The band describes its sound as “Barry White meets Iron Maiden.” Can you elaborate on that?
Mark: That’s partially a joke…those are obviously two completely opposite ends of the musical spectrum. The point is to say that we really run the gamut. And you can call it what you want, but it’s still just rock n’ roll.
You and Tonia share the responsibility for the band’s vocals. Do you feel the guy/girl dynamic works to your advantage by helping to set you apart from other bands?
Mark: Yes. The long and short of it is, we really counterbalance each other stylistically. Tonia provides the smoother, more melodic approach, where I come in more with an aggressive, over-the-top approach. And where we meet, it comes across as this intense blend of vocals.
Tonia: Definitely. I think that we just have a fuller sound. We harmonize sometimes and we sing in unison sometimes, and that really adds a lot, because we don’t just do one thing. I feel like it’s a good advantage for us.
What are the challenges inherent in sharing lead vocals with another person?
Mark: It’s a blessing and a curse. There are times when it’s difficult to get the exact sound we want…whereas if you have one lead vocalist, they kind of do their own thing, they have the melody, that’s it. With us, we have to plan out everything — every little part has to be down to the note.
Tonia: It’s a lot of funny stuff, actually, like we pronounce words differently, or sometimes I’ll throw in an “and” and he won’t, so we have to spend a lot of time on really stupid parts, like making sure that we sing exactly the same words at the exact same time.
Tell me how The Shapes initially got together.
Mark: Tonia and I have been working together since October/November of 2003. We originally formed a group comprised of various musicians that played with us during that period. We were called The Daisy Chains. Once Brent and Dmitry came along, we changed the name over to The Shapes.
Is there a story behind the naming of the band?
Mark: In 2004, we sat down to decide on a new band name, since we had outgrown the old. I wrote a bunch of names on this dry erase board, and my handwriting is really bad — it’s like, God-awful. At the time, Brent, our guitar player, was not in the room. When he walked back in, he looked at the board and said, “Wow, that name, ‘The Shapes,’ that’s an excellent name, I really like that!” And everyone turned to each other simultaneously and said, “‘The Shapes?’ That says ‘The Shades,’ what are you talking about?” And then, we all realized, wait a minute, that name sounds great! So basically, my bad handwriting mixed with Brent’s imagination came up with The Shapes.
So, I know you just started work on recording your first full-length album. Are there any lessons that you learned during the sessions for your debut CD that have impacted the way you work in the studio now?
Mark: There was a very broad range of styles on that first EP. Songs like “Monochrome,” which is a moody, almost epic rock song, which was the first song Tonia had written for the band. Then you had “Birthday Song” and “Overflow,” which I had written, that were much more pop, almost dancey. Because these two styles were so different, we felt that going into the new record we really needed to co-write a lot more, and collaborate more on the sound, so that we could really bring the two styles together. I think a great example you’ll hear on the new album is a song called “Escape From New York.” To me, that was the epitome of us combining our two styles very well into one song. Really high hopes for that one.
Is the entire band involved in the songwriting process?
Mark: Tonia and I write the songs on our own before bringing them in; they’re not written together in the studio. The majority starts off with one or the other, we come together and work on it, and then it comes to the band. Dmitry certainly writes his bass parts on many of the songs, as does Grant on the drums, Brent on the guitar…but what you hear as the entire entity of a song with the words and melody, the vast majority is written by me and Tonia before the process starts with the band. I spend many months on a song before it’s even heard by anyone else.
The tracks that are currently up on MySpace (“Monster,” “Dry On Ice,” “Claim Your Prize,” “Dreaming Of An M16”) will all be included on the new album, right?
Mark: Yes, re-recorded.
You’ve got a bit of a connection with reality television. You wrote and composed the theme song for the A&E show “Dallas SWAT,” and two Shapes tracks, “Bordeaux” and “Monochrome” were featured on MTV’s “Made.” Which, I have to admit, I watch. So, I have to ask, are there any reality tv shows that you’re secretly fans of?
Mark: Of course — I’m actually a big fan of “Project Runway,” Being a musician, a creative person myself, I see how these people are really putting themselves out there to be judged. To me, it’s a great avenue to see new talent and how the creative process works. And people see these deadlines and how stressful it is to make things work. When you’re in a band, it’s a very similar concept; while it’s music rather than clothes, it’s kind of that same process with us too. That’s why I like watching. I like to see how other people go through that process.
Tonia: I really like “Project Runway” too. I kind of secretly like “America’s Next Top Model” as well. It’s so dramatic.
Being a New York City-based band, what do you feel it takes to survive in such a competitive market?
Mark: I think you need to have a balls-to-the-wall attitude at all times. Every show needs to be an event. Every person you meet is a possible connection. The band — we’re a very outgoing bunch — we’re not just in our own world. We go to tons of shows and we try to support our friends’ bands. I think that’s the best thing to do, to just be supportive of the whole scene, because while it’s competitive, the support is the main thing.
Tonia: We just really have fun with it. We love playing together. We’re all friends, we hang out, and we have a great time.
If you could tour with any artist, who would you pick, and why?
Mark: My number one favorite artist of all time is David Bowie. I would’ve liked to have been on any one of his tours. Of current bands, I’m really digging Of Montreal right now.
Tonia: Either Radiohead or Sonic Youth. In terms of of-the-moment bands, I would say Bloc Party. They’re also dancey and fun and really get the crowd involved in their show. I think we do the same, so we would fit really well with them.
What’s the 2007 plan for the band, overall?
Mark: Finish the album, then we’ll be working on different label options. Certainly touring in support of the record is going to be in the works, hopefully the West Coast, as well as the UK/Europe. So we’re looking toward Fall for that. The main thing now is to make the best record we can, and I think that it will really guide where we’re going to go next.
Any parting words or messages for your fans?
Mark: Keep supporting musicians, and don’t just buy singles. Keep buying full records, because it’s really important to support artists that way. I think it’s great to hear a song on the radio and say, “Hey I like that song, I‘m gonna grab that on iTunes.” People should do that. But invest a little more time in the artist and check out their full record. Although the medium of albums is kind of on the way out, it’s still really important to hear the artist’s full vision.
Check out The Shapes online:
“The Shapes” EP is available for purchase at: