Marlon Brando Island
OF all the various bands and artists I get to interview…
there are few that have a name as ice-cool as Marlon Brando Island. A Troubled Past and True Heroes is their double A-side: deceleration the boys have bags of quality and ambition. Their influences include Taking Heads and The National but, with the trio, you have an original and brave voice. Marcus, the band’s lead, takes up the majority of the questions and explains the derivation of that name – and whether the much-fabled island still exists. I ask him about the band’s origins and the artists they are all influenced by. I ask whether there is a big D.I.Y. component in the music-making of Marlon Brando Island and whether we can expect any new material later in the year. I was curious whether there were any trouble-makers in the group and, in the spirit of the name, I put the lads on Marlon Brando Island (my version of Desert Island Discs): where they get to select a song, a luxury and a book.
Hi, guys. How are you? How has your week been?
Marcus: Hello there, we’re doing pretty good, thanks (How are you?) We’ve been busy doing all the things that we do when we don’t make music this week – which is a bit of an odd feeling. Jobs, uni and all that stuff.
I’ve got to ask about the band name, ‘Marlon Brando Island’. Are you big fans of Brando or was it picked on a whim? Does that island still exist anymore, do you know?
I do have a reason for picking that name, but, I’ve been told by someone, who is reliably responsible, and empirically better than me, that I shouldn’t say why. Sure, Brando is great: he was nothing but innovative and exciting.
I think it does, yeah. I am about 95% sure most of the people who like us online were just trying to book a holiday.
I believe the group started with Marcus’ D.I.Y. ethic and bedroom-made music. How did it turn from a solo project into a trio?
Yeah. I have been making music in bedrooms for an unhealthy amount of time. It’s still my favourite way to write and record music. I did try playing acoustically but that was awful, just awful. I had a special contempt and fear for it.
A mutual friend of ours saw me live and, I imagine, could see that in my face, almost instantly. He asked Marco and Edd if they could stop that happening: they agreed; we all hesitantly met at a rehearsal space and that was that.
You have been compared to everyone from The National to Talking Heads. Is it encouraging being compared to legendary acts or are you keen to forge your own sound?
The National and Talking Heads are bands that have, undoubtedly, influenced our songs. I can say they haven’t, but they’re most definitely swirling all over the place inside of me. I listened to a lot of that stuff growing up, especially Alligator and Remain in Light. It’s definitely encouraging. I think we’d be in an incredibly odd mood if we denied that we’d ultimately just like to sound like ourselves.
On that note, who are the acts you each grew up listening to?
Marcus: The Velvet Underground was a pretty big one for me growing up. Beastie Boys. This Heat.
Edd: Growing up …Interpol, Joy Division and The Cure. Stuff I still like now!
Marco: Bob Dylan, Helmet; Miles Davis…
A Troubled Past, part of your double-A-side looks at Marcus’ past as a support worker – where people would get lost between the cracks. Do you think there is still a big issue with social care and is it something more musicians should be highlighting?
Marcus: Hmmm, I do actually regret mentioning that a bit. I never like forcing ideas onto people – especially if I’m shouting at them through speakers or from a stage. There’s definitely a motivation to the song in that people are grey areas. I think people lose sight of that because it’s not that compatible with modern living. It’s a time-consuming approach to life. I guess it’s a song about compassion but I don’t think there’s a lack of that in social care. I worked as a support worker for five years.
It was an amazing experience full of amazing people. Everyone was just perpetually disillusioned and frustrated. There was always gross underfunding combined with a general ineptitude of most people with power over that funding – most of whom have never set foot in a social care setting.
The humanity kinda (sic.) gets lost somewhere within all that. I think it’s an important issue for sure – especially working with teenagers like I was. A bit of light is always good.
True Heroes is a big and bold thing. What was the origin of that song?
Hmmm. Meaning-wise, I might learn my lesson and keep quiet about that one. There’s an original version of that song floating around which is really sparse and slow – which probably gives a better idea as to what I was up to at the time. I think it (probably) originated from me listening to Hounds of Love and sitting at the kitchen table, being miserable.
Both tracks are part of a double A-side. I am seeing more and more acts releasing music like this. Why do you think that double-sided release is becoming so popular?
I think a double A-side is a really good way of giving people a short, sharp overview of what you’re attempting to do as a band. I think an E.P. is a bit overwhelming for some people – especially if it’s a new band. Two songs of awfulness is gonna be easier to bear than five.
Hopefully, people feel differently about ours, though.
In terms of recording your songs; do they start in the bedroom and then into the studio or is everything captured in a D.I.Y./home setting?
All our songs start with me writing the songs at home on an old eight-track that I’ve had for years.
We work out the song and then we argue about the song and then decide to play it for five fours – and then we record the final product of that.
That recording for (A Troubled Past/True Heroes) was actually made in Purley, South London in a small studio by an incredible man named Paul of Sound. Hi Paul.
What happens now regarding your music? Are you planning an E.P. or album for this year?
We’re actually looking for a label to work with us on putting out an album, which we’ve had down for what seems like a crazy amount of time now. So, we’re hoping that materialises this year.
I know you play The Islington on 20th April. Are there any more tour dates planned for this year?
We’re actually playing The Queens Head on the 20th April – The Islington is on the 27th. We’re still trying to get on festival bills at the moment, which as you can imagine, is not plain-sailing. We’re really looking forward to The Old Queens Head gig, though: that’s going to be memorable.
If you had to select the album that has meant the most to each of you; what would it be and why?
Marcus: Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein. I remember, before that, I had deluded myself into thinking I could make every album I heard. I heard the cold vein and that immediately stopped happening. It is incredible.
Edd: Might seem unusual but Original Pirate Material by The Streets: reminds me of my closest teenage friends.
Marco: One Last Laugh in a Place of Dying by God Machine!
Are there any mischief-makers in the group? Any cheeky pranksters or members who like to cause a bit of chaos?
Marcus: Yes, Marco.
He’s half-Italian, half-Irish. There is nothing more to elaborate on.
Who are the new artists you recommend we investigate?
Have you any advice for songwriters coming through at the moment?
Yes. Please, please (please) write about things that make up your little world. Trust me: they will never age.
Finally, and a bit of a departure for me, I am sending you all to Marlon Brando Island: my, rather spiffing, version of Desert Island Discs. You can each take a song, a luxury and book with you. What would they be?
Marcus: Ah, nice! Hmmm…
Song would be Cloudbusting by Kate Bush.
A luxury would be a beanbag shaped like a baseball glove.
A book would be…actually that one is unanswerable: maybe something by Laurie Lee?
Edd: The song is super-hard but, at the moment, A Song for the Dead by Queens of the Stone Age.
Luxury items: either my cat Hugo or ice cream sandwiches.
Book: definitely Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Marco: Ok, book: The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin.
Song: L’Utltima Luna by Lucio Dalla.
Luxury: a personal cook and a fully-stocked cellar. Simple.
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