A couple of years ago, this magazine ran a profile of local trio the Plaid, a snappy power-pop outfit that featured singer/guitarist "Dead Mark" and drummer Darrin Hatchett.
An awful lot has happened in those ensuing two years; Mark suffered through various personal upheavals, including the death of his father; the Plaid broke up, and not without some ill will; Hatchett played with other bands while Mark performed locally as a solo acoustic artist.
But now the two have reunited, along with three new bandmates, to form the five-piece Euphorium, a multi-faceted unit that seems in many ways the logical evolutionary result of the last two years' events.
And it has been an evolution. An almost jarring departure from his former band's energetic pop stylings, Dead Mark's solo work consisted of plaintive and highly personal songs, rendered only by his own acoustic guitar and a voice clearly affected by an emotional presence that hadn't existed during his time with the Plaid.
Euphorium takes the spare, minimalist-pop framework of those Dead Mark songs (as well as a handful of new ones) and fleshes them out with a number of often-surprising elements: blues, industrial and electronic music, straight-up rock, even a hint of Goth.
Mark's songwriting wasn't meant for delicate ears or faint hearts. His lyrics are often bleak, his delivery wrenchingly personal. His songs deal with many of life's unhappy maladies, death and drug addiction and divorce. Says Hatchett in a recent interview, "It's stuff you hear about and see every day, but don't ever really want to deal with."
"It stems from my dad's sickness," says Mark, in the same interview, at a local watering hole. "I really couldn't accept. I did lots of heavy drinking, and didn't want to be around other people. So I started writing darker lyrics and employing more fucked-up shit in the music. This is probably what the Plaid would have been like had they continued."
"The thing that's still present in the music are that these are songs first," says lead guitarist Greg Thompson. "You can strip away the studio stuff and still have basic songs you could play and sing on one guitar."
The earliest Euphorium material has already been released under Dead Mark's name, on a local CD entitled Incubator. It's an intriguing and some times powerfully affecting collection of 11 songs, a few of which consist almost entirely of crunchy industrial vamps and studio noodling. The electronic and production shenanigans are chiefly the work of Thompson and bassist Bob McMurray, says Mark, the two of them ranking as the most accomplished and studio-fluent members of the band.
"Our idea is to avoid the normal interaction of the instruments, like lead versus rhythm guitar," Thompson explains. "Lots of the interaction is to create mood and ambiance."
Mark says future Euphorium projects may include keyboards and even strings. "It'll be a real melting pot: structured songs, free-form stuff, and even some jams," Mark says. "We're really putting our balls out there."
"The hardest thing for us is going to be finding the right mix between what we do live and what we can do in the studio," Thompson says. "We want people to hear live what they hear on our records. And that could be difficult sometimes, because we like to use a lot of sounds to create moods."
The musical backgrounds of Euphorium's members go a long way toward explaining the interesting melange of sounds that comprise their work. McMurray and Thompson played jazz in high school; McMurray played reggae for a time, and is on a hiatus of sorts from Hole-ish Morristown punkers Red #9. Hatchett logged time in both blues and country bands. "Sometimes Bob adds dancehall bass to the songs," says Mark. "It works surprisingly well with my music."
The members' day-to-day lives are more mundane, however. Says Mark, "We're mostly deadbeats. Bob and Nick [Sizemore, percussionist] go to school. Darrin remodels houses and does odd jobs. I drive a forklift."
And for those reasons, Mark says the band members are wholly dedicated to making an impact with their music. "I think what we want most is respect, recognition for what we do," Mark says. "And we're all hungry; we all want to keep playing forever...There's nothing like the release of playing with a band."