Pataphysics a.k.a. Pat Marks is a truly underrated hip hop treasure. The MC, multi-instrumentalist’s Tip Of The Spear record was one of my favourite local releases of last year when it came out in November. His ‘Soulful Guerilla Hip Hop’ is influenced by Miles Davis, Erykah Badu, Public Enemy, Mr Bungle and more. Playing major festivals to environmental protests and everything in between – Pat recently played trumpet for Solange at the Sydney Opera House – he’s also worked with countess artists including Rob Swift (X-ecutioners), S1 (Strange Fruit Project).
When he’s not making his own music he’s helping people make their own at R.I.S.E (Refugees, Survivors, and Ex-Detainees), running music, beat making, and poetry workshops, as well as providing recording & production for young refugee artists at his studio, The City of the 9 Gates.
What was your creative vision for your record, Tip Of The Spear?
PM: I definitely had a certain sound and mood for this record, a natural progression from Subversive. I wanted the music to embody a spirit of resistance and provide alternatives to the current narrative. I always want to make the best art I can, while creating something unique. I still like the idea of making music that sounds different, I always loved hearing different styles and personality in music. Conceptually imagine if a gray Jedi mystic came to earth and was radicalised by the insanity of modern day consumer capitalism.
Where did the album’s name come from?
PM: Tip of the spear, refers to the part of a military force that pierce the enemy’s line of defence. The first to breach enemy lines. A lot of the ideas that influence my thought/writing are from authors or theorists who may not be part of the mainstream or dominant view yet, but often their ideas will seep into broader accepted norms. A bunch of the concepts that influence me when I write, I don’t often hear articulated in local music. On this album, on some joints it’s the first time I’m exploring certain ideas and themes, which I haven’t done previously.
I know you spent a long time developing and crafting it, you wrote, recorded and mixed it yourself and pushed out of your comfort zone to explore different avenues and areas of writing; what was one of the greatest challenges for you bringing the record to fruition?
PM: A lot has happened between this release and the last. Especially in my personal life. Integration of these experiences into self, rather than compartmentalising them, helped shape the album to be a more developed work and something multidimensional. In life, political movements, art, etc.. people still deal with issues and very real human experiences like of love, depression, vulnerability, your mental outlook can really shape your perception of events. So releasing some of those songs was initially hard, but changed the more I sat with them.
Writing about these themes and presenting them took time. Sometimes creatively or as an artist it can feel like you’re expected to do a certain kind of art or create by a certain time frame in order to capitalize on the momentum of your previous release. For me gaining a deeper understanding and producing work of substance was always the priority. Death can also dramatically change your focus and ideas about things. Writing and creating took an extended precedent over releasing music and industry stuff.
What’s one of your favourite moments from the process?
PM: I really enjoy hanging and working with good peoples and friends. Working with Kaiit and Allysha Joy was real nice. Writing lyrics and melodies then having brilliant vocalists bring those melodies to life was amazing, they both have amazing good tone. Also recording the epilogue for the album with Aamer Rahman was super fun. Usually when we kick it we have long winded conversations about comics, film, music, politics, the scene, friends, hip hop, etc.. that can go in different directions, so epilogue was kinda just trying to catch one them moments.
How do you feel you’ve grown on this record?
PM: On this album I kinda shared more personal ideas about myself which I wouldn’t normally express in music. So that is something that has changed from the past. My ideas and opinions about the world have also developed and deepened which influenced the content and tone on many of the songs.
Also learnt heaps since the last album. A lot of the production on this album I feel I really follow my natural ear. Like “learned” were the music shifts, especially in the second verse. That’s the way I really like to write. It’s probably the Zappa/ Bungle/ Bartok influence.
I love how you’re all about hip hop with instrumentation; have you always done it this way?
PM: Kinda, I first started rapping in primary school, so often, I would rap to the beat in my head. In high school we started jammin’ in bands I was also making beats on the first fruity loops and would play trumpet on them. Around this time I started rapping on live instrumentation. So the two were always closely related and went hand in hand. I have made beats just using samplers and synths, but my favourite pallet often incorporates live instrumentation, samples and synths.
