Today, I talk with Derek Coburn, a member of the L.A. based duo, Glow Marrow. Derek shares with us the origins of the band, an in-depth explanation of their writing process, and the challenges between recording an album and playing live.
(Derek Coburn and Darin Green, Glow Marrow)
Ryan Sprague (RS)
Derek Coburn (DC)
RS: What's the origin of the band name?
DC: There’s not really a literal meaning to our name, or a terribly interesting story. We primarily just didn’t want to have a single, plural word name, which seemed to be super popular when we were fermenting our first few bits of music as Glow Marrow. I think very few band names are really amazing on their own or have any kind of innate quality. As long as you don’t call yourselves Anal Cunt or something, you’ll probably be alright.
RS: How did the band form?
DC: We started playing together when we were maybe 16. This iteration of us formed really when all our drummer, and good friend, moved to San Diego and then New York for school. Right after that we moved from our home town Thousand Oaks to L.A.
RS: What instrument do you play in the band? Do you play any other instruments?
DC: Darin plays guitar and I do the other stuff and sort of take on the production role. Generally that includes vocals, synth, bass and drums/programming.
RS: What genre of music do you consider your work to be?
DC: Like a lot of people these days we are trying to write pop songs but keep them forward thinking I guess. I see it get referred to as indie-pop a lot, sometimes synthpop. Generally its something-pop
RS: What inspired you to make music together?
DC: Darin was great at guitar from a really early age so I basically always wanted to be in a band with him. I’m pretty sure he just wanted to be Slash really bad in high school and so probably thought there was no other choice than to try and be in a band. I think he asked me to play bass with him because everyone else he played with wasn’t very good and we shared a lot of common musical tastes.
RS: What bands have you toured with? Who were you favorites?
DC: We really haven’t toured very much. We’ve been concentrating on the writing/recording process and getting our live chops in LA. Our favorite band to play with is definitely Body Parts, though.
(Derek and Darin, Glow Marrow)
RS: What is your process of writing music? Lyrics first? Music first? Mixture of both?
DC: Generally Darin will have some guitar ideas he wrote on acoustic around the apartment and I’ll have him track it. I’ll spend a few nights messing around with it and writing on top of it, normally bass or keyboards to start. Often times I’ll really love parts of his guitar piece, but not be into other sections, so I’ll remove bits or rearrange the structure, or have him play everything and add ideas or shape what he’s playing a bit. We really spend a long time vetting this initial pass of music. Sometimes his nugget of an idea will get me on a roll where I build up a full song arrangement around it, but then his original piece wont exactly fit so we’ll remove it and he’ll take a fresh stab at writing. Once the song has taken some form, and there’s a loose structure, I’ll try writing vocals. This can take anywhere from three hours to three months, but I’ll just play the song on repeat and pace around singing ideas. If I’m lucky, a superfluous synth lead idea I had at some early point will be a good jumping off point for vocals, otherwise when ideas do start coming I’ll record them with scratch lyrics, or maybe spend no more than 5-10 minutes getting a few lines I like for this little portion of the song. Real lyrics are almost always done last, and the majority of the lyrical work is done by Darin. I’ll send him my scratch stuff and we’ll bounce ideas back and forth on what we might want the song to be about. Then he’ll sit in his room writing lyrics, while I sit in mine writing the rest of the music and kinda producing the track. I think there are advantages and disadvantages to this sort of process, but I think its working well with us. I’m excited to explore having more of the writing process in a live setting though, I think there’s a constant risk of losing immediacy or some character to the song with our process.
(Official Music Video of 'Bear Creek' by Glow Marrow)
RS: When you record an album, what is the process and what do you try to accomplish with each album?
DC: Our recording process is extremely mixed in with writing. We write and record everything in our apartment. Our very first demos were really just to force ourselves to make aesthetic choices as a band and at least loosely define what we wanted to do. For Braver Days, we had a deliberate goal of refining our song writing process and emphasizing vocals. I think early on we wanted stuff to be less dense than our previous songs, but that didn’t really work out. We worked on most of these songs with Eric Palmquist who co-produced and mixed a lot of this record. He really helped to hone these songs down and keep our meandering to a minimum.
RS: Has your music evolved since you first began playing music together? How so?
DC: Yeah definitely. I don’t think what we did in high school was technically music, but the earliest stages of stuff I thought was pretty cool from us was really influenced by bands like Yes and King Crimson. It was really rock oriented and we spent a lot of time writing difficult bass and guitar parts. Now the main focus is almost always vocals, and while we do try really hard to inject well thought out, technical stuff, especially on guitar, its hopefully more understated.
RS: What has been your biggest challenge as a band?
DC: I think the biggest challenge for us is representing what we do on the record in a live setting. I like how we’ve been playing shows, but I’d like to rely less on sequencing, and I end up singing, playing drums with one hand, and keys with another. Just this week we are starting to play with our friend which should really help to give us some interesting options live.
RS: What advice do you have for people who want to form their own bands?
DC: Unless you are David Bowie and were born with some divine artistic direction in this world, you are probably gonna go through a ton of phases of musical output, most of them horrible until you get something you like. Just don’t expect to be good for a while and keep writing songs.
RS: What's next for Glow Marrow?
DC: We have an EP coming out that will be released March 5th, called Braver Days. We plan to just push this release a lot, play as many live shows as possible and see what sort of position we can get in to record a full length. We have lots of new songs in the pipe and are starting to record them.
(Braver Days EP from Glow Marrow. Cover art by : Tara Helfer)