Flagstaff’s Brian Demarco has made a firm choice on the former, making music his way, regardless of what direction it might take him. His musical exploits have taken him through several highly regarded Flagstaff bands, out on the road for years on the touring circuit, and then back to Flagstaff again by way of a sojourn in Phoenix. And, with the upcoming release of his 10th solo album, Living Above the Line, he has once again shown that he is an artist whose voice is at once ever-changing and rock-solidly consistent.
The album’s 12 tracks sway between the introspective acoustic folk that has been DeMarco’s trademark for many years and a more progressive pop style inspired, at least partially, by renowned Scottsdale-based producer Michael Terry who worked with DeMarco on the album. Living Above the Line features more than a dozen musicians and is his most lush effort yet, tapping into the many facets of his life and personality.
See Brian DeMarco and his band, the Big Idea, for an album release party for Living Above the Line Sun, Sept. 2 at Charly’s Pub & Grill, 23 N. Leroux. Phoenix singer-songwriter Brian Chartrand will open the show at 8:30 p.m. For more info, call 779-1919 or see www.briandemarcomusic.com.
Brian DeMarco: I believe it has to do with Flagstaff’s vibrant and supportive community. I’ve learned that running errands in Flag can take a little while depending on how many friends you run into along the way and where the conversation and tangents take you. You know, if you’re not careful you just might end up on a patio with a beer in your hand before you know it. I dig that. Also, Flag seems to have a grounding effect on me. It has an authenticity that I am drawn to—less focus on the world of form and more focus on the world of spirit. And there are a lot of talented and inspired individuals condensed into a small area and I dig how that in turn inspires my own creativity.
Perhaps it’s a declaration of principles, or maybe it’s a clarification of principles. The choice—if it is a choice—of living an artistically oriented life requires certain commitments, sacrifices and compromises. It seems to require one to live largely outside of the traditional and uniform pathways of our culture—a culture focused on material things. So, for me, that song is an expression of me clarifying and defining my values and principles concerning art and music and the nature of expression itself. It’s my way of metaphorically drawing a line in the sand.
Some of the pop-rock sound was inspired by my desire to stretch out and experiment with different sounds and recording techniques to create a departure from my previous more organic and rootsy sound. Also, the album is a collaboration with the very talented Michael Terry whose creative input definitely helped shape the direction the album took. He is an accomplished musician, composer, producer who has a great feel for organizing and arranging a piece of music. I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz, mostly Miles Davis and Charles Mingus, and a lot of classical too, I dig Claude Debussy; not too much pop-rock-songwriter stuff though. But you know, whenever I’m asked the “influences” question I think it is important to remember that influences come in many forms other than music. Ralph Waldo Emerson is as big an influence on me as any musician has ever been, as are certain painters, actors, filmmakers, etc. The people in my life—my family, my friends, my musical peers—all have an influence. Even chance encounters with strangers can and has had a great impact on me. In fact, that’s how a lot of my creative process works. Someone will say something off the cuff in random conversation that I will recognize truth in, and that’s the spark that gets the fire going.
The “patron saint of big ideas” is a line from the song “Big Idea.” It refers to the, perhaps, clichéd-but-still-poignant idea of living in the moment. So the patron saint of big ideas is the very moment in which we find ourselves. I do believe in a muse—so much so that I get a little superstitious about the whole thing and am hesitant to discuss it too much for fear of messing with mysterious powers that I do not fully comprehend. It’s kind of like looking directly at the sun—not such a good idea. All I know is that one moment there is nothing and the next there is something, and it feels to me as though it is moving through me and not necessarily derived from me.
Has it become easier? Ha! Not a chance, man. It has become more challenging. Depth of understanding and refinement of skill come hand in hand with the need and desire to dig even deeper and refine even more. It is a never-ending process. So the challenges evolve as one’s skills and knowledge evolve. Plus, after producing a lot of material it gets more and more difficult to not repeat yourself, and to come up with new ways of getting there. This is one reason why I think collaboration is so important. Merging one’s own vision with that of another can create something new and wonderful that goes beyond either person’s individual reach. As for the evolution of my writing, I think an artist likes to believe that the current work they are doing is their best, but I suppose that is for others to decide. I just try to focus on writing in a way that I like, and that seems truthful to me.
The ruts get formed over time as a result of a tremendous amount of repetition and refinement, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing because it shows that a lot of work has taken place, experience and knowledge gained. Reinvention is life to me. When one door closes another opens, but one must stay limber. Rigidity is the enemy of creativity. To me it seems like the key is to remain childlike. A child can make a game out of nearly anything and be completely absorbed by it for long periods of time, and then when the game finally gets worn out, a new one is easily created. I believe that’s what we’re talking about here—being open to the endless layers of discovery by maintaining a childlike curiosity. Also a willingness to fail and to appear foolish is necessary. And remembering that, while we live in a world of endless rules, regulations and systems, that there is a place beyond all that dogma and structure; a place where the grid disappears; a place we know intuitively—it is ours, it belongs to us. Another thing I’m learning more and more that is extremely helpful is to be silly. I find being silly to be a great tool to unstuck whatever gets stuck. The next time you get bogged down in the mire try being unapologetically and unabashedly silly—I’m talking like John Cleese, Monty Python, Ministry of Silly Walks kind of silly. I think you may find it to be quite freeing.