Fri., Oct. 19th • 8 p.m.
Soapbox • 255 N. Front St.
Opening act: Shane Kelly
“My previous record, ‘Like a Bird, Like a Plane,’ was kind of a departure from what I had done before, honestly,” Mars explains. “I liked it a lot and really wanted to build on that with this record, ‘Blackberry Light.’ And we did; we recorded it in the same studio [as the last record] in Austin, Texas, and used mostly the same players with the same producers. Clearly, I loved my previous experience; I wanted to take that and build on it. I feel like those two records really go well together.”
“Blackberry Light” is the sixth album Mars has put out over 17 years of making music professionally. Though he certainly has a lot of experience, it was country legend Steve Earle who put Mars’ work into perspective.
“He was talking about what his songs were about,” Mars reflects, “and I said, ‘Well, what are my songs about?’ and he said, ‘They’re about you.’ That’s pretty much true; I just write about my life.”
Initially, Mars’ became influenced by singer-songwriters Simon and Garfunkel, Neil Young and Jackson Browne, along with college rockers of the ‘90s like R.E.M., The Smiths and Pixies. “I’d like to think I’m just continuing in the footsteps of those guys,” he notes. “Those are the people that I’m trying to draw from.”
Fitting from this influence, Mars’ music emotes memories of romantic trysts, smoke-hazed days and youthful restlessness. “Mostly I write about places in my life where I have conflict or difficulty, sadness or regret,” he says.
He focuses his music on relatability: what he’s going through. How it parallels a listener’s experience makes it all the more appealing. “I wouldn’t say there’s one general overriding theme,” he admits, “or one thing from which the themes of the album grew.” His point is to produce music that is deeply emotive, striking something inside.
The first notes of “Blackberry Light” embrace the listener with the simplicity of just an acoustic guitar and Mars’ soulful voice. Then the jazzy interjection of keyboard, backed up by drums, reinforce the steady beat. “Let the Meter Run,” the first track on the record, is a warm reminder of how important it is to absorb tiny moments—especially when it comes to love.
Many of the songs on “Blackberry Light” have a sense of delicate intimacy, almost sounding like the song is for a specific person’s ears only. In particular, “I Do I Do” is a bit mushy and romantic.
Mars is reaching out to the masses, too, expanding into TV land, as “I Do I Do” aired on last week’s “How I Met Your Mother” on CBS. He also has a song from “Blackberry Light” featured during the roll of credits from a season 8 episode of Showtime’s “Weeds.” “How I Roll,” a more rock-oriented tune, is not so much about a sense of attitude as much as literally twisting paper and herb.
Charlie Mars maintains a steadfast ability to go from edgy to youth’s painful lessons learned to yearning for home without fail. In fact, home for the first 18 years of Mars’ life was Tennessee, where he made his foray into professional music during college. Though a career as a singer didn’t make up his original plan, it turned out to be the right move.
“I was in college in Texas,” he recounts, “and went to college with this guy named Jack Ingram, who is a pretty well-known country singer now. He made his own CD with his own songs when we were in college. He seemed to be selling a lot of them and doing well, so I thought I would just use the same people he did and make a CD with the songs I had written.”
Though Mars’ little expectations of his debut release were outweighed, he was thrilled to end up gaining momentum throughout the Southeast. College listeners certainly found its appeal. “That’s when I really started taking it seriously to do it for a living,” he notes.
Despite rocky ups and downs, moving from label to label over the years, Mars now establishes himself firmly within his genre and with his fans. In coming months, he will tour nationally, stopping by many of his favorite places, including Austin and his birth state of Tennessee—where he hasn’t played in nearly 10 years. On October 19th, he’ll be playing at the Soapbox in Wilmington. Opening for Charlie Mars will be Durham native Shane Kelly. Tickets can be purchased through etix.com for $12 in advance and $14 on the day of the show (also available at the door); there is a $3 surcharge for folks under 21. Doors are at 8 p.m. and the show starts at 9 p.m.