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Mark Harrington
Taping a song that blossomed to album and label
Phillip Hong
15 August, 2007

It wasn't too long ago when the words "indie music" were associated with the horrid use of cassette tape, of a youngster, a high school or post-secondary student, belting out a tune that optimistically needs a bit of editing. But we have come a long way since those dark, dark ages.

Mark Harrington was part of that amateur mono-colour folk on tape -- ahem, a "pioneer" in the indie music scene since his roots as a student learning guitar in high school. Attending York University to helping found Toronto Experimental Artists, Mark has accomplished quite a bit so far in a career that we all hope will be long and exciting.

Managing our annoying group of plenty sending requests here and there, Mark submitted to an interview, albeit, without injury.

PHIL: How did you get into music? It's quite an integral part of your life from what I hear.

MARK: My involvement with music was fueled by my taking guitar as a subject in high school (for two years), which led me to start recording (crudely) my own songs around 1987. Before I even played an instrument, I was interested in recording, and I made numerous comedy tapes until high school.

I even worked with repetitive sounds (like loops), and recorded an experimental instrumental with whale sounds and an organ when I was about 12 years old. While in university, studying visual arts, I got involved in playing in bands and recording.

In 1989, with fellow York (University) student Ed Sinclair (now a director/filmmaker), we created TEA or "Toronto Experimental Artists" as an umbrella name under which we released music (cassettes) and video projects (often humourous, but always with some social commentary). In the spirit of Factory Records (i.e. the New Order 'label' as seen in 24-Hour Party People) TEA was meant to be a non-label, inasmuch as there was no business to it, and we were very much do it yourself.

TEA South was 'spun off' from TEA, and the series of compilation CDs was born under the direction of Clay Phillips. I still do the artwork for the CDs, and have written some press kits, but am not involved in the planning.

After about five cassettes, my first CD came in the form of 1993's "Capricorn Flakes", and my second was 1999's "Trash Icon".

The next batch of songs took about 6 years, and were quite different in feel from most of my previous music, so I gave the "project" new name: Rubbernekkerz. The debut Rubbernekkerz CD, "33 1/3rd" (Thirty Three and a Third), came in the fall of 2006, and the music was often in a minor key, with slower tempos, and acoustic vs. synthetic textures blending to create a spacey sound. My voice has drawn (understandable) comparisons to early David Bowie, and Peter Murphy, perhaps even more with Rubbernekkerz.

"33 1/3rd" includes a cover of Bowie's "Changes", which fits the themes of time, youth, and aging.

PHIL: What inspired you to write your latest featured track, "Sometimes"? From observation, there's a bit of rock, an anti-climax in the middle... let's just say it's like a hurricane.

MARK: The music was lying around from the Rubbernekkerz "sessions". It sounded too upbeat and happy to be in that collection. I started ear-marking it and a bunch of other songs for a later "Mark Harrington" CD release.

So, back to the track, "Sometimes", I had the basic tune, started from layering different frequencies of guitar (low to high) on a drum groove. Clay Phillips added some of his trademark bluesy guitar noodling to the track (about 2002), giving it fresh direction, and I continued to rework it for four more years! My focus recently has been on sonic textures first, then adding words at the end. Getting the correct match of words to tune is often tough, and sure enough, I had to erase some vocals from this tune that didn't work.

PHIL: Has the internet contributed to your success? If so, how?

MARK: My first reaction about the internet is that it hasn't helped me much at all, that is, I feel disappointed given the potential.

But, upon reflection, I can say that the cover version of Gary Numan's "Cars" that I recorded on the Trash Icon CD has made me a little bit of nickle-and-dime income form downloads. More importantly it has brought people to my page on iTunes (and other sites), and often they pay (fractions of a cent) to download my songs.

The exposure is by far more important than the money at this point, and I have made my music available for free streaming on various sites, and upkeeping two MySpace pages has been a fun venture.

PHIL: Any new tracks planned for a future run?

MARK: Not all of the first batch of Rubbernekkerz tunes made the 33 1/3rd CD, just as I mentioned that I was ear-marking songs for another "Mark Harrington" CD release.

Surprisingly, I have enough material for these two future CD releases, and they are so close to complete. In many cases I am waiting to see if the instrumentals will "grow" words! The Rubbernekkerz tunes are even weirder than the first CD; I'm wrestling them into palatable tunes. Some of these are just creepy!

They are the most experimental music I've done. Experimenting was always my intention, and I do this in the sense of production and writing techniques such as Daniel Lanois/Brian Eno (for example), but I just find true experimental music a bit hard to listen to, so I veer toward the radio-friendly version. I tweak the songs regularly, and they are getting better with age.

PHIL: Here's a curious inquiry: in your music, who sings in the background? Your music has a multitude of voices.

This track actually features my cousin on background vocals. I was assisting her in recording and arranging one of her own songs, and I asked her to try some vocals on this tune. I do enjoy producing other people's music, and am interested in doing more (if there are any musicians, particularly songwriter-types, who are interested). The only drawback for Toronto folk is that my computer-based studio is in Newmarket!

Back to vocals... one song on 33 1/3rd features my wife singing, and on the upcoming Rubbernekkerz stuff, there are many background vocals by a woman named Tija Coules (recorded as long ago as 2000). I also multi-track my own voice ad nauseam.

Phillip Hong is a co-host and reporter on Centre Street, our current affairs programme featuring alternative stories and interviews.
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