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Marf Loth: A Strange History Recalled From A Hospital Bed

I fell over the other day while taking part in an experimental short film an African drag queen named Eric was making. I was in Sévres at the time and was taken to nearby hospital in Boulogne-Billancourt. Laying in the back of an ambulance with one of the cameramen translating what was going on I was strapped down Hannibal Lecter-style with chords running through me like Tetsuo the Iron Man or an intricate mid-seventies electronic set-up by Keith Emerson all these thoughts were running through my head like memories travelling along the wire circuits.

Oh, and ambulance sirens make a different noise in France than they do in Australia did you know that?

Later I was placed in a hospital bed completely loaded on codeine, morphine and unable to move. It was then I thought that now seemed a good time as any to give a brief untold history of Marf Loth and then to never mention it again. If I was fully conscious I’d be smart enough not to write any of it down and I’d be more inclined to write something about how hospital meals here are at the standard of a five-star dinner at a restaurant in Sydney or Melbourne. To the well under 50 people who bought the albums maybe this will entertain you or ruin the illusion that might have existed.

The Marf Loth Loloply – Heaven Is Below The Waste (2006)

This was the first evolution of the band, started in grade eleven (age 16) with some high school friends in Townsville. We’d practice in Mitchell Kerley’s (drums) bedroom, and I’d record everything on a black Panasonic tape recorder. High achievers and music students Gareth Lloyd (saxophone) and Harshan Panchilingham (keys) and Anthony Hanratty (violin) joined in with the racket and I advised them to forget everything they learned in class because I couldn’t read, write or play music so there wasn’t much point trying to structure or organise.

It was all improvised once a week after school and heavily inspired by the likes of Captain Beefheart, Soft Machine, Free Jazz loons and Krautrock workouts. All our semi-conservative parents thought we were completely twisted, and recommended psychiatric treatment from the school guidance counselor when I proudly played back the tapes late one night on the home stereo. We appropriately called it spazz-jazz. After a year or more we put the cassette “Heaven Is Below The Waste” and released it on Artground Records, which was a label and soon to be shortly lived magazine that I dreamed up whilst busy failing class.

In typical cheeky fashion I once submitted one of the tracks to the local football team The Dairy Farmer’s Cowboys for a new anthem for part of a competition; it was a six minute looped duel-saxophone solo with me on bongos and recording the roaring motor on the back of my air-conditioner. They never replied, but I still firmly believe they could have got into the finals if they did select it. We played at the Talent Quest in high school and it didn’t go down very well. My friendship circle was subsequently halved with a hot butter knife from the hand of god.

Live at the Brewery
Live at The Brewery for Angela Hughes exhibition 2007

The Marf Loth Loloply – Under The Bedlocks (2008)

In the last year of school I started frequenting an art squat in the centre of Townsville called The Cot, it was a miracle the place existed and it more or less changed everything. Eventually I started putting on shows there with a street art gang of delightful thugs who were using the space for artworks, exhibitions and general madness. It was 2006-07 I think? I was getting fed up with weak attempts at uneducated improvisation and I was impressed and jealous of the songs my next-door neighbour Michael Galloway (The Broken Needles) was writing and sending me over MSN messenger so I tried to write some actual songs with lyrics. We recorded Under The Bedlocks at a guy named Dion’s house, he lived in Annandale, which is a suburb near the eerie Mt. Louisa (a friend crashed into a tree on that mountain once as it’s poorly lit and everyone in NQLD usually drives drunk). Dion came from a wealthy family, so we had an entire mansion to ourselves and recorded in the living room for about three days straight which in Townsville “humidity terms” which alters time actually feels like a very long, sweaty week.

