Kal Marks’ latest record opens with a whimper, not a bang — a soaring, spacious guitar, a gentle rhythm, and singer Carl Shane dreaming of “greener pastures.” For a band with an outlook that’s often as grim as heavy as their sound, Kal Marks have approached Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies with a new mentality: Maybe things will turn out okay.
Well — maybe. In an interview with MTV News, Shane spoke openly about the weighty topics that ground his songwriting. “Fear, depression, anxiety, self-hatred and shame never go away… or at least until you die," he told us.
Kal Marks’ distinct brand of dark basement punk persists on Life Is Alright, but undoubtedly, the follow-up to 2013’s Life Is Murder offers a fresh glimmer of hope. The Boston trio cite new, diverse influences, from folk and psych rock to Kendrick Lamar, in crafting their new and— dare we say — optimistic vision, although it’s an uphill battle for Shane, most definitely.
“I just want to make it out alive,” he sings on the record’s title track — but then again, don’t we all?
Stream Life Is Alright, Everybody Dies (out February 19th) below, and read our interview with Carl Shane.
MTV News: How did you make the jump from "Life Is Murder" to "Life Is Alright?"
Carl Shane: I’m still saying this world is a rough place. I just think the difference is just trying to do some good with your time here, instead of contributing to the crap and the hate in this world. I think I reached this change because I just didn't want to hate myself as much anymore, and that way I can be better to other people... hopefully. I'm not there yet. I'm still kind of a dick. It’s just an aspiration.
MTV News: Are you trying to share an optimistic outlook on this record? Do you think that's a healthier approach than dwelling on negative things only?
Shane: I'm still not really optimistic. And pessimism is useful in some ways. It makes you realistic. But overall it sucks to be polarizing, pessimistic and depressed for months on end. I think it’s good to share both the dark shit and the light stuff. Equally valuable.
MTV News: There's lots of looking outward on the record, as opposed to looking inward, but definitely still recognizable themes of fear and isolation… How much of that is still a struggle? Is that something you're purposefully trying to move beyond?
Shane: It will always be a problem. But what I'm trying to do is be more constructive with these problems, and handle them in a healthier way. I really hit bottom with depression and I figured it’s better to feel anything else. I'd even rather be angry and motivated to make an aggressive change, than be down all the time.
MTV News: From songs like "Sweet Lou" and "Dorothy," to even the weird dude on the album cover... this record seems to feature a new cast of characters other than just yourself. How much were you inspired by other people's stories?
Shane: There’s still a lot of myself in this record and the narration, but I'm totally interested in other people’s stories. Especially when they're very different than mine. A fair amount of the songs are about other people’s lives, and me trying to understand them, and relate in some way. "Sweet Lou" is not about a guy a named Lou, we just liked the title. "Life is Alright" is about someone I dearly love. "Coffee" is about my parents. "Loneliness Lasts Forever" is about a guy I knew in high school that shot himself. "Dorothy" is about someone I knew that had schizophrenia. But I guess it’s still about me and my relation to them.
MTV News: Finally, a big one: Do you think “Mankind” is inherently good or bad?
Shane: First, I think the requirement for being a good person is that you just don't wish any harm onto someone else, and you don't exercise hate and violence. You don't have to be Gandhi, you just have to be decent to others. Second, I'd like to acknowledge that I can't truly know the answer to this one… If I had to guess, I would say that most of humanity is good, but we've all done some bad things. We've all had moments where we've been unkind. We've made mistakes and been misguided. Sometimes we're completely unaware of our wrong doings. I know I have been a fucking ass plenty. And it’s good to be called out on that stuff in a fair manner. Humanity is learning and opening your eyes wider every day.