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Interview: Survivors of The Kraken

Allan Furtado, Brian Decoteaux, and Justin Marra, better known as the Alt Rock power trio ‘Survivors of The Kraken’ [Providence, RI, USA] have been making music together in one form or another for two decades. Their new single “Tattered Baggage” is streaming now. We spoke with Justin Marra [guitar/vocals] for this interview.

Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your latest album, and what themes or stories you aimed to convey through your music?

We’d set an intention of making a record together back in high school, and came pretty close to releasing it before splitting up in 2003. We put the band back together in support of a record I released in 2014 [Lost In Petrichor] and started playing regularly, we got really busy playing live shows. Recording a record became this running joke. Every year in January I’d reach out and say “Kraken record in__–insert the year–”, because it went on like that for five or six years with zero traction. In 2018 Allan and Brian lost their friend and bandmate Neal Chistolini [The Candace Brooks Band], and then our friend Scott MacReading [The Bendays] passed away in late 2020. In the uncertainty of those early days of the pandemic it felt like it was now or maybe never.

We wanted to make a record the way they used to be made. Our friend and producer Andy Davis has this amazing analog studio [subModern Audio Providence, Rhode Island] ripped out of time and plunked down in the present. We truly wrote this record together in the studio, which is something you read about as a kid in Guitar World, but maybe will never experience. It is as magical as it sounds–big old console, outboard racks–you get inspired pretty quickly just being in that environment. We recorded to 2” tape and mixed it down to 1/4 “ without the use of computers. We didn’t record to the grid. We didn’t use a metronome or click track. It’s perfectly imperfect. When you can’t go into the computer and stretch and tweak and fix something, when you’re limited in the number of tracks, it forces you to play a certain way and to make very strategic, but also creative choices you may not otherwise have made…It was invaluable to shaping this record.

Amid Life Crises is about growth, not just as a band, but as people. There are songs on this record that have had a long life and also songs that we could have never written when we began all those years ago. When you’re starting out in life you’ve got all this undeserved confidence, you feel invincible because you’ve got no context. “Amid Life Crises’ explores the dichotomy between the fantasies you dream in your adolescence with the realities you manifest through the actions you take as you move through life. Did you live out your dreams? Did you dream new ones? Did you achieve your goals? Did you do all the things? Are you happy? Who’s still there to share the experience? If that weren’t enough it attempts to reconcile all that against the infinite number of events that are ultimately out of your control.

Music often has the power to transport people to different places and times. Can you describe a moment in your life when a particular song or album had a profound impact on you?

My earliest memories of music are listening to Motown and early Rock’n Roll in the car with my mom. When I hear The Temptations or Ronettes or Stevie Wonder I’m right back riding in the back seat of my parents sky blue Cadillac. I remember hearing Temple of The Dog’s Hunger Strike on the jukebox at my local Pizza Hut and in my developing mind thinking, “I don’t get this song about holding your hand, but I get this. This speaks to me.”

Many artists have rituals or routines they follow before performing or recording. Do you have any unique or quirky pre-show or pre-recording rituals that you find help you get in the zone?

You know we don’t have a “band ritual”. We’ll have a toast in memory of his Allan’s dad. He was always our biggest supporter…We laugh, we’re kind of goofy in all honesty, put us in a room together and we’ll just start laughing at the most ridiculous things, at nothing really. It’s just kind of surreal at this point in our lives to be making this music and playing these shows. We make sure to take a moment and appreciate being able to play music together.

Your lyrics often tell a story or convey a message. Can you share the story behind one of your songs and the inspiration that led to its creation?

