the (unabridged) salon interview
dated december 19th, 2009
a: greg thomas marks
a: 13,758 days and counting (i.e. between 37 and 38 years old).
q: provenance (where from, where do you live now and how did you end up here)?
a: i grew up in st. martins, nb. various stages of my education saw me move to antigonish, ns in 1990 (to study jazz at st. francis xavier university), back to st. martins again in 1994, up to fredericton in 1995 (to complete a computer science degree), and finally to "the village" in the center of saint john in 1997, after landing an it job with nbtel.
q: why music, as a career?
a: music enthralled me from a very early age. as a toddler i used to improvise melodies over the drone of our hoover vacuum. i was drawn to all things creative - drawing, sculpting, writing, acting, cooking, even dance - but music most of all. the right combination of melody, harmony, and rhythm had a potential to convey emotion on a deeper level than words alone could ever manage. it was an incessant voice that i simply couldn't ignore. i guess that answers, "why music," but why as a career? why not! a layoff in january 2002 left me with an opportunity to try something different, and i figured if i never took a shot at it while i had the chance, i would regret it for the rest of my life.
q: what was your breakthrough moment?
a: it would be difficult to narrow it down to just one. for most of my life, being a career musician and songwriter was a fantasy, a dream i thought was just beyond my reach. i'm not sure i really believed i could make a living as a musician until i realised i was already doing it. as for being a songwriter, the seed of a breakthrough moment was planted in 1994 when i wrote and recorded a lullaby for the then-unborn child of a dear friend. it wasn't until 2007 that i discovered that, 13 years later, that little girl still listened to the lullaby constantly, and that her mother still cried every time she heard it. for me, that is what creating music is all about.
q: what would you be if you weren't a musician?
a: wealthier. oh, you mean career-wise; i would probably be a psychologist, guidance counselor, or teacher. or a comedian, but that kind of negates the "wealthier" descriptor.
q: what are you working on next?
a: i've been gradually chipping away at a number of projects, including doing a pile of song-writing for my debut solo recording (which has been so long coming i've had to start over more than once), writing and illustrating a children's book, and creating some wicked chocolate recipes. in the short term, i'm just hoping to find a new house gig and keep honing my craft. that, and continue eating and living indoors.
q: what place on earth inspires you and why?
a: montreal. the city has been a jazz mecca for generations, and has been home to some of the greatest musical minds of the 20th and 21st centuries. that aside, i just always felt at home wandering through the mont royal plateau area - statistically the most creative community in canada - and the vieux port.
q: what place in new brunswick inspires you and why?
a: while i am drawn to the frenetic anonymity of the big city, i find it is the calming embrace of nature that inspires me most here. you could drop me in the middle of the woods or along the shoreline almost anywhere and i would feel peaceful, but there are a couple of idyllic settings (that almost nobody knows) around saint john and st. martins that have always soothed and inspired me. where montreal let me disappear, faceless, into the masses, these verdant getaways always made me feel simultaneously small and significantly connected to the rest of the universe. i could tell you where they are, but then they'd become tourist destinations and lose their power.
q: secret indulgence?
a: i occasionally indulge in the lost art of the afternoon nap. thanks to the splendid example provided by my cat, i have learned the bliss that accompanies sleeping whenever i feel like it. of course, i have to balance any siestas with additional late-night work, but song-writing jags seem so much more productive when they start at 2 am anyway.
q: what is your greatest extravagance?
a: that would be a tie between live music and good food. the latter tends to surprise people. you wouldn't think, looking at me, that i loved eating as much as i do. being a musician doesn't always lend itself to a rich, plentiful, or healthy diet, but once in a while it is a treat to have a significant feast at a restaurant or to splurge on an assortment of exotic foods. indian, ethiopian, lebanese, jamaican, and tibetan dishes top my culinary list. i've been known once or twice to drive as far as toronto for a good concert and a sumptuous ethnic meal.
q: what is your greatest fear and why?
a: living an unremarkable life, and dying without leaving a positive, enduring legacy. isn't that everybody's greatest fear?
