"...where the hits are gonna come from." These are words of wisdom from studio legend, and I'm proud to say my friend, Dennis St. John. Listening to the music of Sellaband artist Mark Supsic this evening, I remembered some of the great conversations Dennis and I had while sitting at the old API desk in Shangri La. I'll get back to Marc, but first a few words about Dennis.
You may not know his name, but unless cultural or religious constraints have prevented you from listening to the radio during the time that rock, pop and soul records have been invented, you know Dennis' work. Dennis cut his studio teeth playing with artists like Otis Redding, The Classics IV (who can forget "Spooky") and The Boxtops. He was responsible for making "Let Your Love Flow" a hit for the Bellamy Brothers and was at his peak as Musical director for Neil Diamond, producing "The Jazz Singer" and appearing with Neil in the Band's "Last Waltz."
The two Dennis stories that Marc's music reminded me of are these. After the Boxtops' "Give Me a Ticket For an Airplane" had gone to number one in the billboard charts, Dennis was having coffee with songwriter Spooner Oldham. They had an interesting problem on their hands. A number one hit single...and nothing to follow it up with. It seemed that Spooner's well was dry and the chance to capitalize on the record's success would pass them by. Spooner looked at Dennis over the rim of his cup and lamented," Yeah man, Ain't that a bitch...makes me want to cry like a baby!" Dennis looked at Spooner, Spooner looked at Dennis and they both saw lightbulbs! They hurried back to the studio and "Cry Like a Baby" became the next hit from The Boxtops.
It was from Dennis that I adopted the mantra, "Without a hit song, you don't have a record." And Dennis knew hit songs, after all, he played on literally thousands of chart recordings. While Dennis headed Neil's publishing company, he held what he called "Demo day." Once a week, he had a rhythm section set up and anyone in the company, from the mail boy on up, could bring in songs. A few hit songs were discovered in that way, hence the title to this entry.
Sellaband's Marc Supsic has a lot going for him. He sings what he writes with sensitivity and expression. He is an accomplished guitarist and all around musician, playing all the instruments on his recordings, and he has a gift for writing fresh, catchy instrumental hooks. The three songs on Marc's profile page represent three distinct approaches but there is a definite thread representative of Marc's personality connecting the songs.
I couldn't decide if "Lonely One" was Country-Rock or Rock-Country. Marc plays excellent slide guitar on the track and the vocal melody has a bit of Neil Diamond behind it. A really nice bit of songwriting in a neo-Nashville/Americana sort of way. Up until the entrance of the drums, "Invisible" evokes the qualities that made Cat Stevens' records so charming. Again, a very well written song. My favorite of the three is the last. "The Universe is Burning" is catchy without being trite, and again, Marc's excellent musical skills are evident in every track.
I do have a few kind words to say about some of the choices made in the production of these tracks, but knowing that Marc is a virtual one-man band, I hope that my criticism will be taken in the intended spirit. Besides, I could be just as full of shit as the next guy, but I think that Marc is really close to the mark in a lot of departments. One immediate observation is in regard to the vocals. Marc is a very skillful singer with a wide range of dynamics, but I find myself wanting to hear him cut loose. The way he whispers the verse of "Universe" is very effective but when the track opens up on the 'B' section the urgency isn't met by the vocal. It's nice...but it could be great.
"Invisible" is compelling from the start. As the instruments enter, each adds a new flavor and tension. And each instrument has importance with relation to the vocal message...except the drums. The song is sensitive and charming and I think the layered guitars and strings are brilliant on their own. I wonder if Marc has ever mixed the song without drums. I think the track would be mesmerizing.
The only other comment I have will be a moot point after Marc reaches his recording budget goal and walks into the studio. These songs have a size and spaciousness that are very difficult to achieve in a home recording environment with one guy wearing all the hats. Marc Supsic is an excellent songwriter and an accomplished musician. The songs he has posted on his Sellaband profile display precisely the kind of potential for development that Sellaband's system of crowd-funding is designed to nurture.
I look forward to this artist catching the eyes and ears of the Sellaband community and having the opportunity of making a first class album of his songs. As Dennis St. John so wisely said, "You never know where the hits are gonna come from."