Mitchell had left the band to pursue a life on an Internet forum called Gaming World, so it was me, Gareth, Anthony and Gareth’s brother Rohan (on drums). Adam Schneider (a Canadian who lived in the honestly titled suburb of Alligator Creek) played some trombone and Jessamine Pitt did some vocals. I always thought she looked a bit like Patti Smith on the front cover of Horses, I took her to the movies once at the Warrina Cineplex but nothing eventuated other than contributed vocal tracks. Under The Bedlocks is a strange record by teenagers with odd influences in a small town with no idea of what is popular or “happening” in current music elsewhere. Losers with no women to impress or bed so instead are locked under. We didn’t bother mastering because none of us knew what mastering was. We did however find out sometime later when we couldn’t hear half the instruments on the CD when played on the car stereo. The overall sound made up something of an art-rock slacker album with odd songs including one about the film “Begotten” by E. Elias Merhige, which I bought off Ebay for sixty dollars (this was back when I had money from working humiliating jobs) and the opening Can-inspired track, “Tago On The Moon” and the piano line from “Backwater” ripped off Before After Science on the track, “Ordinary Men” which also had a VU distorted violin outro solo.

We played at the James Cook University Bar to unimpressed spray-tanned North Queensland academics on a Thursday, and Palm Creek Folk Festival to washed-up hippies and druggie bogans, The Brewery on Flinders Street to after-work suits, Umbrella Arts Centre to the regional art appreciators and then for the See Hear Now Festival (a rare event in a place like Townsville, where I met fellow performers like Lawrence English and Jim Denley and also the organiser Michael Whitaker who ended up recording the next album “Blueprints For Chappaqua” at his home studio a few months later whilst drinking endless bottles of red wine and telling us about his recording of freight trains in the desert and the drops of water of leaves in the rainforest and the difficulties of rural marriage between two creative types.

See Hear Now Festival
See Hear Now Festival 2008

Marf Loth – Blueprints For Chappaqua (2008)

A man named Sam Goudie who played in a post-rock emo band (as was the popular genre at the time) Six Beautiful Devices started booking shows for us from time to time and I started playing guitar in no-wave garage blues band Joseph Liddy & The Skeleton Horse. At that time the music scene was really thriving, with lots of shows at The Mansfield Hotel (put on by Goudie and occasionally myself) which was a rotten old pokie bar with strippers on a Thursday. Rohin Jones of The Middle East was playing distorted blues-music then before The Middle East got popular and he had to pick up the acoustic guitar again. I remember one night we played in Cairns. He got on stage with hair beyond his neck, tight cut offs, a multi-colored vest with nothing but his bare-chest, jelly sandals and performed to a group of hard-living tradies drinking XXXX Bitter. He sung blues in falsetto with guitar feedback for half an hour and walked off to eat a kebab next to Gilligan’s Backpacker Hostel.

At the Mansfield in Townsville we played in the front room next to a cigarette machine playing this strange experimental pop music with violin and saxophone to gamblers, tradies, military men and other gritty types who didn’t know what to think. Their facial expressions were usually aggressive and you could see the veins sticking out of their necks, and you’ve got to remember this is the town where the people rallied outside of the local cinema when Brokeback Mountain was screening because it reflected poorly on the football team because it portrayed cowboys being gay. I was working at Franks Pizza Napoli as a dishwasher, Brumby’s Bakery, and Pet Sounds Secondhand Vinyl all at the same time so we could pay for the sessions that Michael Whiticker was recording. After a few sessions I soon realised it’s better to do things on your own, or to avoid paying for anything or to invest that much into what you do otherwise you’ll always be disappointed. A philosophy I’ve carried ever since! Each time you do something you learn something new, and for me that’s to give less of a shit and get on with it. Originally I ambitiously printed 500 CDs of Blueprints For Chappaqua (the title was inspired by the deleted Ornette Coleman soundtrack for the Conrad Rooks cult-beatnik film of the same name) and until now we sold 40 (at least half to family members). I never understood the quote from Eno, “When the first Velvet Underground record came out it only sold 30,000 copies”. I understand the part of them influencing those 30,000 people but 30,000 copies for a fairly obscure band at that time is mind-blowing even now!! It’s hard enough to sell under a hundred and it’s hard enough to get 300 plays on then popular myspace account.

