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Wow, I can’t believe how slack I’ve been with this blog for the past year. Please forgive me. Moving back to the States several months ago put a lot of things out of sync for me.

For now, though, let me say this:
The new album is ready, and has been for a few months now. I just ended up with some rather important unrelated things (taking the GRE, applying to graduate programs) to complete before releasing the album. Now that those are done, I’ll be able to get back to the new album release.

In the meantime, I highly recommend you check out the below Tiny Desk Concert at the NPR Music site. The Cranberries, one of my favorite bands from the 90s, does a smart little set. I would say that their music was revelatory for me in the mid-90s. Possibly even life-changing. I remember where I was the first time I heard “Zombie”: I was stuck at a stoplight on Falls of the Neuse Road in Raleigh, NC. I was just blown away by that guitar tone, and by the passion in Dolores O’Riordan voice. I had grown up mostly on acoustic music, except for listening to The Beatles every day for about 18 months when I was 13 and 14.

So much of the power behind the production of “Zombie” is influenced by the work of producer Stephen Street, who also produced The Smiths. “Zombie” is one of those iconic productions where the dynamic goes from really soft in the verses to really loud in the choruses. Ironically, perhaps, The Cranberries paved my way into finally listening to Nirvana in later years, who used that same production style in “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. The Pixies did those kinds of productions, too. It’s a powerful production style, and one we don’t see much of today.

Anyways, it’s great to see Dolores and the rest of the crew performing again. “Zombie” hits around the 12:15 mark.

And they have a new album that comes out TODAY called Roses. Oh, and go check the official Cranberries site.

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William Hayden project

Friday, March 4, 2011 1:56 PM American Samoa Time

Since in my last post you learned that it’s still going to be a little longer until my new album is released, I wanted to tell you what else I’ve been doing musically over the past year. It’s another album I’ve produced, and I’m really pleased with it and proud of the work that went into it.

The artist’s name is William Hayden, and the project is pretty unique. I met William one random day in Durham, NC. He was looking for someone to record/produce/mix a couple of songs for him, so I gave him my info, and shortly after that, we did one song together. Dale Baker played drums, and we recorded him in Dale and Carole’s house. (incidentally, Carole is an amazing visual artist.)

Anyway, “a couple” songs turned into ten songs, and we did a whole album together. We recorded some of it in Durham, but I did most of it here at the studio in Alega, American Samoa. The album is unique because the talented Mr. Hayden does not actually sing. He asked me to do that for him. Generally what would happen is that he would bring in lyrics, and sometimes a general melody. I would then pull together the vocal melody and phrasing from his suggestions. Then we’d lay down some basic scratch tracks, and then build the song from there. I ended up playing a lot of guitar and bass, as well as doing drum arrangements. William would work on some parts at his home studio, send them to me via Dropbox, I would import them into my sessions and build on them, and then I’d send him a mix.

It was a really cool process, actually. Harnessing the power of the interweb to produce an album literally on the other side of the planet. Pretty wild.

Anyway, please go check out Hayden’s website and listen to the project. It’s gotten really good reviews so far from the likes of Annie Reuter (Rolling Stone and MTV.com featured reviewer). That’s exciting!
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Album updates

Friday, March 4, 2011 1:02 PM American Samoa Time

Hi everyone,
OK, apologies are in order. I let things go far too long without a progress report. I had originally planned for a December release for the new album, but obviously that didn’t happen. Honestly, it didn’t make sense for it to happen, since I’m still living in the Samoan islands. That could feel a little like, “if an album is released in the jungle, and no one hears it, is it really an album?” Or something like that. Very Zen.

Anyways, I am still here living in the jungle, and it’s only quite recently that we’ve figured out the leave-date, which will be at the very end of this month. So I’m trying to finish up the album by then, and it looks like that will probably happen. I’m polishing up the mix for the tenth song right now, in fact. I still have a couple more songs I’m trying to throw at the project, just to see if they stick. Hopefully at least one of them will, if not both. One is a cover of a Bob Dylan song called “Chimes of Freedom.” Dylan has really sustained me throughout the course of the past 4-5 years, so recording one of his songs feels appropriate to me.

So the album has been a bit delayed, and I’m guessing that before it’s all said and done, we’re looking at a late Spring release. Probably late April/early May. I’ll post all the details here once I have a firm release date.

