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September 2013

Interview that will appear in Vents Magazine

I just finished an interview that will be published in Vents Magazine soon.  I had a lot of fun with it and wanted to put it up on the blog right away.

So why don't you introduce yourself to our readers?

I’m an American who, once upon a time, dreamed of escaping the conventions of life in the Empire of Fake.  In 2005, I left my comfortable yet numbing life in Seattle and moved to Eastern Europe.  After this drastic change, far less of my time was taken up on work.  I was freed up to chase everything excites me.

When I finally found the space and time to figure out who I really am…what happened is I found my own voice.  It started to make sense to write, to record, and ultimately to perform.  I’ve been tracking this journey on the Abscondo blog since 2004. 

I’ve been a huge indie / alternative music fan for a long time and that sort of led to songwriting.  Eventually songwriting led to recording.  Recording led to a band.      

How did you guys come all together and created this band?

The Abscondo band was sort of a New Year’s Resolution.  On February 2nd, 2012, I just felt the urge to put together a killer band.  I had recently recorded my second solo album, but it was clear to me that these were a collection of songs that were actually written for a band. 

I live in Kosice, Slovakia.  I had tried to work with Slovak musicians in the past and had a few false starts.  The talent here is pretty good, but to be honest what is lacking is taste…especially when it comes to indie music.  But I got lucky this time.  I tracked down a very young guitarist called Filip Kluknavsky.  We sat down and talked about the vision for this band.  He agreed to give it a couple years.  Filip called up some very impressive young musicians, particularly Tibor Dragon (bass) and Martin Lechman (drums).  He had worked with them in the past.  After a few months experimenting with different line-ups and making some difficult decisions, we had a really solid band.

What's the story behind the band's name?

To “abscond” means to run away, taking something or someone with you.  I remember, back in 2005, I felt that I had escaped.  I was living in a beautiful, old flat in the center of Kosice (the 2013 European City of Culture, by the way).  I would play guitar, take a nap in the afternoon.  I would listen to Roma playing music down on the street.  I would watch people walk by below my window eating ice cream.  It was such a magical time in my life…meeting new friends, exploring new music, writing.

So this idea of “absconding” really fit my life.  I did run away, but I also took my treasures with me: my beautiful wife and my software sales job from Seattle.  So I adopted the name “Abscondo” as the moniker for my music, my writing, and my lifestyle.  Up until 2012, “Abscondo” was something solo, something personal.  It was actually a big step for me to use the name for the band…because then it became something more collective!  Also, when we started performing, when we appeared on the radio and on a popular TV show in Slovakia…I started becoming more of a public figure (well, in this microcosm of a country!).  I started to feel less like I was “absconding” from anything and that kind of bothered me.  But I guess the name still fits well nonetheless.    

What are your music influences?

Before I picked-up a guitar, I listened to a lot of U2, REM, Matthew Sweet, and a lot of the “college rock” hits of the early 1990’s.  By the mid-1990’s, two bands changed my world.  The first was Radiohead.  I had “The Bends” and “OK Computer” on repeat when I was at University in Colorado.  As a business student, unfortunately I was a bit too connected to mainstream culture.  Radiohead felt like something more real, more human, and more filled with emotion than anything around me.

The second band that saved me, around that same time, was Belle & Sebastian.  Everything they put out, in those early days, felt so pure, honest, and inspired.  Their gentle sound was something that connected with me at a really deep level.  They made it feel ok to be sensitive.  Belle & Sebastian helped me realize that the best music was not well-known. 

I was also listening to a lot of Brit-pop.  Then, when I moved to Seattle in 1999, I discovered KEXP and began going to all of the local concerts I possibly could.  Up until I left the US in 2005, I was obsessed with indie music from bands like Arcade Fire, The Killers, Muse, Coldplay, Sondre Lerche, Sigor Ros, Rufus Wainwright, too many others to mention really.  Since then, I should mention Damian Rice, Glen Hansard, Camera Obscura, Snow Patrol, and I also got into a lot of Lounge Music…which I guess was a result of my more European influences over the past 8 years.  Of course I’m leaving out maybe 200 – 300 artists who have had a huge impact on me.

I’ll also tell you what I despise, musically.  Everything on MTV.  Everything on commercial radio.  Everything commercial.  I despise it because it is meaningless.  It says nothing about how I feel or about the human condition.  It offers no ideas, no inspiration that means anything…nothing of value.

