I understand that after years as a recording artist and producer, recently your involvement in the recording process has gone a step further.
Yes, I built a studio last Summer. I had seen the problems with working so many places and facing clocks and day to day differences in equipment and such, and decided to try to put together a state of the art studio myself, helping pay for it with the studio budgets of the artists I was already producing anyway. That way, we could work with no time pressure in a constant environment with as good or better equipment, and do it more cheaply. So that's just what I did. A number of projects have been completed there already; Randy Stonehill's, "Celebrate This Heartbeat" was the first one. I've done Ashes And Light and my as yet unreleased rock 'n roll album, and Pat Terry's "The Silence". Also I've produced some prototypes for a band called the Lucky Stiffs-I think their writing is amazing and their musicality is so interpretive and genuine. I've been mixing everything there and feel good about the sounds we've been getting. I think it's important for artists to be able to experiment with sounds in their recordings.
Working not only as an artist, but also as an engineer, you must find yourself involved increasingly with the technical aspects of making records. Do you enjoy that side of the music-making process?
I love engineering, not so much in the electronic, technical sense, but in the acoustic sense. I've been finding myself engineering a lot more lately with the studio and all, and it's a nice break. Usually I'm producing at the same time, and that's helpful to be able to speed up the process of getting ideas and implementing them. I have a lot of people ask me questions about sound in the letters I get, or after concerts; people interested in sounds they've heard on records I've worked on - so for those people, I'm putting together a sort of engineering handbook, from the point of view of sounds-not diagrams of how to build a tape recorder or anything. It should be a fairly useful book, covering such things as the concepts of technique versus music as a whole, psycho-acoustics and how to interpret sound in a mix for mood and the material. Of course there are discussions on mic placement and ancillary equipment use and the like as well. It should be available soon, and anyone who wants it should write me at Fingerprint Communications.
Have you ever considered creating a publication-a newsletter or some sort of paper in which more of your ideas could be expressed?
For the past year or so, Tim Alderson, who is the art director for my albums and also my manager, and I have been talking about starting a newsletter of sorts for the people interested in what I'm doing, and we're hoping to branch it out a little. I've got some articles written, and Pat Terry has written an excellent article. Prisca Sandri, the oldest daughter of Francis Schaeffer is very interested in music and in rock 'n roll and has written an article for the newsletter. Other artists involved in this "coalition" at present include T-Bone Burnett, Tonio K, and David Edwards. We're hoping lots of people will write in wanting to be on the mailing list for the newsletter. This is because for myself and those mentioned above, our following consists of loyal people who do not necessarily subscribe to a general market of music, and who would probably be interested in the work of the others involved if they knew about it. Since our audience is somewhat fragmented, the record companies feel frustrated in not reaching them with general marketing, so I thought it would be really nice to know who it is "out there" who responds to the things we are doing. And who are their friends? Anyone interested in this can contact Fingerprint Communications to get on the mailing list. I'm so encouraged by the letters I get from others who feel the struggles I try to voice in my material, and it's nice to have friends.
Has your production schedule taken you abroad again recently or have you been working mainly on projects here in the States?
No, I haven't been to Europe now for over a year. I produced Marchstei's second Polydor album last January in Zurich. The new Pat Terry album was finished in March - Pat and I co-produced again and I think it is his best album by far. His writing shows so much maturity and sensitivity. I admire him very much, and value him as a friend. He has some really good things to say, and I hope he'll be able to continue to say them with the freedom he's had on the past few albums.
Do you have another Mark Heard album in the works at this point?
Last December I put the finishing touches on another rock 'n roll album. Unfortunately, it has been delayed in its release because ASHES AND LIGHT got scheduled first. I feel bad about this as it has been two years since my last rock 'n roll album came out (VICTIMS OF THE AGE). So I apologize to my rock 'n roll friends, and ask their patience-I've been assured by the company that the album will come out within three months of the release of ASHES AND LIGHT. I'm quite pleased with the rock 'n roll album - topically it is a delving into the simultaneous appreciation of both the horror and the joy of living in this world as created and fallen and restored beings. Some of the song titles are, "With Broken Wings", "Schizophrenia", "All Is Not Lost", and "The Golden Age". It is pretty sparse, with very live drum sounds - John Mehler played again on that one - we did the tracks at his house with the mobile unit.
Your last album, EYE OF THE STORM, was a "homemade" acoustic album of sorts. How has your approach differed with ASHES AND LIGHT?
I wanted this album to be satisfying to me artistically. Since I have
only done one "accoustic" album in the past five years (EYE OF THE STORM)
my interests lie primarily in rock 'n roll. EYE OF THE STORM was not that
artistically satisfying for me, because many of the songs were very old.
