Mark Deutrom is such an interesting musician at a time when we need them most. Anyone that’s capable of playing bass in the legendary sludge-metal band Melvins for multiple albums is pretty special. That’s the level of musicianship Deutrom brings to the table, capable of seamlessly moving from the heaviest metal to the sweetest lullaby or jazz-tinged waltz with ease.
Deutrom’s Bellringer project has brought him critical acclaim for having that slanted view of what “heavy” means, but with his new project The Blue Bird, Deutrom takes it one step further. His first true solo record is metal, blues, pop and classical, run through a grinder, producing a sound that can only be described as “Deutrom-esque”.
With that said, we had a chance to discuss the many tropes, themes, and abnormal coincidences that flow through The Blue Bird. From his connection to famed child actress Shirley Temple, to his working relationship with his wife Jennifer, to his new found appreciation for disco.
mxdwn: The Blue Bird is your first true solo record in about six years. How did the project come to fruition?
Mark Deutrom: Well it’s a combination of the circumstantial and the necessary. It’s not that I haven’t been doing anything for the six years in-between Brief Sensuality and The Blue Bird. Obviously, I put out the Bellringer thing and I did a few splits with people and some other things. Produced some other bands. I was busy during that time.
Basically got to the point where I needed to just get things to another level where there was going to be more exposure. I just started contacting labels again about working with them. I tried a whole lot of different labels. Season of Mist was the only one that indicated any genuine interest and was grown up to start formulating a plan and looking at a long-term thing. That was appealing to me. They were amazed I didn’t have a regular record deal. It just took off from there.
They were the ones who were interested in re-issuing my back catalog and building something on a real world level, instead of being a highly-niche, alt-music night, trivia question at a bar or something. The Blue Bird… I don’t know if you’re talking about the album or the concept or whatever, but I basically made an agreement with them. They put out my back catalog and they wanted something new. That was going to be the new record. Then we just prepared to wait it out to get with a label that had some kind of a global profile was very important to me. Also, just the seriousness of wanting to do something real. Season of Mist had been a label for a while. They know what they’re doing. They have a very global approach. We live on a globe, so that appealed to me.
mxdwn: It’s pretty amazing that you didn’t have some kind of label backing you. You’ve been around for a long time and done some pretty impressive stuff.
MD: To be absolutely cynical about it, if you hang around long enough, someone will smell your rotting corpse. It’s not for want of trying. There might be a consensus out there that I’m difficult or whatever that might be, I don’t have access to other people’s opinions of me. But it’s not for want of trying. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that you don’t get to decide, “I want to have a record deal,” and then run out and get one, and then everything’s great. There’s a tremendous amount of knocking on doors.
This is like selling vacuum cleaners in the ’60s door to door. People might be, “I know about your vacuum cleaner, that’s a really good one. But you know what? I don’t need one.” Or, “We just bought one.” A lot of it was a timing thing and a lot of it was just the old adage is, “We’re just so busy right now, we don’t have time for you.” Which is fair enough. That’s a nice way to say, “We don’t like you.” But you get to be pretty thick-skinned. At any rate, it doesn’t really matter because you don’t really decide to be a musician, I don’t think. Music chooses you in a strange way. You get cursed by it and loved by it at the same time. It’s an interesting relationship.
mxdwn: The Blue Bird, almost has a “jazz-like delivery,” and sounds very free-form with a change in genres almost effortlessly. Would you elaborate on the theme of the record and those seamless transitions?
MD: Yeah. It’s interesting how it evolved. All of my records have all been a different way. Really, The Blue Bird name didn’t come about until a little bit later, until I had all the material gathered. It was just one of those weird, or maybe not so weird, synchronistic type of events that happen in your life sometimes. You might be thinking about something. You might be thinking about stop signs and not be anywhere near a stop sign, and then you read a book or something and then a stop sign happens to figure in this book.
There’s strange, super-conscious type of events that are really inexplicable. I’m not a big exponent of the psychic realm or anything, but I fully believe that there’s things that are not entirely understood at this point. The human race was walking around for quite a few millennia before it actually achieved consciousness. There was something going on in the amygdala and the hypothalamus and all that stuff. But anyway, The Blue Bird was just one of these things that it was a trope that kept reappearing.
