Old Man Markley Interview
Punk/Bluegrass Outfit on Using Craigslist to Find a Tour Bus, Home Studio Gear & Their Fiddle Player
The wholesome, backyard nostalgia of bluegrass intertwined with the rowdy romp of punk. Those two genres usually don’t mix, and when people hear the concept the general consensus is a resounding: ‘huh?’
But finding the happy medium between banjo and badass is exactly what LA based septet Old Man Markley has done. Finding their start in the family room of band members Johnny Carey, Annie DeTemple, and Ryan Markley in 2007, the band has grown, shrunk, evolved and experienced a lot in the past six years.
Nowadays, they are bringing the music to audiences around the world. Their sound, which is a fusion of bluegrass roots and punk energy, is a result of the creative backgrounds of their band members.
Autoharpist Annie DeTemple, along with fiddler Katie Weed and banjo player John Rosen bring their bluegrass influence. Lead vocalist and guitarist Johnny Carey, bassist Joey Garibaldi, and washboard player Ryan Markley have all been members of successful punk bands and therefore bring that energy and experience to the creative process. Drummer Jeff Fuller has been an Americana musician and fits right into the Old Man Markley lineup with his preformed style.
DeTemple says, “Between the members’ backgrounds, it came together perfectly to form this organic mixture of punk and bluegrass.” And she’s right, because their sound is uniquely their own.
It is their sound that attracted the attention of Fat Mike Burkett (of NOFX fame) and his label Fat Wreck Chords. Signing the band in 2010, Fat Wreck Chords has provided a number of unique opportunities including production, touring, and exposure. “Working with Fat is amazing. Its one of the most well respected punk labels that you can be affiliated with,” DeTemple says of the experience.
DeTemple went on to say, “Working with Fat, we knew that it meant [it] would open the doors for us to be on some really big punk tours” – which it has; touring with NOFX last year, and the Dropkick Murphys this year, Old Man Markley has seen the globe while touring with a number of well-respected groups in both the bluegrass and punk communities.
At this point, the band is seemingly seasoned when it comes to touring, but DeTemple says that the vibe on the bus still changes depending on the venue they are playing on a given night. They try to be as prepared as possible, and have even sworn off junk food while touring. She says that band members treat every show as a new experience and try to be organized because “it’s like game day.”
Those experiences have had a huge influence on the band and their creative process. Katie Weed explains, “The songs on Down Side Up are the result of touring for two years and waking up together in cities across the world, of discovering new worlds while still missing home, of stories that we’ve wanted to tell for ages, of melodies that permeated our minds and then sound checks, and of ideas that took shape truly as a collaboration between all seven of us.”
That collaboration is something that the group takes great pride in, and doesn’t put limitations on. In the songwriting process for Down Side Up, DeTemple says, “It was all-encompassing of all the members. Some people that we had worked with in the past…people [who] have been involved with the band but never toured with us are still involved in the songwriting.”
She says that this is the way that Old Man Markley operates. Having so many cooks in the kitchen allows for the creativity to flow freely. “There are so many people involved in our band, and I feel like that’s how we are going to make the best music we can. It happens organically, and it involves whoever needs to be involved,” she says.
The album’s opener, “Blood on My Hands,” maintains more of a serious tone, while the political message on the spirited “America’s Dreaming” is lyrically thoughtful. The slow-tempo closer “Too Soon for Goodnight” rounds out the album with its softer melody and contrasts well with the rest of the tracks. While the subject of the songs varies, the artistry and anecdotal nature of bluegrass lyrics is evident throughout the record.
The creative liberties that Old Man Markley has been allowed to take with their songwriting has been, in large part, because they have invested in their music.
For this record, rather than funding and scheduling themselves into a studio, the group decided to take matters into their own hands and create a home studio. “Johnny thought that our money would be better spent if we built a studio. So at the same house where we had band practices and Ryan’s birthday party, where we started as a band, we ended up building a recording studio,” says DeTemple.
By scouring Craigslist for deals on equipment, a sound booth, and other essentials, they moved out the laundry machine and moved in a home studio.
DeTemple said its nice to have everything in house and that because they aren’t on a studio’s clock:
“We really have a nice, relaxed setting. We can work starting as early as we want, and we can work into the evenings. We can take a day off. We can do it at our leisure.”
The band enjoys the convenience of the space when they are home from touring, saying, “It’s nice that it is in a familiar environment and it’s ours. We can call it home. It’s the Old Man Markley home studio.”
Old Man Markley likes to do things themselves. From their studio to their instruments, they have their hands in every aspect of their music. When they aren’t touring, a few band members are employed by DeTemple Guitars in Sherman Oaks, California.
The family business allows a home base for instrument modification and construction. Whether it is creating “the tub” which is the upright bass, building a washboard, or installing bridge pickups on the fiddle, the musicians are able to do it all themselves and really learn their instruments inside and out. “I think that is so important for us touring and our stage shows. Being able to know how your instrument works and how to make it sound the best that it can sound,” DeTemple explains.
Knowing their instruments in this way allows the band to develop a sound that translates from album to stage extremely well. “We really found a way to play the folk instruments live, electrically, without the use of these huge amps. So we aren’t really changing the sound of the instrument,” DeTemple comments. They do this through the use of direct box pedals for each member. “It’s a direct line, we don’t have to plug it into amps,” she continues. She argues that the lack of big amps allows the group to present the instruments in a pure form, even to larger venues where that quality might be less common.
No matter the size of the club, Old Man Markley never fails to deliver. Their first ever show was at a bar in Pasadena to a standing room only audience. The bar ran out of beer, and the band brought down the house. Having that experience as a baseline for the rest of their live performances, the band works to recreate that energy for any size audience.
Responsible for bringing the band to their shows is their converted Seattle city bus, which they also found on Craigslist. Keeping with their DIY style, they bought the bus in 2010, gutted and repurposed it as their tour bus. It might not be the most attractive vehicle on the road: “It’s green and yellow, and its got a big black strip across the middle of it. Its quite an eyesore,” says DeTemple. But it serves its purpose. With nine bunks, a generator, a flat screen and a PlayStation, the band has all the requisites for life on the road.
DeTemple, who has known bassist Garibaldi since she was 14, and shares the stage with husband Johnny Carey, recognizes how lucky she is: “We are really fortunate to have the group of friends that we have in this band, and that we are able to do this. I can’t express that enough. Its something that I could only have dreamed of.”
Being fortunate enough to travel the world with their best friends is just the tip of the iceberg for the group. In mid-March, they were named #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts for Down Side Up. They have also signed on for another round with the Dropkick Murphys starting later this month.
They are a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. They have a bus and a fiddle player that they found on Craigslist. They fix and modify all their own instruments, and recorded their latest record in their self-made home studio. They make funky, inspired music, and they play it loud.
photos by Rebecca Reed