As always, thanks for listening, everyone.
I’ll be in touch soon.

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One Year Later

Wednesday, September 29, 2010 4:15 PM American Samoa Time

Today is the one year anniversary of the killer tsunami that struck us here in American Samoa.

It’s really hard to believe that it’s been a whole year.

To an outsider, it would appear as though very little rebuilding has taken place. There are still dozens of families living in tents on the western side of Tutuila. The power station for the eastern side of the island is still in ruins. Along the main strip in Pago Pago, there are still collapsed buildings and broken cars. There is still garbage everywhere, and the emotional scarring will, of course, last for years.

But as frightening as that is, consider the following:

One year later, there is still no warning siren system in place.
ONE YEAR LATER!

One year later, there are still no regular tsunami drills taking place in the schools.
ONE YEAR LATER!

Incredible! Last year children actually DIED in the tsunami because the administration at some local schools simply did not know to send the kids to higher ground. Unbelievable, I know. One principal actually just took off after the earthquake, leaving the kids behind to fend for themselves. And nothing has been done. NOTHING has been done to these people, these cowards. One principal sent the kids home right after the earthquake last year, even though most of the kids lived in lower-lying areas than the school itself. Unreal. Some children lost their lives because of inept school leadership, and there has been no formal apology offered, no investigation of what went wrong, and no task force on how to prevent this kind of thing from happening again. And again, in at least some schools, they’re not even doing tsunami drills. We used to do tornado drills in NC when I was a kid on a regular basis, and we did fire drills like once a month. And yet here in American Samoa, the schools aren’t doing tsunami drills. The attitude is one of, “if you feel an earthquake, run! Oh, and good luck!”

One year later, one million dollars have been raised through completely private donations to a tsunami relief fund held by the local American Samoa government. $1,000,000! This is not a US Government relief fund. It is a fund of private donations. And the American Samoa Government is supposed to oversee it. Guess how much of the money has been disbursed one year later? If you guessed $0.00, you’re right! Not even one cent of the private donations intended for tsunami victims has actually made it to the tsunami victims. I know this may sound unbelievable to you. I know it sounds like this is simply not possible. But I assure you, it is possible. It is possible here, in American Samoa.

Today the Governor led a service of remembrance down in Utulei. But he still leads a government that has been unresponsive to the real needs of real people on the ground here.

What happened here one year ago today is a tragedy.

What has happened here in the year since then is simply criminal.

For those of you who missed it last year, here is a video/music montage that I put together. The music is from a never-released live studio session from several years ago, and the images are photos that Katrina shot on 9/29 and 9/30, 2009. I apologize in advance for the poor audio compression. I do have a high-res version available, but this is all I can seem to fit on YouTube...


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Coca-Cola Song Contest Winner

Tuesday, June 8, 2010 6:46 PM American Samoa Time

Wow, great news!
A couple weeks ago I won a song competition with one of the new songs from the upcoming (unreleased) album. The song is called “Be With You.” As part of the competition, they shot a music video for the song. The video’s director was Tulaga Whitcombe of whitcombemedia.com. Tulaga is a super nice guy, and has done numerous other music videos. Check out his site for more stuff. Believe it or not, we shot the whole video (more or less) in our village, Alega. And now, without further ado...


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New site launch

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 4:06:53 PM American Samoa Time

The new site has officially launched!
Chances are, you already knew this, as you probably accessed this page through www.mark-williams.com. At any rate, welcome. I spent all of last week building the site from the ground up, and personally, I like where things have ended up.

This, of course, is the ‘News’ page. I’ll be updating it periodically with what’s going on in terms of creating the new album. I’ve been working on it quite a bit, and I’m planning on releasing it in December of this year.

The other pages are fairly self-explanatory, as well:

-The ‘bio’ page tells more about me.

-The ‘disco’ page tells a bit more about my past albums, and it also contains an entry for the new album, where I’ll be posting mp3s of some of the new songs as I have them ready. Please pass the news around. I’ll also post here as I upload more tracks.

-The ‘images’ page has some photos that I like. Katrina shot them all.

-The ‘store’ page is still a bit under construction, mostly because it takes an ungodly amount of time to upload tracks to the servers from here in American Samoa. But once it’s complete, I’ll post here. It’s a pretty slick store, actually, and I’m excited about it.

