The King of Mars Interview
Interview with Pete Devine of Pete’s Rock News and Views (http://petesrocknewsandviews.com)
PD: Hello and thanks for taking time out to talk with us.
TKOM: Of course! Thank you for the opportunity!
PD: Can you first introduce the band and give us some background to how it all started and what brought you all together?
TKOM: I (John Bruner) sing lead vocals and play rhythm guitar. We have Matt Gordon on lead guitar, Randy Deadman on keyboards, JJ Frale on bass, Drew Gercak on drums, Austin Deadman on percussion and our rotating horn section consists of Jaime Ruiz and Jason Deran on trumpet, Walter Sanchez on trombone and Gabby Bandera on saxophone. I met Matt during a guitar class at Columbia College Chicago. He introduced me to JJ and then we kept adding members from there until we got to our current lineup.
PD: Have you been/are involved in other bands before? If so has that had any impact on what you are doing now, in maybe inspiring a change of style or direction?
TKOM: For most of us, this is our first major, original band. But every time we’ve added a new member, he/she has brought a whole new set of influences. Our style changed big time once we added Jason on trumpet and Walter on trombone. Having a horn section completely changed the songs and made the sound bigger than ever.
PD: What inspired the band name?
TKOM: When I was thinking of band names for this group, I was watching a lot of Adventure Time. There’s an episode that focuses on the king of Mars who happens to be Abraham Lincoln in this show (remember, it’s a cartoon). Abraham Lincoln sacrifices himself to save all of his people on Mars and I thought it was super badass. The King of Mars just kind of stuck in my head and I went with it.
PD: Was there any specific idea behind the forming of the band and also in what you wanted it and your sound to offer?
TKOM: At the start of the band, we had a basic rock band instrumentation; two guitars, bass and drums. We made songs that sounded a lot like Red Hot Chili Peppers. The sound wasn’t very exciting or original so I looked for more instruments. After we got Randy on keyboards and added the horns, our sound had a whole new style to it. It’s always difficult to find bands to compare us to, but I think our instrumentation is somewhat similar to Stevie Wonder.
PD: Do the same things still drive the band when it was fresh-faced or have they evolved over time?
TKOM: Our motivations have definitely changed since our beginnings. When we started, we were just kids messing around in college. We took the music seriously, but we didn’t realize what it would take to make a career out of it. Now we have a lot more focus and purpose in our song-writing, our shows and our promotion. Every move we make is a bit more calculated now. It’s a bit more stressful this way, but I love the direction we’re going in and all the progress we’ve made.
PD: Since your early days, how would you say your sound has evolved?
TKOM: The biggest changes in our sound are definitely a result of the lineup changes. Obviously adding horns and keys has a big impact. We also recently changed drummers and even that has shifted our sound a bit. Now I try to put more emphasis on hooks and melodies when I write our songs. I want our music to get stuck in your head until you can’t help but play the song again.
PD: Has it been more of an organic movement of sound or more the band deliberately wanting to try new things?
TKOM: We deliberately added new members so we knew the sound would change from that. Since then, it’s been more organic. Our song-writing has more focus to it and we’re able to make a more cohesive sound. In the past, our songs were a bit all over the place, genre-wise.
PD: Presumably across the band there is a wide range of inspirations; are there any in particular which have impacted not only on the band’s music but your personal approach and ideas to creating and playing music?
TKOM: Our members definitely have a wide taste in inspiration. Two of my biggest influences lately have been Father John Misty’s lyrics and writing style and the instrumentation of Stevie Wonder’s songs.
PD: Is there a process to the songwriting which generally guides the writing of songs? Where do you, more often than not, draw the inspirations to the lyrical side of your songs?
TKOM: When writing songs, I always start with a chord progression on guitar and then add lyrics and melodies over it. Once I finish the basic structure of the song, I bring it to Matt, Randy and JJ so they can write their parts to it. Once the band is in, Jason writes all the horn lines over the top. My lyrics are usually an outlet for anything I’m struggling with. I write a lot about struggles with depression and addiction. Recently, I’ve started writing more on societal commentary than personal issues.
PD: Give us some background to your latest release.
TKOM: Our album, Bleach and Aspirin, comes out on October 26th. I’m insanely proud of this record. All of it was self funded and it was mixed, mastered and produced by our own Jason Deran and Randy Deadman. The album will be released on all major streaming platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Music.
PD: Give us some insight to the themes and premise behind it and its songs.
TKOM: I picked the name, Bleach and Aspirin because it’s a lyric from the first track, “For a Ride”. It also sums up the theme of the album pretty well. A lot of these songs deal with me cleaning up my life (Bleach) and taking the pain away (Aspirin). I also can’t help but be sarcastic with my lyrics sometimes. The last track, “Against Me”, is a satirical statement on love and the treatment of women nowadays. Men love to blame women for every one of their problems, but never think at the end of the day that the problem might actually be themselves.
PD: Are you a band which goes into the studio with songs pretty much in their final state or prefer to develop them as you record?
TKOM: I can’t even imagine going into the studio with unfinished songs. Right now, that just doesn’t work for our budget. Someday, I would love to sit down and write a record from scratch in the studio. As our budget continues to grow, hopefully that day will come soon.
PD: Tell us about the live side to the band, presumably the favourite aspect of the band?
TKOM: We put a lot of effort into perfecting our live sound. My favorite aspect of our live shows is getting to play all the cover songs. We’re throwing a Halloween show on October 28th to celebrate our album release and we’re throwing in a bunch of fun Halloween songs for that set.
PD: It is not easy for any new band to make an impact regionally let alone nationally and further afield. How have you found it your neck of the woods? Are there the opportunities to make a mark if the drive is there for new bands?
TKOM: As far as Chicago goes, it’s a great city for music. Of course, it’s hard to be successful as an original band, but there are a lot of great musicians coming out of Chicago these days. There are plenty of awesome venues to perform at and we have our fair share of top notch studios to record in.
PD: How has the internet and social media impacted on the band to date? Do you see it as something destined to become a negative from a positive as the band grows and hopefully gets increasing success or is it more that bands struggling with it are lacking the knowledge and desire to keep it working to their advantage?
TKOM: The internet and social media have definitely changed the music industry big time. That doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing, though. Being a musician means having to adapt to advancing technology. That’s always been a part of music. Social media is just another aspect to embrace. Check us out on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to see us “adapt” in action!
PD: Once again a big thanks for sharing time with us; anything you would like to add or reveal for the readers?
TKOM: If you’re still reading this, head over to Spotify/Apple Music and give us a follow. Be sure to check those sites on October 26th to hear Bleach and Aspirin when it gets released. Each new follower is a big win for us, so go show some support if you’re digging our music!
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