We are very happy to open 2016 with a PopCult Interview. Mark Wolfe has just released his first album, Rubáiyát, and it’s worth noting because Mark is not known locally as a musician. He is an artist, graphic designer and web developer– with his business, Mark Wolfe Design, he’s one of the most respected in the area, in fact–plus he’s the host of “The Real with Mark Wolfe” podcast (heard also on WTSQ), but until now, he’s kept his musical side private.
In the interest of full disclosure, I need to point out that Mark is a close friend, and contributor to PopCult, which is one of the main reasons that his first interview about Rubáiyát is appearing here. Even if I didn’t know Mark, this is an intriguing story.
It’s a fun twist, interviewing Mark just a few months after being the interviewee on his podcast. I hope you folks enjoy it and check out Mark’s music.
So let’s meet Mark and find out why Rubáiyát happened now, and what the future holds.
PopCult: After more than twenty years as a respected graphic designer and web developer, a lot of people were surprised to learn that you have a musical side. How long have you been playing and writing music?
Mark Wolfe: I have been writing and playing music on the guitar most of my life. I started at a very young age, about five years old. Music has always been an extremely important facet of my life and living. I have never had the confidence to play publicly, or expose my musical ability to the general public, until now.
MW: This has been a year of firsts in many ways, including some very interesting life events. Seeking a rekindling with the guitar, I started playing with Chuck Biel on a weekly basis. This rekindling solidified the idea of creating a concept album — my tone poem. Rubáiyát was inspired by both positive and negative life events and travels.
I have always aspired to be a professional musician and to create an album – this would be the ultimate and personal triumph. I am thankful that 2015 was a year of progress toward these life goals.
PC: Why did you choose this title?
MW: It resonated with me due to the fact that this album had specific overtones of middle eastern sounds, and the fact that the collection of poetry resembles that of the work I’ve comprised in this album. It also is Persian for “four elements” and this album is a collection of events of my life during the four seasons of 2015.
PC: You create most of the sounds on Rubáiyát. Did you want this to be an intensely personal statement?
MW: I actually only play acoustic guitar. Through different tunings on my guitar it may sound more lush and the open chords make it sound like multiple guitars; but it’s just me. These were all usually done in one take. My accompaniest Chuck Biel plays percussion keyboards and bass guitar.
Not only is this my first album, it’s also a personal record of a very eventful year! It’s a record of the good and bad in a tonal vein.
PC: What instruments do you play on Rubáiyát?
MW: Acoustic guitar. My trusty Guild Dreadnought.
PC: Who do you consider to be your main musical influences, and do you think they show through in your work?
MW: Probably the most telling influence to be noticed is Jimmy Page. He is my main influence tonality wise. I share his love of open tunings, exotic instruments and the love of middle eastern music. Most of my playing is on electric guitar. Tony Iommi is my lead influence there as well as the usual suspects.
PC: You created Rubáiyát under the watchful eye of producer, Chuck Biel. How long have you known Chuck, and what was it like working with him?
MW: Chuck was my guitar Professor back in college. Throughout the years we have kept in touch. I have always admired his abilities and his way of teaching. He’s been very influential on me. I recently took lessons with him again to refresh my interest and branch out into further styles. Obviously it worked; I finally did my first album.
PC: Rubáiyát is all instrumental, and you bill it as “a tone poem.” Do you feel you were able to convey your musical message without lyrics?
MW: The events of 2015, whether negative or positive, inspired me to a higher level of creativity, as expressed through this album. From the reaction of those I’ve talked to who have heard it, yes. personally I feel it captures my experiences in 2015 very well. It also seems to resonate with those who listen to it – of course in their own ways.
PC: Is there a chance that we will hear you sing in the future?
PC: Speaking of the future, what does it hold for Mark Wolfe, musically? Will you go on to collaborate with other musicians, or do you have another work like this in the back of your mind?
MW: I’m hoping to do another album in the near future. This one will be more blues influenced and possibly feature a band of sorts. Again it would be instrumental only. It depends on how the muse strikes me in the coming months. While on a trip to London in 2015, I became acquainted with a musician based in London, England – Richard Godly. Richard appeared on my podcast, The Real. He is a drummer for the band Currency of Corruption, he and I have talked extensively about collaborating on a project. He has booked space at a famous recording studio in Wales, Rockfield Studios, for us to record. I’m looking forward to this as part of the coming year.
PC: Finally, how does creating music compare to creating visual art? Many people will see your album as a major creative departure. Do you feel that way, or do you see it as an extension of what you already do?
MW: I feel that it is not a departure but an extension of a creative vein that has taken me through several mediums. I do painting, sketching, pastels, photography and scratchboard; art through a number of mediums. Music is merely one of those mediums. I’m not sure why I am the way I am, that is, a creative. But I’m enjoying the ride on which my innate being is taking me.
Thanks to Mark for providing us with the first PopCulteer of 2016. You can find Rubáiyát at CDBaby . I played a preview track from it on the RFC podcast a few months ago. It’s a pretty epic artistic statement.
Check PopCult for all our regular features as things settle down after all the holiday hoo-hah. Next week look for all the 2015 in review pieces that I was too lazy to write this week.