Hey everyone! Welcome to another edition of Weasyl Spotlight! This is our semi-regular feature where we take a closer look at some of the great members of the Weasyl community to learn more about them and their art. Today, we have a very special treat for music lovers with singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Nichols.
Weasyl: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself? Where you’re from, and what you’re currently doing here on Weasyl?
Mark: I’m Mark and I’m a practicing freelance designer from England. I’m originally from Germany but I’ve lived all over the place honestly! My big passions in life right now are Music and Design. Unfortunately, the two don’t really intersect that much so I’m spending my time in two very seperate bubbles recently.
I found out about weasyl about a year ago. There was a ton of great art and music coming from the website so I thought I’d contribute my own and see how well it went down! The community seemed really great and I honestly just wanted a piece of that action.
Weasyl: You mentioned your passions are music and design, and as you said they don’t intersect much. What drew you to those areas?
Mark: I honestly don’t know! I was originally on track to becoming a chemist or physicist, and all my work in school was pointing down that path. Going into higher education, I guess I was just bored of academia. A lot of my friends were heading into Game design and art based diplomas so I suppose it was mostly peer pressure that steered me towards the design degree I’m currently studying for.
On music, again I don’t know what started it. I’ve always loved singing, but I’ve never been particularly good at it. Besides the couple of karaoke nights around my auntie’s house, I don’t think anyone ever really heard me sing. Somewhere within the last six years, I picked up a guitar and slowly started plucking strings and learning my way around chords. Soon enough I was singing along to simple strumming patterns and even attempting to finger-pick some more technical pieces.
Weasyl: Where do you draw the inspiration from for your music?
Mark: It was probably the likes of Mumford and Sons, Ed Sheeran, and Johnny Cash that finally inspired me to start writing music of my own. The first song I ever wrote was actually just the chord progression from Cash’s ‘He stopped loving her today’ played to a slightly different beat!
Since I’ve never actually had guitar or singing lessons, I’m learning new things every day about theory and technique. It’s been a seriously fun ride so far so I think it’s just the aspect of constantly improving and having fun that’s kept me hooked.
Weasyl: That’s very impressive that you self-taught yourself! Was the process difficult? Did you get frustrated and, if so, how’d you handle that?
Mark: I was getting frustrated constantly! Everything from barre chords to hammer-ons have give me trouble in the past and it’s been a seriously tough process for me. There’s been a few points in the last few years where I nearly put down the guitar for good, just because I couldn’t play a song or two exactly right. It doesn’t help much that a lot of online sources for leaning contradict each other or teach in completely different ways. The only thing that really kept me playing was listening to other people’s music and thinking 'Man, I wish I could do that!’ So I’d pick the guitar back up and try.
I don’t think I’d ever quit making music now. Looking back on how far I’ve come as a musician is really satisfying. There really isn’t anything like laying down a track and being proud of it. What’s even better is that there’s still a wealth of stuff I don’t have any clue about! Music theory completely bewilders me to this day and I still can’t improvise a anything on electric or bass guitar. So yeah, it’s a frustrating process, but it’s definitely one of the most rewarding.
Weasyl: You mentioned bands like Mumford and Sons as an inspiration for your music. What is it about the folk-rock genre that speaks to you?
Mark: It’s just such a varied genre. I originally got into a lot of country and western/Folk music because it had the ability to make me want to jump up and start dancing, but in a completely different way to anything I’d heard before. Songs like Mumford’s 'Roll away your Stone’ are just the right kind of upbeat and swingy to get me off my seat.
Then of course there’s the completely different side to it all, i.e. the slower, melancholy of a lot of Cash’s music. This kind of music has a lot of impact on me. The lyrics are always really well thought out and can be quite powerful. I’m pretty awful at writing happy music so this more downbeat side to the genre was a huge inspiration for my lyrics. It gives you a lot of space to be creative without having to resort to writing about finding love, or dancing with an unnamed girl. Not to say that music like that isn’t good, I’m just awful at writing it, haha!
Weasyl: Would you say that’s something of a personal goal for you to improve? Trying more upbeat/uptempo songs?
Mark: Definitely. My real aspiration at this point is to make a song that can make people dance. I have this grand vision of playing a gig to a crowd of people, all on their feet, stomping, clapping, and generally just having a good time.
My music right now is alright for listening, but there’s just no interaction between me and the audience, which is a shame because that’s my favorite part of playing live music. If you can get the crowd clapping along, or joining you on a big harmony, or even just straight up singing the chorus with you, it feels fantastic!
Weasyl: It certainly seems like that would be quite a rush to get everyone into a song you’ve worked so hard on. Do you feel like you’re close to that?
Mark: Not with my own music. I’m really quite shy on stage when I play my own stuff. It’s very much a case of people sitting in silence and listening, which is good because they’re definitely paying attention, but it’s also awful because you’re stood on a stage in front of countless judging eyes and you have no idea if they’re going to like it or not.
If I’m playing a cover, it’s quite a bit easier to get people involved because it’s something that they’re familiar with. If you play something that’s been in the chart in the last five years, chances are most of the room is going to get excited.
Weasyl: I can imagine that’s the type of thing that most young musicians face. But I’ve felt like a lot of your music does have some very deep passion in it. Particularly Biblical. Is there a story behind that song?
Mark: Biblical is a funny one. I started writing biblical with the idea of trying desperately to get through to someone, but to very little avail. It was supposed to be two people locked in this conflict based on their unspecified beliefs. About halfway through the writing process though, I realized it had started to become a very personal song, taking unconscious inspiration from my own conflicts with people. By the time it was finished, I really couldn’t tell you what it was about, just that I feel very strongly about the content of the lyrics!
The title was supposed to be a placeholder until I thought of a better one, but I got attatched to the tracklist and didn’t end up changing it before my EP came out. I named it biblical because it was the first thing I thought of when I saw the word 'faith’, but it really has nothing to do with religion, I think.
Weasyl: Where do you see yourself taking your music in the future? Are you looking to pursue more of a career in music as opposed to design or do you find this more to be a hobby for you?
Mark: I’m not sure if I have a real 'future’ in music, but I know I’m never going to stop making it so long as I have the materials to do so! Like I said before, I am really passionate about design too and I think if I end up making it in the music industry then great! If not, I’m very happy to fall back on design as a career.
I make music just for the sake of making music at this point and I don’t think my goals are going to change any time soon. If I get the chance to pursure Music as a full-time deal then I’ll jump at the chance, bit like I said, I’m very happy to go down the design route for now. Music will always be a passion, just maybe not a job.
Weasyl: Do you have any advice or bits of wisdom you can impart on the music community of Weasyl?
Mark: I’m not much of an authority on the subject, but if I could go back in time and tell myself anything it would be to never stop trying! It doesn’t matter what you’re making, acoustic folk-rock or Electro-house-post-hardcore. Just keep going at it. It might feel like you’re at a dead end or that your stuff just isn’t as good as everyone elses, or even that you’re just not getting any better, but trust me, you’ll look back in five years and think 'Thank god I carried on!’.
Do what you love and do it a lot.
Thanks again to Mark Nichols for taking some time to talk to us for our Weasyl Spotlight! You can visit Mark, follow and favorite his music on Weasyl here: shwabadi. You can also find his EP, The Attic on Soundcloud or Bandcamp.
If you’d like to make a suggestion for our next Weasyl Spotlight, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org!