FATAL JAMZ: WHAT’S NOT TO LOVE?
photography by alex the brown
Marion Belle: The audience is a huge part for me. I want bigger and bigger audiences, obviously, because I’d love to have it be just like … empowering. At the end of the day, you wanna be serving a community at some point.
When you write songs, do you find the music or the lyrics come more easily? Which aspects of songwriting do you feel you’ve learned to do best so far, and which do you struggle with?
Marion Belle: I drive a lot. Drive all over the fucking city. I drove for years and wrote songs in my head then found the chords by trial and error on the guitar. Never knew the names. The melody and the words come together … maybe one line or one lyric wrapped in the melody. I can hear the way I want the chord to sound, the syncopation, and the way the drum beat should be … and maybe the entire lead part. The secret and the mystery is wrapped in the melody, and I work to build a production around that seed that stays true to this initial emotion. Since I come from a rap background in a sense, the beat is crucial—the swing. I can write around a drum loop that has the swing that I learned from the MPC. Gangster. I also love writing with my friends—especially guitar players or artists I have a kinship with. That might be the highest high for me.
Where does the most important part of a song happen? The inspiration? Writing? Performing? Recording? At what point do you get to the heart of things and why?
Marion Belle: The heart of things is telling a true story through the song and knowing I’m going to be able to deliver it—like a fireball—on stage or singing with my guitar. That I’m going to be able to get something true across with this song, even if no one else understands the lyrics or the context or who what it’s about technically. When I know I’ve said it right and that the music itself is true, then I feel ecstasy.
Is music something that takes you to far away places or helps you come back home—literally or figuratively?
Marion Belle: It makes me feel alive and sacred. A great song is very very mysterious and new. It alters the course of your life, and helps you search farther in the quest to know yourself and to seize your destiny. It says something you knew was there, but you never had the proof.
I feel like you have this subconscious theme of like … this initiation into transcendence. You hear a song and it takes you to a different place with different rules, or you play a song for someone and it takes them to a different place with different rules. Everything that affected you, and everything that you’re trying to do to other people, is like pull them out of where they are, and put them somewhere that you feel is … better.
Marion Belle: Yes! That’s exactly how I feel about it. That’s intense!
You’re like a psychic travel agent: let me take you on an identity vacation.
Marion Belle: Yeah! Climb aboard this rocket!
You put a lot into your performances—has there been an audience yet that like … surpassed you? Not only responded to what you were putting out, but came back even stronger?
Marion Belle: I feel like as a performer that I’ve been ahead of the audiences for a long time. Even in L.A., everyone’s always telling me, ‘You got to go to the U.K.’ But now I feel like the residency—the last two nights were packed to the gills. You see the work and the focus pay off. We came into the green room at the Echo on Monday and this fan had bought us a bottle of Dom Perignon and twelve pale pink roses!
Attention to detail!
Marion Belle: I look at it the same way as a time when you had Nirvana and you had Tupac. Two huge stars at the same time. Now we have so many rap stars and they’re the ones wearing the red fur and the leather. Like Andre 3000. They’re the glam rockers. I look at it like—we’re contemporary. I think there’s no holds barred. Whatever you gotta do to perform. Every generation has this war to keep this thing alive. I’m just trying to play the part that’s natural to me.
Who do you think has had more influence on where you are in your life now—teachers, bosses or cops?
Marion Belle: Teachers! My mom is a teacher and she showed me what poetry was, what literature was, and what myths were. Her best friends were the teachers in the English department of my school and they were extraordinary people. My non-fiction teacher Mrs. Crawford put a quote on the board from Anne Dillard that said, ‘Write everyday like you are going to die tomorrow.’ That was my motto from then on. I think if you are lucky enough to have great teachers when you are very young, you learn how to look for them and spot them the rest of your life. That has always been true for me. I’ve always chosen instinctively to hang out with the ones who challenge me the most and who make me question everything I believe and often it’s fucking hell. It keeps me on the edge.
So is Coverboy aspirational? Like … is it about a life you live? Or a life you want to live?
Marion Belle: It’s so direct in a way. It’s very very honest. It’s like a true story, I would call it. The songs tell the story of my life in L.A. over a ten year period. So you know, when you’re talking about ‘groupies know your name’ and all that stuff and ‘you just want more, you try to be pure but you just want more,’ that’s just the lifestyle of doing what we do and just being in it—and the demons of it. But the songs are aspirational in a sense of like, … they’re aspiring to propel the band out of complete oblivion.
So they’re aspirational tools for you to personally achieve what you aspire to, through these songs about things you aspire to. You could base a self-help philosophy on this. Is rock ’n’ roll self help for you?
Marion Belle: I think for me it’s like a theater. You get to write your own novel and then play the lead part and you get to cast it and every night you get to bring it to life and there’s danger involved—that’s what I like. That’s the difference from going to see a play. You go to see a band, and the people who are involved in that band … look at Jobriath. These casualties … people die from this stuff every day. They die from unrequited lust and they die from unrequited passion.
Hence the name Fatal Jamz?
Marion Belle: Exactly.
There are a lot of archetypes or characters in play on this album—the gigolo, the lead singer, the cover boy. What do they all have in common? If they aren’t all literally you, how are you able to relate to all them?
