The Ambiguity of Muscle and Marrow: “It seems we’re a slippery band that is carving the path to doing whatever we want.”

So far 2016’s most pleasantly surprising record belongs to Portland duo (and real life couple) Muscle and Marrow.  The album, Love (which dropped this May), is the sophomore effort of...

So far 2016’s most pleasantly surprising record belongs to Portland duo (and real life couple) Muscle and Marrow.  The album, Love (which dropped this May), is the sophomore effort of vocalist/guitarist Kira Clark and drummer Keith McGraw, a pair who had previously been best known for producing sounds on the gloomy, doomy side of metal… And while Muscle and Marrow don’t exactly shy away from the morose, on Love it finds itself sounding at least a little bit prettier and more ethereal (albeit no less profound), even dabbling in pop sentiments.  The album would seem to explore all of the glorious wonders and crippling horrors associated with our notion of “love” (In, it should be noted, not a completely dissimilar tone to Gaspar Noe’s latest effort, of the same name.)  In a recent interview with Noisey Kira Clark discusses the album, which was largely inspired by the recent passing of her grandmother, a newfound obsession with Courtney Love and the Hole frontwoman’s particular brand of celebrity femininity, and also the different forms the ambiguous concept can take on when your creative partner is also the partner with whom you live your life.  Muscle and Marrow are currently in the middle of a month-long tour with Marissa Nadler and Wrekmeister Harmonies and will be at Johnny Brenda’s this Friday, July 22nd, and I recently got a chance to chat with Kira Clark, who further explains how the band’s recent influences have contributed to the evolution of their art.

Izzy Cihak: I realize this is a pretty huge question to start with, but what would you consider to be Muscle and Marrow’s most significant influences, both musical and otherwise?

Kira Clark: Our influences at times merge, but generally we have different influences between the two of us. I think Keith’s influences tend to be, more often than not, musical influences, whereas I’m usually drawn to concepts, the way an artist constructs an identity and world around them, their photographs, the political ideas behind their work, the role they’re playing, etc. Keith as of late has been listening to a lot of electronic music, like Andy Stott, Floorplan, and Orphyx. I’ve been fascinated lately by Grimes, Joanna Newsom, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Kate Bush, Jenny Hval, Anohni, and more broadly, pop music. In terms of my never going to go away influences, I would say Stevie Nicks, Courtney Love, and Fiona Apple will continue to be these little spirits by my side.

I’m really excited by what is happening in pop music right now. I think I’ve always struggled with this tension inside of me, that I consider myself to be a person of depth but when I listen to music I primarily listen to lyrics and melody so I’ve always been drawn to pop music. This idea that I can try to merge those two seemingly competing ideas together has become suddenly hugely inspirational. I can’t wait to get home from tour and write. I think we both are ready to start writing again.

In terms of non-musical influences, books are a huge part of my life. Language has always been able to move me in unexpected ways. I read a lot of small press fiction and poetry. I think what a poem is able to do is absolutely singular. It’s nothing and everything. You’re moving along the poem bored even and then suddenly some word or turn of phrase hits you in the gut and often you can’t even explain why. It’s just an experience and surrendering to the experience of being moved without needing to understand why has been very freeing for me and beneficial in regards to my relationship with all of art. I can’t recommend poet Alice Notley and writer Clarice Lispector enough. Both are not of this world and I don’t even believe in anything not of this world.

Finally, I love performance art and contemporary dance. Both, when done well, usually leave me with a, “what the fuck was that,” feeling and that feeling is like, “oh there are no rules. Oh this is a sacred space where anything can be done. Oh you can actually just do whatever you want/follow that whim/follow that ghost.”

Izzy: I understand that Courtney Love has been a huge influence as of recently.  I’m 31 and have been a huge fan of hers since I was in third grade.  You’ve talked a lot about how important the identity she portrays is, but I’m curious if you have any particular favorite works of hers, whether favorite albums or favorite songs?  Do you have a top 5 list of Courtney records?

Kira: Live Through This! I guess that’s an obvious answer but it’s the answer nonetheless. I can’t pick one song off that record. Some of my favorites are “Violet,” “Plump,” “Miss World,” “Doll Parts,” and “I Think That I Would Die.” I’m glad you asked me this question because just this morning I got into an internet fight with someone who was upset that any woman would ever love Courtney. I love Court Court forever and am done apologizing for it. Here’s to inconsolable femmes screaming, “Someday you will ache like I ache!”

 Izzy: So your Love LP has been out for a little while now.  Have you had any favorite reactions to it?

Kira: Cat Jones, a writer for Noisey, told me that “Black Hole” is a total pop song and it made her rediscover her love for Paula Cole. A reviewer compared me to Jenny Hval, which was huge for me. It feels like I’m finally being described in a way that makes sense with my interior. In general, the writing seems to be more nuanced and less intent on defining us. That’s a relief. It seems we’re a slippery band that is carving the path to doing whatever we want. That was our goal.

Izzy: You’re in the middle of a tour with Marissa Nadler, who I’m also a big fan of.  How has that been so far?  Any particular highlights?  How is she as a tour mate?

Kira: Marissa is a very talented, very driven, very specific, very brilliant, very emotional woman. These are my favorite things. She’s bringing a bag of clothes for me from her closet on this next leg of tour since Keith has historically been annoyed at the size of my suitcase (and so now I’ve run out of clothes!)  When I cried after one of the shows she knew exactly what to say. There’s an understanding between crazed and wild women that just exists without needing to be cultivated.

Izzy: What can be expected of the live experience when you’re here later this week at Johnny Brenda’s?  Are there any particular things that your live show draws inspiration from?

Kira: I think there’s an intensity to the live performance that simply can’t be captured in the studio. I try to move my body in engaging ways, try to enter into some space that can’t be touched by people’s reaction. I’m determined to take dance classes once we get a long break. I want to incorporate the body even more into the live show, since our music often feels visceral somehow.

Izzy: I like your recent video for “Black Hole,” which reminds me of a lot of the best and most provocative videos from the ‘90s, the golden age of music videos.  Do you have any artists or art works that are especially inspirational to the visual elements of the band?

Kira: For the video I thought a lot about female love and queer love. I identify as bisexual/queer and finding voice for that is important to me, particularly given that I’m in a long-term heterosexual relationship and so my queerness can feel pretty invisible at times. I thought Perfume Genius’ video for “Hood” was brilliant. I wanted to explore different expressions of love, sensuality and blur the rigid lines that we’ve drawn. I’m drawn to intimacy right now in all forms, perhaps because in my real life I struggle with it.

I’m a big Cindy Sherman fan. Also Portland drag queen Pepper Pepper does such surprising things with femininity.

Izzy: Finally, how do you hope and plan to spend the remainder of 2016? Anything you’re especially excited about, or that’s especially present on your mind at the moment?

Kira: We’re going to Europe and we hope to do another US tour before the end of the year. Mostly we are very excited to write the new material that’s bouncing around in our heads. I keep recording these little snippets of melody on my phone, lyric and thematic ideas. I have ideas for photo shoots swirling around. I’m confused about whether I want to push my face further into the spectacle of the stage (but set my own rules) or never get out of bed again/never play another show. I’ll try to figure it out this year.

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During the day Izzy Cihak teaches transgression, subversion, and revolution at Temple University. At night he haunts Philthy's best venues to cover worthwhile acts for Philthy Mag. Morrissey is everything to him and, in their own heads, all of his friends see themselves as Zooey Deschanel.