By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
With a debut album that was hailed as an "instant classic" and a follow-up that avoided the sophomore slump so many bands suffer, the Marked Men have surpassed becoming a "band to watch" and are quickly on their way to "rock 'n' roll juggernaut" status. Their third album, Fix My Brain, released in May, offers more of what fans have come to expect--power pop songs reminiscent of punk's '70s forefathers but infused with an originality and technical proficiency that make them more than just another Ramones clone. The 13 two-minute tracks on the new CD are fun and addictive and yet somehow feel kind of good for you, like vitamin whippits.
The band rose from the ashes of another beloved Denton punk rock phenomenon, the Reds. After Reds' co-founder and bass player Chris Pulliam moved to Japan, the remaining Reds--Mark Ryan, Jeff Burke and Mike Throneberry--weren't ready to stop playing music together. "We wanted to keep playing, but Chris was really the heart of that band, so after he left we decided to change the name and sort of reinvent ourselves," says Ryan. The Marked Men debuted as a three-piece in the summer of 2002, later recruiting bassist Joe Ayoub. They have since toured the U.S., Japan and Europe, played with some of their longtime heroes (such as MOTO and The Beat's Paul Collins) and built up quite an audience.
"The Marked Men don't have fans, they have followers," says Riverboat Gamblers front man Mike Wiebe, admitting he is part of the cult. "Every review [of the Marked Men's self-titled debut] was like a 14-year-old girl writing to Michael J. Fox circa 1984."
Wiebe, who receives his own share of Teen Wolf-era Fox fan mail, hit the nail on the head. The album made its reviewers gush, and punks who pay attention placed the Marked Men at the top of their "Best of 2003" lists. Subsequent releases brought the kind of experimentation and growth that can sometimes turn off one-note fans looking for more of the same. But the overall reaction to Fix My Brain has been overwhelmingly positive. Ryan explains, "I think we're doing things they wouldn't have expected us to do, which is good; which is what we want. Whenever a band is moving on and doing things differently there are always some people who aren't gonna like that. They basically want to hear the same exact record they heard before. But that isn't really what we want to do, and we're pretty happy with how it turned out."
"Fix My Brain has been in constant rotation in the tour van," says Wiebe. "Once we get the Democrats back in office, I plan to launch a full-scale campaign to make it legal to marry that record--or at least make out with it."
Fix My Brain is the Marked Men's first release on Swami records, the label of Rocket From the Crypt's John Reis. For Ryan, the relationship has been solid: "John Reis is gold. I think it's worked out really well." And Reis offers a metaphorical reach-around on the Swami Web site: "I am nailed to drywall by their fierce, crystalline attack as well as partially bald from scratching my melon in disbelief in how a sound so massive and pure hasn't corrupted millions of minds."
The band is well on its way, taking a grassroots approach. Like their previous releases, Fix My Brain was recorded and produced by the band, who have chosen to keep nearly every aspect of recording, touring and promoting under their control. A DIY spirit that started out as a necessity became more of a philosophy, as experience taught them to enjoy handling as many details as possible. "I've had some weird experiences before, you know, spent a bunch of money to go into a studio and it was just shitty. Once you have the ability to record yourselves and to make a record the way you want to make it, it's way cooler, cheaper and more fun. I guess maybe it's kind of a control freak thing, but if you can make something you're happy with and do it yourself, it's really satisfying."
That same DIY attitude lends itself to the band's complete lack of pretension. According to Thrasher magazine, "The Marked Men are plain-clothes rockers without a hype machine. [They] don't need to prance and yelp to convince you of their rockitude. They're too busy making monsters of songs... and the proof's in every note they've committed to wax." These are four guys who are writing clever, addictive songs, playing all over the world, getting rave reviews and having a good time, which, minus a revolving door of international pussy, is pretty much the sum of every musician's wet dream. Then again, I didn't ask about the pussy--maybe they're waist deep in it, figuratively speaking.
This Sunday the Marked Men headline to the hometown crowd. The lineup includes Carrollton two-piece Maaster Gaiden, Denton's The Daily Beat and Washington, D.C.'s the Points, which Ryan is especially enthusiastic about: "They're really awesome. In fact, I think all the bands except for us are gonna be pretty good."
As for their own set, Ryan waxes poetic, if apologetic. "Joe's been working on a pretty sweet mustache for a while, but he just shaved it off, so, you know, we're all pretty bummed about that."