Marker Starling: The WL Interview

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Purveyors of: Uplifting, romantic and sometimes melancholy lyrics, with a nostalgic air of the late 60s.

File next to: Stereolab, Nicholas Kgrovich, Mia Doi Todd, Khruangbin

Playing: “Novembre en Wavelength”, Saturday November 20, 2021 @ 918 Bathurst Centre for Culture, Arts, Media & Education. More info here – but sorry, the show is SOLD OUT!

Marker Starling, also known as Chris A. Cummings, and formerly known as Mantler, is a Toronto native and lifelong musician who has seen the city streetscape change – from bohemians, biker gangs and hippie houses, to upscale mansions and condos. Much like the city, his music has also evolved over the span of his 21 year career. Earlier albums bring understated melodies out of his Wurlitzer and drum-machine to recent albums which feature polished and textured numbers backed by his band — from a minimalists’ room with painted white walls to a collector’s ornate wallpapered suite. 

Wavelength’s Siobhan Murphy caught up with Chris to chat about child prodigies, film, collecting records, and of course his upcoming sold-out Wavelength show with Tin Angel Records labelmate, Nina Savary and experimental rock group, Animatist. 

What’s an average day in the life of Chris A. Cummings like? 

For the last 20 or however many months, I’ve been a stay-at-home dad. Which has been a big change for me, because for 23 years I was employed by TIFF. Basically, I have been living my life through the eyes of my daughter, more or less. She just started in grade six and her new school is two kilometers away, so I’ve been walking her and also a neighbour’s kid to school, and picking them up. I’ll usually stop at a coffee shop, and the rest of the day I’m working on music and practicing. I’ve been trying to do as much music as possible. I’m concentrating on being a full-time musician and focusing on going back on tour next year, hopefully. I have a new album, Diamond Violence, coming out next summer.

Does your daughter show an interest in learning or playing music?

She’s been taking piano lessons for the last three years. I took piano lessons as a child, I started at age eight, and so did she. She’s accelerating by leaps and bounds and it’s going really well for her.

I read that your parents recorded songs you wrote as a seven-year-old on cassette, do you still have those tapes? Do you ever revisit and listen to those tapes? 

I do have them, but I haven’t played them because I’m afraid of breaking the actual tape, they’re fragile. But I could probably play you all those songs. I still know them, I still remember them.

In a 2015 interview you talked about your record collection of 5,000 — has that collection grown in the last six years?

It’s closer to 6,000 now. I’ve logged them all on Discogs so now I know what I have… there’s a lot of junk!

What is your most prized record in your collection? 

The first thing that springs to mind is this record called Genesis by Wendy and Bonnie, from 1969. It was a hugely influential record to Stereolab and the High Llamas. It’s this really interesting combination of their point of view, their songs, their voices, and it has this young person’s perspective and all the songs are about relationships and it has this very sophisticated, almost jazz backing track and it’s just a very enchanting record.

In addition to collecting records,  you’re a bit of a film buff; having worked for TIFF for over two decades and having studied film production in university… If you could score any film, what would it be? 

Something like a documentary with a science fiction element in it…

If your life was a movie, who would be on the soundtrack? What are some moments of your life that would make the cut? 

I liked the score for Uncut Gems by Oneohtrix Point Never, I thought it was fantastic so I’d get him to score the movie of my life.

As for pivotal moments…  going to York University for film production, that’s where I met my wife. We met when we were 20 and then we met again when we were in our early 30s, that’s when we started dating and ended up getting married. Then there’s the birth of our daughter in 2010.

In terms of my music career, right around the time that we got married, my first internationally released record came out, which was called Sadisfaction under the name Mantler, on TomLab Records. It was well received and that set things in motion for me. In 2004 I went on my first tour to Europe, and my wife, Pat, came with me and we went to Italy and Germany and that was a pretty magical time.

Another tour that we did in 2007 was another really memorable one that I opened for Sandro Perri for approximately 25 shows over five weeks. It was on that tour that I had a fateful encounter with Richard Guy who runs Tin Angel Records in Coventry, England. That was the last night of the tour, we ended up all staying at his place and I left him with a copy of my 2004 record, Landau. Two years later, he phoned me up and said, “I really love this record and I want to work with you.” That had never happened to me before, and we’ve been working together for the last 10 or 11 years.

 

Speaking of touring, the upcoming Wavelength show will be your first in-person live show since we went into lockdown – how are you feeling about returning to the stage? 

The last show we did was opening for US Girls in February, 2020 at the Paradise Theatre. It’s very emotional. Towards the middle of the summer, I was starting to feel like, “am I even still a musician?” I was starting to have a crisis of confidence. But, we’ve been rehearsing a lot and I can see that the feeling is still there. Playing music with other people again, after such a long time of not playing music with other people has been really wonderful and everything feels like it’s starting to really gel together.

What can the audience expect from the show?

I’ll be playing with my band, Dorothea Paas (guitar & vocals), Jay Anderson (drums) and Andy Scott (bass).  What’s going to make this show unique is that Dorothea Paas is joining me and we’re going to sing a song that I wrote as a duet with her and was recorded for my upcoming release, Diamond Violence, called “Yet You Go On”, that’ll be the first time that it’s ever been performed. We’ll be performing songs from High January and Diamond Violence.

You released your ninth studio album, High January, in April 2020 – the height of pandemic weirdness and uncertainty – how did this affect the album release? 

I was meant to go on tour at the end of March 2020. I was going to the UK to do a tour with Devon Sproule, who was the first artist on Tin Angels’ roster. She was sort of instrumental in connecting me with Tin Angel and in fact, the first tour that I did with Tin Angel in 2009 was with her and her husband, Paul Curreri. It would have been really nice to tour with her again,  and it was really bad timing because if it had been a month earlier, it would have been fine.

The other thing about High January — it actually did the best out of all of my recent releases. I think because of the pandemic people were stuck at home and looking for new music. It got a lot of listens, and the single that I released in September 2020 called “Silk Rock” also was one of the most successful things I’ve ever done — it ended up on the year-end best list of Gilles Peterson, who is a really prominent UK DJ. The vinyl 45 single sold out. I feel as though somehow, something shifted during the pandemic that was actually good for me. That’s been the silver lining through all this isolation and anxiety.

 

Marker Starling will be playing a sold-out Wavelength show November 20, 2021 at 918 Bathurst with Nina Savary and Animatist. 

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Siobhan Murphy is a Hamilton based music junkie and host of the Frissonic Shivers radio show on 93.3 CFMU. @frissonicshivers www.frissonicshivers.com  

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