An Intimate Evening with Charlie Mars
Thursday, Aug. 11, at 8 p.m.
The Listening Room, 78 St. Francis St., www.thelisteningroommobile.com
Tickets: $20, call 251-367-4599 to reserve
Charlie Mars is on the road promoting the third album in a collection that has been coined “The Texas Trilogy,” with “The Money” completing the three recorded in Texas by local studio figures and musicians. This Mississippi troubadour has filled his new recording with 10 originals focused on finding the positives in the onslaught of life’s negatives. He also includes a cover of “Rainfall,” which was originally recorded by Alabama’s Bentley Tock. Mars took time out of his schedule to talk Texas, songwriting and life experience with Lagniappe.
Stephen Centanni: “The Money” is the third in what’s been called “The Texas Trilogy.” What is it about Texas that has been so inspirational to creating these three albums?
Charlie Mars: Well, I live and grew up in Mississippi, so there’s always that energy of just a change of scene, first of all.
I think that there’s a laissez-faire attitude that’s comparable to the Southeast that carries over.
All of the musicians and studios and producers that I’ve worked with had a little bit less red tape than most of the more professional areas of the country like Los Angeles or New York. Everybody is willing to work with you and make it happen. That’s a great part of it. That’s part of the Texas vibe.
I had an opportunity to work with a great group of musicians that I worked with on all three of those albums. It’s the same cast of musicians who are all Texas based with the exception of John Ginty, who is from New Jersey. I just love Austin. I did two records in Austin and one in El Paso. There’s the wide-open spaces and things that you can’t explain. It’s the magic that is Texas.
Centanni: Many up-and-comers are obsessed with getting that big-label deal. You had a deal and decided to go DIY, which you said made you grow as an artist. What were some of the benefits of going out on your own?
Mars: The benefit is the satisfaction of not having anybody looking over your shoulder. On the flip side, that can cause problems. It’s always an adventure. Even the small successes, I feel deeply, because I was the one to have to take the risks to get there.
It has led to me having a much broader understanding of the business as a whole and what I need to do to find enough success to survive and wear many hats. I’ve done that for many years now.
I know what people at record labels are doing, whether it’s independent record promotion or hiring a publicist or figuring out how to get a mastered version of a vinyl album. It’s wonderful to be an artist and know all the aspects of the business. I’ll finish that by saying that when I was on a record label, it was a wonderful experience.
Being independent makes you appreciate having someone else play with the marketing and promotion of the record or having somebody to call to ask, “What do I do in this situation?” There’s good and bad to both, but there’s also necessities. I found myself having to be creative out of necessity.
Centanni: You talk about taking the good with the bad. The new album is all about finding the beauty in the negative constants in life. It’s like a yin and yang philosophy. In your experience, what’s the best method of finding the beauty in the chaos?
Mars: The thing that I love is writing a song that touches me. When I play it, I get a sense of whether it touches other people; to get to develop that song and perform it live is such a wonderful and spiritual experience not everybody gets to have. I think having that to focus on in my career is the light at the end of the tunnel for me. I just love the next song and the next studio and the next lab with a group of musicians.
To find the beauty in the chaos, that is the beauty. It’s to create the craft of song. There’s always the dream that you’ll write the perfect song, and it keeps me going. I have more selfish desires like being recognized, but the thing that has kept me going is the real love for it. I think the love for it will get you through the first time.
Centanni: You recorded your first cover ever on this album, which is Bentley Tock’s “Rainfall.” That song really moved you in your teen years. What was it about “Rainfall” that hit you when you were young?
Mars: It had a literary quality to it I could sense on a gut level. I thought it had some beautiful lyrics, and it was one of the songs that sparked my desire to live up to a lyrical standard where I tried to do something outside of cliché or [that] was disposable. I just really like that writer Paco Ahlgren. Those songs are forgotten. They’re not on Spotify or anything. I tried to reach out to him and never could get in touch with him. So, it’s been a mystery altogether.
Centanni: I read that “Pride Before the Fall” is one of your “most revealing” songs. What’s the story behind it?
Mars: It’s just a love song about loyalty and being willing to fight for somebody, and not listen to what other people say and do what you want, or do what I want and loving somebody despite the consequences.
Centanni: You’ll be playing The Listening Room here in Mobile. The show is being billed as “An Intimate Evening.” What are you bringing to the Listening Room’s stage?
Mars: A majority of my touring for the past two years has been solo. I’ve always loved telling stories about the songs or my life in between the songs. If you’ve ever seen John Prine or Todd Snider, I tell a lot of stories. My songs are pretty tender sometimes, so I try to lighten the mood. It’s just a good night of stories and song and someone that will feel real.