Beside the “you’re just standing there, might as well dance” DJ-power they hold, these are just some real nice guys who have super interesting history. They easily snag your comfort through music you grew up with (the more non-mainstream the better), then reel you in with the beat that creates something inside. Finally you’re caught, and find you can’t help but bust out moves you once only reserved for the comfort of your 12 year old bedroom while lip-syncing into the brush used to feather your bangs.
A conversation with DJ Mark Gertz of True Mother Records at Cerise Rooftop at The Virgin Hotel Chicago
Elizabeth Lauer, Editor and Senior Contributing Writer/Interviewer/Reviewer/Photographer for Chicago Music Magazine
Elizabeth Lauer: You have a new album?
Mark Gertz: Yes, True Mother Records does. It’s a remix album for Jaded Lover which is Matt’s [Matt Wells] band the Label Head of True Mother Records. I’m doing PR for it. We actually landed another band we played with at Metro, The Faints, who will remix. We are then going to do a remix for their two new songs. They kicked off their tour with Gang of Four in Minneapolis and the entire tour is sold out.
Liz: How do you like Minneapolis?
Mark: I’ve been there twice. I played it on Saturday both times and it was awesome. It’s fun; but not in the winter.
Liz: What is your background? How did you get into music?
Mark: I am the youngest of four by far…
Liz: me too…
Mark: …really? I am the youngest of four by a wide margin…by ten years. My sister was my music guru. When I was seven or eight years old I would steal her Pet Shop Boys tapes and Naked Raygun tapes. She had all the 80s new wave stuff. Kind of resonates now into the stuff we make and we play.
Liz: Very cool! I like it!
Mark: Thank you! I’ve been DJing for almost twenty years now. I started with vinyl and turntables. I use CDs and I don’t do the computer thing. I mean it’s practical, but there isn’t as much interaction. Playing actual turntables, and the CD players that we are using, which are exactly like turntables, is almost like being in a band. You are actually interacting with the music and not just pressing buttons…
Liz: …you are actually flying the plane and you are not on auto pilot…
Mark: …exactly. The past ten years have seen many DJs in their bedroom learning how to DJ with iTunes and twenty minutes of practice. It’s a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s not that far off. You don’t even need turntables anymore, you can just bring a laptop plug it into a mixer and more or less use iTunes and it will automatically mix things. Many people just fake it…
Liz: …it takes it away from the context…
Mark: …it does. I don’t want to say the mass majority of people don’t know what goes into the production of music or actually DJing, but unless they are watching someone actually play or are a musician themselves, they typically don’t get that it’s much different. I’m explaining it step by step and in detail.
Liz: I like it that you think and feel that way though. It’s a lot like the death of the studio. They are disappearing and a lot of the context is gone.
Mark: Thank you! Yes! On one hand it’s evolution, you embrace it or you become irrelevant. There is a balance. I love, love, love Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails and all the other stuff he does. Have you seen Dave Grohl’s movie? It’s about a recording studio in the Valley just outside of LA – it’s called “Sound City“. Everyone from Tom Petty to Foreigner recorded there. “Nevermind” by Nirvana was recorded there. Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails recorded their last couple of albums there. Dave Grohl pulls all of these musicians together and at the end there is a jam session. Trent Reznor, Rick Springfield, and Paul McCartney are there and they are all having a big discussion about music and what production has turned into and what it was. Are you familiar with Pro Tools?
Mark: It enabled rock musicians in the same way Serato and computers enable DJs to sit in their bedroom and make an album. Trent was pointing out that he uses it, but dissects it, and takes it apart and sees what he can do with it that is cutting edge, pushing things forward and not using it as a means to cheat. It’s hard to wrap your head around and describe. I still got to watch the movie ten times. He is a composer. He is amazing musically!
Liz: Yes, Nine Inch Nails!
Mark: He does everything. The rest of the people in the band are simply just hired hands. They are all great musicians. My ex-roommate is the guitar player. Trent writes everything. He’s a whip cracker! It’s his music. I can blab forever about it. It’s nice talking to other people in the music industry who actually understand it. Matt and I sit in his apartment, or our music studio together, and spend hours discussing music nerd stuff.
Liz: It’s very involved. There are so many facets…
Mark: yes, you could spend a day on one chord. What do we do with this? How many ways can we make it sound? We are a good balance because I’ll spend literally six months making one song and he’s like ok, we’ve got to move along here.
Liz: I really don’t know how one artist could finalize the song and be like, ok that’s it, we’re good, we got it.
Mark: It’s personality. I have ADD really bad. It works on one hand, and on the other hand, I’ll go off in way to many directions if I don’t have somebody else working with me that’s more disciplined. Let’s stick with a theme…
Liz: …organized, has a goal, a timeline. You almost need all of that. I see that.
Mark: exactly. We’re a good balance. We keep each other in check for the most part.
Liz: That is interesting, when you have two DJs working together you would think you’d have to be conscious of space and sound and you have to communicate on the go…
Mark: Yes. Prior to working with Matt, I had a group called Dark Wave Disco and there were three of us and it was like this but with three of us, two laptops, and four turntables. We played at Lollapalooza. We played at Coachella. We used to tour. It was a bigger thing probably seven years ago at its peak. We were touring mostly all over the US and then did Mexico City at Halloween. We played in Iceland which was crazy awesome. We all then kind of went off in our own directions. At one point, we were asking, why aren’t you guys rich and famous?
Liz: It’s all about the experience…right? [chuckling]
Mark: [chuckling] Yes. The music industry is feast or famine. We played with The Faints and Gang of Four at Metro. On a dare, I dove off the stage and they caught me, thankfully. I was wearing the album that we are about to do the release for the band, the Jaded Lovers shirt, and was like, I have a great promo idea! I’m going to dive off the stage and lay on my back crowd surfing. Get a picture of me laying on the crowd with the Jaded Lover logo. We actually got it from the balcony.
Mark: I’m fortunate I’m not spending the weekend in Stroger Hospital with a broken arm. [laughing]
Liz: [more laughing] You do not want to go to Cook County, I’ll promise you that…
Mark: Jail? No, I’m just kidding! [more laughing]
Liz: [more laughing]
Mark: not that I’ve ever been there! [heavy laughter]
Liz: Well, thank you.
Mark: You’re welcome!