Mark Mallman: The Reporter's Notebook

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Nick Vlcek
After spending a few days on the road with Mark Mallman, seeing him perform a handful of times, and conducting a lengthy formal interview with him once we had returned to Minneapolis, I ended up with a wealth of information for today's cover story, some of which could not be contained in a mere 3500-word feature.

First, here's Mallman talking about his new graphic novel that he created with his cousin, the first installment of which was published on Magnet:
"We're doing this thing with Magnet, where over five days they're publishing this story that is like--I pull a robot out of a television set program, out of pure apathy. Like, my apathy is so strong for some reason it can open a vortex. And then there's this centipede... My cousin, who did the artwork, and I, we're working on a graphic novel and this is the first step in getting it published, and Magnet is going to print the first third of it, and we have a drawing for each day. I always tell people it's somewhere between Motley Crue, The Dirt, and The Metamorphosis by Kafka. It's an existential parody."

And Mallman on the darkness that lies beneath the surface of many of his songs:
"I've gone all the way to the edge. I've gone almost as far to the edge as you can get, as far as depression. And my goal is now, just to keep myself in check. Be positive and spread that kind of vibe. Thoughtful. And I love horror movies and I love depressing movies, but I guess I have to be very responsible when I create it that I'm not encouraging the wrong kind of activities."

On being a nerd in school:
"When I was a really young kid I was into programming computers--really young, like 10 or something, 11, which isn't uncommon now but it was then. I wrote a program for the Commodore 64 called "Fraction Fever," and it went to all the schools in our district. I wrote another program called "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Math." [laughs] That's maybe one of my only regrets, is shit, maybe I should have gone into computers, now I'd be fucking loaded. But maybe I wouldn't be. I don't know. They put me in an advanced science class in 7th grade because I liked computers so much and I was really nerdy looking, and I fucking failed the shit out of that class. I succeeded in failure."

On when he started writing songs:
"Pop songs? When I was 11. I went with this guy Jeff Ratte, he was my piano teacher and he had a recording studio at the time, and he had a band named the Dirty White Boys, and we recorded a song called "I Cannot Stop." My brother teased me because he thought it was about beating off, but it was about how I could not stop rocking."

On a secret theme that lies within his recent work:
"I try to hide a book title in every song. And sometimes they're obvious, like in Still Wasted, it's obvious--there's something about Oscar Wilde. But in Knockout, I'll say, 'the importance of being earnest is like juggling hand granades.' It's not always shit that I've read. I was introduced to some of my favorite books, like The Stranger because of the Cure, or Steppenwolf because of the name. So I hope that maybe it encourages some younger people to read books." [laughs]

On how his lifestyle and art are connected or not connected):
"I don't have a balanced life. I work too much, I don't have a love life. I don't eat right, I drink a lot sometimes. I'm not a healthy person, in society's standards. And I don't think that bears any relevance on my music at all. I don't believe in talent, really. I never have. I believe in hard work. That's probably my worst habit, is hard work."
"I think one terrible stereotype is the stereotype of Van Gogh, Vincent Van Gogh, the struggling artist. The suffering artist. I think it's a bad way to find validity, to live for your art. Because that was not a happy man. His work was great, but he wasn't happy. And they don't have anything to do with each other. It took me a while to learn that. You don't have to be on heroin, you don't have to party all the time to be this rock thing. You don't have to be depressed to be a writer, you don't have to be crazy to be a painter--these are all stereotypes that have been created by the culture that surrounds them."

On the perks of touring:
I love food, I love people, and I have friends, now, all over that we stay with. There's a guy in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who has an entire wall of his house with my pictures on it. We stay with him. He's a trekkie and he speaks to his dogs in Klingon, his name is Little Bobby, he's a great musician. We just meet all these amazing people. I like eccentric people. I just hung out with Tay Zonday in LA when we were out there, and he's doing great. I mean, the only difference between being a national artist and a local artist is that you tour.

On why he's not the next David Gray:
"I did work with a manager at one point who thought I should be the next David Gray. And I was like, no, I'm the next Mark Mallman. That's what I'm going to do. I'm not going to be--I've had people promise me stuff, and I turn it down. Because I'm happy--I would rather be making what I'm making and getting by than having to pretend I'm David Gray every day. Who is a great songwriter. But it's just not my scene."

See also: Mark Mallman's top six most memorable stunts.

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