The record is a little weird too, same line-up, higher production with a few additions but a little less fun. Joseph Ireland (aka Joseph Liddy) played some lap-steel and accordion and even some vocals, we’d make three NR solo records together five years later. A friend from the small music scene Cahill Kelly played bass, he was living on a boat down by the breakwater after his parents kicked him out of the house and played in bands The Cupboards and Gulliver. One time he dropped acid at a gig we were playing at The Cot and he thought the graffiti on the walls was coming to life. I was super conscious of the twenty dollars per hour it cost to record, so we rushed things a bit, and that way I learnt the charm of leaving mistakes in recordings. The overall album is a bit miserable and squeaky clean, but the artwork turned out pretty good. The day it came out we played our final show in Townsville at The Cot and the next day I moved to Sydney with nowhere to live, no friends and no plans for the future.

Final Townsville show, The Cot 2008 L-R Anthony Hanratty, Gareth Lloyd, Adam Schneider, Nathan Roche, Rohan Lloyd
Final Townsville show, The Cot 2008 L-R Anthony Hanratty,
Gareth Lloyd, Adam Schneider, Nathan Roche, Rohan Lloyd
Album Launch
Album launch, magazine launch, final show 2008

Marf Loth – Cigarettes In Paintbuckets (2009)

In the first week of Sydney I’d already by miracle tracked down some life-affirming music light-years ahead of anything in North Queensland. I distinctly remember being abandoned by Daisy Tulley (of Bridezilla and sometime T’ville resident) at some point in the night and outside the Hopetoun Hotel in Surry Hills after watching Circle Pit play with Naked On The Vague, Panel Of Judges and I think Love Of Diagrams? Or actually maybe it was Beaches? Nevertheless, I was talking to Nic Warnock and Angela Bermuda after the concert and told them how much I liked the band, and how it reminded me of The Rolling Stones, Chrome and Royal Trux all thrown into one, RT were a band I didn’t know anyone else had heard of. But it just turned out no one in FNQLD had. We sang “Map of the City” out the front swigging beer and a week later I moved in with Bed Wettin Bad Boys on Kirk Street in Ultimo and they took me to shows everywhere literally every single night and that way I got the literal “Map of the City”.

Seeing groups like Whores, Eddy Current, Dead Farmers, Naked On The Vague, Holy Balm, Pee Wee, and whoever else definitely had an immediate effect since I’d never heard of any of them before. I met Owen after some Straight Arrows gigs and Al Haddock was playing in Whores at the time. Eventually I threw some songs together at the Kirk Street house, got in contact with Owen and then recorded with him and Al. The product was Cigarettes In Paintbuckets, a very sloppy four-track affair with songs about moving, and god knows what else cause I still can’t hear or remember the lyrics. Not having to pay Owen anything was great considering I had just started my exciting career of unemployment. I also learnt that once you write songs you can do anything with them, have em slick and dandy or rough and crumbling around the loose edges. The Sydney scene at the time definitely taught me a lot about how you can do things and still get away with it and I also learnt another important factor and that was to record everything as drunk as possible, and be pleased and humored with the boozy results. Seeing things as a memento, and personal souvenir of the people you made it with rather than anything else.

Recording in Sydney

Recording on King Street, Newtown with Owen Penglis
Recording on King Street, Newtown with Owen Penglis

Marf Loth – Greetings From Wycliffe Well, NT (2009)

After the Cigarettes record I was secretly pleased that at least two websites had reviewed or mentioned the album and it was the first bit of media feedback I’d ever gotten back from recordings so I wanted to make another record straight away to strike while the iron was hot. We did the six track EP, Greetings From Wycliffe Well, NT but it didn’t turn out very good. There was an exception of a cool track where Owen did a roaring distorted guitar solo and had Madelaine Lucas of Devotional and daughter of Steve Lucas from X – Aspirations is one of my OZ favourite records ever, screaming like a B-Grade monster movie actress. Anyway, as usual it came out and I dropped twenty copies into Repressed Records. Owen called me up one day a few weeks later and said, “Hey, do you mind if I tape over the record we made the other week for this new Pee Wee record we’re just about to do” I said “Of course, tape over it” and we never spoke of it again.