So, for this one, I experimented with different tunings and idioms on the
guitar, as well as rhythmic experimentation. For that reason, it is different
from EYE OF THE STORM.
In terms of lyrical approach, where have you gone with ASHES AND LIGHT?
Really the songs on this album are tangential to the songs on the upcoming
rock 'n roll album. They primarily express the smell of life as a being
on this planet from a Christian perspective, an interpretive synopsis of
the phenomena which beset human bei
ngs in this culture at this time. "Washed To The Sea" speaks about pain and its realness, but also of its resolve, though that resolve often cannot be seen. "The Winds Of Time" observes that blind trudging optimism, even when based on a Christian framework, will not be sufficient mass to carry one through the independently unsuspected nuances life throws our way. It is not enough in this culture simply to rely on the fact that one knows the answers, even though the answers are true. Our culture does not encourage conscientiousness across the board of experience, and the Christian subculture extends this lack of thought one step further by assuming any person who makes a profession of faith is totally equipped to deal with life, and communicate the essence of truth to others with no regard for the application of the thoughtform to the culture as it exists, or for acquiring wisdom through experience rather than by proxy.
"True Confessions" is a parallel to "With Broken Wings". "Can't See
Light" is both an indictment of the maxim that ignorance is bliss, and
an empathetic understanding of the allure of that maxim because of the
pain which opening one's eyes to the truth of
ten brings. There's much more involved in the character's psyche than a simple hiding from the truth -reality is not as cut and dried as we might wish, and we would do well to look at it's complexity and seek to understand the way environmental, cultural and psychological factors play into the total picture. The simplicity inherent in Christian truth must be applied to that complexity before it can do any good. "Straw Men" is an observation on the value judgments we make on others without sufficient basis. Our society likes to lump things together into generic categories - news is lumped into headlines, processes are lumped into 1-2-3's. Caricaturing generalities and then matching our perceptions of other human beings to those caricatures, thus defining them, is not the same as understanding.
Someone might know my music, so he thinks he knows me, but he doesn't.
Someone else might not like my songs because they don't fit his pre-defined
categories of what songs by Christians should be like, and if he interpolates
that lack of caricature - matching into a judgment about me, he would be
wrong. There's a danger that I might do the same thing to somebody else
- so we all have to be careful not to let our conditioned perceptions control
our ability to defer value judgments for which we do not have any true
basis. That's a big, big problem in society and within the Christian subculture
because of the illusion of instantaneous and true information encapsulated
in what are actually only blurbs representing the caricature of the subject
from the culture's pre-defined point of view.
I spent the evening hours wandering through the ruins of Old Rome, photographing and thinking. It was a beautiful sunset, behind small cumulus clouds, and I was reminded of evenings spent on the islands off the Georgia coast. As the tourists hustled away, tucking guide maps into the pockets of their Hawaiian shirts, I decided to have a light supper of salami and cheese, with a cinnamon flavored soda to wash it down.
It was already dark by the time I finished the meal and headed for the hotel. After a harrowing street crossing episode on the roundabout encircling the Coliseum, I halted briefly to catch my breath, and as I stood in front of the Coliseum I noticed it was not closed in any way, though it was devoid of touring inhabitants. I decided to go walk around inside, despite misgivings about the safety of such a thing. Walking under the bleachers in the portico, I was stunned by the fact that it was not unlike being at Dodger Stadium late at night long after the completion of a game, and half expected to see snack food prices chiseled into the marble in Latin. I had a scare - I nearly tripped over a cat that was eating scraps someone had dropped among the newspapers littering the smooth, almost asphalt-like floor surface. I was to discover that there were literally hundreds of cats living in the labyrinth of the ruins. Their occasional cries and mating sounds were a strange cacophony indeed, and I scuttled on inside to the boundary of the arena and sat on a fallen marble pillar.
During the hour and a half that I sat there, my mind wandered in a number of different directions as my eyes darted around catching street light reflections from the marble finishing still present on some of the seats. I wondered at the grandeur of the architecture. The care of the artisans involved is plainly seen. The workmanship exhibited in the structure, though in various stages of ruin, was exquisite, and I felt I owed appreciation to the hands that had carved, sanded, chiseled and mortared so long ago; they could not guess that history books two thousands years after their deaths would record their feats, as well as the subsequent fall of the civilization they knew as their everyday environment.
