By Brandon Strader
So Mark, when exactly did the Subject To Thoughts one-man project begin and what have you been into lately with the project or outside of it?
Well, I started StT on 1999 with the intention to create thought-provoking music. Since I have always disliked mainstream music, this was my outlet to make music with substance. I believe that music should grab the listener both musically & emotionally that is why I got into Progressive music. For me, being a musician was something I always dreamt ever since I was a little kid, but when Dream Theater came out during the early 90's, they definitely changed my perspective on how music can be performed till this day. There's something about Progressive music that challenges me personally that I enjoy. Right now, StT is the only project I'm involved with, and hopefully will be for a while. This July 2006, I just completed my latest full length demo entitled To Embrace the Light. This recording is the second part to my four part conceptual vision.
How many full-length demos have you made so far and how do you prepare for such a big adventure into the emotional depths of your mind and express it in the form of music as well as you have been doing? It's stunning!
I have recorded 4 full length demos. The first one I completed was entitled Outlook, back in 2001. This demo did not have any vocals too it, and it was in cassette form. The next demo was entitled The Thought Process back in 2003. It was also in cassette form. In this demo, vocals were introduced for the first time. For this recording, I was still searching for my sound, so it had more of a Doom, Gothic sound. It had some rave reviews from various webzines around the world, but that was not the sound I wanted to continue with, so in 2005, I released my third demo entitled From Emptiness to Beyond. This was the first demo where I recorded onto CD format. For this demo, I went back to my admiration of Progressive music, but I entwined the Doom, Gothic sound of the Thought Process to make my current sound. This demo has also received rave reviews for various webzines around the world. Thankfully, people are embracing the music I play. Finally, in 2006, I have just released my new demo entitled To Embrace the Light.
Since I work alone, at times, it does become a big challenge, but thankfully I have been able to overcome all obstacles I've come across so far. How do I go about preparing for such a daunting task? Emotionally, sometimes it does get frustrating, but I always manage to balance the negative into positive. The end result are the demos. Well, with all the demos I've recorded, first, I actually do sit down and think about what direction I would like the music to take. After, I'm content with my decision, I start writing the music. It sometimes takes me somewhere between a couple of weeks to months to complete the music in it's entirety. Then once the music is done, I sit down again to think about what direction lyrically I want to take. Once I'm satisfied with the lyrical direction, I begin to write down the lyrics. After the lyrics are completed, I end the demo by adding the vocals. It's then complete.
You are very good at expressing light versus dark, especially in your latest demo To Embrace The Light, have you had a lot of training with songwriting or musical theory? Have you taken many piano lessons?
I guess I've found my niche with my sound. I attribute that to my variety of influences. Light= Progressive Music & Dark=Doom, Gothic Music. Well, I started writing lyrics since I was about 13 years old, so I would say I've had quite some training, plus I was a Percussionist throughout my youth. No, I have not had any piano lessons because I taught myself how to play. Since 1999 I began to play the piano, so throughout the years it has taken a lot of perseverance and practice to be where I'm right now, but I continue to push myself every single day.
Can you shed some light on the whole process where you record all the parts with your keyboard? I was surprised when you said you did that, as on your last demo I didn't even notice they were played through a keyboard as the sound was that good!
Yes, that's correct. All the music comes directly from my Keyboard, but let me make one thing clear. Do not think that some of my music is pre-arranged since it's coming directly from the Keyboard. No, I actually sit down and record each instrument one at a time, so all the notes you hear are being played by me. Being a one-man band, I personally found it to be more convenient to do it this way as long as the sound is to my liking. Thankfully, my Keyboard allows me to accomplish such feat.
My approach to making music: 1) Depending on the song, the core of the song will begin with either the Acoustic, Electric Guitar, or the Piano. 2) After the core of the song is completed, I then record the drum parts. 3) Then I record the Bass parts for the song. 4) If the core of the song revolved around the Acoustic or Electric Guitar, at this point, I'll then record the Piano parts (if available) or record the Synth parts. If the song revolved around the Piano, then at this point, I'll record the Electric Guitar part at the 3rd spot, and at this point (4) I'll record the Bass parts instead. 5) If the core of the song revolved around the Acoustic or Electric Guitar, at this point, I'll record the Synth Part if I had recorded a Piano part at (4). If not, at this point, I'll then record either a Choir, Violin, Flute, etc. If the core revolved around the Piano, then at this point, I'll record the Synth part (if available). If the Synth part is not required, then at this point, I'll record either a Choir, Violin, Flute, etc. 6) If the core of the song was Piano-driven, and I included Synth parts as well, at this point, I'll record a Choir, Violin, Flute, etc. I hope it's not too complicated. It usually takes me about 3-5 hours to complete one song (Music only) alone, but depending on it's complexity it can take longer. At a later time, once the lyrics have been completed, 7) At this point, I'll record the Vocals, or add any other thing that I feel would add to the song. 8) If something else was added at (7), then at this point, I'll record the Vocals. 9) At this point, I'll add a second vocal line for Harmony purposes. So that's my process of making music.