q: greatest joy?
a: discovering that i have made a difference (even in some small way); a tear on the cheek of an audience member touched by my performance; the bright epiphany that flashes in young students' eyes when they realise they can do what they thought was impossible; the surprise of a stranger in response to an unexpected random act of kindness; even the purring of my cat. these are things that make life worthwhile.
q: favourite painting by a new brunswick artist and why?
a: i rarely play favourites, drawing inspiration from everything i encounter, and trying to understand what inspires people to choose their own personal approaches to expression. in many ways i am often more inspired by the artists than their individual works. over the years i have had great respect for suzanne hill, peter davidson, cliff turner, and my father, harold "haddie" marks, each for their own personal approaches and artistic choices. recently, i have been particularly impressed by our younger local artists, specifically painter sarah jones, whose works defy the expectations of maritime landscape artists (to depict picturesque, tourist-friendly vistas), instead capturing both the angst and beauty of our urban and industrial presence, and potter alison gayton (whose interview was published on november 21st, 2009), for her organic, earthy pieces as well as her dedication to using local materials. mostly, they inspire me with their willingness to pursue their dreams, unabashed and seemingly unfazed by the tedious common belief that artists must succumb to commercialism or suffer. that, and they're both fun, energetic, caring people, who clearly feel a commitment to improving the world around them.
q: what are you reading?
a: i've always got several books going at once, usually dealing with psychology/self-improvement in some form or another. current titles include motivation 101 by jean marie stine, the procrastinator's handbook by rita emmett, drawing on the right side of the brain by betty edwards, cracking creativity by michael michalko, freakonomics by steven d. levitt and stephen j. dubner, just your type by paul d. tieger and barbara barron-tieger, flirt coach by peta heskell, and understanding women by romy miller (sometimes i need some "fun" books to balance out the dry cerebral stuff). add to that reams of psychology today and scientific american mind magazines, a myriad of books on music, art, and culinary technique, various newsletters, and the fruits of internet research, and you might be surprised to discover how little time i spend reading.
q: what¹s on your ipod?
a: a price sticker, i presume; i never got around to buying one! my old sony clié, on the other hand, is currently loaded with a mix of donald fagan, jimmy scott, mike murley, hypnotic pitch training recordings, several of the aforementioned books, and peter sellers' "the party," just to name a few.
q: what talent would you like to have?
a: personally i believe the only real talents are vision and determination/perseverance; with them, virtually any human ability can be cultivated in the fullness of time, and without them you're left with dumb luck or divine intervention. i could use a large helping of each, if you're offering. failing that, perfect pitch, an eidetic memory, or the gift of brevity might come in handy.
q: what is the greatest public misconception about music?
a: there are several that come to mind, but the one that hits home for most professional musicians is the erroneous belief that music is a lazy man's career! when people hear a true professional musician perform, particularly the ones who make it seem effortless, it's easy to believe that it is effortless. in fact, every note you hear has decades of concerted effort behind it. if that isn't enough in itself, consider that today the average working musician also has to be an orchestrator, arranger, booking agent, press agent, accountant, menial labourer, event planner, graphic/web designer, driver, courier and more, on top of putting in the necessary hours practicing every week to keep improving. i wasn't kidding when i called sleep an indulgence!
q: your most treasured possession?
a: my cat (if you could consider her a possession, per se; i rather suspect she sees it the other way around). what can i say: i love my saxes, but they can't love me back.
q: what is your motto?
a: every day this side of the grass is a successful one.
q: how would you like to die?
a: who wants to die?
q: your favourite musician and why?
a: again, i don't often play favourites, and couldn't narrow the field to a single choice where music is concerned. i've listened to everything from mozart to motorhead and beyond, and found things to love in all of it. i've had a long-standing love affair with the recordings of michael brecker, jimmy scott, donald fagan/steely dan, grover washington, jr., billy joel, nina simone, jamie cullum, kurt elling... the list is nearly endless. this week, i've been most inspired by the songwriting of rufus wainwright, but who knows what wondrous sounds i may encounter tomorrow?