To compliment the above mini-doc, director Roman Koval sat down with Gold Star protagonist Marlon Rabenreither.
Interview and photos by Roman Koval
Why did you get into music as opposed to another medium and how do you create within those constraints?
I was always drawn to music and I can’t imagine myself existing without that foundation and I didn’t feel that in fine art, in photography, in all of the other things that interested me, I never felt like they were keeping me up at night. Music kept me up at night.
It’s such a broad subject, but as a human being I think we were born to create. As a kid you draw, for no particular reason because it’s an urge inside of you, so there must be something in our nature that makes us want to express ourselves.
How do you approach creativity?
I don’t think it’s a decision and I don’t think we get to make these decisions. You find your own logic and your own way of working through your creativity. Music was really tangible, emotional and honest, and brought me to tears in the way that paintings never did – as much as I was enamoured by artists and their stories and their work. Fine art never brought me to my knees in the way that music did because music feels like the most direct, mainline way to feeling and that’s all I was looking for.
Obviously music does have that immense power to make a person empathise, whether it’s through a hymn or a love song, but there’s always that connective tissue in music that seems to stand out. How do you personally use that power to connect or empathise with the listener?
That’s the terrifying part. The second that you create anything you’re already fighting against the people that inspired you. How do you put yourself in conversation with the best songwriters, the best musicians? At the end of the day, everyone you look up to was just being honest and they remained true to their own voice. You can’t reach other people unless you can reach into yourself and channel those personal experiences. If you can do it for yourself with honesty, chances are that it will resonate with other people. The smallest, most intimate gesture will be the one that has the largest audience and reach. It took me a long time to understand that.
What’s your internal trigger? What’s the lead up to writing a song, a specific lyric, a melody?
Songs are interesting because each one in and of itself is an entirely new riddle, an entirely new problem to solve in the sense that though I’ve written hundreds of songs, I have to re-learn how to do it every single time, and if I don’t approach it like that, it gets repetitious, dishonest. The spark that drives each song is always going to be different, and I try to make my reaction to that unique. Each song is its own distinct mystery. Every great songwriter will admit that there’s no method to it, it’s a great fascinating fucking mystery.
As an artist, you’re constantly pummeled with ideas and sometimes they come at an inopportune time. Sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad. How do you differentiate and filter the little voice in your head?
I sing songs in my head constantly, and you hear a bar over and over again, it could be one lyric, one hook that’s just stuck in your head. Unresolved ideas are on a loop in my head constantly. The moment I can sit down at a piano or with a guitar, I can make sense of that. If I have an idea, it’s like a radio station that I’m tuned into, and it’s fucking skipping and I’m thinking about it all of the time.
Let’s talk about the birth of the song you played today. You mentioned it was your favourite one on the record and it’s obviously a very personal song. Walk me through the writing process—was it instantaneous, something you wrote in five minutes, or did you have to work through it and spend time working out the kinks?
It’s almost a cliché to say that a song was written on the spot, fully formed, and in many ways this song was written extremely quickly. On the other hand, it took me ten years to write that song. I moved to New York when I was 18 years old. I was an art school dropout and that song really is about living in Coney Island and getting high and falling asleep on the subways and waking up at the end of the line in Brooklyn just to take it back at four in the morning. The song isn’t very long, there aren’t a lot of words, but it probably took me ten years to figure out and come to terms with that experience and make sense of it. It’s interesting that something can be fully realised and fully written in twenty minutes, but it comes with the weight that you’ve carried for ten years.
I think what you’re talking about here is your inner core, the human spirit, your collective experience that allows you to take ten years and compress it into a two-something minute song. At the end of the day, it’s the ability to be honest with yourself that creates a connection with the listener, all specificity aside.
It’s irrelevant what train I was on, where I was going, what city it was in, it doesn’t matter that it was Coney Island, it doesn’t matter that it was a Mercedes. There’s already a humanity to us all that connects us. If you can channel something tangible and communicate that, it will reach other people. The specifics of that interaction change from artist to artist and song to song but if you can channel a feeling, it’s universal. As an artist it’s our job to be a good communicator, to be a conduit and that’s all we are. In many ways, that’s enough. It may seem like a small personal victory, but I think it’s bigger than that.