-The ‘produce’ page contains more information about my world and role as a producer and mixer. I’m really enjoying that part of my life and work.

-The ‘client portal’ is a secure place for clients to upload and download files while working with me.

Well, that’s pretty much it. That’s the rundown of the new site.
Please poke around and let me know what you think.

Cheers,

Mark
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The technological possibilities of email, a 17-year-old communications medium.

Well, ostensibly, this was a test to see if emailing a post in works. It does.
I was actually at that point planning to erase this post, as it was essentially a “dummy” entry. But, before I had a chance to erase it, it actually received a few comments, so I decided to leave it. There you go. The history of this entry.
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Trying out writing software.

OK, so I’m trying out a couple different writing programs right now. I’m currently giving ‘Scrivener’ a spin, but i’ve got ‘Ulysses’ waiting in the wings in case it doesn’t work out too well. I’m hopeful, though.

I’m also going to try out ‘MacJournal’, just for the heck of it. I’m typing this blog post in ‘MJ’, in fact. MacJournal is supposed to be able to collect a bunch of different things that you might stuff into a journal entry or a blog post: text, pics, even audio or video.

It’s odd, though. i mean, i understand that blogging is a different deal than journaling, and that it is necessarily going to involve becoming 1s and 0s at some point, but with journaling, i don’t know. i mean, i really do like the feel of pen scratching across paper. hell, i’ve spent 45 minutes in one clip at Barnes & Noble just looking at different journals and feeling the papers under my skin. paper quality is not to be overlooked. it’s a big deal. what kind of coating (or lack thereof) paper has in a journal can change everything. i mean, *everything*. the saturation of ink onto paper is part of the character of a journal. i might choose one particular type of paper for a particular season of life, while going with something else at another time. those handmade, fibrous-paper, hardback journals are a particular favorite for me. there’s something about the way it feels. man, i’m missing paper right now. not sure how well the journaling part of this experiment is going to work. i’ll let you know...

Mark
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Scratch That: Interview with "801" @ Columbia U.

About six weeks ago, I got an email from Steve Elwell, a reporter for the music magazine "801", published by Columbia University. Steve was doing research for a story related to the Counting Crows, specifically about the identity of the "Maria" that Adam Duritz mentions in several of his songs. During the course of his research he came across my last blog post about the song "Round Here". Steve asked if I would do an interview with him about my thoughts on Maria and Counting Crows in general, and I obliged.
The magazine comes out sometime this month, but I thought it might be of some interest to include the interview in its entirety here on the blog. As always, feel free to comment or start discussion...

Interview with “801” music magazine at Columbia University.
Interview by Steve Elwell.

SE: A few things about your experience with Counting Crows music:
When did you first hear them, and when did you first become
interested in their lyrics?

MW: I first heard Counting Crows not long after the "August and Everything After" record came out. I liked it, but I just didn't give it the time it deserved. That record just seemed to "percolate" for me over the years. I always liked it, but it seemed like every couple years I would "get it" more and more. It just spoke to me on deeper and deeper levels. Adam's lyrics came to transfix me over time.

SE: Have you ever been to a Crows concert?

MW: No, I've never been to a CC concert. I'd like to go to one, actually, but it's just never worked out.

SE: Do you own the albums? Which is your favorite, if you have one?
I'm kind of assuming Hard Candy, but I could be off…

MW: Yes, I own every one of their albums (except that recent "Greatest Hits" compilation). My favorite is most definitely NOT "Hard Candy" (HC). In fact, I think “HC” dukes it out with "Recovering the Satellites" for the weakest CC record. In my opinion, they have never come close to equaling "August". I mean, not even close. "This Desert Life" (TDL) is a good album, but it doesn't have the focus that "August" has. As a writer myself, I think Adam's lyrics have just become less personal. He doesn't often write about his own struggles these days. I think the best songs on “TDL” and “HC” are "all my friends and lovers", "high life", "speedway", "new frontier", and "carriage". There are other good songs on those records, too, but the ones I listed are the big ones that to me reveal something about Adam's world. Now granted, I think Adam is one of the great lyric writers of our times, so in a sense, the bar is pretty high for him. But I just don't buy a new CC record the day it comes out so I can hear party music. I want to hear something I can believe in, something that gives me hope that I'm not alone in my struggles to make sense of a life that refuses to be pinned down. That's what I think Adam does at his best. There's a line from the movie "Shadowlands" by Richard Attenborough: "we read to know we're not alone." That's certainly why I read Adam's lyrics. And the consistency he churned out on "August" is simply incredible. There's just not a bad song on that whole album, to my ear. And you can't say that about very many albums, ever. "August" just emotes *feeling*. It burns. Even the "happiness" of "Mr. Jones" says things like, "man, I wish I was beautiful", and "cause I want to be someone to believe..." Wow. That's amazing.

