“I believe that every journey starts with putting on your shoes, taking one step toward tomorrow, throwing away what you can’t use”
Mark Currey is neither young nor desperate, shattering the image of a struggling 20-something we often associate with an independent artist. What he lacks in youthful exuberance, he makes up with the wisdom that comes with age. It took Mark half a lifetime to put the songs together that make up his 2017 album ‘Tarrant County’, but I think you will agree that it wasn’t a moment too soon.
Mark is an independent singer/songwriter from Little Rock Arkansas. A lifelong musician, Mark got into the recording game late; how many artists drop their first album after their first grandchild comes along? As odd as that may sound, maturity and life’s journey has allowed Mark to create an album that feels like he is a seasoned veteran several albums deep.
The first thing I felt on my initial listen was how real and autobiographical this album feels; it is clear he is telling his story as much for himself, as he is for anyone else. What really hooked me were the great one-liners he has nestled into the lyrics; I opened the article with one, but the two that got me right away were, “I’d like to take the edge off, but the edge is all that makes me feel alive” and “I gave you my best 20 years, or at least the best that I could do.” Later in our chats Mark mentions that those little nuggets are what he is most proud of on the album, the fact that those are what hit me the hardest before we ever spoke is a testament to his ability to engage the listener just as he had planned.
The whole ‘Tarrant County’ album feels like you are listening to the story of someone’s life, which is incredibly intimate, and Mark’s delivery is smooth and authentic, giving a feeling of someone simply telling you a great story. In many ways Mark reminds me of one of my favorite folk artists, Slaid Cleaves; while their styles are fairly different, they both pack so much into so few words that it takes a few listens to hear it all.
Over the last couple weeks I have had the pleasure of chatting with Mark about his music, which I have fallen in love with. Typically I do not simply copy and paste the Q&A I do with an artist, but Mark tells his story well, I think that is the best way to hear it.
First, what’s your story? I’ll leave that a bit open ended, take it as you wish, I’m just curious about a bit of your backstory, if you’re willing to share some. Music is so personal, I feel like I already have an idea from your album, but how much is autobiographical, and how much is a well weaved story?
I was born in Fort Worth, Texas. My folks divorced when I was about 5 and we eventually moved back to my mom's hometown in Arkansas when I was 10. I grew up with a dad and grandfather who played guitar and sang. Music was a big part of my childhood.
I grew up, from 10 on, in a small south Arkansas town. Most of the stereotypes of the south were evident there in the 70s and I was anxious to leave after high school. Not the most hospitable place for a "Sensitive singer-songwriter" type. "Stowaway" and to a degree the whole record are sort of my attempt to make peace with the places that formed me, to reject the ugly parts while learning to embrace my "Southern-ness". Some of the songs are pretty close to true while others try to evoke feelings and emotions buried in those stories in the same way good fiction often gets at deeper truth. Ultimately, I'd like to think of myself as a storyteller who has simply chosen, at this moment, to use songs as a medium for telling those stories.
Your bio lists you as singer/songwriter, so I’m assuming you wrote the majority of your songs? Is there one or two that are more personal, or you’re more proud of?
Yeah, I wrote all of the songs on this record. Hard to say what I am most proud of. I think I am more likely to be proud of a phrase or a couplet... something like "Whiskey cannot cut the taste of salt upon your shoulder..." or "I'll never be the story that you needed so I'll try and tell the story that you want." The most personal are probably "The Meanness" and "Stowaway"... maybe "Genevieve".
Who are you influenced by? Your album has some nice variety in the style, so it makes me wonder who influenced you, how wide that net is.
Lot of the 70s singer-songwriters... James Taylor, Jackson Brown. I love guys like Darrell Scott and Lyle Lovett. Guy Clark is probably my biggest hero. Jason Isbell... Rodney Crowell... Radney Foster.
How long have you been at it? Full time, or do you have a day job?
I think I started singing about the same time I started talking! I started performing when I was around 12 and started writing songs at 16. I am still sort of amazed that it took me this long to make a record but I think it took so long because I did not know what kind of songwriter I wanted to be and had not yet figured out that what I really wanted was to tell stories.
I play around Arkansas, mostly Little Rock, and make an occasional trip to Nashville or the Dallas/Fort Worth area. I have a day job but my friend and sort of hero Radney Foster once told me that this might make a really nice retirement plan!
And one last question that I always forget to ask; who are you listening to?
John Moreland (Tulsa) is, I think, as good a songwriter as I have ever heard. He is starting to break on a national level but I have been listening to him for years. Also, Amelia White is a good friend and an East Nashville mainstay. She is a true road warrior and an amazing songwriter.
I really enjoyed talking to Mark about his music, and I truly enjoyed his whole album, end to end. ‘Tarrant County’ is one of those albums that make you wonder how you had yet to hear it, and just how much more amazing music there is out there that you have not yet heard. The beauty of the internet is that it allows music to no longer be confined to its local region, allowing a Yankee like myself to hear the life’s work and story of an artist like Mark who lives 1400 miles from the sleepy New England town I call home, it really is a wonderful thing.
Music like Mark Currey’s is why I started this page; I wanted to share these types of hidden gems with anyone who would listen, and I wanted a vehicle for finding great albums like ‘Tarrant County’. This is exactly why I do this.