I was listening to a lot of Al Jolson last year and the year before. For some reason, I don’t know, I always thought he was really — I always thought he was really hokey and really terrible. I just started going, “Wow, this is really weird because there’s this straight line from Al Jolson to Bing Crosby to Elvis to David Bowie.” All those guys… It all starts with Jolson. He’s the important one because before him, there’s nothing. We don’t have any recorded material, really. There’s guys like Emmett Miller and stuff. The Blue Bird kept popping up and Al Jolson mentions a blue bird in a couple of songs. “April Showers” song was one that really stuck in my head and he talks about a blue bird in there. And then there’s, I think, as late as “Blood On the Tracks” I think Dylan mentions a blue bird and a couple of other times. It’s this great figure of sentimentality and happiness that was around for really more than a hundred years.
Then, there’s a few movies about the blue bird, also. It’s from a play by this guy, Gustav Maeterlinck. He’s a Belgian guy, and he wrote this play about looking for the blue bird in the 1880s or something. It stems from there. It’s a Wizard of Oz story. Children go looking for the blue bird and when they finally capture it, one of them lets it go accidentally. Then it’s like, “Oh, it’s okay. Don’t worry, it’ll be back,” or something. It was really sort of interesting. Then, it turned out that my ex-girlfriend, Lori Black, her mom was Shirley Temple-Black, and it turned out that she was in a version of The Blue Bird, which was kind of an alternative Wizard of Oz. When they were making the Wizard of Oz, they tried to get Shirley Temple to be in the Wizard of Oz but they couldn’t afford her, because she was signed to a different studio. She was signed to Fox and that was under the studio system. They were just like, “Nah.” She was basically the number one box office person in the world. Then, what they did was they just made the Wizard of Oz with Judy Garland, and they made a version of The Blue Bird with Shirley Temple. It’s just like a knock off of the Wizard of Oz. It’s really quite an incredible movie. It even starts in black and white and then goes to color. She goes on a journey with these other kids and with a cat and a dog. In the play, also accompanying her is fire and water and light. They go to The Land of Unborn Children. It’s really an amazing movie.
I didn’t realize that… I knew Shirley and Charlie for 10 years because Laurie and I were together for 10 years. I didn’t even realize she had made this movie, The Blue Bird. We didn’t sit around and talk about her movies as a child. That was the capper on the whole thing, once I found out that she was in a movie called The Blue Bird, I was like, “Wow. I need to go there.” It’s not the most heavy rock thing in the world, but I don’t care. I even found a blue bird feather on the ground really randomly at one point, and I was just going, “This is really strange and interesting.” Also, what’s interesting is the minute I stopped thinking about the blue bird, I stopped seeing them.
It’s a concept of happiness, too. Everyone’s so happiness driven that they’re basically not seeing the happiness in front of them. I guess that’s the whole idea of The Blue Bird. An obvious, ancient idea to pay attention to the moment and not be running after an ideal or something like that. I’m not sure. But it was strange. Once I put the title The Blue Bird, decided on that, all the songs underneath that already existed, that I’d already recorded, it all just fit. Then, my wife made this incredible cover for it and it’s a real piece. It’s great how it turned out.
Yeah. And everybody is the same, also. I think that’s part of the reason why maybe older things seem more magical or more wonderful or amazing is because there was no distraction in the past. There wasn’t this great digital web that you have to fight off or make a conscious effort to leave alone to be able to pursue that sort of stuff. That’s one of my great challenges. I’m not an addict to digital culture in any way, shape or form. But there really is nothing new under the sun as far as human consciousness is concerned. It’s been the same for a really long time. Just now, it’s a crazy digital, pinball, echo chamber thing that’s going on. Really, ideas like happiness and sadness and anger and aggression and discovery and exploration, all those things are innate in human consciousness. They might metamorphose into different versions, but they’re all ultimately the same sorts of things that have been going on for a really long time. It’s just the fabric of human consciousness, really.
mxdwn: Where did you pull the inspiration from to run through different genres on this record. Songs like “Futurist Manifesto” versus “Hell is a City” are two completely different sounds. I’m curious your take on that.
