“Tales” marks Mark Westin’s fourth full-length album, a culmination of a rigorous two-year songwriting period that saw him crafting nearly 50 songs. From this extensive pool, he carefully curated the ten tracks that best aligned thematically.
A defining characteristic of “Tales” is the prevalence of character-driven narratives within each song, much like a collection of short stories woven together. Whether you choose to embark on a sequential journey from start to finish or prefer to pick and choose tracks that resonate with you in the moment, this album offers a unique listening experience.
The recording of “Tales” took place at The Building in Marlboro, New York, following a period of isolation due to Covid. Mark’s desire to return to a collaborative studio environment with fellow musicians fueled the creation of what he describes as an “old-school record.”
Mark enlisted The Restless Age, a talented ensemble comprising Will Bryant, Lee Falco, and Brandon Morrison, known for their performances alongside notable artists such as Donald Fagen, Marshall Crenshaw, Joan Osborne, The Lemonheads, Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams, Amy Helm, and more.
To infuse the album with a sense of freshness and immediacy, Mark deliberately provided only basic song sketches to the band, encouraging them to rely on their instincts in the moment. They recorded the entire album in just two days, with additional contributions from Sara Milonovich of Daisycutter on fiddle and Scott MX Turner on bodhran, alongside a few guitar parts and backing vocals. Most of what you hear on this album reflects the band’s first or second takes.
You can enjoy “Tales” on various streaming platforms, and it’s also available on Bandcamp in multiple formats, including vinyl, CD, and high-quality digital downloads.
Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your album “Tales” and what led you to create character-driven narratives in your songs?
During the pandemic, I had a lot of time to write, and not only write but really think about and polish up what I’d written. I was writing a song a week for awhile, and I ended up with close to 50 songs. I just let my imagination go wherever it wanted to, and when I looked back I noticed that a lot of the lyrics featured characters in unusual situations. It felt right, so I just ran with it.
You mentioned writing close to 50 songs for this album. How did you go about selecting the final ten songs that made it onto the record? Were there specific criteria you used?
When I decided to make the record and I saw I had a lot of material in the storyteller zone, that’s where I decided the record should go. Not all of the 50 songs were narratives, some were more abstract or had different structures, so a bunch got eliminated automatically. From there, I just played all the remaining songs a lot, and finally picked the ten that felt strongest and that I enjoyed playing the most.
“Tales” has been described as a collection of character-driven narratives, like a book of short stories. Can you share some insights into the themes and stories explored in the album?
Sure. Some of the songs are more realistic, cinema verité-style observations and others are more out there, with humor and fantasy elements.
For example, “Terrible Business” is a chronicle of a city street conversation. The listener doesn’t know exactly what’s going on, but by hearing the characters interact, you can imagine what happened before and get a sense of what’s gonna happen next.
“Tinkerbell and Me” is more fantastical. I pictured Tinkerbell the famous fairy in her later years, down on her luck and maybe with a bit of a drinking problem, and created a reality around that idea.
And “Girl of my Dreams” is a pop song about a guy imagining his dream girl. The twist is that the girl of his dreams is kind of a nightmare, and his actual girlfriend is way better than the one he’s been dreaming about.
There are some more serious themes explored on the record too, like infidelity, longing and loss, and false gods. I always aim to make my characters believable no matter what situation they’re in.
The recording process for “Tales” was a departure from your previous work, with a live band at The Building in Marlboro, New York. What motivated you to pursue this old-school recording approach after the isolation of Covid?
During Covid I tried to stay productive when things were shut down. All my musician friends were stuck at home too, and were looking for ways to keep busy, so I took full advantage of their talents. I invited them to put down tracks for songs I’d written, and they did. We all have decent home studio setups, so it was a lot of remote recordings, uploading tracks and projects back and forth, without actually seeing each other or being in the same room.
It was fun, but it can make the music feel a bit sterile. By the time I had the songs for “Tales” ready to go, I was also really ready to get back into a room with other human beings and make music in the moment.
