Native New Yorker Athan Maroulis is an amazingly diverse and eclectic vocalist who has performed everything from industrial, goth rock, and alternative rock to vocal jazz and traditional pre-rock pop. Maroulis is best-known for his position as lead singer of the industrial/goth/darkwave band Spahn Ranch, but he proved to be equally convincing as a ’40s-style crooner when he started singing lead for a standards-oriented vocal jazz/traditional pop outfit known as the Blue Dahlia.
While on hiatus from Black Tape, Athan conceptualized NOIR as a project where his Industrial and Gothic past would walk the wire between retro and futuristic sounds, brought into a moody electronic present by synth-laced hooks meshed with elements of dance, dark ambient and touches of glitch-induced EBM. The result is Darkly Near, an album influenced by an idealized black-and-white perception of New York City, where yesteryear’s views of tomorrow are pressed against the machinery of today.
Here follows an exclusive interview held recently with the artist, Athan Maroulis (Noir).
1. How long have you been doing what you’re doing and how did you get started in the first place?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): NOIR has only been active for approximately one year. I am also a member of the band Black Tape for a Blue Girl (BTFABG), once I realized that BTFABG would likely be on a long hiatus, I decided to start a new project and NOIR was born.
2. Who were your first musical influences that you can remember?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): The Doors were the first true influence that prompted my desire to try and make my own music, a little later it was David Bowie, The Psychedelic Furs, Roxy Music, Blondie, Bauhaus as well as music from other worlds such as Sinatra, Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday.
3. Which artists do you listen to today? And is there anybody you’d like to collaborate with?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): Well? I check out a new artists regularly, which comes with the territory of running a booking agency and managing a few acts. Both are part of what I do for a living, yet when it comes to my private and personal taste I often listen to music from the first half of the last century. Since most of the names are six feet under, collaboration would prove difficult.
4. How did you get into producing reissues of vintage 1930s and 1940s jazz and blues music, during you long break from performing?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): In the 1990s I was in a band called Spahn Ranch. While that band toured a great deal, it was between tours where I worked for Cleopatra Records. There, I started a division called Stardust, which was devoted to releasing jazz and vocal based albums from the 1930s and 1940s. I have always been an avid fan and collector of vinyl records; Stardust was ideal in that I utilized my knowledge of vintage music by compiling and writing liner notes. Later, when I ceased performing for a number of years, I continued to produce reissue CDs for a number of different labels.
5. How and why did the ‘Noir’ project come about?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): As I mentioned, BTFABG was about to take an extended break. I had joined that band in 2009 after nearly a decade of minimal activity as a vocalist. With BTFABG I released an album and a couple of singles then toured here and abroad. Those experiences prompted my desire to continue making music and I did so by starting NOIR. At first, it was simply to be a solo project where I was backed by a number of different collaborators then it twisted into something a bit more serious after the first single received some respectable attention.
6. Solo studio work and music creation, or interacting with a full band, which do you prefer and why?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): Hmnnnn? My first band Fahrenheit 451 had very fruitful writing and rehearsal habits. We simply jammed on ideas until something happened. After that it changed in other bands I was in, jamming doesn’t happen much with electronic driven music. Recently I performed with This Ambitious Orchestra in New York City, a 19-piece band that performs fully orchestrated versions of Glam, Goth and more, which was fantastic! Yet sometimes when it is just I myself writing lyrics and vocal parts to songs from various collaborators it is equally gratifying.
7. Tell us something about your current hardware/software and instrument setup?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): I am truly just a vocalist and rely on others to supply such things, truth is I know next to nothing about the hardware and such.
8. Could you give us some insight into the creation and production of the “Darkly Near” album?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): I suppose my goal was to try and create a hybrid of the different projects I have been in over the years. I wanted it to be moody, electronic and diverse. From a conceptual point if view I was thinking a bit of the Bergman film Through a Glass Darkly when I coined Darkly Near as the title. Perhaps I was thinking about the similarities between sex and death? Ultimately the album is lyrically a collage of interests, fascinations, recollections and suicidal film stars all spilled out on the table.
