Sunday, 12 August 2007

MBP // MARK BIRTLES PROJECT -- an interview with Blake Betteridge by Christine Leonard-Cripps

Let’s get physical

MBP stages a pants-off dance-off


For some artists, it’s the moment of truth. For others, it’s the pinnacle of their career and the realization of their lifetime aspirations. For Blake Betteridge, guitarist and keyboardist for Edmonton’s high-intensity rock ’n’ roll juggernaut, Mark Birtles Project, walking into an HMV and seeing his new album available for purchase is a quirky novelty. Hitting the shelves July 24, ART Crime is the group’s third recording in five years, but unlike the EPs it follows, the new album offers a full-length glimpse into the world of these hassle-free hipsters who refuse to take themselves too seriously.

    “It was cool seeing our CD at HMV,” says Blake Betteridge “I like the idea that it’s available on such a wide scale. Before it used to be that when we put together an album, we’d write the songs, then pay for them to be recorded. Then only a few people would get to hear it if they we able to come out to our shows, or get to the small cool record stores to buy a copy. It’s weird, now that we’re in mall stores it makes things official. It makes it legit. Of course, it also adds more pressure, because we’re very conscious of the fact that money is being spent and people are counting on us to fulfill our end by touring and playing and recording great music. The upside is all of the opportunities that are coming our way, and higher exposure for our CD. Masterpieces of art belong in a museum for the public to enjoy and appreciate, not just in someone’s private collection. That’s a true art crime.”

    As the lyric to one of the band’s ringtone-worthy songs goes, “it’s alright to feel nice.” And feel nice they do, largely because of the fact that the Mark Birtles Project takes their musical motivation from the positive side of rocking out. Betteridge, along with the band’s lead singer Mark Raymond, guitarist Brian Birtles, and drummer Sean Taylor (bassist Steve P. will be joining MBP for this tour) extend this sense of spiritual levity and resilience to their name, which is an homage of sorts to Brian’s father Mark Birtles. Talk about the ultimate teenage rebellion; naming your rock ’n’ roll band after the parent that ordered you to “turn it down” in your reckless youth!

Hovering halfway between a tongue-in-cheek poke at themselves and a heartfelt tribute, MBP’s unlikely moniker is an apt metaphor for the band’s unconventional approach to their material. Hashing out angst and blowing off excess energy with every lick, the lads throw themselves into one sonic smash-up after another, without any sign of hesitation or fatigue. Pouring on old school rock rhythms infused with a heavy-handed blues influence, MBP heats up the stage with a style that simultaneously channels elements of Jon Spencer and Eric Burdon in one tail-shaking bundle.

    “We believe in playing as hard as we can,” Betteridge explains. “We have a policy of not practicing unless we’re together. It’s about not thinking and just doing. It’s the same when we’re on stage. Pants will come off, things will happen. That’s how I wound up playing half of our Winnipeg show while naked.”

    Not afraid of getting physical, Betteridge and company trade in emo shoegazing for extreme ginch-gazing as they shed their clothing and inhibitions with equal aplomb. Stripped down to their bare essentials, it’s easy to see that Mark Birtles Project play every gig like it’s their last. And, given the unpredictable nature of their spastic melodies and explosive on-stage antics, it is entirely possible that any given show one or more Project members may succumb to a performance-related calamity.

    “One of the last times we performed live, our singer jumped off a PA onto my electric piano and smashed the legs out from under it!” Betteridge recalls fondly. “I guess it was a special moment, although I was kinda bummed that my keyboard never sounded the same again. We’ve just gotta do what we’ve gotta do. That’s our mantra. When we perform live, we try to leave it all out there. You shouldn’t leave that stage unless your panting and crawling or being helped off.“

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