Life After Mars
Jacob Bunton has a confession to make. His band, Mars Electric, may be one of the most underrated modern rock bands around, but despite his contemporary leanings, Bunton is a child of the ’80s, and he’s not afraid to admit it.
“I am completely, 100% influenced by the ’80s bands,” he enthuses. “I picked up a guitar because of Headbanger’s Ball. Motley Crue meant everything to me when I was a kid and I still listen to all of those hard rock bands. I loved everything about them, from their image and lifestyle to the big rock shows they put on.”
Forming Mars Electric in Birmingham, Alabama in the mid-1990s has allowed Bunton to experience that rock n’roll lifestyle for himself. The band toured with everyone from Stone Temple Pilots to Bunton’s idols, the Crue. But the dream has not had the fairytale ending he may have expected.
After releasing the band’s debut album Beautiful Something on John Kalodner’s Columbia imprint Portrait, Bunton’s rock star dreams were shattered when the label dropped Mars Electric, along with a host of other bands including Neve and CC DeVille’s band, Samantha 7.
However, the band has recently returned to release its well-received second album, Fame Among The Vulgar on Atenzia Records and the lead singer and songwriter is grateful for the chance to still make music after a turbulent couple of years.
Bunton admits: “After our deal with Columbia ended we all walked away from this band. We pretty much broke up at the end of 2000, as we had been through so much by that point. We all felt like we should pursue other things.
However, salvation arrived in the form of Atenzia Record’s A&R supremo Magnus Soderkvist, who heard of Mars Electric’s plight and got in touch.
Bunton takes up the story: “He contacted me through email and said he was a fan and would love to hear the second record that we made. I sent him a copy and he asked if we wanted to do a deal. I talked to the other guys about it, and they all said, ‘Hell, yeah!'”
And Jacob and rest of the band are really happy with the end result of Mars Electric’s alliance with Atenzia.
“I love the way the album turned out and the reaction to it has been great, ” Jacob says. “It seems like everybody has a different favourite song on it and I feel like this album definitely has something for everyone.”
But Jacob admits that the band’s style has slightly changed in-between recording Beautiful Something and Fame Among The Vulgar.
“I think this album is a lot heavier than Beautiful Something,” he says. “Both albums reflect where the band was at the time. When we made Beautiful Something, my grandfather had just passed away and I was dealing with that. On the new record, we went into the studio with Joey Donatello and he had a lot of great ideas that really made the songs stand out. We just wanted to make a good rock record.”
And Mars Electric has certainly done that. Hooking up with Donatello paid dividends, giving Bunton’s songs a polished, yet still raw-sounding edge and allowing the band to develop their sound in a more aggressive way. Heavier songs like opener “Bemused” and tongue in cheek rocker “Did I Say Too Much” are different to anything the band has recorded before, but as Bunton says, it’s not a million miles away from the sound that convinced John Kalodner to sign the band in the first place.
“I think the new record compares to Beautiful Something when you get to the slower songs like “Descend” and “Don’t Say Goodbye”. To me, those songs pick up where the last album left off.”
He continues, “I really like the way “Descend”, “Don’t Say Goodbye”, and “Queen Of Suffering” turned out. “Descend” is just a straight-ahead love song that reminds me of the big arena rock ballads that I love so much. “Don’t Say Goodbye” is my favourite song structure wise. I love the way it builds. I also like the organ in that song as well and “Queen Of Suffering” is a favourite because it is a very personal song that I wrote about the first girlfriend I ever had. The song is about a conversation we had over dinner ten years after we broke up.”
The humorous slant of “Disco King” has also impressed fans of the band and possibly even eclipses “Someday” from Beautiful Something in the melody stakes.
Jacob elaborates: “That song was written about a bar in my home town, Birmingham, AL, called The Five Points Music Hall. Every Thursday night they would have disco nights and over 1,000 people would show up.
“I wrote this song about this guy I saw hitting on underage girls and being turned down by every one of them. I also saw him hitting on a girl that was openly a lesbian. That same guy was in there every time I went there.”
While real-life incidents have influenced Bunton’s songwriting, he admits the band’s experiences in the cut-throat music industry so far have also coloured the writing of the new album.
“Absolutely,” he says without hesitation. “Almost all the album reflects that. When you’re a kid playing in your garage, all you think about is playing music. You never really think about the business aspect of things. So, when you sign a deal, you don’t really know what to expect. Sometimes you sell a million records and become a superstar but more often you just get ignored and fade away.”
Mars Electric learned that harsh reality of the music business the hard way. The band was originally signed to Atlantic in 1997 through Collective Soul vocalist Ed Roland’s production company. They flew to Miami, and recorded an album at the legendary Criteria studios, but Atlantic dropped them after failing to commit on a release date. Then, John Kaldoner got hold of the demos, flew to Atlanta to see their live show and signed them on the spot.
Bunton could have been forgiven for thinking Mars Electric had finally hit the jackpot, but it was not to be. Again, label wrangles got in the way of the music.
Bunton continues: “I believe the timing was all wrong with that album. We were all expecting a lot more, but unfortunately, everything that was on the radio was bands like Limp Bizkit and Korn and really heavy bands.
“So, needless to say, we didn’t fit in the format of the radio stations. John Kalodner really believed in us, but no one could persuade the label to back us in that musical climate. The song that John thought was our big hit song was “Another Day On Top Of The World” and they never released it as a single.
“It’s weird how the music industry works. They can be so excited about a song on your record, and have all kinds of big ideas for you but then never follow through because something else comes along and they get distracted. The attention span of the industry isn’t very big. We got signed to Atlantic because of the song “All The Things”. Of course nothing ever came out of that deal either.”
But the band, and Bunton in particular, remain proud of attracting the support of John Kalodner, the name behind some of the biggest rock bands in the music business.
“John was great,” Bunton enthuses. “He is a legend in the music business, he signed everyone from AC/DC to Aerosmith, and when he told us that we would be right up there with the rest of them, we were blown away. It was an honour to be signed by him. He has a great track record, is a visionary and knows exactly what he wants to hear and he is brutally honest. But in the end it only makes the songs better. It is definitely an experience I will never forget.”
And with the release of Fame Among The Vulgar, Bunton is only looking forward, not back. He hopes Mars Electric can play a few dates in the US and Europe if the album does well, and he has also formed a band called Lynam (http://www.lynamsucks.com), who now tour regularly around the south eastern US, have already released two albums and will have a song called “The Party Starts Now” in a forthcoming movie called Mission Without Permission.
The band has a punkier approach than Mars Electric, but Bunton is revelling in the fact that he is still involved with music even after all he has gone through.
“The whole meaning behind Beautiful Something was that everyone is looking for meaning and fulfillment in life,” he says philosophically. “Sometimes life throws you some curve balls, but it’s up to all of us to pick up the pieces and make something beautiful out of it.
And Bunton has one final confession to make.
“Right now, I’m listening to 80’s bands as well as a lot of bluegrass stuff. Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder Live at the Charleston Music Hall is in my car stereo at the moment. I absolutely love bluegrass now. But, wherever I am, you can always find a copy of Appetite For Destruction laying around. That is my favourite album of all time!”