Spitalfield’s Mark Rose wants people to start listening

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117812543327535.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jonathan Hicks’, ‘Spitalfield performs at a recent show.‘);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-117812539428763.jpg’, ‘Photo by Jonathan Hicks’, ‘Spitalfield’s Mark Rose: “You hear about very successful artists who are playing stadiums who wish they were doing club tours because they feel it’s more intimate. And you get club bands who wish they could be doing stadiums because…they want that rush.”‘);

Chicago rock outfit leader stresses sound over appearance

For nearly nine years, Mark Rose has fronted Spitalfield, a Chicago rock outfit that has continually been on the verge of mainstream success. During that time, countless fads have come and gone, but their fans—and their reputation for a great live show—have remained intact.

While many might find such consistency comforting, Rose is bustling with emotions. He isn’t restless, but he’s far from content. He maintains a form of excitement that is far different than that which inspired him to hit the road years ago. It is an exuberance that can only come with experience. He is calculated, always ready for whatever comes next. His enthusiasm is easily visible onstage. However, away from the spotlight, Rose seeks a middle ground from his bevy of emotions.

Rockers may not be known for their willingness to compromise—but a happy medium appeals nicely to Rose. And in a music world that values style over substance, he would like nothing more than for people to stop looking and start listening.

Jonathan Hicks, The Rock River Times (TRRT): Better Than Knowing Where You Are is your best record yet in terms of songwriting and in terms of sculpting the music itself. How does it compare to your other two efforts?

Mark Rose (MR): I think the first record was very ambitious about the future and the past and the present. The second record was all about what we learned the first couple years of touring. This third record is kind of taking our favorite things about everything—about the road, about home, about business—that we love and that we hate.

TRRT: Could you call it growing old gracefully?

MR: I’d say that, yeah. And I think Better Than Knowing Where You Are is a fitting title because, though it was initially brought on in a humorous way, more so making fun of MapQuest and the amount of time we spend just not knowing where we are and not wanting to be where we are. I think that the title itself is very fitting for the album because sometimes it’s better not to know where you stand, because you’re able to stay a little more open-minded and have a little bit clearer path to walk on. If you knew what was going to happen, would you still do it? If you knew the way things were going to turn out, would you still go through with it the way you intended? I still love writing music with these guys, and I still hope that we can write music and that we can continue to do what we love doing.

TRRT: Can you ever be happy? Is it innate that, as touring musicians, you can never truly be happy with your situation?

MR: I think there’s something to be said for that concept of “the grass is always greener on the other side.” I think there’s always that ambition or desire to do something different, but it can move both directions. It’s not just up, it can be down, too. You hear about very successful artists who are playing stadiums who wish they were doing club tours because they feel it’s more intimate. And you get club bands who wish they could be doing stadiums because…they want that rush. The biggest thing that people don’t understand about the concept of success is that it’s all relative to who you’re talking to. Some people will define success on money and your following, an entourage, and what you can afford and can’t afford. Other people will put success solely on “are you happy?” and “do you love doing it?” If you can find that middle ground where you can afford to do what you love to do, then that’s success, I think.

TRRT: In your writing, are there topics that you specifically pursue or avoid?

MR: Not anymore, no. I think early on you’re feeling a lot of things. There are a lot of topics that pop into your head right off the bat: Things that you’re feeling, things that you’re going through, changes that you’re feeling. But I think now it’s kind of an open forum. I can get into a great conversation with someone if they’re into the band, and they follow the band, and they have really listened to the music, and they have questions for me about what I meant by certain phrases or what I intended by a certain line. I’d love to tell them, and I’d also love to hear what they thought of it and what it meant to them. I think a great song can be applied to just about anybody. Sometimes it’s awesome when you find out what it’s really meant to be. Sometimes it kills it. I’ve thought before about some of the greatest rock ballads or greatest love songs. If you knew who it was written about, you might hate it. If you hear a great, fun, pop-rock song, like “Jesse’s Girl” by Rick Springfield—great pop song, great refrain, catchy, fun—maybe you don’t want to know who Jesse’s girl is because maybe you’d meet her and you’d say, “Really?” It’s a funny concept to think about, though. Some of your favorite songs, if you really knew what they were about—or who they were about—would you think differently?

TRRT: A lyric I think I’ve got a decent handle on, but I’d like to hear what you were thinking at the time is “Who needs microphones when we could sing into mirrors?”

MR: What do you think before I tell you?

TRRT: Image. The idea that a lot of the bands that maybe you and I listened to for a long time—a lot of that music has changed. It’s more about image. And it’s more about “is this marketable,” or “is this pretty” rather than “is this substantive?”

MR: Yeah. I think that if you look at it, there’s that literal meaning which is microphone in hand is how I sing and how I get my message out. It’s how I project what I’m feeling and how I can present my emotions to the listener. Sometimes, people or certain parts of the scene or certain parts of what is popular right now, stems from people who are very image-conscious and aren’t thinking about what they’re saying as much as they are thinking about how either they look or how they look while they’re saying what they’re saying. And I think with that song, “Secrets and Mirrors,” you’re looking at a relationship between a band and the industry and how you fit into it. And to say “who needs microphones?” in general is kind of a statement saying sometimes no matter how loud I project my voice, you can’t hear it anyway because all people do is see; all they do is feed into what they’re told to feed into.

TRRT: What things frighten you, and what things excite you?

MR: I think people scare me a little bit. For the most part, people deep down inside are pretty good. It’s a shame that most news programs are based on all the garbage that’s happening in the world and around you. And I understand why, and I understand why it gets the attention it does, but then I also, in the midst of watching a real deal news program, will be getting just as much celebrity gossip news as real news. And that frightens me a little bit that people care more about Anna Nicole Smith’s baby…than what’s going on overseas or what’s going on with whatever else. I’m not a very political person, I think it’s just kind of scary that there are certain people out there who really are either that narrow-minded or truly feel a certain way. But then on the flip side, a lot of people excite me, too. Because I do meet people every day when we’re on tour, and I talk to a lot of people, and I get a lot of good vibes, too. Sometimes it’s…amazing what you can learn from somebody else just by listening to them for a few minutes.

Spitalfield’s latest release, Better Than Knowing Where You Are, is available now online and in stores. For more information, including upcoming local tour dates, visit www.spitalfield.net.

from the May 2-8, 2007, issue

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