Marf Loth – Word Documents Rival The Bird Doctrines (2010)

There’s something strange that you really start writing music to what you’re influenced by or listening to at the time. I feel like that’s not very authentic but it’s unavoidable, so with that I say this record is a dirty rotten trick! Listening to Townes Van Zandt, Bill Fay, Alexander “Skip” Spence or whatever, it’s hard not to write sad songs because of how good theirs are, even if they actually come from a real place of deep sorrow. I think the cover art was made before the record, a photo taken by my friend Michael of me smashing an acoustic guitar into a pine tree in a forest near Katoomba. This one is fairly depressing to listen to, but I was anything but! It was all a lie in terms of the songwriting! I spent every day at the beach having the time of my life and going to parties, gigs, exhibitions and so on. Jordan Ireland (Stolen Violin) more or less played EVERYTHING on it once I’d laid down the songs and basic guitar tracks. He did guitar, bass, drums and we got Holiday from Bridezilla to do some vocals.

I would try and speed up the process as quickly as possible to get back to the more enjoyable things in life. Jordan would be so drunk on red wine that he would fall asleep in the recordings that would sometimes go all through the night. When recording the guitar parts for “Dreams” he drained a bottle of wine, flipped it over and used it as a slide just as the song was about to start without having preplanned it. It sounds out of this world, especially for one-take like everything else. Later that night he broke a window climbing onto my roof in Newtown on South King Street and threw the bottle as far as he could onto the road, smashing instantly.

Once we finished the record and had our friend Mark Myers master the tracks up in Cairns I accidentally made it as a data disc so none of the CDs actually worked when you put them in the player. The whole thing was completely useless. I did a Townsville to Perth solo tour to support the record for a CD that didn’t even work, for shows that weren’t even booked. This was all chronicled in the 2010 novel, “A Study Of Solitude.” One day I went to Stanwell Tops on the south coast and threw all the boxes off a cliff and said I’d never press it again. Fairly dramatic I know, but I remember seeing them crash and explode on the rocks below and feeling a big relieved smile forming across my face.

NR/Jordan Ireland live at The Cot, Townsville 2010
NR/Jordan Ireland live at The Cot, Townsville 2010

Marf Loth – Settled Sunrise From A Sedated Sunset (2011)

William Barton, Australia’s finest didgeridoo player, is a family friend and was a regular drinking buddy and for a while at the Bar Cleveland before my liver nearly shrivelled to a prune. He let me use one of his Mbox computer recording devices. For Settled Sunrise From A Sedated Sunset I got my housemate Harry Goodman to play drums, my other housemate Lachlan Mitchell on bass and Jordan Ireland on guitar, Joseph Ireland on bass, Daisy Tulley (Low Lux, Bridezilla) and Millie Hall (Destiny 3000, Bridezilla) on violin and sax and Rohin Jones on tropical melodica. This could have been a pretty good record if only I didn’t record it. I wanted an Alex Chilton/Velvet Underground record on the beach rather than NYC or Memphis but it didn’t turn out like that – nothing ever does.

In saying this, it’s much more fun and enjoyable than any of the others I think, and tracks like “Oyster Farm” (a track that wouldn’t exist had I not heard the first Twerps, Dick Diver individual 7″/CD releases on Chapter when they came out) and “Machine Gun Fire” seemed like they could be performed live, so after two years of living in Sydney without having a band I started playing gigs again. After a Royal Headache in-store in Newtown Shogun somehow found out I was playing a gig, and he dragged a few of our friends who’d never seen me play before to The Lansdowne Hotel and it was a disaster. I used an acoustic guitar and no one looked at me the same way again. We all went out for dinner afterwards at Shakespeares in Strawberry Hills and just sat upstairs in silence. Everyone had lost their appetite. I’ve never used an acoustic guitar since then. The first official band show however was, I think at Lawrence also from Royal Headache’s girlfriend Leah’s birthday party in Putney. As for the record, well the Brothers Ireland did one of my favourite bass lines and guitar leads on “La Perouse” (named after the beach of course, I’ve never been able to shake those Kevin Ayers obsessions). Soon after we started playing at least every second week following a show at The Roxbury Hotel with Woollen Kits and The Bed Wettin’ Bad Boys, which really kicked things off for playing live. From then on it was more or less relentless and saying yes to everything.

