Chicago – Marlon Rabenreither is a magical man of many talents. The Los Angeles painter and mixed media artist turned musician first drew attention to himself with his persona Johnny Ruby, the founding member of Sister Ruby Band. Now he’s taken on a new alias with his brilliant solo project. As Gold Star, Rabenreither seems to have come into his own with Dark Days (Starfish Records). The haunting Americana, filled with blues, country, and plenty of twang, showcases just how talented Rabenreither is.
Best New Bands talked with Rabenreither about Gold Star, his soon to be released debut Dark Days, and the mystery that is great art.
First of all, I must ask about your stage name. What brought about Gold Star?
Marlon Rabenreither: Well, I would’ve went by my own name, but my last name is a little hard to say. (laughs) Gold Star Studios was a studio in Hollywood that Phil Spector operated out of. Brian Wilson recorded there a lot. It was always something that was really fascinating to me because it was down the road from where I lived. All the coolest bands played there in the 60s and 70s.
How has the experience going solo been?
MR: It’s good. I dig it a lot.
Had you been thinking about going solo for a while? What brought it about?
MR: I had thought about it, and then I had the opportunity to open for Lucinda Williams. She wanted me to play acoustic. I had never really done that before, so that kind of almost birthed it. (laughs)
Your debut album Dark Days is amazing, from start to finish! It’s so well done! I’m curious as to what the writing process was like for you?
MR: The songs I wrote over the course of a couple years. Some of them are quite old, while some were written more recently. Really, it’s just a collection of songs that somehow never found a home in any of the other bands I was playing with. A lot I wrote when I was in school in London, for four years.
Your vocals on “Reckless” send chills down my spine. At first the lyrics led me to believe the song was about your previous drug use, but then it sounded like you were singing about a relationship. What inspired this song?
MR: It’s definitely more of what a relationship is: intimate. That’s a song I wrote in London, being homesick and thinking about somebody who was in Los Angeles that I hadn’t seen in years… That one was easy to record, with live vocals and the guitar track. It was really fun to do because of that crazy bit at the end. You just have to fall into that, you know? But yeah, it’s definitely about a relationship.
Parts of Dark Days reminded me of Beck’s Sea Change but then some songs, like “Dark Days” or “The Line,” reminded me more of Bob Dylan, and when watching the video for “Sadie,” you reminded me of a young Chris Isaac. Do you listen to any of these artists and are there any artists in particular who inspire you?
MR: All those guys are great artists. Chris Isaak has a voice that is ridiculous and just awesome! Beck is so great as a producer and so many things. His new record is great. He’s always doing interesting things. And Dylan, he’s definitely the bests songwriter to ever walk the earth! There are so many people who are inspiring. A new writer I think is great is Angel Olsen. I think she’s incredible.
Your songs hold a lot of sadness. Do you feel you’re a little glum or do you simply find happiness in melancholy?
MR: I think I’ve always appreciated and been hit the hardest by really sad music. I don’t think I’m incredibly depressed. (laughs) It’s just that what really moves me and what I never forget, tends to be the heavier stuff, and that’s what I wanted with my music.
I have a background in painting. Listening to your album reminded me of a goal that I’d always keep in mind when developing a painting: to stir enough emotion in a person to elicit a physical response, like say making them cry or smile. I read that you’re also a fine artist, so I couldn’t help but wonder if one, you create your music with similar intentions, and two, how being a visual artist impacts your lyrical art and sound?
MR: Those two are quite different, but I really like your quote. I think that’s the same feeling with a really good song. It’s almost like a magical thing, right? No one knows how to make a good song. No one has any idea. Same with a painting. It’s kind of mysterious. You can be very good and work at it your whole life, but it’s just a mystery, isn’t it?
Dark Days is definitely a magical thing. There’s no mystery there.
Photo Credit: Moni Haworth
After attending The School of the Art Institute in Chicago, Sarah went on to study education at Dominican University, earning a degree in history. When not teaching, writing, or taking in a show, she is most likely to be found with a camera to her eye or hanging out in a darkroom.
You can follow Sarah Hess on twitter at @Sarahhasanh and view her music photography on her website: smhimaging.com.