I had the pleasure of interviewing The King of Mars recently. During our email exchange vocalist John Bruner answered a bunch of questions on a range of topics, including his favorite album, his biggest influences and his thoughts about streaming music.
If you have not listened to this band, you really should check them out. They have a very unique sound; rock ‘n’ roll with a few dashes of jazzy brass instruments. You can check out my review of their latest EP Bleach and Aspirin, here. Otherwise, their music is on Spotify if you have yet to listen to them.
1). What are your biggest musical influences?
Personally, my two biggest influences for this band are Father John Misty because his brilliant songwriting and lyricism and Stevie Wonder for his vocal chops and his horn arrangements. Our horn section is an important part of this band and it can be difficult to find other bands who have such a prominent horn section. So when I need more inspiration, I always turn to Stevie.
2.) Do you listen to any band or genre that would surprise your fans if they found out?
Considering that we primarily make rock music, people seem to be surprised at how much rap and hip-hop I listen to. Being a white kid from the suburbs of Chicago, that wasn’t the music I grew up with. I started to listen to hip-hop when I got to high school. The first album I heard was Black Star by Mos Def and Talib Kweli. I loved those songs so much and pretty much got addicted from there. Currently I’ve been listening to Piñata by Freddie Gibbs and Madlib. There are subtle rap influences in our music, but you’d really have to be listening closely.
3.) What’s next for the band?
This year we plan on expanding our fan base more outside of Chicago. We just played in Muskegon, MI with our good friends in Melophobix. We have some more connections in Michigan so we’ll definitely be heading back there this year. We’ll also be working on getting some live footage of us at shows so we can add more content to YouTube page.
4.) How do you think streaming services like Spotify and Pandora have changed how bands release music? Has it made it easier or more difficult?
Streaming services have had some really strong positives and some really strong negatives. The biggest problem I’ve seen so far is that the only people making any substantial money off these services are the Top 40 artists that are already household names. Any other smaller artist shouldn’t expect to make much money off any of these services, which has made live shows all the more important. The biggest strength I’ve seen from Spotify is that it’s exposed a bunch of international listeners to our music. A couple years ago I would’ve never dreamed that someone in Italy or Australia would listen to my music, but now we have listeners all over the world. So Spotify has definitely helped with exposure, but in the long run, it’s not going to be a reliable income source for artists unless they start paying us fairly for our music.
5.) Do you have non-musical influences that show up in your music?
I’ve always loved reading books of all kinds. Right now I’m reading Consider the Lobster by David Foster Wallace and would highly recommend it if you’re looking for a new read. Literature has always influenced my lyrical writing. I’ve read a lot of poetry by Charles Bukowski and some of his poems have definitely been an inspiration source for a lot of my earlier lyrics.
6.) Can you describe your sound?
Our music is best described as a sonic baby between Radiohead and Red Hot Chili Peppers with a horn section added in. Our goal is to create music that showcases our musicianship and chops while also being competent songwriters. In today’s music, it seems like you can either be a talented musician or write catchy songs; we aim to do both.
7.) What are you listening to lately? Anything you would recommend?
Currently I’ve been listening to a lot of Sufjan Stevens. I always love listening to his music in the winter because it just seems to fit the mood really well. If you haven’t listen to him before, I’d definitely recommend checking out the album, Seven Swans.
8.) What made you decide to “get into” music and start a band?
When I was nine, I saw the movie, School of Rock. After seeing that, I knew I wanted to play guitar. My older brother had been playing guitar for a while and from there he started teaching me. I loved it immediately and started practicing all the time. I made my first band when I was ten years old and started writing songs when I was about 15. Once I started writing songs, I realized this is what I want to do for the rest of my life.
9.) How does your writing process work, do you all collaborate on the lyrics or is that job reserved for just one person?
I always write a chord progression or riff on my acoustic guitar at home and make the basic structure of the song. Then I add vocal melodies and lyrics. After I have a solid structure, I bring the song to band practice for the rest of the guys to fill in their own parts. After we have a groove going, I get a demo recording of the song and send it to Jason Deran, who writes our horn parts. From there the whole song is filled in and we continue to make small tweaks until we get to the studio. I’ve never collaborated on lyrics just because I’ve always worked more efficiently by myself, but I know a lot of other people that have written amazing lyrics with partners.
10.) If you had to pick just one, which album would be your favorite?
That’s a REALLY tough question, but off the top of my head I’ll say Radiohead’s Amnesiac. If you asked me on a different day, I’d probably have a different answer, but Radiohead will probably always be my all time favorite band and each of their albums are freakin’ masterpieces. The songs on Amnesiac flow seamlessly together and create this almost continuous song that’s beautiful, haunting and badass all at the same time.
11.) Are there any bands you would desperately love to tour with someday?
Referring to my answer to question number ten, I’d obviously love to tour with Radiohead someday. Meeting those guys and getting to see all their songs performed right in front of me would be insane. I’d also love to tour with Father John Misty. I think his songs are genius and every time I’ve seen him, he puts on one of the best stage shows. I could definitely learn a thing or two from his stage presence.
12.) What are your thoughts about bands releasing more singles, rather than following a traditional route and just releasing albums?
It’s getting harder and harder for bands to make money off releasing music so anyway they can cheat the system to be a little more monetarily successful is okay by me. Instead of releasing longer albums that have ten to fifteen songs on them, it makes more sense to release singles and EP’s to more efficiently promote them and rack up as many streams as possible. Mathematically, smaller artists are going to get more streams off singles than on long albums so you’ll probably continue to see artists go this route.