Rob Marshall is not one for over exposure, his backseat creative ethos is what makes his vision and body of work even more credible. Here we decipher his favourite music venues both in the UK and Europe, the importance of physical records and his recent spot with Humanist on the now infamous ‘Twitter Listening Party’ curated by Tim Burgess (The Charlatans).
I can remember legendary stories as a kid of how physical records shaped the generation before mine, one particular tale sticks in the mind. A gathering of free spirits would take turns each month to buy a chosen LP (Black Sabbath, for reference) and then proceed to huddle around a turntable in a dusky flat in Yorkshire. Psychedelic drugs were consumed before the precision of laying down the needle to commence the most important hour of the month.
This is how music was consumed back then, fully immersed in the journey that the musicians had created. Raw, unadulterated visions being communicated to ears and minds only. With accessibility now transcending into the digital age, there’s a real fear that music is being lost and without that connection to the process, music is becoming background noise.
Listening to Humanist front to back, you feel every bit of its process and end up with a wave of optimistic clarity that music is moving forward in the right way. It’s gospel.
In this piece I want to get the insights from a man who is the epitome of DIY, a humble, egoless, driven individual from the heart of Teesside, one that the generation of today could really take his blueprint, be educated and inspired into creating their own vision on their terms. His dedication to his art, style and movement has not only earned the respect of true, devoted music enthusiasts throughout his journey but he is also revered and lauded by the hierarchy of the most influential and culture changing figures in today’s music industry.
“Rob Marshall is an alien. In my 30 years of going to gigs I’ve never felt a sea of sound wash over me quite like when Rob Marshall gifts us via his six-string antenna. The texture, warmth, and layers beyond the realms of fantasy are something else. He is the greatest guitar player I have ever seen, and one of the finest men I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. A true genius and one that should be treasured, celebrated and protected at all costs.”
John Dawkins – Director at Various Artists Management
Rob created Humanist after the fall of the criminally underrated and fiercely righteous band Exit Calm. Having always surrounded himself with other like-minded souls to create a collective vision, he bravely took on the role of master composer if you will with Humanist, once again stepping into the shadows to create a craft and style unrivalled in today’s music. Not to mention the fact that he hooked up with Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees, Queens of The Stoneage) to provide over half of the track listing and instrumentals to the ever-powerful record, ‘Gargoyle’.
To then create a project like Humanist with all its power, energy and difference and go on to collaborate with heavyweight musical giants with Lanegan present once again as well as John Robb (The Membranes) and Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) really does show how much he strives to contribute to music rather than take from it.
Congratulations on the success of your recent ‘Twitter listening party’, how did you find it? And why do you think people have had such a connection to the format of it?
“It was quite an unusual and odd experience but I was totally blown away by how much I enjoyed doing it. I hadn’t anticipated how connected I would feel to the people at home who were sat listening with me and engaging/commenting. I hadn’t listened to the record in full for some time, so it was quite overwhelming really. Especially having Lanegan, Ron Sexsmith, John Robb, Carl and Jim all jump in and narrate their way through the song they were involved in. In many ways it was like a gig – that preparation.
You kinda plan out a fair amount of what you’re saying prior, and you feel excited and anxious leading up to it, but then as it starts you throw caution to the wind and freefall a lot of it. And it went by so quickly. It’s a beautiful thing. And all praise to Tim for creating such a positive experience out of lockdown. I think people connect with it because it really is a live engagement – wherever you are in the world, whatever your situation in that moment we are connected by the music.
It’s spiritual, and you’re right there with the people that made it, talking about it, engaging with them. And during lockdown we all needed that connectivity.”
In a time when everything is now digital, do you believe that physical records are still the main imperative output in terms of people truly understanding what vision you’re trying to create with a record?
“It’s a tough one to answer. My heart wants to say yes. It was certainly very important to me. It’s always been about the record, and the track listing and order are always very important to me. But I think I’m slightly somewhat of a fossil with that mindset. I’m not sure ‘the kids’ are thinking that way these days.
Digital music has shook the fucking cage that’s for sure. But art is art – the vinyl format is art – always will be to me. You can’t replace a digital image in my opinion with the experience of being in an art gallery, or an mp4 with the cinema. And one thing lockdown certainly did teach me, was that you cannot replace that live experience with a streamed event.
There were a handful of streams I enjoyed – but the majority I felt were pretty lame bordering on tragic.”
Are there any artists who you listened to before making music that you’ve followed a certain path of creativity with your work?
“Not massively. I kinda like artists/musicians that move forward rather than repeat form. Even if that means the odd wayward album. But there isn’t anyone that’s particularly influenced me to follow their creative journey. I think that stuff is all very personal to you and your life – and it’s totally unpredictable anyway. It’s not something you can plan. To me, I just think it’s important to not get too caught up in anyone else’s perceived expectations of you.