What's your songwriting method?

I write mostly when I am traveling. Travel is integral to every bit of inspiration and every new idea that I have because it removes me from routine.  I’m a big believer in routine, in optimizing each day to get everything done that is important, to put a lot of hard work into everything I need to do and into everything that inspires me.  But sometimes I work too hard, I get too stuck in a routine, and my creative side starts to suffer.

The songs on our Travelpics EP were written mostly on a beach in Croatia.  But I also write in planes, trains, or sitting in the middle of a field.  This is how I get the raw idea.  Then I work out all of the details at home later and just continue to refine it until I’ve taken a song as far as it will go.  And then the guys in the band take it even further....much further than I ever could.

So you went to Europe looking to put together a band or it just sorta happened?

It just happened.  I went to Europe to live in the spirit of carpe diem.  That doesn’t mean I lived recklessly or foolishly (though at times I did).  What it really means is that I listened to my inner voice each day and then did exactly what I felt was the right thing to do that day.

I remember, during those first years in Europe, my American friends would ask me when “I plan” to come back, when “I plan” to do this or that.  I realized the extent to which most of us are controlled by plans…so much so that we become blind to today.  Then today becomes just an obstacle, an unimportant detail.

But there’s a line in my song “Victory in a Landlocked Sea”.  It goes, “and yet, each moment is the only thing that ever means anything to me.” 

So in other words, I wasn’t “looking to” do anything specific.  Just to chase what excites me.  This is how I’ve lived for the past 8 or 9 years and it has taken me in very interesting directions and has led to a lot of growth and change.

Travelpics. How was the recording and writing process?

All of the songs were written after I had left the US except for “The System”.  “The System” was one of the first songs I wrote in Seattle and it is a heartfelt political rant.  I was very political in Seattle.  I later realized that the US is not a democracy and that there’s no point to being “active” in “US politics”.  The system is a sham controlled entirely by a ruling elite.  We’re better off focusing on real life, on real things, on things we can influence and control!

The other songs are actually about this clear distinction.  My lyrics are about the external vs. the internal.  Yes, the other three tracks are very inward focused and they are built around themes like life meaning, belonging, love, religion, and authenticity. 

Why the title?

We’re starting to incorporate travel pictures and inspirational quotes into our live show.  Right now I’m going through travel photos that were submitted by fans.  I’m also going through some of my favorite books (and my own writing) for quotes, and I’m putting together a video to be projected as we perform.  I’m really excited about engaging and audience in this way and actually involving them, projecting their dreams into our show.  So we called it the EP Travelpics to fit with this theme.  Also, our fans in Europe are mostly travelers and we really want to consciously connect with this group.

Tell us more about the artwork cover?

I have a hard time with anything visual.  I guess I achieve a degree of visual competence with the website, perhaps with the CD artwork, but when you start talking about music videos and things like that…that’s where I struggle. So Abscondo probably needs help in area!

Any hilarious moment while hitting the road or playing a gig?

Every gig we play is hilarious to some degree.  Look, the fact that our songs sit really well next to bands like The Killers, Muse, etc….the fact that they are in English…and yet we’ve still not performed outside of the tiny country of Slovakia! 

Perhaps most hilarious are my attempts to speak Slovak.  This project actually landed me on a week-long cooking show on prime time TV in Slovakia.  I became known by half the country as “that American who speaks funny in Slovak.”  Now we perform at city festivals for people who’ve never heard music like this.  What’s funny is watching how they respond.  The audience tends to stick around…but the whole idea of performing these intimate indie songs in such a venue is kind of funny to me. 

The other guys in the band act like true rock stars on the road.  Our van is full of laughter and usually enough alcohol that I worry just a bit.  My fantasy is to create a reality TV show of a US tour.  Perhaps a show on the Travel Channel!  It would be something like a rock band version of Borat!  I’m pretty sure we’d be the most controversial thing on TV.  Maybe I’ll pitch the idea to somebody.  I’m really starting to like this idea!

What's next in Abscondo's world?

I’d like to announce a travel show on the Travel Channel! Kidding. But actually, I wouldn’t be surprised about anything that could happen.  Personally, right now I’m focused on a Sales Agency business that I’m starting. That is going to free up my time even more and I’ll make a lot more money.  The point is that I’ll be able to invest more in the band and I’ll be more free to chase bigger projects and tours even as I take care of my wife and young daughter.  So that’s where I’m at over the next few months.