The artwork for To Embrace The Light is especially beautiful! Did you take the photo for the cover? Is there a hidden meaning or imagery behind it?
Thanks for the compliment, unfortunately I did not take the photo. As a matter of fact, yes, there is a message behind the artwork. The dark waters represent the painful past while the blue clouds represent a change in my life, hence the title.
And now for the big question that will probably take much detailing: What lyrical concepts do you write about in your demos? I know they are all full-length concept albums.... To Embrace The Light follows that pattern. So what are they about?
Depending on the state of mind or whatever stage in my life I'm in at that particular time, that usually tends to be the topic. O.K., with The Thought Process it was easy. It just about misery & sorrow. I was pretty miserable when I wrote that demo. After I completed The Thought Process, my intention was always to create a story. Starting from From Emptiness to Beyond, I worked the music and lyrics to fit like a book since I always knew that it would be divided into 4 discs. In reality, From Emptiness to Beyond was going to be a continuation of pure darkness, but as I was writing the lyrics, something made me realize that I needed to change for the betterment of my soul existence, so that is why it was broken down into 2 parts with a Transition Period. Part I is From Emptiness: This part of the demo deals with pain, sorrow, and other negative aspects that I have dealt with in my life. Next, I have a Transition period then Part II is To Beyond: This part of the demo deals with my search for sense in my life, and finally seeing the light. Finally, my new demo To Embrace the Light, in reality, is the second chapter to my four part conceptual vision, so it begins where From Emptiness to Beyond left off. It's theme throughout the entire demo deals with ways I found to better my perception of life once the light was seen. I began to see life in a whole different way I never thought possible. No matter the situation, you should always strive ahead as we only have one life to live.
What equipment did you use on To Embrace The Light to record? The programs, the instruments, microphones, all that juicy info.....
You might laugh, but the program I used to record To Embrace the Light is called Audacity. It's a free program, but this little puppy has all the same functions any program you buy will have. Plus, it's very easy to use, so even the novice of musician will have no problem using it. I recommend all of you to check it out. In the end, I want to purchase the Pro Tools software, as that is the ultimate in home recording, so I think. Other equipment I used, well, I used my Yamaha keyboard, Shure Microphone, Sustain Pedal & a couple of cables to plug in.
How do you describe the sound of Subject To Thoughts, and where can people hear your music?
Well, I describe my sound as Dark Progressive Rock with a New Age feel too it, but it also has a lot of melody in it as well. I will admit that my music is not for everyone because it is very challenging musically, mentally & emotionally, but if any one out of there is looking for something different, I would appreciate if you give me the opportunity. Since day one, I wanted to create something that was thought-provoking, but accessible at the same time. Hopefully, I have acheived my goal. In the end, if you are into bands like Dream Theater, Enchant, Anekdoten, My Dying Bride, or Katatonia, maybe I can be your solution to escape reality. Please check me out at www.soundclick.com/subjecttothoughts
. Please, I would appreciate your posts on my message board whether good or bad. BTW, be on the lookout because I will also create a webpage at My Space very soon.
What are your dreams for the group? Ever think of expanding the line-up? Any offers from record labels to sign the project?
1) I would definitely like to see myself making music as a career. I believe that music is embedded in my skin, and this is what I was destined to do. I virtually think about music 100% of the time. To me, creating music is a way of eliminating all the negativity that I've experienced in my life, so you could call it a form of therapy. 2) Making money. I'm not going to lie, even though I play a form of music that is not very popular among the masses, it would be nice to see some compensation for my hard work. I'm a realist, and I know that I'll probably never become a Millionaire by playing this type of music (unless something beyond my control happens), but at least a little income would be nice. It would be a form of accomplishment to my psyche. 3) Continue to make music for as long as I can. Even if fame or fortune never grace me, as long as I get to create the music that I love, that's fine by me. 4) Never selling out. Progressive music is the music that I was destined to play, so to no point will I ever debate to change my musical style. I have integrity towards what I do, and that will never change not even at the expense of fame or fortune. It's either you love it or you hate it. 5) Maybe touring. That's a long shot for me right now, but maybe if my music were to blow up, and the people wanted that. Only until that point, would I even think about touring. 6) Bring Progressive music to the forefront of the rock scene. Just like Dream Theater did in the early 90's, I would like to be that person. I would like to make Prog music accessible to all types of listeners. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but hey, it's nice to dream. 7) The ultimate goal would be to hear my music in the radio, or in a movie soundtrack. That would make it all worthwhile.
At the moment, expanding the line-up is not something I'm looking to do, but only time will tell. Some might call me selfish, but I like to have total control over the music I compose.
At the moment, I've been in constant contact with a small indie label from Colorado called Black Diamond Productions. Hopefully, something real soon will develop. If not, I'll continue to submit my demo (as I have not submitted my new demo) to all labels possible, and we'll go from there.
UM's Review of To Embrace The Light
UM's Review of From Emptiness To Beyond
Official Subject To Thoughts Website