MD: Well, I guess the most ground-level, the lowest common denominator way to describe it would be like it’s like Luby’s cafeteria or something inside my head. It’s like a cafeteria of music, because I like all kinds of music. Music, just as an art form… And I’m that way about all the arts. I like all different kinds of movies, and I like all different kinds of food, and I like all different kinds of serious art and theater. Music is no different. I’ve always had this… I’ve found it so magical, all different kinds. To me, it’s boring to just limit myself to one thing. I have a real love of everything from like the aforementioned Al Jolson to Himalayan festival music to Burt Bacharach and Henry Mancini. I love listening to cheesy Italian pop music, Spanish flamenco music, Moroccan music from the Atlas Mountains.
To me, it’s always an exploration and a challenge to see if I can do something in a genre that resonates to me. I do love jazz. Jazz is one of the very few indigenous American art forms. Jazz and rock and roll and possibly expressionist painting are basically the three American art forms that have been contributed to the world. And carbonated drinks, of course. That’s all we got.
I like the harder, weirder stuff. “Futurist Manifesto” just reflects the… It might be a comment on the robotic figure that’s ahead for us. But at the same time, just the song title is a reference to the futurist art movement, the Italian Futurist Art Movement of the early 20th century, where all those guys like Severini and… What’s the other guy’s name? I forget. But Russolo was the music guy who was in there with them. I think Mike Patton rebuilt some of Russolo’s instruments.
“Futurist Manifesto” operates on a few different levels, as most of my stuff does. Nothing is just like, “Here’s a song title. It’s called ‘I’m Going to Rock You Baby All Night Long,’ and that’s what the song does, and that’s what the song is about.” It’s not interesting enough for me to confine myself to one particular genre. I have a limited amount of time in my life. If I went to Luby’s why would I spend all my time over the chocolate pudding tub? You know what I mean?
Even disco is quite incredible. I loathed it when it was out, just as this giant… It’s like when Avatar came out and everybody was screaming at you, “Go see Avatar! Go see Avatar!” I’ve never actually seen Avatar up to this point. But anything that becomes vastly popular kind of repulses me. That’s why I’m incredibly suspicious about it. Because frankly, it just brings to mind Nazi Germany. There never was anything more popular. It’s like, “This is great.” Disco is amazing. If you go listen to a Barry White record now, everything gets a historical hindsight attached to it. Compared to Taylor Swift, Barry White is like Handel. You listen to it and you just go, “Oh, my God. There’s 25 people playing at the same time and he’s playing a harpsichord.” It’s astounding, listening. It’s quite incredible.
mxdwn: Your sound has such a wide breadth of sound, and I often hear many metal artists talking about how much they love the Johnny Millers of the world. I wonder how you go from Johnny Miller to the Drop B sound on your records? Can you connect those dots?
MD: I think a lot of it also is circumstantial. When you’re growing up, if you’re an eight year old, if you have some super cool parents and you have a song, you might be able to say, “Buy me that to listen to.” But for most people when they’re growing up, their parents are deciding what to listen to in the house and you’re just there. You either think something is cool or not. I was pretty fortunate, or unfortunate as some people might say.
My parents liked to listen to a lot of movie soundtracks. They would buy all the James Bond soundtracks. This is like John Barry. This is amazing stuff. Then, they were listening to the Pink Panther soundtracks. They also listened to really, what I thought at the time was terrible music, which was Jackie Gleason Orchestra records. I’m older, and it was the ’60s. But now, you listen to those and there is a certain amount of schmaltz involved. But the sound of it is really incredible. There are Hollywood studio players playing in Capitol Studios best rooms. If you listen to the vinyl now on a good record player, you just go, “Holy shit.” It’s really good even though it’s horribly schmaltzy.
I can see how when you get older, it’s a consequence of puberty and adolescence, wanting to identify with particular tribal aspects of society. The heavy-metal gang is a great, unified, worldwide tribe who is pretty cool and accepting. I’ve said to a couple of people, the difference between somebody who loves indie music and a metal guy is like, if you give indie music to a metal guy, the metal guy will be like, “I’ll check it out.” But if you give metal music to an indie guy, he’ll be like, “I hate that stuff.” That’s not a firm rule, of course, across the board. But I think the metal world and The Blue Bird is a perfect example. It’s not overtly a metal record, but it’s getting its big boost from Season of Mist, and they’re the guys who are like, “This is cool. Come and make records with us.” So I’m really pleased about it.
mxdwn: Your wife Jennifer handles all the art for your records. Is this going to continue for the foreseeable future? Would you talk a little about the working relationship you both have?
