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Mars Hollow

Interviewed by Gary Hill
Interview with Mars Hollow from 2012
MSJ:

Can you catch the readers up on the history of your involvement in music – both individually and as a band?

John Baker: My parents have always said that I had a thing for sound and that in particular, the roar of the lawnmower engine always got me extremely worked up. I do remember being transfixed at the sound of an internal combustion engine starting up, especially one that was not running well and had to have several belching false starts before beginning to run as it should. When I was seven, I saw Glen Campbell and Tommy Smothers on their respective television shows. It was indescribably exciting watching and listening as they played guitar and I thought "it's settled - that's what I will do.” I took one lesson before my teacher left for college and I was on my own after that. I played and sang in church for many years when I was a kid which made for good training in many regards. At thirteen I was in my first band and we were all interested in songwriting. Experiences in many songwriter bands continued along the way to this day. I once realized that there have been only very short segments of time that I've been without a band of some sort. I've always been preoccupied with assembling bands around songwriting or playing with other writers. When Mars Hollow came into being, I thought prog was maudlin and pretentious but I realized that if I did what I wanted to do within the genre, namely put some pop melody hooks into it via the vocal sections, it would be something I could work with without feeling embarrassed about the "prog pretense" I was so afraid of at the time. So I retooled it for my brain and it became the perfect outlet for me.

Steve Mauk: I grew up in a house listening to Broadway musicals and classical symphonies. When I first heard albums like Tarkus and Selling England by the Pound back in High School, I became a fanatic fan of progressive rock, seeking out every band I could find from Magma to Van de Graaf Generator. But my favorites were always ELP and Genesis, with Brain Salad Surgery and The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway probably being my most favorite albums of all time. I was in a cool prog three piece band way back then, writing crazy stuff and having a blast.

Fast forward 30 years of listening to, and being in bands playing rock and pop. I found myself being really bored with the thing I loved most--playing and writing music. Then I saw an ad in the recycler (our free classified newspaper in LA) from a drummer looking to find musicians who wanted to play prog rock! I jammed with the guy a few times and it didn't really gel, but then I realized that that is what I really wanted to do.

Joe August: Ever since I was 15, I became consumed with music that challenged my mind. Rush blew my mind from my first listening, and Geddy's aggressive barking Rickenbacker inspired me to pick up a Ric of my own. There's nothing like the feeling of playing powerful and challenging parts backed by Ric thunder while punching and ducking with a wild drummer!

Bob Craft: I have always enjoyed music. I started on clarinet at about age seven, but I always wanted to be a drummer. I got my chance at age 13. From that point on I taught myself. I have always been driven by progressive music. Mars Hollow offers a wide spectrum of progressive music which I knew I wanted to be a part of.

MSJ: If you weren't involved in music what do you think you'd be doing?

John Baker: I would be a chef.

Steve Mauk: I'm a creative director for a movie studio for my "day job" and I enjoy that very much. I also love tinkering at the work bench, building and repairing electronic stuff.

Joe August: If the joys of music were stripped away from me, you might as well throw me on a hook and go shark fishing with my body. Without music, I'd be no more than a pile of fish food. 

Bob Craft: Fortunately I have many different hobbies that keep me busy. Although, music not being one of them would be unthinkable to me.

MSJ: How did the name of the group originate?

John Baker: Mars Hollow is/was a place in Vermont. I heard it is spelled Marrs Hollow (with two r's) there.

Steve Mauk: Mars Hollow is the name of a beautiful place where folks apparently go fishing in Vermont.

MSJ:

What's ahead for you?

John Baker: I'm excited about the latest Mars Hollow Live CD and DVD that were recorded at our 2011 RosFest appearance. I'm also excited about the new lineup which can be heard on the bonus studio track that appears on the CD version. In addition to this, I have very recently joined Forever Twelve as their vocalist. I like writing with them and although I am new to the band, they've given me total artistic freedom to write the vocals and lyrics and to record. That's how I 'm used to working, so it's great. Although we've just begun, I am very pleased with the early results. Soon, I will also be working on a solo record and a release with my wife Lisa LaRue from Lisa LaRue 2KX. Oh, the orchestration!

Steve Mauk: Writing and performing progressive rock music for anyone who will listen!

