The Marked Men’s Mark Ryan Ranks the Band’s Four Seminal Punk Albums
The guitarist of the influential Texas four-piece looks back at their four infectious LPs.
In Rank Your Records, we talk to artists who have amassed substantial discographies over the years and ask them to rate their releases in order of personal preference.
The Marked Men have about as perfect of a catalog as any band can hope for, and they’d like to keep it that way. The Denton power pop four-piece hasn’t released a new album since 2009’s Ghosts, and they don’t have any interest in releasing new material.
“I generally think it’s not a good idea for bands to get back together after so long,” says guitarist/singer Mark Ryan. “It doesn’t really make sense, because whatever it is that made it good at that time just isn’t happening anymore.”
Though the band has been kicking around in some form since 2002, their entire output came in one prolific burst from 2003 to 2009, a six-year period in which they churned out four beloved LPs. They stay relevant, though, by coming out of semi-retirement to play the occasional show, and their members keep active in the scene through various projects like Mind Spiders, Radioactivity, and Low Culture, and fragments of The Marked Men’s sound can be heard across each of them.
The Marked Men recently released On the Other Side, a collection of their B-sides and singles, as an official cap on their recorded output. Upon its release, we had Ryan look back at the band’s influential records.
Noisey: Do you feel like your sound was fully formed on your first record? Or was your vision for it still evolving?
Mark Ryan: I think it was a transitional record. Three of us were in a band before The Marked Men called The Reds and so, definitely, the first seven-inch and the first record had aspects of that other band in it and some of the energy of that band. But on the other hand, we worked really hard on it. I have fond memories of working on that first record because we did have in mind what we wanted to do.
And how’d you come up with that?
I think because The Reds was very punk and about aggression and anger, we just wanted to move on from that and add more pop, basically, but still have a lot of the energy we had in that band. So, combining those two things was definitely very conscious. We just love that kind of music.
Did you all have the same reference points as far as influences went?
We’re all about the same age and we all have somewhat different things we like, but we’re all influenced by and love early first-wave punk—The Ramones, that era of punk. We all definitely agree on that. What turned into pop punk after The Ramones that took over as the version of pop or punk, I’ve never really liked that very much. We kind of wanted to go back to what we thought the pop elements of punk that were fun were. So it was conscious, what we intended, and it developed from there.
What, in your mind, makes for a good Marked Men album?
I don’t know. When I was asked to do this [interview], the thing I realized pretty soon after thinking about it is that the reason I might like different albums and songs and so forth was that I have a lot of memories of making them and hanging out with the guys. So it has more to do with that. So it’s hard for me to rank them.
A lot of people I talk to for this column go one of two ways—either they’re fixed on the technicals of it or they’re more emotionally attached to the memories of it.
Well, it’s actually both of those things—the technical and the emotional part. We were pretty set on what we wanted to accomplish with it. When we did the first Marked Men album, we’ve always recorded ourselves, and at that time, we really, really got into that. We recorded the first two albums in a shed behind Jeff’s house. It was a fun time for us. We spent a lot of time hanging out and working on it. I remember sitting in that shed for hours, night after night, screwing around with that stuff. And then once friends of ours finally heard it, I think they recognized it was a pretty big step forward for us.
Did it seem like the record caught on quickly with people?
Well, the first record, it took us a little while to find a label, so we ended up working with Rip Off, the label we worked with on The Reds. Close friends liked it, but early on, when The Marked Men started around Denton, people liked it but it wasn’t immediately getting a lot of attention. It was really after the second record, On the Outside, came out, and we took a break for a little while, and we came back and all of a sudden there was tons of people at the shows. We were like, “What the hell just happened?” It just seemed to happen organically.
What do you remember about making this album?
That was a real hard record to record, in a way. We changed the spot where we were recording. It was at our drummer Mike’s house and that was in Fort Worth, so we had to drive over there to record. It was just a lot harder and it took longer. But we were really in it. That’s probably the record people like the most. It’s probably the most accessible, I think. It was also really fun recording it. John Reis from Rocket from the Crypt, who runs Swami Records, put out the first version of that before Dirtnap reissued it. He was real supportive of us and mailed us microphones to use while recording. I just remember that one as being really hard.
