Satellites Fall's Mark Charron Discusses the Band and the New EP -- Lines on the Road.
by George Dow
It was a clash of cultures when I met Mark Charron, guitarist and lead vocalist for Satellites Fall at Pedro’s in Billerica. We were two guys just getting off work at our day jobs selling software, in order to talk about our true passion—music.
It’s not often that our lives in corporate America intersect our musical lives. Oddly, this is not the story you might expect—two guys trudging through mindless day jobs pining for their big break; one becoming a rock n roll star, the other a feature writer for Rolling Stone Magazine. Nope, this story goes a little differently. “I love my job,” Mark beams across the cocktail table while Flamenco music blares in the background. “It’s challenging, satisfying work. I work with great people too. Not to mention the fact that I get paid well for the work I do.” My sentiments exactly, but not very rock n roll. “But don’t get me wrong,” Mark adds. “When the opportunity comes—to do the national tour, to play on the big stage, I’m there.”
Over a decidedly un-rock n roll dinner of Pierna de Baby (braised pork) and Buenos Tiempos (boneless beef short ribs), we get into the history of Satellites Fall. “Davey (Moore, guitar) was in a pretty successful Boston hardcore band in the nineties—Fall From Grace. I was trained as a classical pianist as a kid, but I didn’t like classical music back then. I wanted to be Billy Joel or Bruce Hornsby so I started learning more pop stuff. I joined a punk band in high school and taught myself to play guitar.”
“Davey and I have been playing together forever. We met in college. We were actually suite-mates. Davey hated me at first. I was a loud, obnoxious jock (I’m still loud and obnoxious). He just couldn’t stand me."
Charron continues, "I was walking by his door one day. He was just learning how to play guitar. Davey has this unique way of just making the guitar hum and he was doing this even when he was just learning. So I approached him and was like, Hey, you play guitar?’ And he was kind of taken aback that I was even talking to him. From there we developed this great friendship. We learned how to play together. We learned how to write music together. We used to record on this little crappy 4-track. We made a makeshift studio in my room. It was the funniest thing—we had a tee shirt on a hanger that we hung from the ceiling, in front of the microphone, as a pop guard. Oddly, recording on that 4-track made us better musicians. You have to play perfectly for that one take. It’s not like with Pro Tools where you can go in and fix just one note."
“We never really did anything with any of that (music)," states Charron. "We both graduated from college. Fast forward a couple of years and Davey calls me up. ‘I just listened to some of our old stuff,’ he said. ‘We… we had… we had some STUFF,’ he says to me. Now, the stuff wasn’t good. It was terrible. Trust me.
"But fast forward another couple of years and we start giving this a try. Now Davey buys an electric guitar and an amp and he can just make this thing sing. And I said then, ‘I have to be in a band with this guy.’ His guitar sound is really a cornerstone to our sound," says Charron.
Our discussion about Davey’s very specific guitar style leads to a more thorough examination of their debut EP, Lines On The Road. I mention the dense layers that are a key feature of the EP. “Yeah, it’s interesting, we’ve been learning how to record. And we really want to use technology—not as a crutch, but to support what we do. We insert a lot of strings and loops and things like that. It’s just a way of expressing ourselves in a way that we can’t with just one instrument. If you look at the way Radiohead does things—we want to borrow from influences like that.”
Since Lines On The Road has a poppier sound than most of their live performances, I wondered whether it’s an intentional direction that they’re moving in, or a function of the recording process itself. “As a band member, when you’re forced to listen to the same song over and over again it starts to lose some its sex appeal, but then you start to really understand the tone of the song," states Charron. "And what we really started disliking were some of the grittier tones that we were getting out of the guitar. We’ve switched away from that a little bit. The way this album started taking shape—we noticed that we were getting much better melodies when we had a lot of synths and layered sound in there."
“There’s a funny story about the song, ‘Perfect Weather’. It may be the first song that Davey and I ever wrote together. It sounded nothing like it does now. We were actually about to throw it out. We didn’t really like it. It was initially called ‘Western Expansion’. It was so tacky—a song by two kids, who had at that point never been to the west coast. But, somehow, we’d come up with something that sounded like something cowboys would sing," Charron muses. "So, in the studio, I sat down and tried to come up with something to save this stupid song that I didn’t even like. Suddenly the strings came in and it gave a whole new life to the song. We took out a whole load of guitar riffs. That’s one of the things we noticed in the recording process. We pulled back on a lot of things. Instead of adding more and more, a lot of the time it was, ‘What can we take away?’ It reminds me of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons when she’s trying to get Bart to listen to jazz. Bart’s going, ‘This is crap. What is this?’ and Lisa says, ‘Don’t listen to the notes he’s playing, listen to the notes he’s not playing.’ So that became kind of a joke we had amongst ourselves."
“With us it’s not the Mark show or the Davey show, or the Luke (Riskalla, drums) or Brian (Bardsley, rhythm guitar) show. It’s the Satellites Fall show. When it’s your turn to shine, it’s your time to shine, but it’s because the music calls for it. Not just because it’s your turn. That’s one of the things that we’ve tried to borrow from bands like Radiohead."
During the recording of Lines On The Road, Satellites Fall hired a new drummer. We talked a bit about the process of bringing someone new into the band. “One of the troubles we have when it comes to the drummer is that we lean on technology so much to help fill a room. We have some many layers to our music. We don’t want to become Arcade Fire—who we love very much—we just don’t want to have 30 people on stage with us. Luke is one of the first drummers we’ve found that can play to a click. When we play live we have lots of backing tracks playing that you just can’t reproduce with 4 guys on stage. But if we go off time, we’re just screwed. There are so many amazing drummers out there but it’s very hard to find one that can play live to a click and not make it sound mechanical. That’s something that he’s really great at."
With this level of meticulousness, I wonder aloud how they ever get to a point that they feel something is ready to be released. “Well it’s kind of like a painting. You can always paint one more blade of grass. You can always paint one more seagull. You can always add one more little happy cloud." Charron continues, "At some point, we feel like we have the bones, we have the blueprint. You always feel rushed though. We could have worked on this EP another 3 months. There was one song that we decided, ‘It’s just not ready.’ So that’s on a back burner.
“You can always tinker just a little more but we got to the point where we were very happy with 90 percent of it. At some point we just—this is not very rock n roll of us—we just set ourselves a deadline. I think we captured what we wanted to. It’s not perfect but I think any artist is going to tell you that.”
And that’s, I think, exactly what you get with Lines On The Road. Satellites Fall has released the blueprint for things to come. An exceptionally produced example of what happens when a group of serious and professional minded guys follow their hearts into the recording studio. Five tracks that sound a bit like a cage match between Radiohead, Coldplay and the Foo Fighters in which the quirkiness of Radiohead and the pop sensibilities of Coldplay come out on top.