Could you introduce your band, The Restless Age, and share what it was like working with them on this project? How did their input shape the album’s sound?
Well, the first thing to say is that they’re not my band. They’re a band unto themselves. I had seen them play and I knew their musical sensibilities aligned with what I wanted “Tales” to be. I thought it would be a good fit to work with them.
It came about almost by chance. I was part of a show in Woodstock, and Lee Falco, the Restless Age drummer, was also on the gig. We were chatting by the side of the stage and I mentioned I wanted to make a record. He offered the band and the Building, and the timing worked out for us to do it. The other two members are Brandon Morrison, who played bass and engineered the record, and Will Bryant who played keyboards. I can’t say enough about these guys. They’re just tremendous players and good people.
You mentioned giving the band only basic sketches of the songs and encouraging them to go with their first instincts during recording. How did this spontaneous approach impact the final result, and did it lead to any unexpected moments?
I wanted to make a record like they used to back in the day. Get all the players together and go for a good take. If you get it, you move on, if you don’t, you do another take. To me, it makes the album feel really alive and fresh. Before we recorded a song, I’d explain the vibe I was going for. The guys all have great musical instincts, so they picked up on everything and we got all the basics down quickly.
For the overdubs it was a collaborative process, like “Why don’t we try this?” Everyone came up with ideas and if they fit the song and enhanced it, we kept them in.
The tracks were all recorded in just two days. It was most important to me that the playing was in service to the songs, and that the performances felt good. I was willing to accept the rough edges that sometimes come with recording that way.
Recording all ten songs in just two days is quite impressive. Can you share some memorable moments or challenges you encountered during this intensive recording process?
It was a short time but it was a very low-stress, fun process. For me the biggest challenge was knowing that I really had to deliver on my vocal and guitar performances in a live setting. As it turned out, we got almost everything down in one or two takes. We overdubbed backing vocals and some instrumental textures, but the guts of what you hear is just four guys in a room making music together in the moment. That feeling is the most memorable thing to me.
“Tales” features guest contributions from musicians like Sara Milonovich and Scott MX Turner. How did these collaborations come about, and what do they bring to the album’s overall sound?
Sara and Scott play on “All Are Welcome Here”, which is set in a pub and based on a couple of pubs I love in the UK. I wanted the music for this song to feel like it could be a pub session, and two instruments you usually find in pubs are fiddle and bodhran. Sara’s a terrific fiddler and singer who fronts a great band called Daisycutter. I knew her from the local music scene and I knew she’d kill on this song.
Scott MX and I go way back to the old rock n’ roll days on the Lower East Side. He lives in New Orleans now, so he was the only one on the album who wasn’t actually in the room. I emailed him a rough mix of the song, and he recorded his part and sent it back to me.
I took the same approach with Sara and Scott as with the rest of the band. I gave them the song and got out of the way to let them do their thing. When you work with great musicians, you gotta trust their instincts and abilities, and they’ll do great stuff.
“Tales” is available in various formats, including vinyl, CD, and digital download. Could you discuss your decision to release it in these formats and how they enhance the listening experience for your audience?
I’m a big fan of vinyl, so I wanted this record on vinyl. I decided to do CDs because a lot of folks still have CD players in their cars, and this record is a great driving companion. I don’t believe the CD format is as dead as some people think. And, downloads are how most people get their music these days, if not from streaming, so you gotta make those available.
The record was mastered by Alan Douches at West West Side Music and he’s brilliant. He did separate masters for each of the formats to make sure the listener gets the optimal experience no matter which format they prefer. To my ears the vinyl sounds especially delicious, but I hope people enjoy the experience no matter where they hear it.
As an artist, what do you hope listeners take away from “Tales”? Is there a particular message or feeling you aim to convey through this collection of songs?
I look at it like this: Who doesn’t love a good story? I just tried to tell some interesting and fun tales, and I hope people find one or two they enjoy.