With the evolution of YouTube, Facebook fan pages, and autotune, it seems like anyone can become a recording artist these days, but it's hard to do it right. 22-year-old singer/songwriter Kevin Marble took the production of his debut album seriously, and it shows in the quality of this folk-meets-alternative compilation, "What Are You Afraid Of?," released in February 2013. Marble, a senior at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill., brought a crew of over 20 Wheaton College students and alumni to Shea Studio in Wheaton, Ill., and Groovemaster Recording in Chicago, Ill., for a number of sessions over the past year to record, engineer, produce, mix, and master a 12-track album with Mark Sommerville (also a senior at Wheaton).
What resulted from years of writing, playing, and praying resulted in this masterpiece that showcases one man's attempt to discover who God created him to be in relationship and community with others. There's plenty of heartbreak and longing contained in the lyrics ("She Left Me on a Monday" - also a free download on Bandcamp), but the album's instrumentation (guitar, mandolin, banjo, and flute, to name a few) and its themes (hope, joy, inspiration) always end on an "up" note, inspiring listeners to trust God through the trials we all have in life.
I caught up with Kevin to talk about the production of his first album, and what's next for him - turns out he wants to be a church-planting-missionary in a Francophone country while touring as a successful musician when possible. After listening to the hopes and dreams expressed on his album, I'd say he can expect to have all that and more. Marble has nothing to be afraid of - because nothing is impossible with God.
Sample tracks from "What Are You Afraid Of?" here, and purchase the entire album for $6 on Bandcamp - you won't be sorry:
Q: What's your favorite song on the album and why?
A: This is hard. Any answer I give you isn't totally true. I could name just about any one, give the reasons and feel wrong about it because it means a different one isn't my favorite. So I'll try that anyway. Let's say Tumblin' Down. This song is the oldest one on the album. I wrote it near the end of my freshman year at Wheaton. It's also not about me. Writing about another human's experience lacks the advantage that your own experience gives, but sometimes becomes even better. I think in this case the latter is true. It's also the favorite of some of my dear friends, like Mark Sommerville (producer), Megan Romberger, who often sings with me, and several of my closest friends. It's an intimate song and the imagery in it cuts deep.
Q: What's the main theme of the album you want listeners to take away after listening?
A: Uncertainty, doubt, struggle--these things are all normal, okay, and often good. These songs bear witness to these things in my life. But trust, in something or somebody who is trustworthy, is truly great. It is freedom. "What are you afraid of?": "Give it up / let it go / the peace to come is better than you know."
Q: Why did you decide to produce a record, and what was your favorite part of the production process?
A: Recording a full-length quality album is a way to feel like I've finished something. It's exciting to hear a song you've written and have the feeling that in some way it's complete. I like finishing things. The idea was to do this project with the small budget we had, but to have it be the quality of a record with a budget much larger than the one we had--That in the end, we would have put a quality product out there.
Music has importance to me because of its place in community. My songs are worth playing because they speak to those around me and their melodies and words take root in the hearts of friends. This project was an exercise in community each step of the way: raising support, finding musicians, borrowing cars, creating album art, celebrating moments, mailing out CDs, throwing a release party, sharing about the finished album, and so much more. Because I've seen the place this music has in the communities I've been a part of, I wanted to see just how far reaching it could be.
Q: What was your main inspiration in writing the album, and how does your Christian faith shine through in the songs and/or music?
A: My songs are like a journal. A journal records daily life, with it's struggles and joys, uncertainties and hopes. For a Christian, daily realities are understood in the light of the lordship of Jesus. My songs are not always specifically about what some consider "spiritual" matters. Instead they are inspired by the experiences of life, which, in my opinion, cannot be separated from spiritual reality.
Q: Who are your main musical inspirations?
A: I'm glad you used the word "inspirations" and not "influences." The latter is difficult to determine. Not sure there are main ones, but I'm musically inspired by Ray LaMontagne, Guster, Jars of Clay, Megan Romberger, Derek Webb, Josh Ritter, The Beatles, Counting Crows, James Leavitt, John Mayer, Kylie Marble, The Olive Tree (Scott Cunningham and his brother, Ben), Queen, Mumford & Sons, Jon Foreman, Nickel Creek, Chris Thile. There are a lot.
Q: What's your dream job (do you want to be a rock star, or was this album more of just a fun hobby/project)?
A: My dream job? Being a missionary in in a Francophone country (hopefully church planting), sharing the Gospel and making disciples. At the same time, being a successful musician; recording and touring when possible. Music would still be a priority, would help support ministry, and would be used to open doors and build relationships.