Anthony LaMarca has deep roots in American music.
Long regarded for his role as a guitarist in The War On Drugs, his own work has enormous depth to it.
Focussing his efforts on The Building, new album 'PETRA' will be released in just a few weeks, an imposing batch of Americana flecked songwriting that dares to move into its own lane.
A deft, literate work, 'PETRA' is the culmination of years of work, with LaMarca's rich, vivid songwriting set in arrangements that continually surprise.
Clash met up with The Building to reach down into his roots, exploring the albums that made a difference in his life for Foundations.
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John Mellencamp - 'Uh-Huh'
This is the first album/artist I remember being in love with. There’s a home movie somewhere of me at five years old wearing ripped up jeans with no shirt “playing” a white plastic guitar, singing the words “forget all about that macho shit and learn how to play guitar” (from the song 'Play Guitar').
I know Mellencamp can be corny sometimes, but this is a pretty great first rock and roll entry point for a kid. There’s songs about fighting authority... a song where the chorus is “This is serious business, sex and violence and rock and roll!”…“Pink Houses”! I mean, he looked cool, he smoked, he had his Mick Jagger vocal thing going on…what’s not to love?
Mellencamp was also my first concert. I remember my mom sneaking me down close to the stage so I could see better. I’d be lying if I said that he isn’t a huge reason why I wanted to play music. And now, one of things I appreciate about his career too is how dedicated he always has been to Indiana and being a musician from Indiana.
It’s probably part of why I try to be and am drawn to artists that have a strong sense of place in their work. Especially with his next two albums, 'Scarecrow' and 'The Lonesome Jubilee', he clearly was trying to make music that had the voice of where he was from; being major pop hits but also having this folk/everyman element intact.
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Stevie Wonder - 'Songs In The Key Of Life'
I was probably 15 or so when I dug deep into this album. It was around the same time that Brian Wilson released his reworked version of 'SMiLE' which I was also obsessed with. As a young songwriter these two really opened up my eyes to where you could take things, compositionally and conceptually, in terms of making an album that was a whole piece. I’ve always been drawn to albums that can do that well.
As a multi-instrumentalist, I’ve also always looked to Stevie Wonder as an icon for being able to make a record by yourself that still feels soulful and alive. I bought a Rhodes electric piano from my high school orchestra director, similar to what he uses extensively on this album.
I spent a lot of time learning all of the chords from 'Songs In The Key Of Life' (and 'SMiLE') really trying to get inside how Stevie Wonder and Brian Wilson thought about harmony and how things would overlap from tune to tune. In a lot of ways it’s very “classic” Brill Building-ish songwriting. But that’s sort of what’s amazing about Stevie Wonder; he has the ability to write really complex, and stylistically diverse songs that are also immediate and accessible.
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Talking Heads - 'True Stories'
Talking Heads (along with XTC, who I was also digging into at the same time) were my gateway into punk/new wave; especially their first three albums. I am very aware that 'True Stories' is later on in their career, but that movie and soundtrack probably tweaked my view more than any of their straight ahead albums did. I used to watch it on repeat in high school.
At the time, my brother was in art school in Cleveland and I would drive up there every week to hang out and play shows, sometimes sit in on his classes. It was this experience that got me into the headspace of thinking critically about being creative and having my music be something with meaning. Sort of similar to the way that 'Songs In The Key Of Life' and 'SMiLE' were impactful, I was beginning to find ways to create that encouraged me to try and make sure that if I was doing something, I was doing it with a purpose that was serving the music.
It’s also an album that keeps being inspiring to me over the years. I remember going to a screening of it that had a Q&A with David Byrne after and he talked about how Stephen Shore and William Eggleston were key visual influences for him at the time, which led me to get into their photography.
I’ve also recently realised that some of the more subtle pieces in the soundtrack for 'True Stories' were composed by Carl Finch whose band Brave Combo recorded at the same studio in Youngstown where I record. There’s this whole world of Texas polka music that’s sort of subliminally in the music, and polka music is such a big part of where I live as well.
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Wilco - 'A Ghost Is Born'
I actually really didn’t like this album when it came out. I remember being in Nashville at my wife’s (then girlfriend) house and listening to 'Hell Is Chrome'. At the time I was really really into The Band (there’s definitely a version of this list that’s just the first four Band albums plus 'The Basement Tapes') and just thought they were ripping them off.
Obviously I didn’t get it, and this has gone on to be both one of my all time favourite albums as well as massively influential. Especially with my recordings as The Building, I’ve always tried to include the same amount of space and silence and dynamics that Wilco put into 'A Ghost Is Born'.
This album showed me how much tension and dissonance silence can add; that something doesn’t have to be loud to be abrasive. There were also elements of this album that eventually led me to other bands that I wasn’t into yet, like the Talk Talk atmospherics of 'Wishful Thinking' and the Krautrock cruising of 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)'.
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Del Sinchak - 'Hello'
This one is maybe the most recent and also the oldest big influence in my musical life; the old time ethnic music of my hometown, Youngstown, Ohio. My grandpa, who was an Italian immigrant, played accordion and guitar and loved all this music. I actually found an old tape he made of himself playing and recorded along with it.
Polka, Hungarian folk music and Tamburitzan music is still a big thing in Youngstown. Every weekend there are multiple radio shows playing ethnic music, a lot of which was recorded locally. There’s weirdly a strong parallel between the polka scene and what me and my friends have always done; both are communities of musicians recording and making their albums without record labels or distribution.
Growing up in Youngstown I was always aware of Del Sinchak. He’s always been a bit of a local legend because he’s been nominated for a Grammy (in the polka category) a few times. I only got to know him within the past few years as I’ve been recording at the recording studio he co-owns with recording engineer Gary Rhamy, Peppermint Productions.
Recording at Peppermint with Gary has led me to dig deeper into not only the huge catalog of ethnic music that was recorded there over the years, but also all the rock, garage, psych, funk and soul that was done at the studio too. Making music at the same studio that all this music was recorded at deepens that connection to the place where I’m from and where this music is from.
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'PETRA' will be released on October 11th.
Photo Credit: David Pokrivnak
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