- DESERT FARMERS Hannah Marcus
follows a path seldom traveled since the earliest days of 20th Century punk, NYC –style. On Desert Farmers
, she recalls the incantatory power of Patti Smith
and the mystery and carefully crafted foreboding of Nick Cave
’s quieter moments or John Cale
’s chillingly austere productions for Nico
. Her music is as artful as it is iconoclastic and leaves plenty of room for poetry. Hannah
is forward-thinking and fearless, emulating the spirit if not exactly the sound of her progenitors, and on her latest release she’s aided and abetted on much of it by the equally visionary members of Montreal band Godspeed You! Black Emperor
. Together they’ve created an album that’s transfixing and beautiful, startling and disturbing.
The enigmatic cult faves GYBE
were already fans of Hannah
when they invited her two years ago to open shows for them in Amsterdam and in Germany, where Hannah
has long had a following. Touring in tandem led to their recording together; Desert Farmers
was recorded and mixed in Montreal at Godspeed
’s home base, the Hotel2Tango. Key players included GYBE
guitarist Efrim Manuck and bassist Thierry Amar, as well as violinist Jessica Moss of the GYBE
offshoot, A Silver Mount Zion Memorial Orchestra
On its own, Godspeed You! Black Emperor
creates eerie, wordless soundscapes; combined with Hannah
’s narratives and vocals, the tracks become all the more compelling. It’s haunting, riveting stuff, like a book that might be scaring the hell out of you but that you still can’t put down. There’s definitely a unique literary bent to Hannah
’s work; lyrics for two of the tracks were adapted from the writing of another Hannah
admirer, and now frequent collaborator, author Rick Moody
(The Ice Storm
, Purple America
was raised in Spanish Harlem, New York City, by parents who were interested and involved with visual art (her painter mom) and music (her composer/cellist dad). She was influenced equally by her mothers' Leonard Cohen
records and the chaotic chamber music rehearsals that frequently took place in the living room. But she was perhaps most deeply affected by growing up alongside her autistic older sister Melissa. As she told one interviewer, "She allowed me to empathize with states of mind and sensory perspectives that defy generalization - that challenge one's sense of who one is, of what intelligence and morality are, of what love is.” Hannah
began her recording career after making a disorienting move to Northern California. She plunged into the San Francisco "sadcore" scene - a move catalyzed by hearing Mark Eitzel
and American Music Club
play in a parking lot. Mark Kozelek
of Red House Painters
was an early friend, supporter and collaborator. He helped her make her first demos and produced her 1995 debut album, River of Darkness
Even after she got married and moved to LA for 5 years, Hannah
still traveled to San Francisco to record, working with American Music Club
drummer Tim Mooney and ex-Swans
bassist Joe Goldring to create her 1998 album Faith Burns
. (AP called Faith Burns
a "moving opera of angst and renewal".) Tim and Joe also co-produced her Bar/None
debut Black Hole Heaven
, a chronicle of the frayed edges of her LA experience. Black Hole Heaven
drew fierce praise from critics and interviewers...CMJ
described it as:
" torchy daydreams.. .as consoling as they are feverishly moody...rich provocative stuff." Thom Jurek said in AMG
: "Of all the alleged pop records released in the year 2000, none is more beguiling, lovely and confounding...a wonderfully perverse carnival ride... containing "one of the 10 best breakup songs ever"("Los Alamos").
Back in New York City now, Hannah
has become very active on the music and literary scenes. She has begun to perform material from Desert Farmers
live, both as a solo act and accompanied by various fellow artists. She also recently composed the music for Refrigerator Mothers
, a documentary about the mothers of autistic children in the ‘60s that aired on PBS
. (Information on the film as well as an article about the music can be found at www.pbs.org
.) She and Rick Moody
have collaborated on several projects, including Canon: for Fred Tomaselli for local National Public Radio station WNYC
. Go to www.wnyc.org
to hear the archived piece; a re-worked version appears on Desert Farmers
as “Canon.” The pair also performs with guitarist David Grubbs
(from Gastr Del Sol
and The Red Crayola
) as a trio called The Wingdale Community Singers
Referring to the slow, cinematic pace of her material, one critic declared Hannah
“the Jim Jarmusch
of indie rock.” Time Ou
t magazine said of Hannah
: "Many artists aspire to create and populate their own worlds, but Hannah Marcus
actually succeeds." All one has to do is listen to the remarkable riff of “Hairdresser in Taos" that Hannah
works into a drug fueled road trip with surreal results. Sympathetic playing by Thierry and Efrim (of GYBE
) move the performance to a transcendent conclusion that picks up on the work Patti Smith
abandoned after Horses
. On "Desert Farmer" a simple plucked parched guitar sounds like drops of rain in the sand as Hannah
sings "when you got clean you took your loot and sunk it into dragonfruit and now you have become a desert farmer." The guitar part gets more complex as the rain comes down and when the contrabass comes in the listener can feel the desert coming into full bloom.