In what way?
We were incredibly meticulous and it was just tedious and took a long time. And there was more disagreement among us about how to do things. I think in the end, that was a good thing.
When you listen back now, do you associate it with that frustration? Or do you think it paid off?
I think it paid off. I don't have any negative feelings about it in the end. But the next record was sort of a reaction to that. Ghosts has a lot faster songs and the recording is rougher. We went back in that direction.
I know you’ve worked in a hospital with people who have mental disabilities. Is that at all related to the title track?
“Fix My Brain”? Well, that’s Jeff’s song so I can’t speak to what the lyrics mean. I don’t really know what he’s singing half the time, anyway.
Something I’ve noticed about you guys is that, at your shows, you rarely, if ever, use your time between songs to say anything—what the song is about or speak to any issues. Is that a deliberate choice or just a product of your personalities?
I guess none of us are really comfortable in that role. Plus, very few people are very good at that. Typically, it doesn’t land well. People aren’t coming to see us to get any kind of message or anything like that. I’m just super humble about it, I guess, in that I’m super happy people come see us and enjoy the show. We’re just not good at that kind of thing. We know what we’re good at and we stick to that. [Laughs]
This one came only a year after your debut. Two albums in two years is an impressive output. Did you write these back to back?
Yeah, at that time, we were practicing a lot and were just really busy with the band. We all had other jobs, of course, but [the band] is what we were really focused on. But at the same time, Jeff took a leave of absence. He went to Japan for about a year or so to go to school. So right after we finished it, he left for a while, and then he came back and started playing shows again. I guess people missed us.
I was about to ask if Jeff leaving slowed the momentum of the band but it seems like in the long run, it helped?
I think it’s just that the second and third record, we were just in it. I don’t know how to explain it other than that. That’s when we were our best. None of us had other side projects going on. Also, Jeff’s a good songwriter, so I felt like, “Ah, I gotta step up my game and really work harder.” So when he brought songs, like the last two on that album, I remember feeling like I had to work even harder.
You said earlier that the year without Jeff gave people more time to find out about you. At this point, you haven’t made a record in ten years. But it seems like every time I see you guys, there are new faces in the crowd. How do people keep discovering your records?
I have no idea. I wish I knew how that works, because of all the stuff I’ve worked on, like in Mind Spiders, when we did our second record, Meltdown, all of a sudden, that was all over the place and it seemed like it got a lot of attention. And it’s like, “Well, why did this get more attention than the other one?” I don’t know. But, definitely, when we play shows, we have people come up to us and say, “Hey, I just discovered you guys through Radioactivity or Mind Spiders.” So maybe a lot of people go backwards from what we’re doing now. Radioactivity is really busy. They’re on tour right now, I think. I think that keeps people’s interest in our old band.
When you were working on this album, did you have any idea that it could be your last one?
Oh, yeah, yeah. I think that’s why I chose that as my favorite, because it’s sort of bittersweet. After Fix My Brain, we were particular about how we wanted this to come out, and to be a little tougher and faster and more aggressive. And for me, my favorite songs by the band are on that album, like “Ditch” and “My Love.”
I feel like if you asked 20 Marked Men fans what their favorite song is, you’d get 20 different answers. Do you have a favorite?
No. I don’t think so. I was asking the other guys how they’d rank the albums and they were like, “I don’t know, man. It’s like choosing what child I like the best.” It’s not that we’re that precious about every little piece of it. They’re just special for different reasons.
If the four of you all had time and were in the same location and had ideas, would you ever want to do another album or do you think the catalog should exist as it does?
Right, that one. We’re not gonna do another album.
I’m sure people ask you that all the time.
Yeah, and I understand why. We go play shows and they go really well and people still enjoy it, but I just feel like we’re not the same people we were then. We’re not gonna be able to recreate that, and I don’t know why you’d want to. We already did that. It’s there, it is what it is, and if you love it, then we’re super happy about it and I feel lucky about that. But it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. I loved The Marked Men, but I’m way into doing other stuff now.