Peering through the darkness at the arena itself, I recounted the things I'd read about: the opulence once exhibited there; the terrible games played there; the Christians who lost their lives in that circumference of marble-coated mud and straw bricks. What an awesome juxtaposition of symbols. How very strange to be able to sit as an uninvolved observer, blessed with the retrospect of history, and feel both the passion of the artisan and the pain of the persecuted.
Questions arose in my mind. "Must one ignore the atrocities done to human beings here, in order to appreciate the gift of creativity bestowed on men - architects, artists, sculptors - by the Creator? Is one to cast out of his mind forever the blessings of the existence of aesthetic potential for mortals made in God's image, in order to truly hate and despise the evil done in this arena, indeed the evil directed at God through the persecution of His children?"
I was reminded of the tension the Reformers felt: There were at that time beautiful pieces of statuary standing in small towns as icons. The atmosphere in which the Reformation was spawned found such iconic symbols theologically revolting. Some of the Reformers even went around to the villages knocking down and defacing the statues, and John Calvin had certain stained-glass windows taken out of the cathedral in which he officiated in Geneva. The fervor of the times demanded action. That action was not against the validity of art, but against what the art represented. In the minds of the Reformers, the statues were symbols of a thoughtform they considered erroneous. It was not the face value of the articles that was despised, but the ideas which were connected to the articles by way of symbolism. (Many of these pieces have been saved and reside in museums today.)
As I glanced again at the marble seats of the Coliseum, I was reminded
of stories I'd heard about most of that marble being pillaged by Michaelangelo
and his contemporaries during the Renaissance. It was needed elsewhere,
and sentiment took a back seat to "progress" in those days, much as it
The cats were still at their night noises while I wondered at the complexity of making value judgments about the world as we know it. To decry the intrinsic value in created things because of their marring by evil would not be fair- we would lose perspective on the true and intended value of beauty and the creativity of God, and of man after His image. To forget the evil and allow the cloud of familiarity to obscure it's awesome ugliness would be unfair as well. We live in a fallen world, but one in which the original face of the creation and its intended purpose may still be seen, and we must not let either fact obscure the other.
Someone once told me that she did not like the works of Vincent Van Gogh because he was such a confused man. But Argumentum ad Hominum cannot change objective things like beauty, though subjective criteria for an entity's value to man may be influenced by it. Indeed, bad art often gains popularity because of a friendly and agreeable image projected by the artist, especially in modern electronic media where image subverts truth in favor of a quick caricature that can be comprehended by viewers and readers at the lowest levels of consciousness. They may like the work of someone they consider likable, even though the artistic standards of the work are not very high.
Perception is more strongly influenced by our preconceived notions than we might realize. People will say that the smoke from a wood fire or a barbecue smells good. They will say that the smoke from a crematory's chimney smells bad, but only if they know what it is, because the actual smells are not that different.
If we knew more about any individual whose art we admire, his deficiencies and his failings, we might lean towards denying the value of his expressions, be they art or conversation. Intimate knowledge of character and subsequent disillusionment with the person are phenomena we know all too well. But we must be careful not to judge conscientious work by imperfect creatures as invalid. In so doing, we deny the very validity of the creative expression which was intended by God for much joy in the human spirit, including worshipful joy.
My thoughts were interrupted by a cat bursting suddenly out of the darkness and rubbing against my leg with an explosion of purring energy, and it took me a few minutes to get the hair on the back of my neck to lay down flat again. When I was finally breathing normally, I thought on: "This stadium has been considered an evil place by some, because of events that were known to transpire here. The Reformers tore down beautiful statues because of what they symbolized. Opponents of creative new forms of art or music today decry the medium because of the lifestyle that has at times, unfortunately, accompanied it. Could Nero's next-door neighbor have listened, appreciatively enthralled by the notes emanating from the violin, unaware of the fire in the city? My friend didn't like even Van Gogh's best work because of the inner turmoil it represented. Christians in the first Century abstained from meat that had been offered to idols before being put up for sale. Did Paul eventually convince them otherwise? Were they then patient with those who were not easily convinced? Do arguments based on intrinsic value do any good when opponents see only the symbol and proponents see only the entity itself? Is it possible to carry on a love/hate relationship with this world in which we live? Is it possible to see both sides of a coin simultaneously?"
I felt my bare arms getting chilled in the night air, and stood up to stretch. The silver, nearly lull moon was moving ever so slowly just over the top edge of the ancient stadium. I took one last look around the moonlit interior of the wonderful and horrible place, and felt an appreciation and a sorrow. Then I turned to go. The cats continued their symphony as I walked through the arches back onto the street and faced a world of zooming Fiats, amusing hotel clerks and anonymous-looking magazine stands.