Photo from http://www.robmarr.net
For some, music calls to mind poetry, cinematic enlightenment, or philosophical excursion; for Rob Marr, it’s all about the body.
The London-based indie rocker left medical school to pursue his utmost passion in the arts, but kept his interest in human make-up well embedded into his creative sensibilities. His latest album, Anatomy, independently-released on Oct. 15, brings that journey of compositional segmentation and ritual to life, along with the whimsical tune of the piano.
“The songs are, in some ways, an attempt to kind of dissect a particular scenario or something I find interesting,” Marr tells BTR about the record and his “obsession” with bodies. “I went to medical school for a year, didn’t much enjoy it, but the anatomy classes always leave a bit of an impression on you. Spending four hours a week with a dead body that you cut up and examine, there’s something very forensic about that.”
“And there’s something in the way I like to write, where I like to hone in on a particular thing,” he adds.
From Marr’s perspective, all the bits and pieces that make up the body are held together by a sort of soul – or force – that feels love and pain, and gives meaning to the physicality it embodies. Likewise, music holds together the reverberations, echoes, silences, and crescendos of the instrumental menagerie created. Marr brings the technical focus to the piano for his sophomore record, an instrument he feels is purest in its organic form, but allows for creativity to augment its qualities.
“I tried to use keyboards as much as I could to give the album its own character and own sound,” Marr describes, listing the piano, grand piano, keyboards, and pianorgan as a few of his utensils. “There is also lots of percussion and whatever else we could get our hands on.”
Marr’s earliest rendezvous with music came through his days at church. He and his family didn’t miss a service, and he remained diligent in his perfect attendance till the age of 18. It was the music that stuck out namely – the “amount of sound” possible through pipe organs – and the depth of composition in hymnal pieces that not only became part of his routine, but a basis for his own career.
Interestingly enough, what Marr lacks in musical training, he makes up for in his meticulous attention to the inner-workings of instruments. Inspired by artists like Paul Simon, Stevie Wonder, Grizzly Bear and the sonic taste of the British, he brings an experimental edge to alternative rock and soul, and equally so, an unusual approach to the crafting of thematic intention.
“I started out with photographs from an anatomy textbook,” Marr comments, noting he used the drawings of people before and after operations, and the instruments used in the procedures, as a way to embody the concept of his music.
“[The song] “Anatomy of a Lover” is about the bits of somebody’s body that you’ve become, you develop an incredibly intense relationship – and they’re very temporary,” he describes. “They’re just a collection of atoms that have been carrots and stones and will be something else again. And for that short period of time, they mean a lot to you.”
With the release of the new record, Marr’s priorities will now shift to the road, breathing life into the body of work he’s masterfully produced in the studio. His first major gig will be at the Roundhouse in London, where he’ll perform with a full band for the first time ever. After that, the piano man will take it to the living rooms of anyone who’ll have him, if he has his way about it. As he points out, his penchant for private gatherings has already brought out his classy tunes at pubs, barnyard birthdays, and Italian villas.
Why not keep with the trend?
“I like doing gigs in people’s homes, which I thought was an amazingly original idea when I discovered everybody’s doing it,” he remarks. “I did one in Belgium… I drove after work to the ferry… I got there at two in the morning to my friend’s flat. She made quiche and we bought lots of beer.”
“[There were] about 35 friends – Europeans of every stripe – I set the piano up, and did a couple of sets… It was one of my favorite gigs of all times,” he adds.
Simple, sweet, gifted, and particular, Marr’s interest and love for art matches his flair for making it. Yet, like most astute musicians, he intends to evolve, and his interest seems to be with instrumental craftsmanship.
Notes Marr, “I really want to play drums on next album. It’s the most rewarding thing you can do musically, I think; like musical narcotics.”