Posted December 21, 2005

"brutal sonic attack":
The Mark of Cain
reports for duty



Interview by PATRICK EMERY

It’s not often I get to indulge my Adelaide history directly at the I-94 Bar. But the return in January 2006 of Adelaide power trio The Mark of Cain presented just such an opportunity. Formed originally in the mid 1980s by brothers John and Kim Scott, with Rod Archer (Iron Sheiks) on vocals and John Richert on drums, The Mark of Cain became legendary for its brutal sonic attack – conveyed with a sense of discipline that the best West Point officers could only dream of – and its Spinal Tap like procession of drummers (current drummer John Stainier (ex-Helmet) is the band’s twelfth drummer, not including a brief period where the band used a drum machine). After Archer departed the band (apparently partly due to an incident involving a very sick dog) John took over vocal duties.

The band’s first album “Battlesick” was released in 1989 through Dominator Records followed by “The Unclaimed Prize” in 1990. The Mark of Cain took a rest in the early 1990s as the Scott brothers headed overseas to work. The outbreak of the first Gulf War saw the Scotts return to Australia and record “Incoming” and “Viet Vet”. By this stage they’d attracted the attention of Henry Rollins who offered to produce the awesome “Ill At Ease” album (1995) (which later came out on his 2.13.61 label for Europe and the US). In 1997 the band recorded a cover of X’s “Degenerate Boy” for the "Idiot Box" soundtrack.
The most recent album “This is This” was released in 2001 before the band took a break from touring and recording.

January 2006 sees the Scott brothers reunite with current drummer John Stanier for a short national tour, and possibly some more recording.

Guitarist and vocalist John Scott continues to reside and work in Adelaide. He took time out from his real job to take a seat at the Bar and talk about the band’s return to the stage.

Welcome to the Bar John. Can you describe the local scene in Adelaide like when you first started playing?

It was great when we started. Everybody supported one another. All the bands supported one another, we’d find pubs that weren’t doing very well, y’know Saturday arvo pubs with old drinkers and we’d say ‘would you mind if the bands played’ and they’d say ‘yeah’ so there was a group of us like Fear and Loathing, Mark of Cain, Iron Sheiks and Kingsnake Groove. We organise our own shows and then we’d support them and they’d support us and, yeah, it was pretty good. It was quite vibrant – in fact nowadays it’s quite hard to find anywhere that’s really good.

That’s an interesting observation to conclude with – my own memories of the late 1980s are of a very vibrant local music scene but I don’t get the sense that’s still around in Adelaide. What’s the local music scene like in Adelaide these days?

That’s right. In those days Well’s End, which is in Hindley Street, was called The Royal Oak and we played a lot of shows there. Then there was the Old Queen’s Arms, there was The Tivoli, there was a place called Le Rox, there was a lot of small pubs around we played at (some of which have been knocked down). Now there’s not much really. And there are also only small venues which we’d have to play there three nights in a row or there’s the large venues which we wouldn’t be able to fill. I think Fowler’s Live is probably the best middle size place. That’s the old Lion Arts Centre on North Terrace.

The image of the loner has been regularly in The Mark of Cain recordings, and the lyrics of the songs have often appear to describe emotional situations in very bleak terms – and from a very male perspective. What is it about the loner image that’s been so powerful for you?

I think it derives from how I felt growing up. I didn’t find when I was in school that I fitted in very well. I think most of us who get in a band – at least in those days – were oddballs. We didn’t fit in at school and everybody when I was at school was listening to Supertramp, Meatloaf, The Eagles. My friends and I were discovering the Buzzcocks, Joy Division and the Sex Pistols and people thought we were sort of idiots, and I’d read all these books about the loner that really appealed to me like Herman Hesse, Albert Camus’ The Outsider. It was just a powerful sort of image. If you look at really good literature it’s always been about the loner, good films as well – I’ve always liked the whole East of Eden, James Dean, Rebel Without A Cause, the troubled teenager, all that angst - you can really identify with it. You try and understand who you are and where you fit in the world. And the name Mark of Cain was derived from a Herman Hesse book called Demian which was about a guy trying to fit in and he has a friend Max Demian who says ‘hey, maybe you don’t fit in’ and explains what The Mark of Cain really meant.

