"I've realized there is no recipe for rap."
And today's interview is with a self-described “coffee table rapper” who is originally from Wayne County but who now makes hip-hop from the hilltops of Huntington. This... is MarcfromMars.
How did you get into music?
I started writing and making instrumentals at a young age, but I never felt confident to perform until several years later (when I was around 21) at Open Mic at The V-Club. I always wanted to share what I was writing, but I wasn't sure if it would appeal to average rap fans as the content was atypical. I felt The V-Club was a good place to premiere this music as it hosted a variety of patrons. At my first set, there were two or three people standing on the dance floor actively listening while others sat at the bar. When I was done, a man in a spiked denim vest approached me explaining that he knew a bunch of local rappers and that I should come back next week and he would bring them. That was not who I was expecting as my target audience, but I came back next week, fully prepared to rap my ass off, and I did just that. The local guys, including several members of the collective Couch Life, expressed interest in my non-traditional approach and invited me to one of their shows. I went to that show and grabbed the microphone at the end for an open cypher and gave it my all. A few days later, I was invited to join the collective. It was a long way from writing lines in my notebook while failing Spanish class and practicing to my Pit Bull, but I’m here.
Where does the name MarcfromMars come from (beyond the fact that your name is Marc Sowards)?
When I was young, we would call smoking marijuana "going to mars" as a kind of poorly-thought out verbal password. I first adopted the name as a social media handle. When I was signing up for open mic the first few times, I was putting my actual name of Marc Sowards down. One day, I was going to be late and had a buddy secure me a time slot, but he put down MarcfromMars. It really stuck with the people that night, so I adopted it as my rapper name. Although, I kind of wanted something rough-sounding in the dame vein as Big Pun or DMX or something.
How has your sound changed over the years?
At first, I was more into the length of the song. I thought it was important to have the traditional 16-hook-16-hook recipe for song structure. That style produced more punchlines and room to flex the flow, but now I've been making songs that get in and out. Perhaps the punk influence of "I'm gonna say what I got to say" in a more fast-paced, aggressive manner. Passionate, I'd call it. Nowadays, if I write an 8-bar verse that is exactly what I imagined it to be, I will not attempt to flood it with reiterations and catchy one-liners. I've realized there is no recipe for rap.
Where do you perform in West Virginia?
A lot of house venues, mostly. My favorite being the Cricket Cave in Huntington. The residents and the crowd are all amazing, supportive people. Sometimes I open up my own home for local and touring acts; that's always a good time because my introvert-seft loves going directly to bed after the music's done. I've played at the Monkey Barrel in Charleston through associates in the electronic dance music industry, which was a hell of a night. The V-Club's open mic has always been a nurturing environment for my and my people's music, and Mike the sound engineer has always been helpful and supportive along with the rest of the people who hold it together down there.
What’s been the highlight of your musical journey thus far?
I feel like there is always a new highlight. Every time I open for a traveling act, they're pumped by my set and get excited to be in Huntington, West Virginia, at a random Southside house show. Or we're having a night for locals, and everyone-who-is-always-there is still losing his or her shit when it gets intense, following along and punching in. It's wild how with art, if you're passionate, someone will relate to it. I guess my biggest highlight is connecting with the crowd.
What’s it like making music in West Virginia?
It's been a trip. Especially growing up in Wayne, rap wasn't the most accepted deal, among other dividing ideas. My first few songs, which were written in high school, had a heavy message trying to scrape across to my peers about the damage of not accepting differences. Moving to Huntington helped me find my intentions with art and release UNAVAILABLE, which is a more personal album. A downside to making music here can be resources, professional quality mixing and mastering; it’s out there, but the connections can be hard to make.
Do you feel held back by being in West Virginia? Or does it feel like a musically-supportive place?
I think the right type of music can thrive in its own environment, and West Virginia has so many environments to explore. I feel I was lucky enough to land in a supportive place, and if I stay committed, West Virginia’s influence can only offer more assistance and opportunities.
What, in your opinion, needs to happen in the West Virginia music scene for it to move forward?
More all-ages, public venues. This has been an idea of many since the HYAMP (Huntington Youth Arts & Music Project) closed its doors some 10 years ago. It’s time to bring all ages to all shows.
What’s your advice to anyone starting to make music (particularly hip-hop)?
Don't do it because you want to make money. Don’t do it because you want to make friends or make love or make people look at you. Do it because you need to, because you have something to say, and you really need to say it. Because if you didn't, you would be denying yourself a right. If you feel that way, please make everything you can, make the connections and find the resources, make the money for the equipment and the studio time and your favorite pen, make an effort and make time for breaks. Art isn't a competition or a scheme or a savior, but an expression, more like nervousness or anger.
MarcfromMars’ latest release is UNAVAILABLE. Hear more #WVmusic on A Change of Tune, airing Saturday nights at 10 on West Virginia Public Broadcasting. Connect with A Change of Tune on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. And for more #WVmusic chats, make sure to go to wvpublic.org/wvmusic and subscribe to our RSS / podcast feeds.
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