Mike Ragogna: Charlie, rumor has it you’ve got something going on with The Money. First of all, how much are talking about?
Charlie Mars: I’ve got a new album called The Money, which cost most of my money to make and I hope listeners find it to be the money. So lots of money…and lots of no money. Its about the pursuit of things that seldom fulfill, and a celebration of the things that do. I quit drinking many years ago. When I first got in to AA I remember they said you could replace alcohol with lots of things…money, sex, drugs, exercise, work. I replaced it with lots of things. I still do. I’m on the search like everybody else.
MR: Okay, The Money completes your Texas trilogy. What?
CM: This is the third album in a row I’ve made in Texas. I recorded all three albums with a core group of musicians and producer/guitarist Billy Harvey. I recorded two albums–LIke a Bird, LIke a Plane, Blackberry Light–in Austin and this one just outside of El Paso in the border community of Tornillo, Texas. I’ve always had a thing for the number three. Cormac McCarthy got to have the border trilogy…f**k it…I’ll have the
MR: Yeah! The album seems to be a personal journey, and to me, it’s a little
on the dark side. How true to your life was it? What was the creative process like, writing these songs and recording them?
CM: I spent the better part of two years writing and playing these songs every day. Most of them took different shapes over time and settled in to what they are in the studio. I write from feelings…and the words usually take shape when I surrender to those feelings. For me, surrendering is the toughest part. I spend a lot of time in hotel bathrooms playing guitar and singing. The acoustics are good in there. The songwriters I admire the most have one glaring commonality–economy of language and instrumentation. I try to further that emphasis on restraint in my music…and take great care deciding what can be taken out, as opposed to what can be added. There’s enough fluff layered on top of fluff to last all of us two lifetimes in most of the music I hear now. I would say the emotions behind these songs are all true to my life. We hold hands. We fight and make up. We turn our backs on each other.
MR: What changes happened to you that you’re most proud of and is there anything about your past that you miss?
CM: I’m most proud of the times that it was tough to keep going and I did. I think I’ve gotten better. Most people don’t. I think it’s because I’ve always had to fight for it. You get better when you fight for it. When it gets easier, you stop getting better. That seems to be how it works. It’s not that the band got popular…its that they got comfortable. I miss rotary phones and land lines.
MR: What advice do you have for new artists?
CM: Be better than the next guy. Follow your heart. Write your own songs. Use the women’s bathroom in a club…its always clean. Don’t hang anything in the hotel closet…you will leave it. If you don’t love it, do something else. The drummer for Green Day told me to always have an out. I’m not sure I do. Avoid the phrase “catch me when I fall” in your songs. It was only good the one time. Four million songs ago.
MR: [laughs] With all these heavy questions, I have to ask you a stupid one now. What’s your favorite whatever?
CM: My favorite whatever is running a trail they built over some old railroad tracks in Oxford, Mississippi, where I live. I always hated running. One day I was losing it in the studio and I went for a run. I still hated it but I felt better. I kept doing it. One day I stopped hating it and started to love it. You have to cross the threshold. Put down the prescriptions. Get off your ass. Start moving. Nature is the answer. It’s a good whatever.
MR: Beautiful. Charlie, ideally, how do you see your life and musical career moving forward from this point forward?
CM: Ya know, stadiums full of people and two encores a night. I’d really like to play World Cafe and Letterman…my mom loves Letterman. Can Jackson Browne invite me on a world tour? As for my life…who the hell knows with a cup of good coffee. That’s mostly how it’s gone.