Quick note: This week’s post is by Brian Lambert!
To say that Marc Schuster is multitalented would be quite the understatement. I first met him online when he started reviewing tunes from my 52-week song challenge and then interviewed me on this blog. What came out of it was friendship and a collaboration in music production blossoming into a full-fledged band, The Star Crumbles. I thought for a change I’d flip the script on Marc and interview him and give his many readers and fans an opportunity to learn a bit about the hub of the wheel on which the #Tweetcore scene revolves.
Thanks for doing this, Marc.
Absolutely! I appreciate the opportunity.
Your productivity blows my mind and I have a hard time keeping up with all of the things you are able to do. I suppose to start, could you give the readers a rundown of all the collaborations and projects you’ve worked on in the last couple of years.
I’ve actually been trying to figure that out myself lately. Obviously there’s the Star Crumbles, and that’s led to some other fun collaborations, including the mockumentary we made with a bunch of our #Tweetcore friends, and then we’ve both been working with Mike Mosley in Jr. Moz Collective recently. My other big collaborative music project is with my friend Tim Simmons. We record instrumentals under the name Simmons and Schuster. And I also record a decent amount of music on my own as a solo artist. Outside of making music, I interview musicians and occasionally opine on musical topics on this blog, and I’ve been doing the weekly #Tweetcore Radio Hour on AMS Radio since November. Once in a while, I’ll work on a more ambitious writing project, like my Beach Boys book, Tired of California: The Beach Boys’ Holland Revisited, or the children’s book I wrote and illustrated last year, Frankie Lumlit’s Janky Drumkit. Then there are the one-off collaborations with various musicians where I’ll play drums or keyboards on a track.
The first music I listened to by you was, in my opinion, very experimental, Brian Eno-esque as well as the sounds you craft for the Star Crumbles music. In contrast your latest solo effort Factory Seconds is a pretty straight forward rock affair focused more on your lyricism. What inspired the decision for what might be described as a more stripped-down approach?
I was reading a book about Elvis Costello called Complicated Shadows by Graham Thomson when I started working on Factory Seconds. As is often the case, the book made me want to listen to the music I was reading about, and the music made me want to make similar music of my own. Specifically, Elvis Costello’s first album, My Aim Is True was a major touchstone for that project since it was recorded fairly quickly in a studio that didn’t have all the bells and whistles of other “big” studios at the time. That one, Get Happy!! and Blood and Chocolate were in pretty constant rotation when I was recording the album.
How do you get started with a song? Is it beats, a guitar part, lyrics? Does that approach change depending on if it’s a solo project versus a Star Crumbles Project?
I usually just fool around until something starts sounding cool to me. Right now, for example, I’m working with some beats that I recorded last week. I just sat at my drumkit and recorded seven different sessions in different tempos and styles. The sessions were all between five and seven minutes long, and when I was done, I started listening for parts that I could loop and splice together into rhythm tracks. I’m still in that stage now, but the plan is to start riffing over them on guitar, bass, and keyboards until I have something. That’s my usual process, though I’ve also just started singing over drum tracks to get started. That way I know the song will be in my vocal range when I start adding instruments. That’s actually how the chorus for “The Way We Walk” came to me. I was looping a drum track, and the first words that came out of my mouth were “We walk the way we walk, it’s the way we walk.” Not that it made a lot of sense, but I liked the way it sounded.
You play so many instruments well. What was your first instrument and what would you say is your favorite to play?
My first instrument was the song flute, which is kind of like a poor cousin of the recorder. That was when I was in third grade. Every Friday, an old nun would come into our classroom and teach us to read music and play songs like “Chiapanecas.” Then I started taking piano lessons in fourth grade and guitar lessons when I was in high school. The problem was that I never really practiced much, so I didn’t start getting decent until much later.
In terms of playing, they’re all fun, but if the goal is just to unwind and have fun, drums are my current go-to. In some ways, it’s the physicality of playing drums that I like. I mean, even getting to the kit involves climbing over a bunch of junk in a back room of my basement, so there’s the adventure element, too. And once I’m behind the kit, I’ve gone to all that trouble to get there, so I’d feel silly if I only played for a minute or two.
One of the aspects of your drumming that I love is the bounce your beats always seem to have. Who were some drummers that informed that approach?
Pete Thomas of Elvis Costello and the Attractions is a major influence. If you listen to his playing on “Tokyo Storm Warning,” you’ll hear some real bounce. I think he’s doing kind of a Motown groove on that one, so I guess I’m also influenced by Benny Benjamin and Pistol Allen. And Ringo Starr. Listen to “Love Me Do.” Loads of bounce on that one!
With your many musical creations, a weekly radio program and blog, you also teach full time and are married. It makes my head spin just trying to imagine how you get it all done. How do you keep track of and manage all the projects that you have going on at any given moment?
I’m pretty good about putting everything I need to do on my calendar – and also scheduling my day around activities that need to get done. I know I’m going to spend a good chunk of time on teaching every day, since it’s my job. After that, I have some room to play with other interests, but if, for example, I have an episode of the radio show that needs to get done, I’ll focus on that instead of doing something that has a softer or non-existent deadline like working on a song. Otherwise, I just play it by ear and work on whatever grabs my attention.
As the hub around which the #Tweetcore world revolves, what have you learned over the last year of being in the scene? How, if at all has it changed you approach to making music?
It’s funny, I don’t think of myself as the hub of #Tweetcore. If anything, I’m more of a node, which is related to one of the things I’ve learned from being part of the scene. The music industry is hierarchical in nature. There are top artists who make loads of money, and then there are what might be considered second-tier artists and so-on down the chain. And, of course, there are gatekeepers throughout the industry trying to sort out who’s who and who gets not only to have their music heard on influential playlists and radio stations but also just to be considered “real” musicians. But none of that has any bearing on music. If you’re making music, then you’re a real musician. I don’t care if you’re doing it by banging rocks together or switching your vacuum cleaner on and off. If you’re having fun with sound, then you’re making music. It doesn’t mean everyone’s going to love what you do, but that’s okay. Just have fun with it.
Because one of my favorite topics for us to discuss is mixing and mastering, what’s one of your favorite things about mixing at this moment in time?
I love the freedom to experiment. The fact that I can try different mixing techniques or play with things like EQ and compression without ever having to worry about paying for studio time – or even paying for equipment beyond my laptop and a set of speakers – is amazing. Plus, I can practice various techniques at my leisure or go back and try new approaches to mixing old songs, again without worrying about paying for studio time. Really, it’s all about the amount of time technology affords us if we use it in a constructive way. I can spend three hours scrolling through TikTok videos or I can spend three hours playing with attack and release times on a compressor. I’m not saying one is necessarily better than the other. I just know which one I’d rather do.
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