On Thursday, the denizens of Columbus will have the opportunity to experience the electro-soul musings of Cleveland native Marcus Alan Ward at the Rumba Café.
The self-taught musician released a pair of EP’s in 2012 and 2013 under the “Freeze-Tag” moniker. Forming his own label, Long Division Recordings, he released his debut full-length album “Last Night I Grew Tentacles” in 2014, an ethereal concept album. Since then, he’s released an EP of cover songs (2015) and singles in 2016 and 2017.
Our conversation ranged over a wide variety of artists and topics, with a deep musical knowledge and understanding of some of the greatest musicians in the last fifty years. But where did his love of music come from?
“I was a kid that tried out a bunch of different things,” Ward said. “I was really big into pets, and even tried skateboarding at one point. Just in the cycle of trying different things, I got a guitar for Christmas one year when I was young. That kind of stood out to me above everything else. I learned to play ‘Jingle Bells’ the first day I got it.
“That sparked my interest in music. From there, it just kind of grew. Once that came into my life, everything else just fell away.”
There are so many different genres and forms of music that teenage kids get into that I asked him to narrow it down and hone in on what really sparked his interest while in high school.
“I grew up with guitar as my first instrument,” he said, “and I was really into heavy rock bands. Until I went to college, I was into Emo Rock and ‘screamo’ bands. When I went to college, I was exposed to a world of different music. That music had always been around, but then I had time to delve into it. All I did was listen to music.
“At that point, I totally quit my band, sold my guitar rig, bought a laptop and honed-in from there. I kind eschewed everything else for a while.”
As he transitioned from high school to college, his eyes and ears were opened to the cornucopia of so much music. There was jazz, hip hop, soul, electronic music and more. In fact, jazz had a great impact on him. At this point, we became kindred spirits through our love of many of the same jazz musicians.
“Thelonious Monk is my favorite out of everybody,” said Ward. “I used to watch ‘Straight, No Chaser’ (a documentary on Monk). You have to watch it three or four times to catch all the nuances of Monk. He is incredible, and I could talk for days about him. His style was just singular with his personality, you know what I mean? When you hear things like ‘Trinkle Tinkle’, it sounds and looks like the way that he acts.
“I like Bill Evans a lot and his ‘Turn Out the Stars’ record. Of course, there’s Miles (Davis) and his ‘Sketches in Spain’ and ‘Porgy and Bess.’ There’s also Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.”
I interjected with the fact that I also enjoyed the stylings of John Coltrane, in addition to my known love for all things that Thelonious Monk did. Right away, he asked if I liked Charlie Parker, as well.
“Parker was frenetic, but Coltrane was more, I guess, melodic… in a more digestible way than Parker was. When you have ‘Giant Steps’ and shit like that… he’s incredible, man.”
On that, we were in one hundred percent agreement. For those of you that might want to be exposed to some great jazz, “Giant Steps” by Coltrane is great starting point that is not too avant garde or free-form.
He attended Kent State University, with a declared major in philosophy.
“I went in as a philosophy major for my first two years and then switched my major to business,” he said. “I figured that since I was spending all that money to go to school, I might as well graduate with a degree I could use one day.
“So, I’ve adapted philosophy (from his college courses) more as a way of life. I still read philosophy books, too.”
While in college, he released his initial EP’s, 2012’s “WLDFLWR_HNY” and 2013’s “Eskimo.”
“So, I was coming out of these bands and going to college, absorbing all these sounds like electronic, hip hop, jazz, noise bands and whatever. After buying that laptop, we turned our college house into a studio. We were having people come through and record. I was also writing songs for people. Through making tracks and instrumentals one day, I started writing my first solo project and I called it ‘Freeze-Tag’ at the time.
“It sounded different. It was like a homespun, electronic-type thing with light ambient vocals over it. It was received pretty well when I released it. I mean, I had been doing things wrong for so long in bands that I just changed my perception and tried to do something right with this. I released it locally and started my first blog.”
As he progressed through college and grew as a person, his musical persona grew, as well. His ever-evolving sound highlights the artists that had influenced him throughout his life.
“I changed my name from ‘Freeze-Tag’ to my real name about three years ago,” Ward said. “I felt like ‘Freeze-Tag’ was genre-specific. It sounded like a DJ or an electronic artist. I had started to incorporate live instruments into my music again, so I just wanted something that was genre-free and indicative of where I was going.”
Now out of college, he’s playing music both with a band and as a solo artist.
“I travel and tour with a band,” he said. “Brad Puette engineers all the records and he comes out with me to play. But, I was touring with a band for the last couple of years and then I scaled it back down to a one-man show. I like to change things up and keep it interesting for myself.
“Curiosity is central to my character, ethos and personality. I’m always going to be curious and looking to grow.”
His singles in 2016 and 2017 are indicative of this curiosity and growth. He’s moved from electronic sounds, now incorporating psychedelic rock, pop and funk into his new music.
“The new stuff is more visceral and it breathes more. Like the difference between Little Sunshine from the new album and You Do from my old shit, you can hear the difference because it’s more visceral and not as light and electronic.
“You can feel rock and funk in your bones. I think it’s just a logical progression of my travels and hearing different sounds.”
You can easily hear the difference in the new music, with its more mature sound encapsulated in the more mature artist. There are shades of Nile Rodgers and Pharrell Williams on Little Sunshine and BodyFeelGood, respectively. After hearing these two songs, we’re eagerly anticipating his next full-length release.
On Thursday (May 11), you can get your groove on with Marcus Alan Ward at the Rumba Café.
Marcus Alan Ward – Little Sunshine