SE: Like I said [over email], I found your analysis of "Round Here" pretty
impressive and spot-on. It made me almost positive that you've had
some training in literary analysis or writing or something of the
sort, but then again, some people are just naturals. Where did you
learn to examine lyrics and poetry that way?

MW: I don't have any formal training in literary analysis, though I’d love to take some classes. Words enrapture me, they encircle me, they whisper in my ear, they cry out to me, and they taunt me. Communication with others is why we live. And words are a veil behind which lies Meaning. When life beats the crap out of you, you start to look to words to understand, to try and make sense out of pain, to find meaning where there seems to be none. I've always been in love with words, but I've also been through some real personal hell over the past 5 years, and that's enough to make a literary critic...

SE: Now, on to Maria.
When did you first start thinking about the significance of Maria, and what's your current theory of who (or what) she is?

MW: I first started thinking about Maria the very first time I heard "Round Here". I immediately wanted to know who she was. And how Adam knew her. I think Maria was a former lover of Adam's. Actually, scratch that. I suspect Maria was the first woman Adam fell in love with, but I kind of think she broke it off at some point. She may not have reciprocated his depth of feeling.

SE: What do you think is behind the search for Maria, or in other
words, why are some people drawn to the mystery while others aren’t?
[And] what do you make of Duritz’s refusal to give a final answer on
the Maria question?

MW: Well, until you wrote me, Steve, I wasn't really aware that people had been on a search to find out who she was. It really doesn't interest me all that much anymore, in one sense. If Adam wants it to remain a mystery, then I would bet he has his reasons, and as a writer myself, I respect that tremendously. This is not to say that I don't respect what you're trying to do, Steve, because it seems like one of your goals is to chronicle people's fascination with the topic as well as the supposed "answer" to who she is. Again, what I make of Adam's refusal to give a final answer to the question of Maria's identity is simply that it's too personal. He's let us in to an awful lot of personal things as a writer. I actually respect him *more* for having some places stay private.

SE: And, of course, some questions that your post brought to mind:
You basically get right to the heart of what I've been thinking
when you write "Were they lovers long ago?" At this point, I'm
nearly convinced she was a high school sweetheart, and something
went wrong. Your thoughts?

MW: Yes, I think she was a woman Adam loved. Very deeply. It's possible she's a composite of more than one woman, but her character in "Round Here" feels too specific to be a composite. I think the Maria he mentions in "Mrs. Potter's Lullaby" *may* be more of a composite. He echoes this again with the line "you put your girl up on a pedestal / and you wait for her fall" in [the song] "Hard Candy". In some ways, it's like Maria ruined him. She was the "perfect" girl, and she broke his heart. And ever since then, he hasn't been able to put it all back together. Relationships are hard. Especially for writers…

SE: One thing I hadn't thought of until I read your post was the
possibility that Maria may have committed suicide, which would
explain why Duritz is so private about this. How do you feel about
that theory, and could it hold weight, given what we know from the
lyrics?

MW: I'm not sure about the Maria = suicide thing.
I'm pretty certain the "girl on the car in parking lot" [verse 3 of “Round Here”] is NOT Maria. I think if it were, he'd tell us. That character "feels" different to me. She's got a little bit different lingo than Maria, as well. She doesn't seem to have quite the same voice. But I suppose it's possible Maria committed suicide, and he's connecting her in some way to "the girl on the car in the parking lot". If Maria *did* commit suicide, it would certainly explain his silence on her identity. It is a bit odd, when you think about it, that no woman has surfaced and claimed, "I am Maria!" So maybe she did die. Maybe she did.
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