Do you think music becomes a cathartic medium to express that loner feeling?

Definitely. I can remember when we were playing in the '80s, and even in the '90s when it was really cathartic playing, blowing off lots of steam. And I can remember other times when I’d be feeling really good and I’d be going on stage to sing and I’d walk off feeling almost depressed because I’d got back into that mode. And then I learnt different ways of being able to still emote what the songs were about but still have some sort of gap between actually truly embracing taking it on as a persona, if you like.

A military aesthetic has also been common to a lot of Mark of Cain music – do you think that aesthetic takes on even more relevance now in light of the security concerns that permeate society today?

Not really. That’s always been significant to me because I’ve always enjoyed reading these oral histories about guys and what they went through in Normandy in World War I and what they experienced. What was amazing is that these are ordinary people being put into extra-ordinary situations and they behave extra-ordinarily. And I always found that of interest, especially the idea of a well disciplined, lean, mean outfit all working together, relying on one another, you know what’s going on and you know can rely on this other person. And when The Mark of Cain was playing we had this idea of this unity, three becoming one, or three as one. It was very much an idea that when we got on we’d be quick to get on, quick to get off, we didn’t fuck around. Other bands would finish sets and then hang around for 10 minutes talking to their entourage and leave all their equipment on stage. We just liked the idea of short, sharp, surgical, in and out.

I’ve always seen it as a metaphor for life, the idea of trying to get through the day, you have people in your life who disappear and you can really draw some parallels. I like the idea of the Spartan, soldier-like approach to life – you don’t get dragged down too much by things. You’ve just got to move on through, don’t think too much. When things get too hectic you need to basically put your head down and let the training take over. I really find that quite intriguing. I’m not really a warmonger!

You’ve recently become a father for the first time. How has that affected your outlook on life? Do you anticipate it having an effect on your music?

I don’t think it’ll have an effect on my music. It’d be really odd if all of a sudden I said [adopting smarmy Vegas American accent] ‘This next song is dedicated to my daughter’ and did this nice melodic piece. That’s just sickening to me. If anything I suppose you get that joy out of it. She’s really beautiful, I love seeing her smile. I remember at the time my partner was pregnant I was thinking ‘hey what sort of world are we bringing this child into’ but the same thing happened with me, it’s a Russian roulette job – you get born into the time you get born into. You see what happens. More than anything you get concerned with what values you’re imparting on your kids. You’ve got to make sure they get to listen to some good Joy Division and the MC5 - not the crap that’s on the radio (laughs), stuff like that.

You’ve worked with a number of high profile producers including Steve Albini, Henry Rollins and Andy Gill. How do you think each of these producers helped with the releases they worked on?



I think of all of them Rollins probably helped the most in a profile way. In Australia we’re so mindful of looking elsewhere else first to see if some sort of music is considered valid and then the bands here start copying it and then they get signed up. Whereas we were around and doing our own thing and no-one wanted to know about it. We had Rollins jump in and say ‘I really love this band and I want to produce them’ and all of a sudden people took more notice of us. Having said that the recording was great; he was 110% into it and helped me definitely feel much more comfortable about singing. We were already going in the direction we were going in – but he helped us for more confident about what we were doing.

With Albini he was a very quick and efficient worker. He tends to get things done quickly and rapidly. I think that was fairly low key – not that many people knew we’d worked with Albini. That was while I was overseas and Kim was overseas and we met up in Chicago and had some remixes done.

With Andy Gill that was really cool. I’ve always really liked The Gang of Four. Just spending time with the guy was really cool. His mixing process was a bit different. We had a lot of songs mixed by him and some of them we had remixed because we liked the way he approached some of the songs we put together in the studio but some of the more organic songs we’d developed together over the years we liked the way Phil McKeller who’s done all the Grinspoon stuff did the mixes as well.

But overall each of them adds something to it, but it’s a bit indefinable what that is. I think part of the reason we work with them is that we’ve got a direction or outlook that’s similar.

You mentioned the Rollins-produced "Ill At Ease" album before. That album remains one of my favourite Australian albums – do you think the album holds up well 10 years after its release?