Her world awaits you on Desert Farmers
, and this time she’s prepared to take you farther, deeper, to some of the strangest and most beautiful places. Come on in, don't watch your step.
BLACK HOLE HEAVEN
"The landlord’s son is a drunken bum and he weed whacks weed whacks all the time. Once he got so bombed that he took out his scythe and he chopped down all the Birds Of Paradise behind Lot 309 He went wild... "
Lot 309 (track 1)
So begins the beautiful bittersweet Black Hole Heaven. For her forth album Hannah Marcus takes us on a Kafka-esque cook's tour of the new western front, from the psychotropical artist haunts of San Francisco and Los Angeles to the fluorescent sunsets of Los Alamos. It is an epic tale of love and chemicals.
"I wanted to make a big 70’s rock concept album when I started" explains Hannah. "But then things went awry. I got divorced, and began staying up way too late at night." The net effect is a woman bouncing between the gods and the cockroaches, waxing turmoil with the wonder of it all. Some artists make albums that are a collection of snappy numbers to tap your toe to-- Hannah Marcus writes songs that will inhabit you.
Born and bred in New York City, Hannah spent her childhood roaming the streets of Manhattan's Upper West Side, between Spanish Harlem and the Columbia University Campus. Her father was a cellist and often held chamber music rehearsals and recitals in their apartment. Her mother was a painter who would work late into the night in her studio listening to Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs, the Supremes, Bob Dylan and Judy Collins.
An older sister Melissa, was born with severe autism and it affected Hannah deeply. "She allowed me to empathize with states of mind and sensory perspectives that defy generalization - that challenge one's sense of who one is, of what intelligence and morality are, of what love is."
Marcus wrote her first song in a dream she had at the age of five, in which a bust of Beethoven sat up in his coffin and sang " a kiss on the lips and I die if I will." In her teen years she discovered Lou Reed and her songwriting took on the fevered angst of a New York City school girl but in college she abandoned music and only exploited her songwriting skills to whip up a quick Senior Thesis.
She spent some time in Bar-None’s home port of Hoboken but stayed on the fringes of the music scene singing Velvet Underground covers in old man bars to disinterested cops.
A move to San Francisco lead her back to writing. One night she caught Mark Eitzel with American Music Club in a Soma parking lot and knew she wanted to perform her own material (Tim Mooney from AMC would go on to co-produce "Black Hole Heaven"). Mark Kozelek of Red House Painters was an early supporter and produced her albums Demerol (199?) and River of Darkness (1996).
After getting married and moving to Los Angeles, Hannah began searching for a new musical approach. She contacted her friend Joe "Karl J." Goldring, a notorious and brilliant bay area engineer and musician (Swans, Hope Sandoval, Mark Eitzel, Tarnation). Joe had just opened up Pig's Head studio in San Francisco, and there they collaborated with Tim Mooney (Sleepers, AMC, Toiling Midgets), Ralph Carney (Tom Waits, Waitresses) among others to create the record Faith Burns, an intoxicating brew of psychedelic torch songs and industrial folk that was called "a seductive stunner... an eternal flame of sultry, swooning artistry" by Alternative Press.
Faith Burns was barely finished when Hannah began work on a follow-up-- but there was friction at Pig's Head. Trying to commute between San Francisco and LA her marriage crumbled and the recording sessions grew chaotic. One night Joe Goldring ran out of the studio upon hearing an early version of the song "Osiris in Pieces" screaming "this is everything that is wrong with music today!" Recording came to a halt and Hannah was left to pick up the pieces.
Alone in her apartment she began recording songs on an ADAT - the basic tracks for "Los Alamos", "Crimson Bird", and the revivified "Osiris In Pieces", the humble yet hopeful "Tired Swan" and the wonderfully resigned "Darling How Are You". She gave them to Tim Mooney who was very excited about continuing with the project and encouraged her to go back in the studio. Tim co-produced the record, bringing in such musicians as guitar effects master Michael Belfer (Tuxedomoon, Black Lab), DJ Ill Media (from Most Chill Slackmob) and Joe Goldring returned to play and work on the mixes, (especially "Osiris In Pieces"). The album emerged like a lotus from the muck.
Hannah Marcus is a reporter back from the edge and Black Hole Heaven is her intra-galactic war chronicle of the heart - dark to be sure - but infused with lucid wonder and humor that transcends mere irony. Imagine that.