As Chris Stewart finishes the latest record for his somber synth-pop project Black Marble, he’s reflecting on how he came to be interested in crafting his own music.
With his third record in its final stages, he finds himself in a similar emotional space as he was at the beginning: making music that his friends would love. It spread from there infectiously, following a wave of artists producing synth-driven drone-focused pop like Cold Cave and the Soft Moon. Stewart’s project found it’s place in the midst of goth, post-punk, industrial and gloomy pop, amplified by a warm, lo-fi atmosphere that makes his work intimately personal.
After years of working as a visual artist, studying and visiting art shows regularly, he had realized something. “You’re more connected to the song that you listen to on your way to a gallery than you are to the art you’re there to see,” he says. “I want to make the thing that people have the most visceral kind of reaction to. That’s why I decided that I wanted to try to make music.”
Black Marble began as a project to make music for friends, evolving into what it is today slowly and meticulously. His previous releases illustrate this restrained and muted dynamic, the mixes sounding submerged in water or like his voice is melting through a shared wall with the neighbor’s apartment. “I’m always trying to make something that speaks to me personally,” Stewart said. “Maybe it’s not so completely unique, but it gets to sit in its own spot, which is cool. Different people get to enjoy it.”
Stewart admits that he would not have become a musician if it weren’t for the city of New York, though he’s careful not to suggest that the romanticized ideas of the place have influenced his music in any way. The masses of people, the shows, and the creative hustle and bustle inspired him to contribute. He made the move to LA after It’s Immaterial, Black Marble’s most recent record, to find a more habitable creative life. Now, he’s able to afford a roomy studio with a schedule that allows him to spend an entire day at work, something that he would not have been able to find in New York City.
The quality of this creative life afforded Stewart opportunities he’d been wanting, like the time to chase errant ideas. Instead of working in a linear fashion, he found himself entertaining songs that seemed out of context, making for a more dynamic body of work. “I know I’m not making sounds that no one has ever made before, but in a way it motivates me to write the best structured song that I possibly can because within any given form, that’s the way that you can stand out,” he said. “I’m in this constant state of trying to unlock something that’s going to allow me to be a prolific songwriter and write a thousand good songs.”
His previous releases illustrate this restrained and muted dynamic, the mixes sounding submerged in water or like his voice is melting through a shared wall with the neighbor’s apartment.
Stewart thinks of his new record as the ‘club’ Black Marble record, pushing the sound to meld with guitar and bouncier rhythms. Comparing it to both a Cleaners From Venus record and the ’80s German New Wave group D.A.F., he consciously wanted to make songs that his friends and fans could dance to. He’s a ponderer, glueing to the work at hand in an obsessive state, not for the perceived outcome, but because of the excitement inherent in discovering that a track will be moving. Supplementary to his diligent work ethic, he knows to constantly check the quality of his work by getting outside of himself.
“I’ll write an entire record completely sober, but if I don’t like it when I’m high, I need to keep working on it,” Stewart says. “You want to make sure that your fucked-up self still likes the record.”
The strange space that Black Marble occupies between genres manifests unique shows, like the upcoming gig with garage-pop darlings Snail Mail at the Fillmore on January 24. Stewart looks forward to playing at the historic venue and, as a fan of her work, was thrilled that vocalist and guitarist Lindsey Jordan had asked Black Marble to play. He’d spent much of the last tour listening to their debut record Lush while driving across the country. While their fans may come from places in terms of interest, Stewart feels a kinship with Jordan, as both are hardworking songwriters who build their records solo and who care deeply about craft.
“What’s important to me is when you can hear something about the person who wrote the music in the song. They picked those notes because of how it sounded to them,” he said.