Mack was, for younger readers, lead singer in That Petrol Emotion, who
themselves were formed from the ashes of the Undertones. TPE were big
favourites with journalists and dj's though they never cracked the top
40. 4 years after The Petrols, Steve's new band Marfa Lights (known as
Anodyne in the States) have a new lp out in the UK this summer. Stuart
tracked him down just after "Tensor" was released in the USA.
Petrol Emotion split up in 1994 and you went back to Seattle, why?
Well, we had been together for 9 years, I'd been over there---the UK---for
a complete decade---you have to put it into perspective, I'd just gone
over there for a year off to get away from it all and the whole TPE thing
was a Cinderella story. Basically what happened was that the group broke
up because we'd gone our separate ways and certain people didn't want
to carry on the group, though I wasn't one of them, I was quite happy
with what we here doing---and I found myself in the streets of London
and I realised that I didn't have the band any more, and no way of making
money---and it just seemed it was the right time for a change. And I had
been seeing a woman back in Seattle and I thought "I have a beautiful
woman waiting in Seattle, or I can stay here in this cynical town and
I thought "bag it, I'm going back to Seattle"
what happened to the rest of the guys?
Well, it's interesting because when the band first broke up everyone said
"I'll get away from music for a while" but when we did our last 2 gigs
in London and Ireland everyone thought "God, what have I done, why have
we broken up?" but by that point everyone had made commitments in various
different fields---I had started writing with someone back here, Damien
and Raymond started writing together---they called up our last bass player
Brendan Kelly and the 3 of them started playing out as the Wavewalkers
for about six months or so, really nice stuff but they didn't get any
encouragement and no-one really took then on, Damien got frustrated, and
said "look guys this is getting nowhere fast, I want to get to my own
stuff", so now he's writing his own stuff, sort of instrumental... I can't
believe I managed to turn Damien into a programmer, he couldn't even look
at a computer without breaking into a sweat, now he's programming this
really cool stuff---ambient, drum'n'bass, a little bit of trip-hop mixed
in there, we still keep in touch and exchange cassettes. Raymond is still
working on songs and recently went over to Ireland to mix some material
with an old friend of the Petrols. Large soundscapes with Raymond's near
trademark poetic, melancholy melodies. Very nice. Last but not least Ciaran
is now working at the BBC, he's in the Publishing Division, and we now
keep touch over the internet. Ciaran emailed me and told me he had over
40 new songs and was thinking about going out and doing the singer-songwriter
thing. These days he's listening to a lot of Joni Mitchell. If I know
Ciaran like I think I do, there are some absolute gems awaiting us. Now
if he'd only give them to me and let me be the wandering minstrel...
Marfa Lights/Anodyne like a sideline to your own computer day-job?
Well, I'd like to think that Anodyne is my job and this computer thing
just keeps me out of trouble during the day. We're all still working,
unfortunately. Like lots of artists/musicians here in Seattle, we work
for various software companies, milking our local millionaires of their
hard earned stock dividends. I still work at RealNetworks, where we stream
audio/video/animation/whatever on the Internet. It's a job that I fell
into by chance three years ago, and now I'm some sort of hot shit manager
guy. I fly around broadcasting music conferences like South by Southwest
and also get to tell people about our technology and evangelize media
on the Internet in general. Not quite as much fun as touring, but hey,
it pays the rent.
you now consider Seattle to be truly home or are you still acclimatising?
The transition has been difficult. Seattle has changed immensely in the
last decade but it still isn't London. And going from being an active,
touring musician to groveling for an opening slot at the local venues
can be very demoralizing. But after four years back, it is beginning to
feel like home. Seattle is incredibly beautiful and a wonderful place
to live. Would I trade it in to be in a successful band in Europe? You
bet! In a heartbeat! But would I move back to London to live in hopes
of *maybe* getting a band together and *maybe* getting a gig at the local
how did Anodyne get together?
It was kind of fate---here I was coming back to Seattle to be with this
woman, of course as soon as I got back it immediately crashed and burned.
And in the meantime the same month TPE broke up a band over called Hammerbox
also broke up, and come the end of January 1994 I'm moping round my studio---"Oh
God what am I going to do?" and this letter came and it was just this
huge scrawl on the paper "Come home let's jam---Harris" and it came at
the perfect time as I was feeling quite down about music in general and
it was nice that someone somewhere in the world still wanted to make music
with me. It was literally the first day I was back and he put this cassette
in my hand and "here, listen to this, tell me what you think" and I said
"yes, oh yeah yeah I'll listen to it", and it was actually bloody good
stuff and I thought "alright here we go again" and we started writing.
Unfortunately I was commuting backwards and forwards between London and
Seattle because I still had a recording studio in London, and I hoped
to keep that open and running just to give me an excuse to go back and
forth but running it long distance proved to be a bit too much. So I eventually
folded it and moved back to Seattle in April 1995 and that was when I
came full time into Anodyne and found ourselves a rhythm section and we've
been together ever since.
lp's been a long time in the making since your single---was it difficult
getting it recorded/getting signed up or getting the finance together?
It was an abysmal time to have a band here in the States, the industry
was collapsing in on itself like the proverbial Death Star.
the grunge thing dying cause that then?
The stupidity of the A&R departments was coming home to roost then because
after Nirvana they would go out and sign any 4 guys with goatees and guitars
and most of those as we know didn't sell records and didn't deserve to
have contracts and consequently record companies for the first time in
10 years in 1996 saw almost no growth or profits, so they just dropping
bands left and right and they decided 5 years too late to sign anyone
with a sequencer thinking that they'd sell as many records as Nine Inch
Nails. So for a jump and down guitar pop band it wasn't too good, but
we continued what we were doing because it made up happy.
how did it take so long to get this record out?
