Growing up in a Methodist home, singer/songwriter Charlie Mars was raised around music. Starting with hymns and moving on to the raw emotion of The Smiths and The Pixies, Mars began writing and recording in college. His career was almost waylaid by drugs and alcohol, but after receiving treatment, he was able to get his life—and music—back on track. RELEVANT talked to Mars about his often rocky path, the way his upbringing has shaped his music and how faith affects his life.
In your bio you mention attending treatment. What’s the story behind that?
I was a loose cannon when I got started, and I didn’t last long with the drinking and the drugs. I got help. I try not to do them now. Sundays are so much better … for serious.
You also mention in the bio that you were around church music. How has that influenced you on the new record?
Church music—at least when it’s good—has a gravitas and emotion to it I think is just a hiccup away from great rock and roll. I’m a sucker for the grandiose. I like big choruses, and I like to feel.
You said Christianity is close to you. How would you describe your faith today and how does it influence your writing?
Ask me on Monday, I’ll give you one answer. Ask me Friday, I’ll give you another. Basically I believe that the parts of Christianity that support forgiveness, compassion and tolerance are true for me. I just try to remind myself that my way is often the wrong way, and sometimes I have to give up all this control business and let the universe do what it will.
Do you think your music is better because of trials in life? Why do you think the best music births from suffering sometimes?
I think most of my music is about trials in life. Suffering brings friction, and friction sparks the fire. Suffering is just wrought with emotion, and music is a natural place for the human heart to channel it. I mean, when you’re happy and laying in the sun all day … what can you say?
What I love about the CD is that it is really spacious. So much music these days is noisy. From sort of a technical recording perspective, how did you accomplish that?
We recorded to analog tape. We cut most of the songs live. We used warm old analog gear, and the Fairchild compressor didn’t hurt. We didn’t do a lot in the overdub process. Just little bells and whistles here and there. Space is the place.
What artists really excite you?
I like Rufus Wainwright. I just started listening to Josh Ritter. He’s a talent. I love Ron Sexsmith. I mostly listen to the same old stuff I’ve always had, but every now and then somebody kicks my ***. I do love Arcade Fire.