A forecast for thunderstorms this weekend caused Homegrown Festival's organizers to reconfigure the fest's schedule, and Rebillet will be unable to perform because of a conflict.
Marc Rebillet laughed when he heard about this story. The experimental DJ and musician has an unmistakable laugh, one of those booming, dad-like chortles that fills a room. His pencil mustache frames a wide, toothy grin, his bespectacled eyes grow wide and his face briefly contorts into one of the crazed expressions he displays during his shows. It’s infectious.
However, this laugh — the laugh about this story — is tinged with a bit of sadness. It’s not that he’s not grateful for the love he is now getting from his hometown, or his spot in the Homegrown Festival lineup alongside DFW favorites like Toadies and Tripping Daisy. It’s just that this story would have been nice when he was still here.
“Of course this happens now,” Rebillet says. “After I’m gone.”
Rebillet now lives in New York City, a move he says he had to make to gain any kind of traction in his career. To label him a DJ is a bit restrictive. He uses a loop station to make music, but that’s where the relationship to other DJs ends. Rebillet also employs a piano, his impressive vocals and myriad other instruments to create catchy, improvised songs about rape, love, buttholes, herpes and more.
“It’s a fully improvised, completely stupid, completely ridiculous one-man show that can go in any direction any night based on what the audience is giving me,” he says.
On one occasion, Rebillet improvised an entire song based on the evening news and weather report playing on a nearby TV. On another occasion, he took audience suggestions, and a young girl asked him for a song on French bulldogs. Rebillet promptly improvised a song about killing French bulldogs. Fans love every funky beat, every absurd improvisation. In a little over a year, he has developed a following that includes legions of international fans, well over 100,000 followers on Instagram — including Iron Fist and Game of Thrones actor Finn Jones — and many of his mom Susan’s friends.
“I’ll have friends that say, ‘Oh, I can’t wait to hear his next song,’ and I’ll always ask, ‘Are you sure?’” Susan says. “He gets the outrageousness from his father.”
Yet sadness and disappointment linger. When he launched his full-time music career in late 2017, the only stages he could find in Dallas were at pubs and bars. Places like BrainDead Brewing, Common Table and Twilite Lounge were willing to take a chance on this odd, foul-mouthed provocateur with a loop machine, but more traditional venues passed. He is now returning to Dallas for a festival that celebrates homegrown talent, and he feels his inclusion on the lineup is, well, ironic.
“Don’t get me wrong: I love Dallas,” he says at every opportunity. “I wish I was ‘Dallas artist Marc Rebillet.’ But I had to leave here to get where I was trying to go.”
Rebillet grew up here, an only child to two parents who were polar opposites. Susan Rebillet is a reserved and gentle woman from South Carolina. Gilbert, Marc’s father, was a character: a loud, charming flirt who loved music almost as much as he loved Marc. Marc is a happy collision of both personalities. He describes his childhood as wonderful and incredibly happy, and admits he was probably a bit spoiled.
"I wanted for nothing," he says. "They poured all of their love onto me."
From any early age, Rebillet poured all of his love into the arts. He started acting and playing piano when he was 5.
“Marc always said he wanted to just play the piano and let someone else sing,” Susan recalls. “But his father always encouraged him to sing, to put himself out there.”
In middle school, he wowed audiences with his bravura performance as Professor Harold Hill, the lead in The Music Man. High school was an obvious progression: Dallas’ Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, where he was part of the acting cluster. He continued his acting education at SMU, but that’s where his academic career came skidding to a halt. After a year of college, Rebillet dropped out, tried and failed to launch a music career in Paris, then began a decade-long odyssey through corporate America. He was a waiter, an assistant, a call center staffer. In between, he made music videos in his bedroom: short snippets of songs where, sometimes shirtless, he showed off his chops for improvisation. The videos boasted titles like “MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGH PROVES SNITCHES GET STITCHES” and “PEANUTS: ARE THEY REAL?”
Mom was worried. “As a parent, you always want your child to be happy, to do something they love,” Susan says. “Marc had something he loved, but he didn’t seem to be able to make it work.”
After 10 years working jobs he hated, something amazing happened: Rebillet was fired. In late 2017, the call center where he worked outsourced operations to Canada, and Rebillet had three months’ severance pay to figure out how to make his side hustle a career.
“I’m driven by irrelevance — the fear that one day I’ll be back working in a call center,” he says. “I wanted to finally make this thing happen, so I put myself into this free fall where I have to get a gig or I won’t make rent.”
He made rent, thanks mostly to friends at places like BrainDead Brewing, where Sam Wynne and Jeff Fryman gave him a regular gig playing Sundays. Rebillet, a former BrainDead waiter, started by doing live shows at work parties for the brewpub’s staff. Wynne admired his brash former employee so much that the BrainDead brass gave him a residency.
