Published on January 29th, 2015 | by The Beige Baron0
International Karate Interview
A few days before the launch of International Karate’s third album, More of What You’ve Heard Before Than You’ve Ever Heard Before, I talk to IK bass player Mark Mascia about musical genres, motivation, and originality – and, most of all, about what makes masters of slow-motion melancholia turn to pop songs. When pressed to describe the sound of IK’s first two albums, the otherwise articulate Mascia is momentarily stumped.
When I say that surely he’s asked this question all the time, he agrees, but adds that he doesn’t have an answer for it then, either. “A strange mix of early ’80s post punk, a little bit of shoegazing, and a little bit of mid-’90s slowcore” is the description he eventually settles on.
Though he’s proud of IK’s previous albums, Weapons of Mass Protection and A Monster in Soul, Mark’s adamant that it’s time to move on. “I like the first album … But, you know, that album exists, and it is what it is. And doing rewrites of those eight songs, you could probably get a fair bit of mileage out of it, but I dunno… I just wouldn’t find it particularly stimulating. I’m not in it for the money, or in it for the fame – obviously I would have quit by now if I was. I’m in it to do different things with my friends who I happen to be in the band with, and that means we have to find different things every time we do new records. We can’t afford to do records regularly. We pay for everything ourselves. So I personally feel like I’ve got to make it count.”
This thirst for “different things” led to the latest album and a new sound. “I sorta said ‘I want to do three-and-a-half-minute songs, and I want to do songs that are more than 40bpm’.” Mark is readier with his words when asked to describe the new album. “We consciously went for a somewhat more poppy kind of feel, a more direct feel, sort of less wandering, a little bit less atmospheric, and a more direct song-based kind of feel, as opposed to something more atmospheric or vaguer, if that makes sense.”
The new sound has resulted in fewer instrumental tracks and more vocals. Guest vocalist Laura Jean sings the beautiful Falling Water. Regular IK collaborator Dan Brownrigg also sings on several tracks and, for the first time, so does a band member, guitarist Andrew Polydorou. Mark says this has meant grappling with a different set of musical challenges: “Doing the open-ended eight-minute thing is our comfort zone, and we find it really easy. And it can still be fun to do, but it’s…not stifling, but it gets a little ho-hum. But it’s actually quite difficult to make a concise three-and-a-half-minute song. And it’s actually quite difficult to do a verse-chorus-verse-bridge-chorus-out structure and make it stick, and make it memorable. So it’s a challenge to do things that way, particularly because it’s still fairly new to us.
“Having said that, most of our songs, even the ones with lyrics, don’t really have a verse-chorus-bridge-verse structure. A couple of them sort of do. I actually find it difficult, and I think there’s an art to writing – and I wouldn’t call us a pop band as such – but there’s an art to writing memorable, short pop songs, with all the right bits in the right bits and happening at the right time. And that’s why pop music is identifiable as a form in itself, and there’s a skill to that. And I’m interested in having a crack at that.”
At first glance, the album title, More of What You’ve Heard Before Than You’ve Ever Heard Before, sits oddly with the band’s determination to do something different. But the title, Mark says, comments not on IK’s music, but on popular music in general: “I don’t know if there’s actually room for originality any more”, he says. “I can’t really see where things can go. I mean, you can just repackage and re-present the same thing again and again and again and again, because there’s always a new audience coming up. As I’m getting older, I’m kind of realising that, and I’m kind of thinking that perhaps that’s where modern life and modern music is going: just rehash, repackage the same old thing. I could be a bit jaded. It could be a bit of a jaundiced view of music and of popular culture as a whole, but I can’t help but feel that.”
Most musical possibilities, Mark believes, have been exhausted. “Music can’t get slower than, I dunno, early Low. It can’t get more minimal than Pauline Oliveros. It can’t get faster than grindcore. It can’t get heavier than black metal. It’s all about extremes now – do you know what I mean? And the extremes have surely been pushed. Where else is there to go? I think there are people on the margins trying to do different things. But when you’re on the margins, you’re then, by default, unlikely to sell a lot of records.”
But if all musical paths have already been trodden, what keeps Mark going? “Not being the most skilled musician in the world technically, I can’t push boundaries in that way. So my understanding is that if you’re going to do certain things – and we’ve all grown up in certain areas and have certain references – at the very least you need to be good at what you do. And I’m not saying we’re one of the greatest bands of all time, but I’d like to think that we’re not a mediocre band. So that’s what you’ve got left: just be good at what you do, and be sincere about what you do.”
The album launch for More of What You’ve Heard Before Than You’ve Ever Heard Before will be at the Northcote Social Club on Friday, July 13.