The Magazine

July 31, 2013

American Mars: Seen From The Western Side Of Things

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Written by: Jeff Milo
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American Mars at Belle Isle

Photo by Chris Scalise

The men from American Mars must have felt like strangers in a strange land when they first started experimenting with a more Western (or dare we say country-esque twanging) type of music around a place like Detroit.

It was the late 90’s and this inherent Mecca of motors and fine music was then perceived (at least by the press) as some New Seattle of garage-rock glory. (And, in certain divinely dim bars there was an undeniable revivalist-bent to live shows, with lots of the bare-bones, bluesy, and certainly raw rock sounds resonating).

But pedal-steel guitars must have been the garage’s green thumb.

“It’s funny, we didn’t really have a genre in mind when we started playing together, not that we’ve run from it” says Feeny, a savvy recording engineer who produced much of Mars’ music through the years. Feeny produced the bands first record before he actually joined founding singer/songwriter Thomas Trimble on a whim for a string of performances that reinvigorated the then-momentarily-disenchanted Trimble back into a fresh motivation for a new music venture.

Starting with just pedal-steel and guitar, they started noticing other bands around the country who were similarly experimenting with what Trimble calls “…roots-influenced music.” To this day, even with more bands, particularly locally, taking up that charge, it’s still hard to find that particularly-inclined audience.

They’ll likely find it at the Ark, though, a place this band’s placed numerous times throughout the decade. “Oh, it’s just a beautiful place to play,” says Trimble. “The people who run it care deeply about music and that extends to every aspect of the venue. Ark audiences are also very music-oriented and very responsive.

Feeny chimes in: “Other worldly! The opposite of playing a rock club. It’s just alien to walk out into silence and strumming a chord to check your tuning seems deafening.” Two words Feeny finds for Ark audiences: “attentive and connected.”

That’s telling. Similar to the Ark aspiring to a venue-aesthetic above another echoing bar or a harried festival, AM aspired to something beyond the more vile, albeit valiant, hip, albeit genuine, “garage-y” bedrock upon which they first landed, and opted to explore the possibilities of blending trippy, space-rock guitars to the billowy purr of pedal steel. Their own brand of rock is richened by the smooth, breathy croon of guitarist (and lead vocalist) Trimble, apt for moving moonlit lullabies, or a burlier belting for pensive road trip rollicks.

Chasing Vapor, the band’s 4th proper album, came out in autumn 2012 and is described by Trimble as an attempt to step-outside of “or at least blur” the idea of Americana/roots music.

Feeny says Vapor “made it-self, as opposed to (01’s) No City Fun which was more a collage of sounds around the songs, and (08’s) Western Sides –which was played as a band and stayed inside a kind of spacier-Americana-aesthetic.” As the album’s producer (and pedal-steelist,) Feeny tried to “serve each song and make it a little weirder while keeping true to how we wrote them as a band.”

Trimble, meanwhile, was reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography of Lincoln (Team of Rivals) during the days of Vapor’s production, drawn in by revelations of the 16th President’s struggle with melancholia and an interest in spirituality. “Back then they called depression ‘the vapors,’ so there’s a couple of different takes on that word that I thought fit the record’s themes.”

Feeny, who operates Gankplank Records out of Ferndale, MI, has an impressive recording resume that spans a range of genres. There’s something to be said for complexly-layered, beautiful epics of albums, but sometimes though, “four guys in a room, making shit up and, sometimes playing quite loud,” can still be his favorite things in the world. Vapor, bolstered by the bass of Garth Girard and drummer Alex Trajano, “has some angular sounds and a little more bombast than past AM songs, which I think is an extension of all of our history of playing-experiences before this band.”

But Trimble and Feeny have, now that they look back on it, quite a history of their own, as a collaboration. “David and Garth have both stood by me, personally, and by our work together, when no one else did.”

Feeny has described Trimble as his “inspirational compass. All the Martians are dads, so there are a lot of relatable obstacles to being in a band and trying to make it work with our lives. I feel like we have a lot more to offer musically, but time seems to be the mountain that’s hardest to scale for us.”

But after they play the Ark, Feeny quips, “we still have grandiose plans for an arena tour!”

Saturday August 17, 2013 – American Mars – With Lac La Belle – 8 pm – Doors open at 7:30 pm – 316 S. Main St – theark.org

About the Author

Jeff Milo
Jeff Milo
Jeff is another awesome member of the iSPY team.

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