Joe August: We're writing new epics to take the music to an even higher level. Never before have I played with such an inspired lineup. Our greatest work lies ahead of us and will blow minds. 

Bob Craft: I like to take things one step at a time. Right now my main focus is creating drum parts.

MSJ:

I know artists hate to have their music pigeonholed or labeled, but how would you describe your music?

John Baker: Wide open landscape verses and catchy choruses interleaved with bittersweet introspective lyrics.

Steve Mauk: I actually don't mind labeling the style of music I love, which is "symphonic progressive rock"

Joe August: A journey of audible colors and flavors.

Bob Craft: You're right I hate to label music because every piece is different and you never know what you're going to do next.

MSJ:

Are there musicians with whom you would like to play with in the future?

John Baker: I always want to be in Joni Mitchell's band, or with Peter Gabriel, or in Brian Wilson's Smile tour band. I'm not saying I'm qualified, but it would be a hugely challenging and satisfying experience.

Steve Mauk: Have on a few occasions discussed the possibility of collaborating with both Phideaux, and Ryo Okumoto of Spock's Beard. With any luck, someday it may come to be.

Joe August: I'd like to take Don Ho for a prog spin.

Bob Craft: Yeah a couple guys I've heard of named Geddy and Alex, but I don't think they need me. Their drummer Neil is pretty damn good.

MSJ: Do you think that illegal downloading of music is a help or hindrance to the careers of musicians?

John Baker: It helps them become famous and hinders their livelihood.

Steve Mauk:  I think it’s a hindrance. I believe musicians deserve to be paid for the work that they create.

Joe August: Both, it has placed billions of songs in people's hands who may have not been able afford to buy music. A true musician plays and creates for the love and pride of the music itself, regardless of financial gain.

Bob Craft: Regardless to what I think I don't know what can be done about it.

MSJ:

In a related question, how do you feel about fans recording shows and trading them?

 

John Baker: I think it's alright unless the band's planning on releasing that performance as a live album or something. You never know these days what anyone's plans are. But I think an iPhone recording isn't too much of a spoiler. Bands can't control that sort of thing nowadays, but that doesn't mean we have to embrace it.

Steve Mauk: I think that’s OK-- definitely keeps bands on their toes when they are playing live!

Joe August: I love live music. Each show and each moment of inspiration within that show is unique. As a musician you should be proud of what you play on a nightly basis and should be honored that fans are into your performance and parts enough to want to hear how you attacked a tune on a particular night. I would love to have an archive of my bootlegs. Anyone wanna trade for a Joe August '82 Kegger Party Live Bootleg? I'm all for fan recording and trading performances! 

Bob Craft: You know I'm just happy to have fans.

MSJ: If you were a superhero, what music person would be your arch nemesis and why?

John Baker: I've thought long and hard about the answer to this question and I can't come up with anything. Although, there are a few music people I'd like to incarcerate.

Bob Craft: I would choose the Hulk so my nemesis I guess would have to be
Gentle Giant. Also one of my many favorites.

MSJ:

If you were to put together your ultimate band (a band you'd like to hear or catch live), who would be in it and why?

John Baker: I think that if you tried to assemble your favorite musicians into one band, the resulting band would not be considered a favorite. Music is not predictable like that. The "dream team" thing is a fantasy that probably wouldn't work with a band because the interactions have to be just right. Assembling my favorite musicians wouldn't necessarily result in the chemistry that gives a band that certain magic.

Steve Mauk: I think it might be fun to put back together the 1975 version of Genesis for a reunion performance of the Lamb show. There was actually talk of doing this a while back as a benefit concert, and apparently everyone was on board except for Peter who was unable to fit it into his schedule.

Bob Craft: That's a tough one because I don't think you could build a stage big enough to hold that band.- so many greats come to mind.

MSJ: If you were in charge of assembling a music festival and wanted it to be the ultimate one from your point of view who would be playing?

John Baker: I'd book Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, John McLaughlin, Yes, Jeff Beck and Weather Report. Of course, some of these no longer exist - but I'd like to attend that show.

Steve Mauk, Genesis (see above), ELP, a reunion of Gentle Giant, Yes (with Rick Wakeman and Jon Anderson of course) Jethro Tull, Transatlantic, and IQ.