I know with Humanist, and the debut in particular, that I wanted it to feel and sound different to anything I’ve been involved in before. Hopefully I achieved that without turning my back too much on my past. It also felt like my first return to music after Exit Calm, which was Gargoyle with Mark, had some great big guitar moments, which wetted the appetite for anyone that may have been waiting to see what I might do going forward. So that took the pressure off a little – which helped me concentrate more on the bigger picture with Humanist.”
What’s the most recent record you listened to which you hold in high regard and why?
“I would probably say Carnage by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis. I just love the sound and the darkness – it draws me in, comforts me, forces me to think differently. It inspires and can also make me cry. There’s a constant energy always simmering underneath the thick and beautiful sonic depths of the music and lyrics.”
What is your favourite venue / music space that you have performed in? (European & UK)
“The UK I would say probably The Astoria – I was lucky enough to have played there twice before it got knocked down. And on a similar scale/size Barrowlands (Glasgow) was pretty fucking special. There’s a lot of great small venues I’ve enjoyed over the years too – Manchester Ruby lounge I thought was a pretty great special sounding venue, the Bodega in Nottingham, Bar and Kitchen, Hoxton or The Borderline in London are both great. Europe: PN Box Studio in Italy was cool, GMK in Budapest, Chapeau Rouge in Prague was great. I can honestly say that most of the venues are great.
Smaller bands in my experience get treated so much better in Europe. How fucking terrible that now with Brexit it will become incredibly difficult for me to get back to that – I really hope that we somehow find a way through the shit to create a new opening to all creatives and arts. How we have destroyed this makes me incredibly ashamed to be British. I love Europe and my neighbours.”
With how long you’ve been sitting on the record and the excitement of being able to produce it live. How has it affected you? Are you already working on another record?
“It’s affected me quite a lot and it’s been quite a complex and unusual situation. I certainly would never want to come across like this is a chore or that I’m ungrateful in any way. I was itching to get back out playing. During my years in a band (2000-2015) all I ever did was spend time either rehearsing/writing in a room with the other band members or being out playing live. Anybody that followed us will know that we toured and toured and toured. It was a constant. And we all loved that. But it did take its toll towards the end.
Having a good few years out made me really excited to start that process again. I started rehearsing prior to the album coming out and things were really coming together well and then lockdown kicked in. The tour now has been rescheduled 3 times – I’ve started the process of rehearsing 3 times over now. Band members being scattered all over the uk, this has become a costly affair.
As a new act we were already losing money on the first set of dates, but it’s now become a financial black hole. Still no guarantee as we speak of the new dates in October will go ahead, as some of the dates are sold out – so if we are at restricted capacity, it will either have to be rearranged yet again or cancelled. All that said, we are ploughing on again regardless and things are sounding really great. I think we have all found a new invigorated energy and we really want to make these gigs as powerful and full of energy and spirit as we can possibly muster. So, we’re excited. I’ve written a lot of new music during lockdown and I’m slowly creating the bigger picture of a new record.”
If you had a wish list of artists to collaborate with, who would be your top 3?
“Well, I love collaborating. There’s an endless amount of people I’d love to work with, but here’s a few. David Crosby would be cool. Paul McCartney. Thom York. David Holmes. Tricky. So tricky I had to choose 5.”
What do you think is needed to push grassroots venues / DIY projects at a base level? Especially in creativity depleted small towns?
“It’s a big question and I’m not sure I know the answer. I look at some of the Scandinavian countries and think they might have it right. Outside of the pandemic they pump money every year into the arts.
If you’re a professional musician falling short, they top your wage up. They offer incentives for people outside the country to come in and use their studio facilities, they concentrate as much on the grassroot venues as they do the opera houses. The smaller venues in the Uk are absolute gold – you learn your craft there and you feed your dreams. I know. I’ve spent a lot of time in them. They also offer that unusual outlet for bands that are adored but have somehow remained under the mainstream radar. Am I going to watch killing joke at the Roundhouse in front of 4000 people or do I go to Brighton and watch them In a few hundred capacity smaller venue? Isn’t that kinda amazing really?
I hope the country that celebrates the arts and music with parades, images of music icons with a million pounds worth of fireworks at something like the Olympics ceremony or it’s ‘famous’ New Year’s Eve event sees the irony and puts something in place to protect the venues that helped shape some of the musicians we celebrate today. So many venues lost recently: The Astoria, The Borderline, The Roadhouse, Earls Court, The Cockpit (Leeds), The Boardwalk (Sheffield). Christ, wasn’t Abbey Road on the verge of closure a few years ago? Enough said.”
Humanist Tour – 2021
24th September – The Warehouse, Leeds (supporting Black Grape)
19th October – Birmingham, The Sunflower Lounge (with support from White Noise Cinema)
20th October – Newcastle upon Tyne, Think Tank? Underground (with support from Prysm + Holiday In Tokyo)
21st October – Glasgow, Nice N Sleazy (with support from Check Masses)
22nd October – Sheffield, Foundry (with support from Fears)
23rd October – Manchester Academy (with support from Suzie Stapleton)
25th October – Brighton, The Prince Albert (with support from Suzie Stapleton)
26th October – London, The Lexington (with support from Suzie Stapleton)