Since none of us really had any money, we were holding out in vain for
someone to ride in on a white horse and drop a load of cash on us, or
at least enough to record the damn thing. We played a West Coast tour
which ended up at South by Southwest in the Spring of 1997, and though
many label execs told us they "loved us" no cash was forthcoming. We finally
decided to do it ourselves, that waiting around was getting us nowhere.
Once that decision was made, we shopped around Seattle studios trying
to get the best deal, and began recording in May. Then we took some time
off during the summer to save up some more money and finished the mix
in August. Then we had to save up the money for the pressing, so by the
time it was pressed up, it didn't make sense to release it until 1998,
which we did in January. Independent, our Irish label, had agreed by that
point to release it over there but by the time we agreed on the new name,
redid the artwork, etc., the release date had to be pushed to mid-July.
So here it is at long last.
own musical background is pretty much UK-oriented, are you finding now
that working with your fellow Americans again that your music is changing---a
Britpop vs post-grunge battle in the rehearsal rooms?
My writing is pretty much like it always has been, but after being in
the Petrols for ten years it's just much better. I've always been a fan
of pop music and good choruses, now I can write 'em. Or so I'd like to
think. It's fun being in a band with Americans who don't think 'rock'
is a dirty word! It was always a fine line with TPE. Then again, since
I'm the oldest I sometimes find it frustrating that we don't share the
same musical heritage. For the most part, when I introduce them into yet
another band that I deem 'classic', they understand and really dig it.
The best part about it is that the writing is much more collaborative
than it ever was in TPE and the writing environment is so much more positive.
I wouldn't trade the TPE years for anything, but sometimes the rehearsal
room tensions were unbearable. With Marfa Lights we try to keep that in
check. A lot of it, I'm sure, is that we're not 21 anymore. And I'm not
in a band with four Derrymen!
I say, the 'sound' of Marfa Lights is quite British, not grungey, it brings
up thoughts of the Manics et al because of the fact that it's crafted
songs, do you think that would give you more chance of success in the
UK than the USA?
You know I dunno, there's bound to be a British sound, I studied under
the masters---John O'Neill, Ciaran McLaughlan, Raymond Gorman and these
guys taught me what a crafted song was and to be honest when I first got
over there I liked pop but didn't understand it as an 'art form'---ok,
that's too far too important a term to give it, but I didn't really understand
how they really worked and those people showed me how you really go about
writing a song. I just sort of absorbed that by osmosis and I still have
that love of the British attitude towards pop songs---I've always been
the hugest Beatles fan. The interesting thing is that in TPE I didn't
write the songs, so this is like I'm 17 again, like I'm rediscovering
my fretboard and getting all the things which have been in my head for
years out in a format where I can sing them.
do you find time to keep up with what's happening?
There is a great local college radio station here that keeps fairly good
tabs on what is going on around the world. To be honest, I don't rate
a lot of what is supposed to be hot shit at the moment. I find myself
increasingly drawn back to my record collection. Am I getting old? Perhaps.
But then you find a pearl atop the current dung heap of releases. I love
Neutral Milk Hotel. There's a great band called A Don Piper Situation
whose debut is coming out this fall. The last Jayhawks record was superb.
So far I'm digging what I've heard of the new Cornelius record. The new
Firewater record is great.
do the UK and US 'scenes' compare at the moment?
I don't keep track of the British scene in particular---most of what I
hear coming across the water isn't anything that makes me sit up and take
notice. Except for Gold Blade---they rock! I'm sure there's some great
stuff, but these days you have to look a lot harder to find the gems,
and to be honest I don't have the time. I'm trying to write songs, and
when you write at the snail's pace that I do, you need all the time you
you struggling at all to market your, as I've said, British-tinged (if
you don't mind my saying so) stuff to a cynical American audience who
are reared on American music and believe it's best? Or can you tap into
the underground of US indie kids who 10 years ago would have been listening
to the Petrols and now are into, well, who knows what?
Unfortunately, we're not actively trying to market the record at all.
We simply don't have the time or the money. The main reason behind what
we do is that we like doing it. We'd love to be paid to do it, but we're
wise enough to know the chances of that happening are mighty slim. The
current trends here in the US more or less preclude what we're doing,
and we don't have the time or money to go on tour for 18 months to convince
the kids otherwise. So we'll just keep making records that we like, selling
them to the folks who somehow find out about us.
about a UK tour?
I'd love to get over there and see what the Petrols fans think what my
new venture is like and get some criticism. That's the funny thing, I
know they'll come the first time out of morbid curiosity, but will they
come back the second time, that's what I wanna know. We're hoping there's
enough interest in the record to come over and play a handful of dates
over there in the fall. We're fairly certain we could play London and
Dublin, but other than that, we'd have to see. We've made a hilarious
video for "Infatuated" that must may get some airplay---so we'll see what
why are you confusing us with the name Marfa Lights here and Anodyne in
We had to change the name because there is already an Anodyne releasing
records from Ireland. He's a young kid who apparently makes crazy techno
records, though I haven't heard them.
the new name all about?
Well, Marfa Lights are glowing orbs of light that appear in the sky over
the town of Marfa, Texas. Still unexplained to this day...
answer to the Foo Fighters release "Tensor" in the UK and Ireland in June,
on Independent Records of Ireland, through Shellshock in the UK.