(A word in your shell-like ... Marveline)
PETER MARLEY IS MARVELINE. It’s a band, but it’s him. All of it. It’s him alone, which is weird as he’s never really alone.
At any one time Marley is likely be found in two or three bands – country rock, funk, cabaret, classic guitar pop, indie rock. It’s been that way for decades. Most of that time he has been a “member of”, sometimes founder and cowriter (as in his longtime pop band with John Encarnacao, The Nature Strip who have their own album due any day), occasionally a hired gun, but pretty much a bass player for all seasons.
So Marveline’s solitariness is out of the norm. Why give up the relative freedom of being the band member who could leave some of the decisions to others, who could step out and away, to be the singer/songwriter/producer/manager/film clip maker/animator/artist/decision-maker?
“Initially it just came out of having songs that didn’t suit The Nature Strip and I had built up a bank of that stuff and I really wanted to get it out,” Marley says. “I didn’t want to be just another band; I wanted to be like a one-man circus in some ways, which it kind of is. If you were a first-time visitor to Marveline, wherever it is, sonically or visually – not so much a gig, which is why I’m not gigging so much at the moment – I wanted to be like a Big Top and there are performing lions over here, and there are acrobats over here, and there’s a tiger up over here.
“It’s a long winded way of saying the kind of stuff I wanted to do wasn’t just rock and pop songs, in the old-fashioned guitar way.”
On the first Marveline album, Savoury Toothed Tiger (see above reference to the musical circus – clearly, he meant it!), released two years ago, and subsequent recordings, along with a strong bent to darn attractive pop songs, Marley’s done instrumentals, potential TV themes, electronic routes, as well as ‘60s-influenced and 2000s-influenced moves. He’s as likely to refer to Wet Leg as he is to David Bowie. He’s also as likely to be making the filmclips as making the songs, a late-in-life conversion to animation helping that along.
“I love doing that: it’s great,” he says. “I’d love to get into more animation and different kinds of animation, but that’s really time-consuming.”
Sure, but it’s fun though. “Unless you’re dragging your partner in with ‘can you hold this giant hairdryer for me while I dance around it and film myself? Or can you film me walking through the forest like 20 times in a row?’.”
Switching metaphors, maybe he’s like the classic (as in imagined rather than real life) Liberal Party: a broad church where everybody and everything can fit under the tent.
“Ah … yeah … let’s use a different metaphor,” says Marley, mixing some existential horror with his laughter even after a federal election result he had been pining for for several years.
“But I don’t get bored. I love rock music, I like pop music, I love funk and soul and Motown and all the bits in between and around the edges. I like people who explore other things. I mean, you do get bored in a way if you’re churning out the same things but I can go down to my studio with some song and think I want this to be totally synth-pop or something, and I can do that.”
Pause. Smile. “Within my synthpop limits.”
Maybe the inspiration is only part musical or filmic. Maybe it’s a real life example of how not to be that’s still driving him.
“I worked with a guy decades ago, in my office job, and every day he would go out for lunch and he’d have hamburger and a coke and chips. That’s what he had, every single day. Every day, five days a week,” says Marley, evidently still marked by this encounter. “We got talking about music one time and he said, as he pulled a Winfield Blue out of his mouth, ‘yeah I’ve only got one record’. I said, what? You don’t like music?
"... ‘Yeah, I love music. It’s a Billy Connolly record.’ Why have you just got a Billy Connolly record? And bear in mind, this was the days of just vinyl. ‘There’s just so much out there, it does my head in: I can’t choose, I can’t face it.’
“Imagine if he was alive now and looking at Spotify? He’d have a heart attack.”
Here’s the thing though as we contemplate a second Marveline album by the end of this year possibly, it helps if you're going to be eclectic to have enough years behind you to know what it is you are at your core, to know what feels like you, truthfully.
“I guess I can only do what I can only do but I see me in all of them I guess. It doesn’t matter because I can write it myself, and record myself and mix it myself and even master it myself now, and [he laughs] I’m not a household name.
“But when I get down to it, most things start on acoustic guitar for me. I’d like to break out of that more, but that’s the way it is at the moment, and I can’t go further unless there’s a certain appeal at that stage for nearly everything. If I can’t find what I’m trying to express that that initial stage, it won’t go much further.”
What’s the downside to having everything in your hands? Or at least, what is one thing he needs to be conscious of whenever he works as Marveline?
“I try not to re-do things the same way,” says Marley. “For example, if I find a great sound that I’ve liked I couldn’t tell you how I did that particular thing, and I make no attempt to remember or note it down. I think I got that from Brian Eno: just go in and start again, don’t rely on tropes you have previously used.”
Even if he can’t or won’t remember, it might just be that whatever else, Marveline songs sound like Marley is excited by what he’s doing.
“It’s one of the most fun things you can do, in my opinion. Just stepping down into my magic happy place down there [in the home studio] down the end of the backyard and opening that door, and everything is there, it’s like a different dimension,” he says. “That feeling of you never know what’s going to happen, what’s gonna come out the other end, regardless of what you’re starting with.”
If that sounds unreasonably chipper, it’s worth remembering that music maker, filmmaker, not-a-burger-and-chips-every-day maker, there is one thing Marley hasn’t yet got in his back pocket: playing the drums. Call yourself a one-man-band?
“You gotta work with your limitations,” he chuckles. “Right?”
LISTEN: The latest Marveline work in progress, Important Things.