“Marc has this big stage personality, so I thought it’d be fun to put him in front of a Sunday brunch crowd,” Wynne says.
Rebillet’s first paid gig was BrainDead’s Festicle, where he played for the patrons who purchased VIP tickets.
“It was a group of middle-aged people who paid extra to drink quietly and not be in big crowds,” Rebillet recalls. “Naturally, I started singing about pussies and assholes.”
He earned minimal applause, maximum stares and a few walkouts. Such was the norm for the first four or five months of his full-time musical career.
“I had to learn how to play at awkwardness, to confront it and to try to turn it around,” he says.
Not all audiences were as tame as the VIPs at Festicle. One drunken dad took issue with Marc’s songs about a drowning boy, and unplugged Rebillet’s equipment mid-performance. Sometimes it was the restaurant staff who had enough. Rebillet played regular gigs at Quarter Bar on McKinney Avenue until a waitress expressed concerns about his unsavory set. When confronted, Rebillet agreed to perform a “family friendly set” — which he did, for three hours, before ending with his song “Stop That Rape.”
“I think the song has a good message,” Rebillet says. “It’s anti-rape.” Quarter Bar did not ask him to come back.
But BrainDead, Common Table and Twilite Lounge stuck around. Rebillet says they were the only ones. Eight months into his career, he started thinking about the long game. “I tried many times to get the ear of places like Granada or Double Wide, but the only time I ever played a venue here was when some guy rented out the stage at Double Wide and let me play for a little bit,” he says.
Rebillet moved to NYC, hustled, played gigs at dive bars and found the success he sought. Within two months, he had a booking agent and two sold-out tours, one in the U.S. and one in Europe.
Those tours elevated Rebillet’s popularity, introducing him to an international audience while skyrocketing his following on social media. His oddly named videos now earn an average of 50,000 views, and often more. He played 30 cities throughout the U.S. in fall 2018, and 28 cities in Europe in winter 2019. People in Toledo, Barcelona, Seattle, Bristol and dozens of other cities were exposed to his crude, unapologetic musings, and Rebillet used each performance as an opportunity to grow, to stretch the limits of his absurdity.
He put a clause in his rider that required him to be on the floor of the venue; he wanted to be as close as possible to his fans. When a woman threw a bra at him, he wore it the rest of the show. When another took off her shirt and danced onstage, he did the same. He crawled, shimmied, moaned and declothed across vast swaths of Europe and the U.S. Mom became less worried.
“Marc is happier now than I’ve ever seen him,” she says. “And his dad would be proud to see what he’s doing.”
Gilbert Rebillet died in August 2018 after a hard-fought battle with dementia. Marc would walk from his apartment to the home where, in his last months, his father resided.
“That’s how amazing this person is,” Rebillet’s good friend Angelina says. “He takes care of his dad every day while he fights this terrible disease, and every time I saw him, the first thing he’d ask is how I was doing.”
Gilbert never got to see his son become the performer he is today — the pianist and singer he encouraged him to be. But he was there to witness the beginnings of Marc Rebillet as we know him. One night, many years ago, Marc and his then-girlfriend performed an impromptu show at the Inwood Theatre. They brought in an old piano, and the theater let them play and sing at the bar.
“Gilbert ran around the room with the tip jar, saying, ‘Aren’t they great? Don’t you want to give them some money?’” Susan recalls. “He was beaming.”
Wynne beams when he speaks about his employee-turned-friend, the crass singer who may have caused a customer or two (or dozens) to turn away, but who always made Sundays at BrainDead an interesting experience.
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“I wish Marc could have stayed,” Wynne says. “I wish he could have done his thing here longer.”
It doesn’t take much to get Rebillet talking about Dallas and his love for the city. Whenever fans in Europe or friends in New York ask him about his Texas upbringing, he tells them about Uptown and The Cedars, about driving through the “corporate desert” of Frisco, about taking a road off Churchill and finding an empty park to smoke a bowl.
“I loved every second of my time here,” Rebillet says. “Everything I say about Dallas comes from a place of love, and I’m so lucky to be from here, and to have started my career here. But there are a lot of talented people here that don’t get the platform they deserve until it’s too late.”
After Homegrown, Rebillet will start a springtime tour that takes him to Burlington, Vermont, Portland, Maine, and over a dozen other cities stateside and abroad. He also has film aspirations, and while he remains tight-lipped about it, he has plans for a TV special of some kind in the near future. As of this writing, he has no other shows planned in Dallas, or anywhere in Texas.