Singer/songwriter Charlie Mars has had an interesting life. Born and raised in Mississippi, Mars actually plied his craft in Dallas for a few years in the '90s. Some heavy duty partying landed him in rehab a few years after that and those internal demons forced Mars to retreat to an isolated island in Sweden to get his act together.
That forced sabbatical was successful: Mars returned to the States in 2001 and restarted his musical career. Later on that decade, Mars was short on cash, so he hit the Shreveport Casinos and managed to win $26,000, enough cash to finance the recording of 2009's Like a Bird, Like a Plane. That record was good enough to attract the attention of a major label.
Although he now lives in New York, Mars was recently in Austin doing some recording and Christmas shopping as he prepares for a tour of Texas. In anticipation of his performance tonight at Lola's in Fort Worth, Charlie Mars was kind enough to talk with DC9 about his memories of Dallas and other recollections from his fascinating life.
It's been almost two years since your last album came out. Do you have a new CD in the works? Yes, I just finished recording it. It will come out in the spring next year. I don't make a record until I am ready. And I was ready. It's made and I love it.
Is it similar stylistically to your last record, Like a Bird, Like a Plane? I think it's an extension of what I did on my last record. I was really happy with that sound. I have carved out a sound that I wanted to continue. I went to the same studio in Austin and used some of the same players. We had a great time.
In the past, you've talked about using the first take of a song instead of recording something over and over. Do you still feel that way? Yes, on my last few records, we've done a lot of first takes. If we get it and it feels good, I am willing to sacrifice maybe some of the perfection. There's always something fresh when you do something the first time. There's an energy there that you may never have again. I like that feeling.
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You live in New York now, but aren't you originally from Mississippi? Well, I still have a place in Mississippi and I lived there for over 30 years. I moved to New York City three years ago to live with my girlfriend. I still go back and forth often. I also lived in Dallas for four years.
You attended SMU, right? That was 1992 to 1996. I was playing a lot of gigs even then. There was this placed called the Rhythm Room that was across from SMU. I played Club Dada and Trees. I did lots of show in Dallas and I went to school with Jack Ingram. I played with him for a while. It was an interesting time. I learned a lot about performing live and making records. That was when I made my first album in 1995. That was a really successful record and that gave me the confidence to try and make a living in music. It was a wild time. I was a teenager and into my early twenties. I was partying a lot.
You had some problems with addiction. How long were you in rehab? A month.
Are you still drinking? Just water. I haven't had a drink in 13 years. I am surprised as anyone by that.
After Dallas, you moved to Sweden. Yes, I went to Sweden to get away from a lot of stuff, temptations and pressures. I checked out and went to Sweden. I wrote some songs and got signed to a label. That started the second phase of my career. That was 2001. It's been an interesting ride for me. My last record was my most successful and most people who come to my shows think that it was my first record. This upcoming album with be my sixth.
I know you were first exposed to music going to church. How big a role does spirituality play in your music? I grew up in a conservative, Christian environment, but the older I got, the broader my views on religion became. I don't believe in making people feel bad about themselves. I've seen a shift from repression to more about honest communication, being loved and being compassionate. Honestly, in this day and age, I have respect for people who have faith for something that is good. I don't have a lot of criticism there. But I've always been spiritual.
Has anyone ever confused you with Bruno Mars? No, but I am waiting for someone to come to a show and shout out one of his songs.
Is it true you made enough money gambling one night to finance your last album? That was after I got back from Sweden. Actually, I did a run through two casinos in two nights. It was two different episodes where I won a bunch of money. I was able to use that money to make a record that eventually got me signed to a major label. Without that, I don't know where I would have come up with the money.
How much money did you win? $26,000.
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What type of gambling? Blackjack. I've put it all on the line many times.These were casinos in Louisiana. I started out with five hundred bucks. It was an amazing thing to have happen to me. I still gamble on occasion. Not much in casinos, but I like to watch football and bet on that.
Did you think it was just fate or was someone upstairs helping you? No, I thought that this was just another day at the office for me. I've had a wild life.
Charlie Mars performs with Scott McCurry on Friday, December 16, at Lola's Fort Worth.