In the immediate future, we plan to finish the full-length album.  We’re currently close to closing a few licensing deals, so I wouldn’t be surprised hear our music in a film or in an advertisement of some kind.  That would be a really big deal for us.

We have big plans for this project, but we have to find our own path.  We have to keep things authentic and do something different from everybody else out there.  Alternative music has become so cliché.  Music videos are boring.  So maybe we’ll do more cooking shows!  It’s all about staying connected to big dreams!  So I’m going to keep pitching really big, ridiculously huge ideas to people I have no right to call!  I’ll keep doing it until something really great happens.  I want these songs to be heard.  I want to connect with people on an emotional and intellectual level.  I want to inspire people to live radically differently than they do today.  That’s the whole point of this project and it cannot happen unless it becomes big.     

Posted by Mark Manney.

The Empire of Fake

I spent the whole last week visiting family in Wisconsin.  While I have valued the time with my parents and brother, a week in Wisconsin is a vivid reminder of all the reasons I left this Empire of Fake.

In the past week, there were a few moments of peace and simplicity; writing a song sitting in a sunny field, jogging through the corn fields, eating corn on the cobb at a small-town festival.  Those were moments of escape into something that felt more human.  During the rest of my stay, I have felt forced into a form of cloudy non-existence.  I have slept-walked through a branded system of emptiness, thoughtlessness, and of compliance.  My frustration, my disgust, my entire way of thinking is something that is completely foreign in this land of sheep-walkers.  This Empire of Fake is ruled by a form fascism that is designed to destroy our humanity and make us as fake as the system itself.

In this Empire of Fake, all thought has been washed away with sugary soda, diet soda, or watery beer.  Feeling has been choked by moist, fruit-flavored muffins and expensive cheeseburgers.  Experiences have been replaced by brands which tower high above us on enormous signs by sprawling parking lots.  These familiar brands offer us something to do, promise us new feelings, laughter, or memories.  But even these memories are not real because they are not our own.  Fake memories have been implanted into us through obnoxious, persistent advertising.  So we throw what dollars we have left at this black hole of commercialism as though we are trying to plug a damn that is leaking nothing short of our humanity.  All the while, we feel nothing.  We get dumber, fatter, poorer, and older.  In this Empire of Fake, we teach our children nothing because we have no wisdom to offer.

I say "we" because, even though I have escaped this horrible place in my life, I have been unable to escape it while I am here.  I'm spending the weekend in Wisconsin Dells with family.  "The Dells" is touted as the "Waterpark capital of the world" and is Wisconsin's best attempt at a resort town.  I'm sitting on the balcony of an expensive hotel and am looking down on an endless parking lot.  It is an unusually warm, summery day in early September...but we spent the morning in an indoor waterpark because all of the outdoor "activities" are "closed".  But are they closed?  Could we not walk by the lake?  Could we not float down the river in an inner-tube?  Sure we could, but that's not why we have come here.  Realness would feel too strange, too foreign, too impossible to even suggest.  The truth is that we ought not have driven two hours, spent hundreds of dollars, packed our luggage and cars for this.  For what?

This morning was spent at an indoor water park so loud that we had to shout just to communicate.  We floated around a fake "lazy river" with fake rocks meant to look like the real rocks on the real river not far away outside.  There was no sunshine, there were no smells, no birds chirping, no wind blowing through the trees, and no crickets.  Unlike a real river, however, there were lifeguards at each turn.  It was nearly as safe as doing nothing at all.  Interestingly, there is a real river that runs right by my parents house.  Yet everyone insisted that we come here.

The Wisconsin Dells is all about fake.  Theme restaurants, theme parks, even the stone at the entrance of this hotel is plastic.  My 6-year-old nephew pointed this out.  Maybe he thought it was cool.  Fake is cool.  Real is boring.  Except that it isn't.  I want that which is real.  I wish I had the skill or the courage to lead others toward that which is real.

 But here, in this Empire of Fake, it is clear that I am one of a few.  We cannot voice a perspective strong enough to compete with the fake.  We cannot bring back to life people that have been lost to illusions, to toxic pills, to toxic food, and to toxic entertainment.  Synthetic has defeated real.  It is a population that is simply gone, and unfortunately I must leave if I wish to escape it.

Posted by Mark Manney.