MD: I hope it continues, until she gets sick of me asking her to do all this stuff. But yeah. She’s made the videos, too. She’s an amazing animator and has worked on Lars von Trier’s Five Obstructions movie and worked on Waking Life. She’s got some pretty heavyweight credentials. Obviously, that was a while ago now, but that’s the level that her skill set is on for that stuff. She did an animated video for me maybe six years ago called “Ruckus Juice”. Have you seen that one?
Yeah. Hopefully yes, she will continue to do things for me. Last year was really tough. She had to basically reformat four records into three different formats, as well as come up with a brand new one, aside from the stuff that she does for herself, too. She had a full plate last year. I’ve got to keep a really low profile this year.
mxdwn: Are we going to hear any new music from Bellringer anytime soon?
MD: Well, I had an idea — Actually, I was rehearsing with Bellringer for the next Bellringer record last August and then there was supposed to be some touring in December and that didn’t happen. Now, there’s supposed to be some touring in February. But yeah, I like the idea of Bellringer. The actuality of Bellringer and Mark Deutrom records happening are just challenging. Now, I just have to see where it goes. I have a solid lineup now, which is really good. Supposedly, we’re going to get out on tour next month at some point. This is just a process, and we’re trying to iron it out and it’s got a lot of kinks in it. But I do have a really good booking agency now. They’re just going to take some time to get it going. Some people are just not impressed by my Facebook numbers. I don’t know what to do. I don’t know if I should call up my friend in Dubai or Bangalore and just have them whip me up 25000 new followers. I don’t even know what to say about that. That’s fine.
mxdwn: What’s really cool is that the internet is a bad thing in some aspects. But as far as DIY stuff, pretty good place to put yourself out there with followers.
MD: It’s great for whatever you’re trying to do. But I think it’s such a new thing that everybody has their own expectations about what it’s supposed to do and what it actually does. I think people who are digital natives, who have grown up only knowing that, have this unrealistic expectation, that it’s this magic box that you can put anything into with a bunch of wishes, a basket of wishes and what you want is going to pop back out. I just watched this documentary the other night about the Fyre Festival. It’s a perfect example of what I was talking about where you just have a bunch of… I’m not going to curse millennials or anything… but you just have a bunch of people in this realm. They’re in the digital space and they’re wishing and hoping and they have aspirations, and they just keep doing that. They don’t do anything in reality, except basically have dinner together and get really drunk. Which is great. I’m all for that. That’s an example of that.
People don’t understand that it’s a distorted reflection of reality. Pretty much across the board, except for maybe physics or Greek history or something, something that’s nailed to the floor that can not be contested. But even that, there’s wiggle room for it. It’s just basically the kook zone. Any kook with a phone can just get on there and just be as kooky as they want. It’s just fun. It’s for fun, mainly. You really do have the sum of the depository of human knowledge in your pocket now, which is amazing.
Really, what people want to see is this one, weird trick. That’s what they really want to see. They want to see that. They want to know how to do everything extra fast. Nobody’s on there trying to find out what Nietzsche really meant. A few people are. That’s the stuff I watch on YouTube. I watch philosophy videos and stuff, which is great. You can go to basically any of the Ivy League Schools online also, because they put their lectures up. I think it’s great. I think the dark web ascendancy is very interesting and cool, also. I don’t agree with everything they say, but I think it’s really cool people are out there talking, actually getting concert-sized halls excited. That’s a super cool thing.
mxdwn: Any close tour dates? Are you taking The Blue Bird on tour? Any new music on the horizon?
MD: I haven’t stopped working. There’s a big time lag to roll something out properly, as you know about it. I’m working on the next thing and I’ve still got to put business in place for the next thing, because my agreement with Season of Mist is a licensing agreement. We haven’t really started to talk about the next one, yet. But I don’t want to get in a situation where I have to wait three or four years to make another record. But hopefully I won’t have to do that. I don’t have an idea. The way things are now, I could drop a brand new Bellringer record onto Bandcamp tomorrow, if I wanted to. I have no idea. It’s just a fog of indecision at this point.