Harry Goodman, Drummer patiently waiting to record in the room next door on King Street, Newtown 2010
Harry Goodman, Drummer patiently waiting to record in the room next door on King Street, Newtown 2010
Setting up drum kit and tracks for "SSFASS" home recording in the other room King Street, Newtown 2010
Setting up drum kit and tracks for “SSFASS” home recording in the other room King Street, Newtown 2010

Marf Loth – Second Band Friction (2011)

Housemates changed, so naturally the band did. Harry Goodman played drums on this one again, Daniel Grosz from Dead Farmers and Pee Wee played bass as he had just moved in. I recorded this one again, and Jordan played lead guitar. I went to the Helensburg to record the piano at my friend Christian Wright’s house but his cat kept jumping on the piano at the same time hitting the wrong keys. We left it all in. Me, Christian, Jordan and Rohin went to Melbourne to play Maggotfest and a few other shows, another time Rohin and I did a tour with some guys we had never met called Kang Gang and at that point we were completely alcoholic. They had hired a car, brought all the equipment and organised everything and we just hopped in. We arrived in Melbourne after ranting like maniacs for ten hours and proceeded to drink three goon sacks in a backyard in North Carlton before the show upstairs at the Gasometer. It was a nightmarish scene of tragi-comedy. We were both falling all over the place, mid-set Rohin got up off the drum kit to use the bathroom halfway through a song and then some random person just jumped on stage to sit on the drum stool and started smashing away. Then, another audience member picked up a guitar and suddenly we started playing songs with two people I’d never met before. Complete strangers. Rohin came back from the bathroom, grabbed the microphone and started singing a completely different tune and began rolling on the floor like a spin top. By that point everyone was standing at the back of the room or had left, when we finished I went up to talk to the headliners Cat Cat and they looked like they’d seen a ghost.

On the Second Band Friction record Angie Bermuda sung some vocals although she claims she didn’t remember doing it and still hasn’t heard it. By now we’d done shows and tours all over Sydney, several times to Melbourne, Newcastle, Canberra, Wollongong and I was sick of Marf Loth and Artground Records so we played our final show one Tuesday at The Flinders Hotel in Surry Hills. No one I knew was in the crowd because it was fashion week and the place was filled with fashion models. I do remember oddly enough, Scott Horscroft the famous producer coming up at the end of our set and saying, “I am Scott Horscroft from EMI and I demand you keep playing!” His eyes were rolling in the back of his head at the time so I didn’t take the compliment very seriously, so we packed up and drank the rest of the bar tab.

Three months later after the funeral, Fartpound Records was born from the ashes and me, Joseph Ireland and Mike Haydon made three Wentworth Avenue Breeze-Out records in a garage in Glebe.

Anyway, I’m about to leave the hospital now and the drugs are starting to wear off, what did I just write and why did you bother to read it? All these records are now non-existent, but if you really want one there’s four copies of each in my Kennard’s Storage locker near Moore Park in Sydney, PayPal me and I’ll give you the combination.

MARF LOTH (2006-2012) R.I.P

Nathan

Drunk Mums house show, Melbourne. L-R, Rohin Jones, NR, Jordan Ireland, Christian Wright final line-up 2012
Drunk Mums house show, Melbourne. L-R, Rohin Jones, NR, Jordan Ireland, Christian Wright
final line-up 2012

 

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