We are really stoked for this next interview! Marc from FIVES was gracious enough to sit down with us and talk about his current project that yours truly is working on. There are some great industry insights in these answers so make sure you read them all, and check these guys out!
1. Tell us about your musical background, how you got into songwriting, and any current projects you have now.
I started playing guitar at 7 years old. My grandma gave me a starter electric guitar and I can remember sitting in front of the TV playing along to Raffi songs. I’m not sure if anybody actually remembers Raffi, but he was a really popular children’s singer when I was growing up. Who could forget such hits as Baby Beluga and Apples and Bananas? I started my first band while in college, which is actually where I met my friend Matt White who helped start our current band, FIVES. From there I went to Nashville for a few years where I studied music business. I was fortunate enough to work with a great production team and really learn what happens behind the artist. As for songwriting, I think I wrote my first song in the early 2000’s. I honestly don’t remember what it was, but it was probably about a high school girlfriend. It couldn’t have been very good since she wasn’t my girlfriend for very long, but I’ve been writing ever since. Currently I’m in a band called FIVES out of Rockville, MD. We’re working on a new EP with Steve and Nate from SongBuilder Studios and it’s going really well so far.
2. What inspires you as a songwriter?
I’m always looking for a good story. I don’t know if I have a “muse” or one thing I can always count on though. I try to draw inspiration from my own experiences but I like writing in a way that isn’t too specific. I enjoy writing the foundation of a story and leaving just enough space for the listener to be able to insert themselves into the song. I think that’s how people connect with music and get inspired by the music. I really believe that if a person feels like you’re saying what they couldn’t say, or maybe just saying it a little bit better than they could, then you’ve done your job as a songwriter. I just think you have to be ready to accept whatever inspiration appears. It could be my wife or daughter, and it has been many times, but it might also be car accident or a broken window or whatever. I always have a pen ready to wright that stuff down.
3. What do you think about the current state of the music industry? Do you think it’s more difficult to build a career in music today than say 20 years ago?
I think the music industry is in a little bit of turbulence right now. It’s trying to figure out how to deal with a diminishing profit model caused by .99 cent downloads and online streaming. Nobody is buying full albums anymore. We buy our favorite song from the record and ignore the rest. It hurts the business side of things but it really screws with the up-and-coming artist who might not have the reach needed to make any sort of real money off of their single on iTunes. I think there are two ways to answer the “is it more difficult now” question. In some ways, yeah, it’s much harder now. There is so much noise out there that a great band or a great song can get smothered by some skateboarding dog on YouTube. Every songwriter has either a studio in their house or the ability to record a good quality demo and post it on the internet. On the other hand, bands that broke in the 90’s and earlier had to travel around the country in a small van, playing three shows a night, making little money, and hoping that some A&R rep. would hear about them. Don’t get me wrong, touring to promote your music is absolutely essential. I’m just saying that there are other avenues now that allow musicians to reach millions of people without ever leaving their basement. If it were up to me, I’d be in a smelly van.
4. Who are some of your favorite songwriters right now?
My favorite songwriter is Dave Matthews but I love the Beach Boys and think Brian Wilson is a genius. I also really like Chris Thile from Nickel Creek and now Punch Brothers. I’d throw in some John Mayer stuff too: Billy Joel, Sting, early Chris Martin. I love that they actually write songs with meanings and messages. I love songs you have to think about. Ones that don’t spell it out for you in black and white. I think there are some people who do that now, but I don’t think they’re the norm anymore. I like Ed Sheeran a lot. Marcus Mumford is another one. I think he’s brilliant.
5. If you haven’t already, are you open to working with another songwriter or a team of songwriters?
The first time I ever worked as a songwriting “team” was on this current FIVES record. For the most part I would start writing a song by myself, acoustic guitar and scratch lyrics, then bring it to the guys in the band for their input. With this current record, we’re working a lot with Nate and Steve on formulating the music and trying to build a song around a melody which was something totally new for me. I already had a lot of lyrics written for these songs, some we wrote in the studio, but it was a new experience for me having so many people focusing on lyrics. We’re definitely going to do some more co-writing in the future though. I think these new songs are stronger because of it.
6. How important is outside opinions of your working songs?
I have a core group of 3 or 4 people who I ask to give me feedback on a song before it is finished, in addition to the guys in the band of course. I think it’s good to have people outside of the band review your work since they are not emotionally attached to it. With that said, I think a songwriter or a band should first trust themselves and their instincts over anyone else’s opinion. Outside opinions are great, but I use their feedback in correlation with how the band feels. If the band loves it, for me at least, that’s the most important thing. Otherwise I think it becomes very easy to fall into the trap of trying to please everybody and ultimately pleasing nobody.
7. Do you think it would be beneficial to have an unbiased team of songwriters in the studio with you while you record music?
I don’t know if I would work well with a bunch of people in the studio making sure I checked all of the boxes on the hit song check list. I could see it more if I were a solo artist or making a solo record. Then I think having a few extra sets of ears would be beneficial. I’m in this band with a great group of guys who are all extremely talented. If something stinks, they’ll tell me about it because their names will be on it too. If you have a good band and good producers, then I think you’re all set. I trust the guys I’m working with. Otherwise why make music together?
8. What’s the most unique location you’ve ever written a song?
I write in the shower a lot. I take really long showers. I could be done in 2 minutes but there’s something about a hot shower that is really relaxing. I guess that’s not too weird. I should have said the zoo.
9. Who would win a drum off – Carter Beauford or Jamaal Turner?
Our drummer Jamaal is a very humble guy, so I know he would say that Carter would win. I don’t think there are too many musicians out there like Carter. What he can do on the drums is amazing. Jamaal has a lot of those same qualities though which is really fun for me. Sometimes when we’re playing he’ll do an amazing rhythm or syncopation and I’ll look back at him with this goofy smile on my face. Half of the time I need to remind myself to keep playing because I’m too busy listening to all the cool stuff that Jamaal is doing. Jamaal for me is the mood ring on stage. He tells me how I should be feeling. If he’s having fun then I feel like I can relax and open up. If he looks serious then I know we need to step up our game.
10. What would be a dream tour for FIVES to be on and why?
A dream tour… I know there are three venues that I’ve always wanted to play; The Gorge in Washington State, Red Rocks in Colorado, and Giant Stadium in New Jersey. I know that last one is a bit different, but I’m from Jersey originally and I saw my first concert there. It was a co-headlining tour of Billy Joel and Elton John. I think I was 10 or so. The Gorge and Red Rocks I think are two of the most beautiful and iconic places to play music and it would be amazing to make loud noises there.
I think we’ve all imagined playing alongside of our musical heroes so any one of them would be a dream. Honestly, being able to go around the country playing our own songs is what it’s all about. Putting on a great show remembering that when we play live we are literally someone’s Friday or Saturday night. That’s a huge privilege and whether its in a 200 seat bar or a 10,000 seat amphitheater, just being on the road and on stage, that’s what this band lives for.
Good stuff Marc, thanks again! Make sure to check these guys out on Facebook and show ‘em some love.