Bob Craft: I would gather every great prog, jazz, rock, fusion, band I could find, and Oh yes Mars Hollow.

MSJ:

What was the last CD you bought and/or what have you been listening to lately?

John Baker: I bought John McLaughlin's latest. His music always works for me. I don't listen to enough music. Sometimes that's good and sometimes not - mostly not. Sometimes listening to music can mess with your head when you're writing. If you start to compare your shortcomings with what you're listening to, it can be difficult to continue. You have to be fortunate enough to have found your own voice, which also makes one appreciate the listening experience without distracting yourself with comparisons. The greatest musicians in history probably thought that they were not worthy in comparison to their heroes.

Steve Mauk: The last CD I bought was Clockwork Angels by Rush. I've been listening a lot to "The Dividing Line" progressive rock internet streaming radio station (excellent sound quality and choices of music) For some strange reason I've also been going back and listening to selections from my favorite old Broadway musicals like Camelot and My Fair Lady.

Joe August, Bassist: Dream Theater, A Dramatic Turn of Events. The boys are as good as ever. Mucho respect! 

Bob Craft: Well, my Genesis Seconds Out CD finally wore out so I just picked up a copy of that and is well on its way to being worn out again.

MSJ: Have you read any good books lately?

John Baker: I engineer and produce audiobooks and there have been some memorable ones. One of my favorites was the classic "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" and also a book called "The Long Walk". Pretty stunning, these.

Bob Craft: I recently read Ghost Rider by Niel Peart and enjoyed it very much. What a journey.

MSJ:

What about the last concert you attended for your enjoyment?

John Baker: One night last year, Lisa took me backstage to see Yes, Kansas and Styx. They were very good. Yes was my favorite. In spite of all the controversy about them, they were really good and I really enjoyed seeing them play live. Also, if Steely Dan comes to your town, go see them!

Steve Mauk: I saw Yes recently and was very impressed with Jon Davidson as lead vocalist. One of the songs they performed was “Awaken”.--I had forgotten what a great song that is!

Joe August: Saw Rush on the Clockwork Tour. Neil Peart was as amazing as ever. I walked away completely inspired.

Bob Craft: Joe, Steve and I enjoyed a wonderful night of Yes music, also a favorite.

MSJ: Do you have a musical “guilty pleasure?”

John Baker: I like a lot of unpopular music but I don't feel guilty.

Joe August: 70s porn music, there's nothing cooler.

Bob Craft: Guilt is not one of my specialties.

MSJ: What has been your biggest Spinal Tap moment?

John Baker: When I was around 13, my band would set up big electronic components and parts alongside our amps to make our gear look bigger and cooler. What fun!

Joe August: Jammin' as a Big Hot Dog. The girls go crazy for a big dog.

Bob Craft: I remember one time getting lost at the House of Blues trying to find the stage and ended up in the kitchen. Spinal Tap definitely came to mind.

MSJ: If you could sit down to dinner with any three people, living or dead, for food and conversation, with whom would you be dining?

John Baker: The Dalai Lama, Jesus, and an astrophysicist.

Steve Mauk, Albert Einstein, Jesus Christ, and Abraham Lincoln.

Bob Craft: Three of my favorite drum influences, John Bonham, Phil Collins, and Neil Peart.

MSJ:

What would be on the menu?

John Baker: Vegan.

Steve Mauk, I would want us to eat Chinese Chicken Salad with Natural Light Beer.

Bob Craft: Pizza and soup

MSJ:

Are there any closing thoughts you would like to get out there?

John Baker: As a human being, it's hard to find something to say that's honest and that hasn't been said before, but that's the quest for many that have the luxury of expression. If we really are entering an age of transformation, I hope that a massive revelation will provide us with fresh, new topics.

Joe August: I'm blown away by the amazing support the fans have given the band. We're excited about getting back in the studio and laying down our latest and greatest. Our new music will be a journey into new territories and we're fully committed to delivering the excellence that our fans crave and deserve.

Bob Craft: Yes, I would like to thank all the die hard prog, fans out there for all your support and keeping the dream alive.

MSJ: This interview is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2013  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
 
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