One of the biggest themes I find that runs through your music is positivity; where does this come from?
PM: [Laughs] Thanks not everyone always hears my music like that. I think it come from the idea that we can improve on things in our existence. Also comes from love. I think we have the power to change things. People have done it in the past. Once we understand how things work or are, we can begin to keep what we see as a collective good and dismantle what impacts us in a negative way. On some Jeet Kune Do tip.
The song “Today” from the new album seems like you’re carrying on the theme of positivity?
PM: I think it’s important to provide alternatives as well as critiques. These days everyone is stressed, depressed, fatigued or has anxiety. It says a lot about the way we live, what we seem to value as a society, as well as the expectations imposed on the individual. It would point to a problem with present social dynamics, which affects the individual. For a majority, neurosis may not be the fault of the individual, just a by-product of living in our current socio-political system. Maybe there is a broader issue. It can be easy to get lost or lose sight of what actually matters to your core. Today is about getting back to that. Essentially it’s a post-it note for myself.
What was the first song you wrote for TOTS? How did it start? What inspired it?
PM: I wrote a large amount of music for Tip Of The Spear. The earliest track I wrote that made the album was “Shake the Roots” and “Lest we forget”. For “Shake the Roots” I made the beat on the MPC while on tour in Adelaide and remember writing the horn lines in the hotel the day after a show before we caught a plane. The idea spawned from the idea of money being the motivating factor behind many of the political decisions made by governments, especially when it comes to destabilizing and toppling foreign regimes.
“Lest we forget” was something I began writing in 2013 spawned from the sentiments of celebrating and remembering only certain parts of our national identity and ignoring the parts we don’t want to deal with.
“Binary Star” is actually probably the oldest song idea. I was working on some of those lyrics from around 2010, but it never formed into a finished song until more recently. It’s about the death of love.
In an interview from almost a decade ago you mentioned that “At the moment I’m really into ideas about creation blending Astrophysics and Maya”… the artwork for the new record would suggest you’re still into these ideas? Who did the cover art? What was the idea behind it?
PM: In that interview I was suggesting that new systems of knowledge and information are finding links and parallels with older knowledge and belief systems. Truth is truth. But over time we/people fail to see that, or it gets lost. That’s an idea that influences my art and things I create. The animal on the cover is a “Kalu Diviyia” a rare black leopard from Sri Lanka. The spear in the ground and Temple are also from Sri Lanka, from a much older and different time. The spear is powerful and can pierce the enemy. The spear/ideas are bringing the animals to it. The Kalu Diviyia is the one who it’s resonating with. The colors and the alternate moon suggests a parallel dimension part of a multiverse, where these are a reality. The image was drawn by the super talented Jase Harper, who’s able to bring these ideas and images to life in the illustration.
You’ve been working on your instrumental project, Wolves In The Cellar; what can you tell us about it?
PM: That’s a super fun project for me. I write a lot of music and don’t write words or lyrics to the majority of it. Wolves in the cellar is a way of performing new music I write without people expecting the lyricism associated with Pataphysics recordings or live shows. Creatively it gives me a lot of freedom, because I can write a bunch of music on the day, take a bunch of my favorite beats and mash them in a live set. I can also create new parts on stage and improvise a lot more. I also get to work and jam with more artists than I do in Pataphysics live shows because of the arrangements. However now, Wolves in the Cellar is kinda getting called Pataphysics (Beat Set). So Wolves in the cellar might be the first instrumental Pataphysics album I release while working on the next album with lyrics.
You work R.I.S.E (Refugees, Survivors, and Ex-Detainees), you have run music, beat making, and poetry workshops, as well as providing recording & production for young artists; what’s one of the best things you’ve seen flourish from this work?
PM: People. The community is dope. The atmosphere is inspiring. R.I.S.E has some of the most hardworking and insightful people there. It’s a hub for people doing positive things in the community. Seeing people come in there and grow and go a do real positive things in their work and art is amazing. You can learn a lot just being part of conversations there and listening. Peace.
Come see Pat play in Brisbane on September 28th – he’s playing a fundraiser for W.A.R (Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance)… for details check Pat’s IG: @pataphysics
*Photos courtesy of Pat’s IG.