Interview Mark Lenover

Singer-Songwriter talks about his latest album 'The Trail's Gone Cold'

Tekst: Mark Ritselaar Foto's: Mark Lenover ,

On December 18th a new album of Mark Lenover appears titled 'The Trail's Gone Cold. The first European release on Dutch label 'Brandy Alexander Recordings'. Mark Lenover (b. Sept. 21, 1984) is a Canadian singer/songwriter/visual artist who produces and releases his music independently. Through a distinctive fusion of folk, rock, theatre and electronica, Lenover critically examines pop culture’s ubiquitous influence, its moral philosophy and the potentially devastating effects of drug abuse and mental illness.

Your first album was released in 2008, almost 10 years ago. How did you get involved in music and what made you decide to become a solo artist?
First of all, thank you very much for taking the time to interview me! I first started in music as a lead singer in a couple of bands when I was in high school. While I had some reservations about the live performance aspect, I fell in love with the writing and recording processes. When I left home to attend university, I found myself in a strange city (Hamilton) with no musical friends or contacts, so I began to experiment with writing and recording on my own, which was initially exceedingly difficult as I had never learned how to play any instruments and I had never done my own engineering and recording. My enthusiasm vastly exceeded my talents, but what began as almost childishly rudimentary, slowly developed into something I would be comfortable sharing with others. If I had to guess, I would say I wrote and recorded well over 100 songs, most of which were absolutely humiliating, before I finally began work on The Retributionists. I’ve often thought to myself that it was a good thing that I was a little deluded about the quality of my work during this early period, because if anyone had convinced me of how awful my work really was, I would probably have quit.

The Trail’s Gone Cold is a compilation? How did you choose the tracks?

Actually, The Trail’s Gone Cold consists of excerpts from only my two most recent releases, Signs of Violence and We’re in Motion Pictures, along with three previously unreleased tracks. With the help of my new friends at Brandy Alexander and my good friend and frequent collaborator Dave Disher I selected the recent tracks that we hoped would have the broadest appeal.

What were your influences, musical and non musical?
My musical influences range from Leonard Cohen, Scott Walker, Pink Floyd and Nico, to Radiohead, The Mountain Goats and Neutral Milk Hotel. I’m also very much a film enthusiast and some of my favourite directors are Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, Andrei Tarkovsky and Werner Herzog. My work is also often inspired or influenced by literature, and my favourite authors are Dostoyevsky and Kafka.

In your lyrics you mix social themes (Consumer Culture, Celebrity Culture, Social Responsibility, Poverty) with personal tribulations like mental disorder and addiction. How do these connect? Do you think mental illness and addiction are social problems? Do you consider your music (socially) political in that way?
I certainly think that common misrepresentations and misunderstandings of mental illness are serious issues that we as a society need to address. The cultural/social alienation of the mentally ill often sets them apart from the norm, and they inevitably develop an outsider’s perspective of the society that often rejects, maligns and marginalizes them. To put it another way, they have a very sharp perception of the cracks through which many of them have fallen. I consider most of my own work as philosophical protest music, as opposed to the explicitly political music typically associated with various political movements of the 1960’s.

Your music reflects madness in an artistic way. In contrast to, let’s say, Syd Barret or Roky Erickson, you seem in control of your art and make well composed and arranged songs – Is music therapeutic for you?
Thanks very much for the compliment! I think that the experiences of the mentally ill are under or misrepresented by popular culture, so I feel an obligation to share my own experiences and perspective as accurately and articulately as I can, especially since many people suffering from mental illness, especially schizophrenics, often have great difficulty expressing themselves. I suppose there is a therapeutic element to it, as the writing process forces me to face and to evaluate my own pathology. There is a sort of catharsis when one finally finds the nerve to acknowledge, confront and attempt to understand one’s own weakness and fear.

You release your music by yourself which must be hard sometimes. Being able to write catchy songs, do you ever think: What the heck, I’ll write a simple, radio friendly song, become a pop star and lean back? Or is being independent important to you?
Ha ha! You’re very kind, but I think you overestimate my abilities, both as a song writer and producer. It can be very difficult finding an audience when you are releasing your own material. Artistic control is very important to me, but I wouldn’t say that I am obstinately independent – I certainly wouldn’t spurn broader success, as long as it didn’t undermine my artistic credibility.

Your music was used for the horror movie the Banshee Chapter. Aspects of horror are also used in your lyrics and videos. What attracts you to the horror genre? Can you name some favourite movies/books?
Actually, as a genre generally, I have fallen out of love with horror – Most recent horror movies that I’ve seen, with a few notable exceptions, are a bit too explicit and sadistic for my taste. I do, however, still enjoy many of the classics of the genre, ranging from The Innocents, Night of the Hunter and Don’t Look Now to Rosemary’s Baby and The Shining. I’ve also really enjoyed reading most of H.P. Lovecraft’s work. I’m not entirely certain I can identify exactly what it is that draws me to this material. I suppose that the best examples of the genre revolve around captivating and unsettling mysteries. There are also often elements of psychological disorder and madness that might appeal to those who feel alienated from the norm and drawn to darker subject matter.

How did you connect with Brandy Alexander Recordings? Will this be your first European release? Will we see you in Holland/Europe for shows?
If I remember correctly, I was first contacted by Thomas van der Vliet at Brandy Alexander after they looked up some of the material that was featured in The Banshee Chapter. The Trail’s Gone Cold will be my first European release, and I’m really looking forward to it! Unfortunately, I have no plans to play any live shows or tour in the near future, for a number of reasons, including lack of demand, funds and a backing band. Also, I tend to keep very much to myself, and I don’t know how I would react psychologically to the stresses and strains of live performances and touring. I know that this can be disappointing to fans who enjoy and value the experience of a live performance, and I do apologize to any fans who feel let down by my reluctance to perform. Thanks very much for asking, though!

The Trails Gone Cold is now featuring on 3voor12’s Luisterpaal (app) and will be available from the 18th of December.