9. Which ingredient do you think is most essential in making your music sound the way it does?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): I am not really all that sure? I guess I have a style that I drag along into the process that carries with it a sound of sorts?
10. If you were forced to choose only one, which emotion, more than any other drives you to stay in this tough business. Is it joy, anger, desire, passion or pride and why?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): Anger is likely the thing that drives me the most although I certainly feel many of the things you listed but take them for granted. Anger can be channeled into creating and it is a fine way of recycling it into something positive.
11. Which aspect of being an independent artist and the music making process excites you most and which aspect discourages you most?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): Sometimes as an independent artist I feel a bit lonely, as if it is me alone against the system with the need to wear far too many hats. While the control is satisfying it takes a great deal out of me to take care of it all. The details, the financial responsibility, the risk all can be quite imposing.
12. Tell us something about your songwriting process. What usually comes first the lyrics or the music? And on which instrument do you compose?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): Since NOIR is effectively me working with electronic composers; much of this is done via email. Ideas are sent back and forth, I try and write vocal melodies against the backdrop of what is sent to me, then it is arranged and so on. I don’t play an instrument so I hum and tap a lot.
13. How involved are you in any of the recording, producing, mastering and marketing processes of your music. Do you outsource any of these processes?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): When it came to NOIR I cut my vocals with an engineer in NYC while nearly all of the production and mixing was handled in SF by Raphael Pepi. The mastering was completed in Indiana by Steven Siebold. Metropolis Records, as my label handled most of the marketing although I have done what I can on my end with the contacts I have built up over the years. Additionally, I hired Taurant Services to help with promotion as well.
14. The best piece of advice in this business you actually followed so far, and one you didn’t follow, but now know for sure that you should have?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): Early on I received very little advice of any kind that was very useful, in fact it was truly trial by fire for me. I am glad that I started working at a record store at the start of my career in music, I learned a great deal about the music industry that way. The one bit of advice I didn’t follow was to get a real job and that asshole might have been right?
15. At this point, as an independent artist, which is the one factor you feel will undeniably benefit your future (for example increased music distribution, better quality production, more media exposure, bigger live gigs etc…)?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): I believe the final frontier is performing live. Experience tells me that as it improves everything else starts to fall in place like magic then comes the ink, the cred, etc.
16. Do you consider Internet and all the social media websites, as fundamental to your career, and indie music in general, or do you think it has only produced a mass of mediocre “copy-and-paste” artists, who flood the web, making it difficult for real talent to emerge?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): I partake in a number of Internet related outlets but for the most part I think they are crap. And while it has given a voice to many artists it has simultaneously opened the floodgates to tidal waves of tepid feces.
17. Is the music produced on “Darkly Near” exactly where you want your sound to be today? Or in retrospect, would you change anything on, or about the album in anyway?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): In the aftermath I am sure the Beatles would have liked to have changed Abbey Road, so “the artist” is always seeking some level of perfection. Sure, I would have changed certain things but am quite pleased with it as is.
18. What do you think is the biggest barrier you have to face and overcome as an indie songwriter/performer, in your quest to achieve your goals and wider spread success?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): In truth, I ended up inherently connected to a genre of music that while it never full subsides, it also remains an orphan bastard child outcast within alternative music. The ultimate blessing and curse that one could say has been a barrier as well as a safety net.
19. What is the ONE thing you are NOT willing or prepared to do, in your quest to achieve a successful musical career?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): Swallow.
20. Tell us about any new projects or ideas you will be working on in the near future, and how fans can connect with you?
Athan Maroulis (Noir): At the moment there’s some talk of a new BTFABG album bit nothing concrete. Other than that I will likely be releasing a remix album with NOIR in the New Year and I am sure live dates will surface as well.
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