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September 7, 1994

Interview with Marvin Etzioni

Weapons of the Spirit Marvin Etzioni, Weapons of the Spirit (Restless Records 1994) -- A strong contender for record of the year is Weapons of the Spirit, the third solo release from Marvin Etzioni. Marvin previously played with Lone Justice, a widely-acclaimed band from L.A. fronted by lead singer Maria McKee (Maria also provides harmony vocals on the first single, "Temple and Shrine").

On Weapons of the Spirit, Marvin handles the vocals and also plays guitar and mandolin; Don Heffingtion sits in on drums, and Tammy Rogers plays violins and violas. After listening to this extremely strong and cohesive 13-song album a number of times, I spoke with Marvin (who lives in L.A.) about Weapons of the Spirit.

Metronews: I compare Bone (his prior album) to Weapons of the Spirit, and Bone strikes me as having more of a rock-edge to it, whereas the new album strikes me as exploring spiritual things. What occasioned that?

Marvin: It wasn't a specific thing that happened . . . Mandolin Man (his first solo release) is more of an inside record, and Bone was almost a reaction to that, you know, more guitar, more braces, and more dealing with the subject of the flesh. Weapons of the Spirit is kind of a return -- it's a spiritual point of view. It's my idea of a gospel record.

Metronews: Particularly the song "Rejoice," I could hear that.

MarvinMarvin: Right, yeah. That particular piece is a release to the kingdom within, which is the real come out. I was trying to deal with a record that was really a record of optimism and a record of hope...You kinda nailed it on the head. I wasn't trying to hide it or be subtle about it, that's really what I was feeling during the making of that record...It seemed like it had an optimistic point of view, the belief the individual can get through and the power of one -- the power of the individual is a big thing with me.

Metronews: That optimism is a clear theme and it's one of the things that I liked very much about it. Everyone raves about American Recordings by Johnny Cash, or the new albums by Hole and Nine Inch Nails, but those discs are so nihilistic that it's difficult to listen to them very many times.

Marvin: Well, Nine Inch Nails is an interesting band because it's a dark experience. Without the darkness, the light of day doesn't make sense. There's a real need for Nine Inch Nails, and also on a sonic level, they're a breakthrough recording act, they do things that have been attempted by other people, but they take it even darker. I actually like Nine Inch Nails.

Metronews: I think I got hit upside the head so hard with their message that I just couldn't deal with it. I was stunned.

MarvinMarvin: It's hard. It's hard, yeah. The other thing, it seems to be easier to embrace records of darkness than someone coming out with a more positive message...I really thought that the point of view of Weapons of the Spirit is "Who is this guy, Why is he optimistic during these times?" And it's not that things are incredible, it's just the hope that things, that we have to get through. Kurt Cobain, that's not the message that I want to put across.

There seems to be a message, and it's not a new message, that here is an artist that seemed to have the future in the palm of his hand, and he couldn't handle it. It was too much for him. I think in America, in particular, there's too much pressure put on people for success -- when they have success, they really can't handle it. They don't have the ability to deal with that kind of leadership. Because how they got there was based on some really dark frustrations.

Metronews: Let's get back to the album for a moment --

Marvin: Sure.

Metronews: The song with the line in it, "What am I doing up here?" --

Marvin: "Leap of Faith"

Metronews: You know, I've listened to that a lot of times and my feeling is that's about a man who gets killed and goes to heaven. What's your read on that song?

Marvin EtzioniMarvin: That's interesting. I wrote that with a friend of mine, Sam Lorber, who I had written with before...I really love circuses and circus characters, and that's basically what it was about, the man on the tightrope.

Metronews: You got Victoria Williams to help on the second cut --

Marvin: "Daughter of the Rainbow."

Metronews: That's a very interesting song too. She's on the chorus, which is so optimistic, and yet the reports are that she's got MS, a real bad health condition.

Marvin: That's correct. I wrote the song prior to her having MS. In the middle of making the record I was looking through a drawer and I found the lyric sheet and I called her up and said, "We're going to be setting up and recording and why don't you come over tonight and we'll get this song." And so we just cut in one night.

Metronews: How's her condition?

Marvin: Spiritually and emotionally, she's doing fantastic. And her new record is very up.

Metronews: She's not confined to a wheelchair or anything?

Marvin: Oh no, not at all. She's walking around, she's groovin'.

Metronews: This is a rather personal question -- what faith are you?

Marvin: Excuse me?

Metronews: Are you Catholic?

Marvin: No, I'm Jewish.

Metronews: I'll be darned.

Marvin: A lot of people think, "The Scripture Writings of Marvin," but no, I'm Jewish.

Metronews: You seem to like putting sonic effects on albums to make them a throw-back to LPs.

Marvin: It's not an effect. It's actually something I put together called "AVD". It's analog to vinyl to digital.

Metronews: That's certainly retro.

BoneMarvin: Well, when I did Mandolin Man I was really frustrated with the sound since it's a slow record and it had a particular sound on tape that I really liked. When we went to master it digitally it didn't work for me so I asked, "What do I want it to sound like?" and I answered myself, "I want it to sound like a record." So I said if I could make a record of it, and literally play back the record into the digital machine, that would get it for me. So that's what I did. You're actually listening to a digital recording of a vinyl record.

Metronews: How did you like touring with Sam Phillips?

Marvin: It went fantastic! It was probably the most positive tour experience I've ever had. Sam and T-Bone [Burnett] and the band were great. The behind-the-scenes stuff was really smooth and they're fantastic to deal with, and the audiences were really responsive, and so it was very positive, very rewarding.

Metronews: I spoke with Sam when she was in town warming up for Counting Crows, and I can see where the two of you would hit it off right away.

Marvin: Right.

Metronews: Sam was so low key when she took the stage, I call her the anti-pop singer. Her attitude was, "Why don't you project whatever image you have of a pop singer on to me and see if it fits?"

Marvin: That's not fame.

Metronews: Fame is not the game she's interested in.

Marvin: Well, I think she will receive fame and has received it --

Metronews: Yeah

Marvin: but it will be on her terms.

-- Randy Krbechek

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