It has been a long time since we last caught up with Mark Wynn. Back then we offered his album top marks in a review that gushed at the artistry, playfulness and authenticity of a man entirely in service to his art. Two years on, we were keen to find out what Mark has been up to and what has changed?
“Has it really been two years?” He says, “well I’m not playing acoustic anymore. I’m doing a thing with a backing track now which is quite fun.”
Anyone who’s had the pleasure of seeing Mark Wynn’s more recent live shows can attest to the artistry on offer. Less a musical set, and more of a performance art event – each one unique in its own way. We wondered how hard it must be to pull all of the elements together that he uses now.
“Actually it’s not that hard,” he begins openly. “I don’t really do the videos. The backing track stuff is just stuff off albums. Essentially, what I’m doing now’s a piece of piss compared to what I used to.”
He shows are often confrontational and provocative, and certainly a big step away from the troubadour-esque performances from two years ago. It seems that a great deal has changed. Mark explains some of the reasoning for this shift in focus:
“It wasn’t a conscious turn. I got pissed off with playing acoustic gigs, and with being called an acoustic singer-songwriter. I can’t get on with people in bands, so I can’t be in a band. So essentially I wanted to make a massive racket without being in a band.”
2014 may be shooting past like a downhill peloton but Mark’s a man who seems unable to sit still. With five usable months left on the calendar, we were curious to know what was left on Wynn’s agenda for the year. “I’ve written a bunch of new songs that I’d like to record. I’m also writing more word-based things. I want to do a zine or gather them together.”
The idea of Mark producing a ‘zine is something that will excite anyone familiar with his lyrics and on stage rambles. His playful use of words and passionately antagonistic approach to the written word is something that never fails to provoke a reaction, be that surprise or offense. It’s often those who seem most disinterested in courting attention who have the most interesting things to say. Mark’s journey is a fascinating one, but we wondered how he saw his own development over the past few years.
“I’ve probably got more cantankerous, more cynical” he laughs. “You start off caring what people think, and then the further along you go into it you realise that’s a load of bollocks and just do your own thing.”
It seems as though Mark is keen to describe himself as an abrasive character and, given his self-professed reluctance to be in a band again [Mark is an ex-member of Hijack Oscar], we wondered how he saw the positives and negatives of being in a group. “Pitfalls of being in a band? You have personality clashes in bands, and that’s difficult. It costs a lot more money too and it’s harder to get everyone together to do a gig I’ve found. But you can make more of a racket in a group as well. I liked being 19 or 20 and being in a band. I really liked the camaraderie. You don’t really get that when you’re on your own.”
Despite being true to himself and not caring what others may think of him, or possibly in part because of just that, Mark has garnered a huge amount of respect, particularly locally.
“I don’t know if a lot of that is just how long you do something” Mark interjects with trademark humility. “If anyone would ever say that, it’s just due to perseverance. If you just don’t go away and keep trying to do it, eventually you’re going to find somebody who likes what you do. I just like writing songs. I just like doing it and if I don’t do it I get depressed. I just have to be doing something. If not I’d go mental.”
Mark’s work avails itself of a hugely diverse array of subject matter and styles, so we asked where he finds his inspiration for his cornucopia of disparate themes and topics.
“I just write about everything. On the bus I always end up writing, or just anywhere. I never sit down and write a song. I just sit down and write what’s happening. I have notebooks where I write all of this stuff, but I sit down and piece it all together like a collage. I think motivation wise – I always listen to something different. I’m a bit of a sponge like that. Whatever I’m listening to, when I write something it will sound a bit like that. If you’re only into rock and blues then you’ll sound like a rock and blues guy. I don’t deliberately try to sound disparate. I like writing and music and I like trying to piss people off so it meets in the middle.” He certainly does know how to get a reaction out of people, so we wondered if that was at the heart of his motivation.
“I think the way I do things now is that it’s a reaction against the way that I have done it” he grins. “You wonder how am I going to get heard? So you go down all these horrible little blind routes, and you don’t like yourself for doing that. I don’t want to pander. If people do like it because I seem like I don’t care then that’s fine. Obviously I do care but I only want to do what I want to do now. I won’t do anything I’m not comfortable with now. If I didn’t enjoy it I’d just stop. I’m half not enjoying it at the moment but that’s why I’m always changing it.”
As something of a local legend, though no doubt he’d hate that term, we wanted to know if there were any local bands that Mark had found a particular fondness for. “I really rate The Franceens. I think they’re a really class band. I really like Rat Catcher’s Mallet too. Oh and I tell you who I do like, I really like Dead Bird as well. It can be hard to get noticed locally but then it depends what you want to happen. If you want to write music and make something happen, then the way to get an audience is to just go and gig out of town.”
Thoughtfully, Mark then muses on what could be described as his philosophy of being an artist: “That’s the thing with doing music especially if you’re doing it to make a living. You’re your own boss so you don’t want that bureaucracy coming into that part of your life. From my experience, I did things for reasons of success rather than for reasons of happiness or for art. If you’re doing it for any reason other than the art then you’re going to be unhappy. The idea of success is exactly that, it’s about making something interesting.”
As a deep thinker it must be incredibly difficult to continue writing and performing for and to an audience full time without overthinking one’s way out of the enjoyment of the art. So we asked Mark what the biggest challenges he faces are.
“Just not getting bored of it. You do get bored of it, well I don’t get bored of writing. But you book a load of gigs and then you think ‘what’s the f*****g point’? I have to keep changing things. I get halfway through a song and then I just stop and start babbling because it’s not fresh, because I’ve played the song. Surely if you’re doing anything arty it would be the best thing in the world to have freedom to do what you want.”
They say everyone has one good book in them. Surely Mark Wynn has thousands, but we asked if he ever thought he might write a book. “I’m writing a lot at the moment but I’m not sure if I’ve got it in me or if writing a full book’s something even worth doing anymore. I was reading a Samuel Beckett book the other day and I was enjoying it but at the same time I was having to push myself through it, so eventually I just thought f**k it and put it down.”
Mark is a deep-thinking artist, and whether you call what he does music, or performance art, or spoken word, or something entirely of its own, it is refreshing to find a creator so determined to be true to themselves and their art. As someone who is as difficult to define as they are to dislike we left him with the final question: How would you like to be remembered?
“I think a bit of you likes to think you’d say ‘I don’t care’. But I don’t really know. I would rather not care and that way I’m being a guy that I’d like. I think we’d all just like to be remembered how your heroes are remembered. Essentially you’re just copying in that way.”