On his third full-length, Portland, Oregon-based artist Leigh Marble delivers Where The Knives Meet Between The Rows, a ten-track follow-up to Red Tornado, which Portland alternative weekly Willamette Week proclaimed "a burning, angsty folk-rock masterpiece." Further extending beyond the pop-rock and folk of Red Tornado, Where The Knives Meet Between The Rows delves deeper into an indie-fied spectrum of soundscapes and experimentation, without losing the lyrical depth or sonic power of Marble's previous work.
The album also features guest appearances by longtime friend Erin McKeown, and local Portland musicians Jesse Emerson (Amelia, The Decemberists), Matt Harmon & Kali Giaritta (of The Ascetic Junkies), and Rachel Taylor Brown.
Even with the help of friends, though, Where The Knives Meet Between The Rows wasn't an easy record to make, by any stretch of the imagination. It was both physically and emotionally draining to write and record, because, as many know, life will sneak up on you. Battling his now-wife's cancer with her, and the subsequent depression that followed, it took Marble all he had to make it through each day, let alone finish the record.
Once out of the darkness, and his wife in remission, Marble was able to finish Where The Knives Meet Between The Rows, pouring his heart out, just as he did on Peep, his debut, and Red Tornado.
"This record was mostly written after my wife (then my girlfriend) was diagnosed with breast cancer, and went through months of treatment and surgery for that. Those were sad and dark times for us, with long-lasting effects," comments Marble on the history of the album. "I descended into a depression that lasted over a year. So you'll hear themes of anger, frustration, and fear all over this record."
The anger, and Marble's attempts to subside it, are present on "Walk", where Marble sings, "I'm going to walk until the anger is gone" in the opening line of the song.
"Walk" is dark and dreary with its late-night, rain-like piano and slowly brewing drums and percussion, while Marble vents and contemplates. "It's about walking and walking and walking as a way to vent anger, and feeling like you never can stop walking," Marble says of the song. The song is a highlight on the album for Marble.
"I was walking, in the darkest of moods," recalls Marble. "In crafting the song later I wanted to put the listener in my shoes (no pun intended). Through repetition of form, and the chugging rhythm, I wanted to evoke that feeling of inevitability and dread. When the song surges back out of its quiet lull in the middle, I feel that feeling again, and I hope that comes across to other listeners as well."
Dealing with a loved one battling cancer is hard; but the depression it sent Marble into was near mentally paralyzing. Writing was his way to reclaim his mind and life. While the record reflects this darkness, it isn't wrought on depression and bringing the listener down. It has plenty else to offer.
"It's not like I sat down to compose an ode to cancer. Writing is my last option when I'm at the end of my rope. So when I had no where else to go with these feelings - when I had exhausted the easy ways out, of drinking or taking anti-depressants in order not to feel these things - I wrote what I was feeling, often quite bluntly, and turned them into these songs. I guess that's part of the 'acceptance' phase of things. You write it down, it's now plain to see, and it can help you accept it as the truth of your situation."
Where The Knives Meet Between The Rows showcases some of Marble's sly humor, offering a reprieve in songs such as "Pony", a two and a half minute pop jingle that starts off with the line, "I was single and you were drunk, by midnight your battleship was sunk. And the waters were clear, the waters were open. One half scared and the other half hoping, that the night would end in unholy matrimony."
Another smiling face on the album is "Jackrabbit", a chugging, mid-tempo, burning rocker that Marble often introduces live as "a song about strippers and politicians."
"It's about a compromised person of some kind or another," he clarifies.
But the album's most comical number is when Marble tackles hipsters on "Holden", a cheerful middle-finger towards a certain mindset of precious hipsterism.
"You horrid haters, oh, you horrid haters. Oh, you sweet, dumb creatures, missing half your features. Disfigured by design, and singing with half a heart. Who taught you to hide away the most beautiful part?"
Turning folk-rock up to eleven with guitars and heart, the song ends with rich vocal harmonies and a ceremonious melody, almost indie-rock symphony like.
For all the darkness on the record, and the comical relief, the light at the end of the tunnel song is "Nail", a sweeping eight-minute meditative piece that helps Marble (and the listener) find solace and relief, reminding you to never give up, regardless of what life throws at you.
"With many of my earlier songs, I was into packing lots and lots of words in there. However, with 'Nail,' I took the opposite approach. It's a long, deep breath."
Marble's depression wasn't just caused by health problems with a loved one; his original intent for what would become Where The Knives Meet Between The Rows was to make a band record, with a five-piece band. Bucking the stigma of a "singer-songwriter" record, he wanted to approach it a different way. But, as he had grown accustomed to, life had other plans.
"The hardest part of making this record was adapting to changing band circumstances. When I was finishing the songs and working up the arrangements, it was with a five-piece band. I had done two records previously that had taken a lot of time to finish, working alone in my home studio, and this time around I wanted to finish a record quickly by doing ninety percent of it live in the studio. Plus I was embracing the social aspect of being in a band, and of making the crafting of our sound a communal effort, rather than dictating parts.So I booked a few days at an outside studio to track the bulk of the record, and we were gonna do this one old school."
The final record, though, would only encompass some of his original plans, and recordings. One band mate quit before the initial recording. Another moved out of town and wasn't around for rehearsals or shows. Then another member quit a few short months after the recording. The band identity wasn't there anymore. And as it became a one-man project once again, Marble had to get creative.
"Some of the arrangements hadn't gotten solid before the recording, so although I tried to stick with the plan, after awhile I had to come to terms that the songs would best be served by abandoning the strictly 'band record' approach. Some songs on the record are ninety percent of what we recorded at the outside studio. But some songs take those studio recordings as raw material, and then incorporate them into larger arrangements made by overdubbing parts in my home studio. I put a ton of time into crafting unique arrangements for each song. I tried lots of ideas and threw most of them out."
Unique arrangements can be found throughout the album, especially on songs like "Inebriate Waltz", a song about the 19th century Oregon poet Sam Simpson, a "one hit wonder" author of the famed Northwest poem "Beautiful Willamette," who contemplated suicide and ultimately drank himself to death by falling and cracking his head on the sidewalk outside his favorite bar, Portland's long-gone St. George Hotel.
And the contemplative "Nail," a sonic collection of percussion, drums, vocal harmonies, and synth strings, among other instrumentation.
It may have taken Marble a lot to travel to the point of finishing Where The Knives Meet Between The Rows since 2007's Red Tornando, adapting to life's unexpected turns, and struggling with depression and the subsequent recovery period. Using writing as a last, desperate resort to creatively overcome these obstacles, Marble, not exactly known as a sunny songwriter before, goes from drizzle to downpour on Knives.