The distance between Ann Arbor and New York City is just over 500 miles. For Mark Fain and Jeremy Malvin, two of Ann Arbor’s up-and-coming musicians, the distance is little more than a number.
Fain and Malvin are in the middle of the College Music Journal Music Marathon in New York City, which kicked off yesterday. Introduced in 1980, the Marathon remains a bastion of whatever can still be called the “independent” music world. Centered at New York University, CMJ hosts hundreds of bands worldwide, debuts films and attracts attention for a scene that, in many ways, now only exists online. For Fain of Gun Lake and Malvin of Chrome Sparks (and a slew of other Ann Arbor musicians), it’s an opportunity for some much-deserved, three-dimensional exposure.
Fain is the leader of Gun Lake, a now-four-piece folk-rock group that will kick off the first of three shows for the Marathon tomorrow. Fain grew up in Gaylord and graduated from the School of Music, Theatre & Dance in ’09, where he studied Performing Arts Technology. He works as an animator for the local Hook Studios when he’s not writing, rehearsing and playing music that’s moved out of the dorm room and onto the stage.
Over coffee at Fleetwood Diner, Fain discussed Gun Lake, the future and some of his musical heroes with less-than-desirable fates.
“Elliott Smith and Nirvana are two big ones,” he said. “But I don’t want to end up stabbing myself. Or, uh, like Nirvana …”
Gun Lake began as songs Fain wrote when a serious relationship (and his undergraduate career) came to an end.
“I made Gun Lake to stay afloat,” he said, recounting his time playing with members of Lightning Love, experimenting in the Duderstadt and chipping away at year-old songs with Lake’s third lineup.
Lush without padding and laden with emotional grit, Gun Lake’s music feels intimate and personal, but never insular.
“When I think ‘Gun Lake’ I think of these songs which are very much me, but it’s starting to change a little bit,” he said. “It’s becoming a band, and I’ve always wanted it to be that.”
After releasing Balfour, the group’s first album in March, the band has been featured on various blogs, invited to host a soon-to-be-released Daytrotter session and, with the help of local collective Bigger Brush Media, invited to perform at CMJ. Fain said he was managing to stay realistic and excited all at once.
“Daytrotter’s an honor. CMJ’s an honor,” he said. “These little tokens, you know, of people noticing us, of acknowledgment, they’re very encouraging, but you can’t expect it’ll lead to some big break. … You just gotta keep working. I think as long as we keep our wheels turning, good stuff will happen.”
For Jeremy Malvin, also known as Chrome Sparks, the road leading up to and after CMJ makes good on the “marathon” part of things. Prepping for a tour with Ann Arbor’s Subvader and Kohwi — through Oberlin, Pittsburgh, CMJ and Jersey with more than 10 shows scheduled — had Malvin seeming anxious when he spoke on the roof of his State Street loft last week. Getting ready for a second rehearsal with the new, live-incarnation of Chrome Sparks, he seemed thrilled, too.
Malvin’s a third-year percussion major in the School of Music, Theatre & Dance, a Pittsburgh native and the sole productive force behind Chrome Sparks. With the seven-track My <3, released in July, he’s combined conservatory education with dance music into something kinetic, complex and unabashedly pop.
Malvin’s been recording, in all capacities, for years.
“I used to use two boomboxes, maybe in fifth grade or middle school and record guitar onto one of them and then play that back while playing something else into another boombox, and that was kind of my way of doing a poor man’s multi-track. I wish I knew where those tapes were,” he said, comparing it to his current laptop-centric process. “It’s really beat-oriented. I can’t emphasize how much my classes in the music school have transferred over to the music that I make in my bedroom. It’s really helped — beyond what I thought it could.”
But Malvin’s samples don’t come from old boogie tunes or Game Boy Color games — they’re recorded live.
“Oftentimes the samples — I take them from other projects I was working on, whether it’s something I did with friends, or recording the University’s percussion ensemble and then taking some woodblock hits,” he said. “I recorded three percussion students playing batá drums, which is really awesome sounding, and rare.”
And when it comes to the uncommon opportunity of being featured at CMJ, Malvin, like Fain, is more than happy to travel a few hundred miles.
“I’m really excited to be a part of it and to be more on-the-radar,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing these shows, but also to meeting the people, the artists and just to connect with this whole world that exists, for me, on the Internet right now.”