Yeah, it’s pretty good. That was the first album we recorded digitally and I think things have moved on a bit. I really like the fatness of everything on “This Is This” and I would love to get that fatness on everything. But I still think it’s a pretty good damn album. I think it’s help up very well. I think “Point Man” to me is a song that can stand forever.

Was there any specific reason for the band deciding to take a break from touring?

I changed jobs about three years ago. I wanted to do more project management and so I came to this place. I think it because of that I took on a lot more responsibility and my time for getting home and writing was really put aside. And then I met my partner, so I think it’s just one of those things where I really chose to live life and I wasn’t being particularly reflective and churning out a lot. And with John [Stanier] being a New York resident of course we weren’t going to be rehearsing much. So that’s really how it turned out. Every time we did think about getting together and playing something would happen and finally it took Tim Pittman our manager to say “OK, here are the dates that you’re playing”.

What was the motivation to get back together and start touring and recording again?

Partly it was because every time we’d go out and see a band it’d be like “fuck, we can blow these guys away, what are we doing”. It’s just like that old adage with sawdust in the mains – you just want get back there and do it, you want to feel it.

You’ve been quoted as saying you’ll keep coming back and playing until you can’t do it anymore. Is that correct?

(Laughs) There’s no point for us to be a band that’s obviously touring to support ourselves. We’ve got our jobs and we’ve never been a band that’s done so well commercially that we could live off our music. The thing is not to let it get away to the point where we don’t do anything for three years. Let’s try and get out once or twice a year until no-one’s interested anymore or we can’t do it anymore. Why not?

Do you have any plans to record more music?

When John comes over we’ll go through a couple of new songs that I’ve written, and see how those stand up. We’re going to try and utilise what he did with Tomahawk which is to use iChat to swap files over the Internet and see what we come up with and then when he comes over we’ll go into the studio and see what we record.


After the interview concluded I realised to my concern that I’d forgotten to ask the critical concluding question – what are you drinking?

Well, I’m sure that given John was as at work during the interview – and noting his penchant for self-discipline – he was drinking nothing more than water or coffee but as a good South Australian his poison of choice could only be the incomparable Coopers – the only question is Red, Green, Yellow or Brown? That question will have to wait another day.

 

JANUARY 2006
Wednesday 11th: Coolangatta, The Balcony + A Secret Death
Tickets $18.00 + bf from The TAB @ Coolangatta Hotel or online at www.thecoolyhotel.com.au also Sunflower Music Pacific Fair, Head Hi Music Burleigh and Buzz Bar Music Murwillumbah

Thursday 12th: Brisbane, The Zoo + Razorhurst
Tickets $25.00 + bf. Available online from: www.thezoo.com.au. Also Rocking Horse and Skinnys Record Stores.

Friday 13th: Sydney, Gaelic Club + Grand Fatal & Superpussy
Tickets $25.00 + bf. Available on-line from www.thegaelicclub.com,www.moshtix.com.au, phone charge: 92094614 and all Moshtix outlets

Saturday 14th: Melbourne, Corner Hotel + My Disco & Grey Daturas
Tickets $25.00 + bf available online from www.cornerhotel.com. Also available from the Corner Hotel box office. Phone bookings: 03-9427-9198.

Friday 20th: Adelaide, Fowlers Live + The Pharoahs & MIrrorline
Tickets $25.00 + bf. Available online at www.fowlerslive.com.au, www.venuetix.com.au or phone charge: 8225-8888 and all CIB outlets or phone charge: 8231 0824.

Saturday 21st: Perth, Amplifier + Subtruck &Dyscord
Tickets $25.00 + bf available online from www.heatseeker.com.au, also: Mills Records, Fremantle, 78 Records, Perth Beat Records, Karrinyup and Planet Records, Mt Lawley.

Sunday 22nd: Fremantle, Newport Htl + Subtruck & From the Ruins
Tickets $25.00 + bf available online from www.heatseeker.com.au, also: Mills Records, Fremantle, 78 Records, Perth Beat Records, Karrinyup and Planet Records, Mt Lawley.



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