Illustration by Louis Roe
“I’m just gonna put it on the line: we’re way fucking louder than Guerilla Toss.”
Carl Shane, singer and guitarist of Boston rock trio Kal Marks, puts his beer down on the table like a boozy gavel. “They might be a little more shrill, sure, and they’re definitely a quality band, but that’s not actual volume. We’re the band metalheads come up to after shows and just go, ‘Solid.’”
Kal Marks have long been one of the loudest acts in Boston. It’s hard to say otherwise. With Shane joined by bassist Mike Geacone and drummer Nick Egersheim, Kal Marks create an explosive wall of grim rock somewhere between Dinosaur Jr. and Modest Mouse. Huddled in the warm confines of Cambridge’s faux communist bar, The People’s Republik, they talk about the progress they’ve made—and how they’re only getting louder.
On December 2, Kal Marks will release the Just A Lonely Fart EP, their first new material since they dropped their full-length Life is Murder in 2013. The three-song release sees the volume, angst, and scowling fuzz cranked up, and the crackling growls have a hollowness thanks to being recorded straight to tape.
To get their signature sound, they try to perfect warmth by way of tonality, like Jesus Lizard and Harvey Milk. Geacone brings out higher frequencies while Shane focuses on the bass. Every pre-final mix playback they sat through was done with the ears of someone looking for complete satisfaction. “I think you’re afraid of being egotistical about your music,” Shane says of the listening practice. “But this time around, I listened to it a shitload just to make sure there wasn’t anything with it I wouldn’t be unhappy with.” Trust us, he tried everything. He’s listened to the EP through a big stereo, a car, a laptop, headphones, iPod speakers, a studio room, and tiny, foldable speakers. Everything. “If there’s no articulation, you can’t hear what the actual strings sound like,” Geacone says.
Perhaps the EP’s most notable sound is the organ on “It Was A Very Hard Year.” Shane and Geacone both saw the instrument in the corner of the studio and began goofing around, coming up with an eerie circus-like excerpt they kept to split up the otherwise stabbing bass and sludgy guitar. Given that the song recounts his near-death experience from a car crash, the nightmarish keys fit perfectly. “The moment before [the driver and I] hit the truck, I was 100 percent certain I wasn’t going to live. That’s how easy it is,” says Shane. “Life is hard. Death is easy.” The crash left him shaken up, for good reason, but he’s only recently been able to put it into words. “You know that Biggie line, ‘Birthdays are the worst days / now we drink champagne because we’re thirsty’? Everybody sings that like they fucking wrote it because they know what it’s like to have those shitty moments. Everyone’s had a time where they think, ‘Man, this year sucked.’ It’s awful.”
In that sense, much of the music is left open-ended so it can stay relatable. EP cut “Zimmerman” is an allegory, but it still stands as a song about the deteriorating state of humanity. It’s an amalgamation of both the events of George Zimmerman’s 2013 trial as well as the general abuse of power from the higher-ups. “There’s also a lot of guilt—not just as a white person, but as a human being,” explains Shane. “Knowing you’re the same species as these people is embarrassing. The last line, I say, ‘It will never end,’ and it’s true. This shit will never end.”
Kal Marks doesn’t revert to the melancholic state in which they wrote their songs while onstage, but their fans in the crowd often do. The band members mention times audience members have come over after a show to share personal experiences, oftentimes with death or depression, affected by the weight of their explosive, bent hopelessness live. Shane often flails around the stage (“I’ve mastered the art of playing with a broken guitar strap,” he later says), Geacone faces his amp to soak up the fuzz, and Egersheim accidentally moves his kit from the sheer force of his drumsticks. It’s alt-rock that takes over the room.
For Shane, being on stage is sonic catharsis. “I get to yell my head off about what I’m unhappy about,” says Shane. “If people don’t receive it, I’m still quoting my emotions. You don’t have to listen to the story to understand. You can feel the mood of the music.”
KAL MARKS. O’BRIEN’S PUB, 3 HARVARD AVE., ALLSTON. WED 12.3 8PM/18+/$8. KALMARKS.BANDCAMP.COM