Marion Belle: They’re all like parts of me. And roles that exist within the life that I’ve lived. The gigolo is like a character out of a novel or an old sailor kind of guy, someone who like feels like a prostitute. And you feel like a prostitute often as a performer, I think—you’re down to the core of yourself and that’s what you’re selling. And you’re naked. It starts with that kind of feeling, and then it becomes a song as like a three-dimensional version of that feeling. You’re making a movie of that feeling—the most larger than life kind of representation of that feeling. Once I can blow it up to that big screen, it’s big enough for me to inhabit. One thing that’s a part of the record: it’s like a ‘lead singer’ trilogy. That idea saved my life, in a sense—now I have a reason to make three records. And that idea is harnessing my whole focus for the next couple years, and it’s salvation for me to have that focus. And I take that from the Bowie Berlin trilogy. I spent so much time being fascinated with that trilogy, and realizing like—what about an L.A. trilogy? That’s my town and I know it. What I’m trying to say is … some of these archetypes, I’m trying desperately to do my part to keep them alive. The lead singer archetype is a romantic figure that I think is much maligned. It’s currently not fashionable to necessarily say you’re a lead singer or think about it like that or be a lead singer, but it’s secretly this archetype that dates to time infinitive, like hundreds and hundreds of years ago—maybe the first one was a fucking vampire, like Lestat or something, and they’re feeding off the energy of the crowd to stay vibrant or on the edge? But then it also relates to Iggy Pop or someone like that. This is this archetype and it’s a nasty little person, a nasty little, powerful demon who’s going to come onto the stage. Don’t think that this is dormant—don’t think that just because rappers rule the world right now and indie rockers are everywhere that this creature doesn’t exist and isn’t still out there waiting to take over again.
Why do you think this is dormant?
Marion Belle: You might talk about a soft middle class in the country, but there’s a soft center of music that’s missing I think, for everyone. Part of it is the lack of that kind of personality in the mainstream, or in the picture at all. I think my thought about why it’s dormant is that it’s a committed, convicted lifestyle.
Hard to work a day job if you’re Iggy Pop.
Marion Belle: It’s hard to work a day job, it’s hard to survive and keep that poetic mentality alive, and because you get looks everywhere you go, even in like—even in rock ’n’ roll quote unquote communities. ‘Who the fuck does that person think they are?’ Just like you don’t see a lot of like Matt Dillon type personalities in the movies anymore. But who wouldn’t want to be an Axl Rose? Or a Debbie Harry? I think it’s like a brush fire waiting to spread again. I think the industry has lost the capability of spotting star power in a certain kind of music. We used to have managers and labels and you know … Danny Fields and people like that. The labels used to have guys who looked for freaks like Iggy Pop and they found them. They gave those people a chance and they became people who should have won Nobel prizes. It’s just another thing that’s a little dead in our society. But it could change over night with a couple things happening.
What’s something you feel lucky to have had your whole life? Or what’s something you’ve never had yet? Do you still want it?
Marion Belle: I’ve never had a major record deal—they’ve always fallen apart or dropped off and no one has ever maybe known what to do with me. I always felt like a unicorn. I’ve never toured Europe or played big festivals so I want all that. I want a massive audience. I want massive money to make videos with my team of stars—I want to support other artists badly. But I have always had support, attention and believers from day one—insane support that has sustained me and allowed me to be the baddest motherfucker I wanna be outside the box of any system and to follow through on my wildest visions. I’ve recorded live albums in some of the best studios in the world, played with some of the greatest players of my generation, and gotten to work hand in hand with my favorite artist alive—my wife Abigail. I’ve learned a way of life, and one of the byproducts is a lot of songs about the thugs and angels I’ve known. Songs are like tattoos—the best ones stay tattooed on your heart.
The last image on the record is the ‘tattered rose.’ Why? That’s almost medieval—the crypt of a tragic romantic suicide.
Marion Belle: I think that’s my favorite song. It’s the closest to the bone for me. It’s a ballad of the lead singer or the performer and like the other person in that person’s life. There’s a tragic weight to trying to be with someone like me. There’s a lot of pain. And the idea of that archetype disappearing. That song is about that person living that archetypal life—that kind of creature. The tattered rose is—
—the tattered Axl Rose?
Marion Belle: Exactly! I picture some dude coming out of like Mahoney’s Tattoo Parlor on the Sunset Strip. He’s got the tattered rose on him. That’s that guy. It could be Peter Perrett of the Only Ones who you see as a 70-year-old phantom walking down Hollywood Blvd. It’s this haunting figure. My favorite line on the whole record and the one I’m most proud of is just simple: ‘Nothing would ever be the same / once you touch the flame.’ There was a moment for me and probably every singer that I ever fell hard for who crossed that line—and you cannot go back. That’s fucking scary and it’s scary for me and there’s a lot of people you can no longer relate to, and that’s sad. You’re out there on your high wire. I know it echoes off at the end. I always knew that was how I wanted to end—that was clear to me. I’ll leave you with this: L.A. is filled with drug addicts and starfuckers. What’s not to love?
FATAL JAMZ PERFORMS WITH GENE LOVES JEZEBEL ON SUN., JAN. 29, AT THE ECHO, 1822 SUNSET BLVD., ECHO PARK. 8 PM / $15-$18 / 18+. THEECHO.COM. FATAL JAMZ’ COVERBOY IS OUT NOW ON LOLIPOP RECORDS. VISIT FATAL JAMZ AT ALWAYSFATALJAMZ.COM.