Why do we listen to sonically adversarial material like noise rock in the first place? Although for every two listeners, there are no doubt three explanations, on his new album The Blue Bird, Mark Deutrom addresses this — and more metaphysical questions. On both a sonic and an emotional level, he expands some of the traditional noise rock framework, letting it breathe more freely and thereby also allowing us to see some of what’s at the core of the endlessly spinning noise on records and in the world at large.
His new album’s about happiness, Deutrom says — which already puts the record in a box all its own, since nuanced meditations on a scope of happiness aren’t often the foray of a corner of the music community known for slicing and dicing their way through preconceived notions — and, ultimately, underlying streams of consciousness that might be taken for granted.
“Really, it’s about the nature of happiness and about the nature of sentimentality,” Deutrom explains of The Blue Bird. “I mean there’s a lot of celebration of the happy or whatever at this point but more of it seems to be really sentimental, and maybe that’s tied into nostalgia or something or historical perspective. That’s a pre-digital age perspective that goes back a couple of centuries.”
That long running stream he taps into reflects in details down to the album title. He explains that although ultimately, that central motif simply grew on him, it didn’t emerge in a vacuum. On the one hand, it’s been employed as a symbol of the wistfulness of nature — and natural ebbs and flows of happiness — for centuries, popping up in songs here and there. Additionally though, and getting into just what Deutrom means by “happiness,” the symbol of the blue bird has personal relevance for him. He dated Shirley Temple Black’s daughter Lori for a lengthy period of time in his younger years and grew close to the famous child star’s family — and as he was taken aback to learn recently, Shirley had starred in a movie called The Blue Bird.
“That was just kind of the capper on the whole thing,” he says. “This great personal resonance about the nature of happiness. It doesn’t seem like an obvious thing to pursue in the milieu that I work in within music but it’s just one of those intuitive things that feels right and then you don’t really question it or analyze it because you’re involved with it emotionally.”
Happiness ultimately is temporal, a feature that helps to define that golden ring of emotions itself and opens up space for the melancholy that gnaws at the corners of The Blue Bird. Besides the fact that one day in each of our lives, the biology underlying our emotions will cease, the weeks, months, and years we persist through amply support that fact.
Yet, like a blue bird fluttering by — we still have a sense of it. Embedded as we are in our inescapably unique personal experiences of the world, happiness becomes what we make of it. Perhaps that sort of ultimate personal accomplishment attracts listeners to the unruly world of noisy, experimental music.
Deutrom sought to tease this experience out through his work.
“I mean nobody who goes into a recording studio really knows what they’re going to come out with,” he asserts. “It’s this great process of revealing, kind of like being in a seance or something, or playing with a ouija board. None of the great artists who have made records or great musicians have decided how it’s going to sound and then at the end gone okay, it sounds exactly like that. It’s the same for movies and for plays — nobody really knows. It’s a collaboration of people just trying to find their way through a fog. They have a direction, and the direction reveals itself, interestingly enough. Even if you have an idea of exactly where you’re going, you’re not going to end up exactly where you think you’re going.”
“You have to be bold and you have to trust in this intuition and in this kind of otherworldiness, which is really consciousness, human consciousness,” he adds, explaining of how he makes the songwriting process match his musical aims: “I give the songs their space to live. It’s a strange process — you create something, and then you have to let it go. It almost doesn’t really live until it gets reflected in the real world in a strange way. It’s like the zen koan about the one hand clapping.”
His work to carve out a musical space for some endlessly burning questions includes perhaps fittingly tangible, pointed processes like still recording to two-inch tape in the studio.
Keeping that process alive is hardly where the practicalities of his musical impact end, however. Besides his often discussed connection to the Melvins, he’s produced a number of important records over the years like post-metal greats Neurosis’s debut album Pain of Mind, a remastered version of which was issued just recently, in 2018.
He also hopes that the very nature of his solo work itself has artistic reverberations.
“You have to trust,” he says of his process. “There’s a great deal of personal trust and risk involved, which is really difficult to learn how to do in the noisy world. It’s like there’s a digital veil over the world now also, which is just screaming noise at you. It’s very difficult to find the space to just kind of assemble the confidence to follow something that’s not being reflected back at you through the digital fog.”
Listen to The Blue Bird now via Season of Mist — a label Deutrom says he’s happy to have on his side.
Photo via Jennifer Deutrom