you at all reluctant to present this relationship in such a public forum?
TP- No, I had no reluctance whatsoever. I felt I had no choice. This is what I do. This is what I am. I’m a musician, a songwriter. I’m the type of person who usually doesn’t show a whole lot on the outside. Everything ends up coming out through music for me.
DB- When you perform these songs, to what extent do they summon the emotions that you associate with that period of your life?
TP- We did a few shows as Marlow already, with all the members of the Lo Faber Band. I remember the show in New York City especially. It was a week after the album came out and as we were playing some of these songs it really dawned on me again what I was singing about. By then it was a year after everything had happened and I was singing and looking at all the musicians who were there and helped me record the album and then it hit me. I almost couldn’t finish. I got very emotional, it overtook me. That was the last song of the set because I wasn’t sure if I could play anymore. I was emotionally wrought by the end of that show. It was just, “Oh my god I can’t believe the hell of that year.”
DB- Now on this upcoming tour you and Devin will be performing as a duo throughout the night?
TP- Yes, it’s myself and Devin. He has an album of his own that he’s releasing it’s called AgaveGreenhouse. We’re going to be doing both Marlow songs and Devin’s tunes and a couple covers.
DB- So relative to these songs, in this situation you’ll be all the more naked?
TP- Oh god, yes. [Laughs]
DB- Well that should be compelling action in its own right. So it’ll be guitar and keys?
TP- I’m going to be bring my acoustic and electric guitars. He’s bringing out his Wurlitzer, electric piano and maybe another toy or two. I have a good feeling about these shows. It’s going to be different and I think that when people come out they may discover something new about what this scene has to offer.
DB- Well you’ve dubbed it the “No Repression” Tour so I would assume that you’re a fan of alt-country bands?
TP- I’m a huge fan of Wilco, Son Volt, Uncle Tupelo
DB- Songwriting is obviously one of the hallmarks of those bands. Can you talk a bit about how you think your own songwriting has developed.
TP- When I started out I was more in the typical jam band vein, trying to sound like Zappa with some complex arrangements. It was kind of stump your audience, “Wait, what time signature are they in?” I think that’s cool and I’m really glad that I went through it as a songwriter. At that point I had goofy lyrics because I was 18, 19 years old in my first group Mr Ferguson Band and what the fuck was I going to write about? Cutting class? I hadn’t lived very much. It took me a while to hone in on writing better lyrics.
With the Seapods, I would sit with Dana [Monteith] and we’d hash out ideas and riffs until we got a good melody or maybe a good starting lyric idea and then we would take time with it. I can remember the first tour I did when we were starting to write the Superman Curse. The five of us would sit in the back of the RV and talk about ideas for lyrics, not just chord changes but “What is this song about?” It was a great time. The song that was the most fun to write was “Imaginary Money” because everybody had an idea about that and everybody chimed in.
Then I really got into Aimee Mann who is an underrated songwriter. She writes the ultimate pop songs in that they’re catchy but at the same time they so have much emotion and truth. You know what, that’s probably why it’s not mainstream [laughs]. It’s probably so damn honest that it’s hard to take. Lately, I’ve gotten into Elvis Costello who’s another amazing songwriter and his new album is just kicking my ass.
DB- It’s interesting you mentioned those two because Aimee Mann wrote the music on Til Tuesday’s Everything’s Different Now, which is a real intense album about the end of a relationship andElvis Costello co-wrote “The Other End (Of The Telescope)” on that same release. So you have it all right there. Anyhow, moving on, in terms of approaching these songs in the live setting, to what extent will they stay within their current form and to what extent will you take some of them out for a spin?
TP- There are a couple of tunes that are straightforward songs and that’s how they and there are some others that have so much potential for exploration and improv. For instance, the second song on the album, “Fallen Up,” that whole outro is open. It’s just these chords repeating and it’s really moody and it can go anywhere. It can start off really quiet and then explode or it can remain as this eerie loop and you can add all these textures to it. Or there’s “What Would It Take” which we did with the Lo Faber Band last week. Lo wanted to do it and we had this big Black Crowes outro, an extended guitar solo. But there are some songs I don’t want to touch, they’re not asking for it. They’re saying, “Look Todd, this is what we are, you made us this way. Don’t fuck with it.”[laughs]
DB- To what extent do you see it as a something of a burden that when you tour with this material, most people familiar with your music associate you with improvisation and guitar solos?
TP- There are times when I’m really conflicted with it. There are times when I’m like, “Why the hell did I get in this scene when all I want to do is write solid songs and not have to worry about an audience saying, When the hell are they going to jam already?’” But I’m thankful to have support and I don’t think I’m underestimating jamband audiences. I think they get music like this. I like to think, for instance, they have U2 in their collection and groups like that. I don’t think it’s just Phish, Gov’t Mule, String Cheese and the Disco Biscuits.
DB- Although if you look at the music of the bands you named it is qute dissimilar. So someone who owns all four probably has eclectic musical taste.
TP- Right those are totally different groups, a fan of those groups has an open mind. You have to appreciate, I’m a guy who’s coming from a history of jambands and loves it and appreciates it and I still love to rip on the guitar, it’s a relief. I guess I’m just hoping that people will be open to this other direction and will follow me along. It’s not like a Phish show where you can get down and dance all night. It’s more open up yourself to what we’re doing and try to go to the place where we’re going to go with the music emotionally. It’s not always joyful music.
That’s another thing about jamband music, most of it is about celebration. That’s great and thank god music like that exists, and not to say I’m the bringer of the big down, but I think I’m tapping into other emotions. There is celebration but it’s celebration through revelation and redemption. There’s the old cliched saying “I’ve been through hell and back” but it’s true and people really live those lives. I know I’m not the only one.
DB- Fair enough. So you recorded and you’re touring as Marlow. How did you land on that name for this project?
TP- I was searching and searching for a name. Ted [Marotta] and I were trying to think of a name because we started this originally. We wanted to be called the Somethings and then I went online and saw there was a band in New York City called the Somethings. I had to scrap that and I went on a mission to find I name. Around that time I picked up a copy of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness which I hadn’t read in a while and the character who tells the story is named Marlow, and I was like, “That’s it!” I really liked the name, where it comes from, and the significance to me. So we just went for it.
DB- Some of your newer, post-White Out material is a little more upbeat. Do you think at some point you’ll decide that you’ve outstripped the moniker?
TP- No, I think I’m just going to keep it. I like it. I told my friends that I’m going to treat it like Moby or Sting and they said, “Dude, if you think we’re going to start calling you Marlow, you’re crazy.” [laughs]