Artist Spotlight: SAINTS OF MARFA
Interview / Article By: Paula Horstman, @pmhorstman
SAINTS OF MARFA has come a long way. Though they’re coming up on their second anniversary, the road to making music was no easy, straightforward one. After a rough battle with some health issues, all David Crain- one of the Saints’ vocalists- knew was that he wanted to make music again.
David had never made electronic music before but that would quickly take care of itself. Passion took over and creativity guided the band forward. Crain was out to prove something raw— if not to the world, then to himself.–
Were 90’s alt-rock to morph into an electronic version, Saints of Marfa would be that version. Partnered with vocalist Raycheal Winters, the two voices work great together in creating a dark, brooding atmosphere over synth-driven tracks. The album, “Southern Isolation/Machine City” captures that 90’s grittiness, delivering a haunting beauty reminiscent of the solitude of West Texas. If you don’t consider that backdrop while listening, you miss the intention, the very spring from which the Saints drew.
The Saints of Marfa journey wasn’t without a string of battles to overcome. It is unique in its specific expression, but full of elements familiar to many: loneliness, isolation, ambition, and fundamentally— the stubborn will to be better.
Nobody tells that journey more precisely than Crain himself; the following is the Saints of Marfa story.
Firstly- how did the band form? It’s about 2 years old now.
Well, to make a long sad story short, a bit over 3 years ago I got sick with a mystery Autoimmune disease that wrecked my life at the time. It gave me nerve damage in my hands and feet, my ears would ring all the time, I had trouble controlling some basic physical functions…awful shit. So that took me away from making live music. After a really, really long year in purgatory, I wanted to make music again.
Anyway, I had zero know-how on making music on a computer so I flipped open a macbook, kamikazed through Garageband, and did a darker version of Lana Del Rey’s summertime sadness just to say “Hey- I made a song on a computer as opposed to with a piano or guitar. Here it is.”
Well, lo and behold, 94.5 The BUZZ picked it up here in Houston and played it. It ended up being requested a bunch. The DJ said “you need to go do something with this”. The Super Bowl was coming to Houston and they were having a competition to play the festival stage. So, I started hunting down the musicians, practicing, and poof… we auditioned and ended up playing there on, I think, our first show.
What’s behind the name, Saints of Marfa? And if you can talk a little bit about what the connection between Marfa and Machine City is (We all know Marfa as the isolated city is, what about Machine city?)
It’s based on duality. I grew up in the city on the Southwest side raised by a single mom. We lived in Westbury and unlike now, it had a more urban feel to it. So my peers were like, tattoos and skateboards and pink hair and swisher sweets. (Haha) Well, both sides of my family came from rural Texas so growing up, I’d remember the chaos and anxiety of the city and how stark the contrast was when I’d spend time out with my family in the country… the ability to feel alone and hidden and where you can hear everything in silence; that West Texas feeling. That stood in stark contrast to the roughness and crowded anxious vibe of the city… a fast moving fairly ugly “machine city” compared to the beauty and pace of West Texas.
Is that Houston building on the cover? It looks like something I’ve past downtown.
It is! I think it’s still called the Williams-Trace tower. You could see it faintly on the horizon from where I grew up. It was far and the tallest building in that area so it always stood out. It felt like this giant sterile monolith that loomed over the place. Pretty in a way, but icey as well.
What artists/music would you say has inspired this album?
Oh, man. Portishead, Depeche Mode, Deftones, Mutemath, Flume, Garbage, Halsey, pretty much all the gritty-ass alt rock of the late nineties. Hell, you name it.
Although I don’t recognize the quote- the voice from the quoted addition on “Remind Yourself” sounds very familiar… (I personally agree with his point) What’s the track all about?
It’s a song off the new EP and one of the first with Raycheal singing on the track as well.
Raycheal has some lyrics and feelings on this one but from my end, primarily, it’s about someone who fucks you up still haunting you. Well, I guess I should say it’s a song about reminding yourself to stop allowing the memories and feelings to destroy you. YOU are destroying you. The actual event has passed. YOU are the one playing them out over and over again in your head and scarring yourself. They may have wronged you but you can’t be the one who closes your own coffin through these compulsive rituals and obsessive thoughts.
This might just be my own take of the album- but it sounds like there’s a couple different themes going on: that of isolation or strife (‘outcast’/southern isolation/eyes of the south) yet also of overcoming (“one day be a king”)?
You’re on. When I got sick, half my world abandoned me. Friends disappeared, family didn’t call or write or check up, and it was lonely. I told someone very close to me that I was hanging on by a thread. I hadn’t told anyone, but I’d started thinking about permanently checking out…her response was “uh..do you like…need therapy or something?” Lowest moment of my life there. However, music came out of it. These songs were equal parts, “I don’t want to do this anymore” and, “I’ll show you. I’ll prove I can rise above.”
What do you imagine when producing some of the sounds— is there a vision guiding how you or the band thinks about the sounds selected to go on each track?
I mean, yea. roughly. I have a rough idea of what I’d like to hear and what will help me express that feeling honestly. Like if a violin sings what I’m feeling then yeah, it’s pretty much exclusively gotta be a violin. But since starting to make electronic-ish music, I’ve hated hearing how half these groups or producers or whatever the hell they call themselves, spend so much time obsessing over tones and sounds and compression and eq and blah blah blah that they lose the focus on songwriting and flow of the song.
It’s like, “your bass drop at 767548764 hertz sounds good but the tones at 7353744 Khz need to be fleshed out more.”
No, they don’t. You just need to calm down more, unplug your modern machine, and write a fucking song with actual heart. So that’s what we try to do. We try to make sure when we choose sounds, to keep that organic emotional feeling.
Is there something you want your music to achieve, or is it more of a creative outlet?
Creative outlet and extra money to feed my pup.
When’s your next performance?!
We are playing at Axelrad for the once-a-month Neon Garden segment on November 17th. Our album is on Spotify and the single off the new EP is on there now, too. It’s called “Breathing Underwater”.
Thanks for the time, Paula. You’re a cool chick.
Saints of Marfa is available on all streaming platforms: find them on Spotify or iTunes.
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