On the Rise: Mark Etherington

I have listened to Mark Etherington create lush, psychedelic music for several years around Tampa Bay as a member of several different bands. I’d never had a chance to really talk to him much until one steamy summer night when he agreed to meet with me at a local brewery.

I’ve been a fan of his unique style of music for quite a while. I wasn’t exactly sure how to approach an interview with a guy who is constantly on the move playing multiple roles in multiple bands and playing multiple instruments so I took a different approach – I put the questions into a hat and let him pick them out as we went along. I used a mixture of cliché band questions, ‘Would You Rather’ questions as well as my own questions based on what I knew of him, and I put them all onto slips of paper and put them in a hat. Whenever either one of us wanted, we could grab a question from the hat.

What follows is my recounting of our hour and a half or so of drinking beer while sitting at a picnic table outside Cage Brewing one weeknight talking and listening to the gathering summer storms.

I immediately learned Mark does not in fact play with just three different bands but has now added a fourth band to his schedule: Mountain Holler (his solo project), Redfeather (his band where he plays guitar, keyboards and vocals), Set & Setting, in which he plays drums, and now Loose Talk, where he is also the drummer. Where much of Mark’s music with his bands is more technical, progressive jam, Loose Talk is more straight rock & roll. Mark had his first show with them on August 27 for Vibes Of The Bay. Set & Setting will play again locally in November for Destroyer Fest at State Theater.

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When I asked about all the different bands and different sounds, the conversation quickly turned to Brian Wilson and his Pet Sounds project. Mark’s current dream would be to have an unlimited amount of time with a studio and instruments in order to create his version of a pet studio project.  This dovetailed into learning that Mark does not just play drums and guitar. He also plays keys, banjo, mandolin and flute. He even hopes to learn sitar one day. Clearly this is a man who just loves sound.

Hat question: What are you most excited about right now?

“I just got a new guitar – a late ’70s Alvarez acoustic. It’s the first guitar I’ve bought since I was 18 and the first steel string that I can really use in different tunings.”

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Mark’s first instrument was a drum kit he got when he was ten, and he started on guitar when he was 12. His first band was a punk band called Nothing Worth Using.  Other bands have come and gone the way they always do. Eventually he found himself with a stable of songs that he was performing solo as Mountain Holler, but he was yearning for more. RedFeather grew out of those Mountain Holler songs that he wanted to flesh out more. Now though, the band has evolved into its own entity with all the members contributing. However, when I asked if RedFeather was still playing music based on his own personal creations, he so nicely put it as “If my finger is in the water, it’s going to have my design.”

RedFeather’s latest release is a five-track EP titled Moon. Track 2 is a great song called “City Dwellers.” Mark used that as an example of the collaboration of the band – their bass player came up with the primary riff used as the backbeat of the song, but Mark created the lyrics after hearing it. Many of the tracks on the EP including “City Dwellers” have a recurring theme of getting away from things – city life, people, technology, etc.

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Hat Question: What genre do you consider yourself?

Mark responded that he jokingly refers to RedFeather as “post grunge,” though on Facebook he has it listed as Psych Folk Rock. For Mountain Holler he says he uses the terms Earth Folk or Freak Folk and, almost jokingly, Spirit-Ritual music as well as cult. At this point he mentioned his favorite group is a now-defunct band called Bright Black Morning Light which he found because they were listed on Apple Music as ‘cult.’ Set & Setting he describes as Atmospheric Post Metal.

Hat Question: Would you rather change gender every time you sneeze or not be able to tell the difference between a muffin and a baby?

“Oh, I’d rather change gender when I sneeze! That would be awesome! It might be scary, or it might be the best sneeze of all time. Besides, I might eat a baby, and I would feel bad. That’d be great. When you’d be sick you’d just be confused all the time.”

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This led to the revelation that Mark really enjoys being forcibly uncomfortable. Mark mentions how much he hates being taken care of, even to the point of not being comfortable having waiters serve him in restaurants. Great quote: “When everything is in front of you, and you’re being taken care of, that creates laziness. Creativity can’t be laziness. I wrote my favorite songs when I was living in a one-bedroom apartment with no electricity and eating old peanut butter and scraps. I was writing the BEST music then. You have to break down your accessibility to the world in order to describe how you feel about it.”

We spent some time talking about music festivals vs. venue gigs, having read that Mark prefers playing festivals. He mentions how festivals have their own environment where people are more willing to go experience new music and immerse themselves in the music. This was brilliant: “I would love to play to those people standing in the mud, wearing the shirt from two days ago, covered in dirt and coming down off a hangover but trying to fight that because they just want to see music. It’s so much more of a unique experience. The type of vanities that come from living in a Babylonian society are wiped away. It doesn’t matter how dirty you are or if you smell. It’s just so much about the music.”

Hat question: Would you rather be able to speak any language fluently or be able to speak to animals?

“Speak any language fluently because in my mind it’s harder to talk to humans than it is to animals. Animals are really based off of true intentional body movements and are honest. Plus I can’t fucking speak French!”

I asked Mark if he’s had any goosebump moments – either playing music, listening to music, live, recorded, whatever. Just one of those moments when the music gets you, and you get covered in goosebumps. He told me a story about playing a gig, and when they were done and were breaking down a song came on the house PA, and he just froze and felt that wave of Goosebumps. He Shazam’d the song, and it was a song by Dylan LeBlanc called “Cautionary Tale.” He had to stop and just sit and listen to the whole song. Another time was at Bonnaroo last year seeing Robert Plant doing “Going To California.”

I asked Mark what he does best musically and what he’s doing to cultivate that. He believes what he does best in the musical realm is genuinely attempting to translate his own existence purely through music, being very genuine to himself and letting anything and everything that he does be a real, genuine part of himself. That extends to everything he does. He doesn’t write a song that he doesn’t 100% resemble himself.

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