I’m not someone who can sit down and write a song about this thing I read about or saw on TV. The great majority of my work is from personal experience, but the beautiful thing about music–and art in general–is that two people can look at the same thing or listen to the same song and find their own meaning. I try not to write about my personal experiences in a way that [hopefully] feels universal to whatever the listener is experiencing. “Dying on the Vine” –in my opinion– is a good example. I’m an Xennial, “Elder Millennial”, Oregonian–whatever you want to call us– there’s not been a lot of breathing room between The Boomers who have really only just started retiring, and Genz coming up fast on our heels. Whatever your profession there isn’t a lot of room to maneuver. I was a teacher for thirteen years and the most frustrating part was just when it started feeling like you’re doing okay a new evaluation system or proficiency test or curriculum rolls out and you’d start all over again. It can feel like someone is moving the proverbial ladder you’re climbing out from under you. When creatives have to continually push their passions to the side– to pay your bills, please the boss or do the thing that feels safe–a little piece of you dies every time. So I was thirteen years into this career, making good money, but I felt in many ways like I had failed to launch. That’s a dangerous place to be because when you feel stuck or your back is against the wall you just want to break out; fight. So whatever your circumstance those are emotions we’ve all felt. That’s a song anyone can tap into.

If you could curate a music festival with a lineup of your dream artists, who would be the headliners, and what would the theme of the festival be?

Once upon a time festivals didn’t have themes, that was the whole point of festivals! You could go and see all these amazing bands playing different styles or genres that wouldn’t normally tour together all in one place for a reasonable ticket. I’m curating the show–I’m bringing soul acts, rap acts, punk bands, shoegazers, singer/songwriters, rock bands, alt/rock acts. It’s more important to surround myself with genuine people than to play a show with ‘x’. We can draw straws to “headline”

Music can be a powerful tool for advocacy and change. Are there any social or political causes that you’re passionate about, and how does your music play a role in promoting these issues?

We want to believe this idea that a song–painting/movie/TV show etc–can change the world. We want to believe that, but “Blowin’ In The Wind” didn’t end segregation. “We Are The World” didn’t end poverty on the African Continent. As a species we’re hard wired for competition-that helped us survive, but this idea of “us vs them,” we’ve outlived it. That’s a basic instinct. Art helps us evolve our thinking and overpower those base instincts. Music is its own language; it’s universal. When you’re vibing to a song in your car and you look over to the car next to you and they’re listening to the same song and you both realize it. You know nothing about each other, but in that moment you connect. Art obliterates this idea of “us vs them.”

I think it’s the other way around; topical music comes from social and political causes. I didn’t write a lot of topical music on this record, it’s more introspective–In the last twenty years in particular we’ve weaponized music to causes, campaigns and movements in many cases against the wishes of the artists that created them–I’m anti-war, pro equity, I believe in a just and verdant world, and paying people above a living wage. I think no one person or group should have control over another person’s identity, persona or body.

The music industry has evolved significantly with technology. How do you see artificial intelligence and emerging technologies impacting the creation and distribution of music in the future?

AI baffles me. Generative AI makes bizarre choices that no human would ever make. It’s like that painting of the dogs sitting around a table playing poker. That’s satire; it’s intriguing, and funny, but makes no sense. When you ask AI to draw people holding hands and it returns disembodied hands holding hands, holding hands that’s not satire. I don’t know anyone who is saying “ I want AI art.” The conversation is usually around the cost, it’s cheap. There’s already great opportunities for people with limited musical knowledge or access to instruments to create, compose, and express themselves with virtual instruments and algorithms. The use of generative AI in art feels like an act of self destruction on a cultural level. The more we seem to remove humans from making music the more temporary music seems to become and there’s been a massive pushback against that. Twenty years ago who would have bet money on vinyl being the dominant form of physical media? I’m a dreamer, I think we’re going to see an even bigger pivot away from generative AI, away from virtual instruments. I think we’re going to see a tidal wave of whatever the 21st Century version of the ‘garageband’ is making music we never could have imagined.

Many recording artists evolve over time. How do you see your musical journey changing and growing in the next decade?

I have a small catalog of music [Raised by Hippies ‘03, Muse ‘07, Lost In Petrichor ‘14]. When I recorded my first record it was from a place of defiance; I’d just turned twenty. I just turned forty and feel like I’m in a place of resurgence. How amazing to be able to listen to that progression. The music that I’m making with Allan and Brian in Survivors of the Kraken is more complex, experimenting with space and time; it’s fun. I think we’re going to make a lot of noise in the next ten years.