By Thomas Dunlap
Martian Subculture is the DIY project of Quin, Ireland’s own Evan O’Malley. Identified as “folk music from another planet,” the tunes of Martian Subculture are as familiar as they are foreign. Solidified by skeletal production and the heavy use of guitar pedals, the music is satisfying yet sinister. Taking the fundamentals of indie pop and adding an extraterrestrial touch of psychedelia, O’Malley has created what could be known as “martian folk music.”
Metallic guitars twirl under groovy melodies as lonely and lo-fi vocals hazily hover over the hollow instrumentation. The unique guitar tones are warped and distorted, as if they were played on a busted or out-of-tune instrument. The detached and deconstructed vocals are reminiscent of a faint interstellar radio transmission, softly and statically singing despondent lyrics that are unfortunately all too relatable. Despite the sorrowful and secluded air to Martian Subculture’s moody atmosphere, the music is inviting and infectious. The catchy guitar riffs and melodies are a comforting constant as the listener is taken on an intergalactic journey, experiencing sounds and vibrations that were previously unknown to man.
O’Malley’s most recent release is a four-track EP titled Sleeping. These downtrodden tracks are a drowsy display of contorted guitars and clandestine vocals, creating an eerie and emotional experience. “Lonely and Free,” the EP’s standout track, is a beautiful piece of brooding indie pop. Sharp but smooth guitars spiral around each other as a soft crooning creepily delivers introspective lyrics concerning self-induced exile. The track is concluded with a swirling guitar that gradually increases in intensity before fading out. The three remaining tracks follow the musical archetypes that comprise Martian Subculture’s distinct discography.
I contacted O’Malley through his Instagram (@martiansubculture) to see if he would be interested in answering a few questions of mine. To my pleasure he agreed to an informal Q&A session via email. The following is a copy of our pleasant conversation…
Thomas Dunlap: How many pedals do you use to achieve the unique guitar tones you use? How long does it take for you to be satisfied with each specific sound?
Evan O’Malley: I pretty much just use this little Zoom G3X multi-effects pedal. It has a lot of pretty great sounds. I use this tiny Mini Squire when recording guitar, it has a beefiness to it. I usually try get the tones of guitars a bit more compressed and shiny using Ableton. Ableton is pretty great. With Ableton I can usually achieve a sound I had in my head in enough time to keep the flow of the recording process going.
TD: You currently have five separate EPs, none of them exceeding a length of four tracks. What was the reasoning for these project’s brief runtime? Do you feel that shorter projects are more “digestible?”
EO: Yeah I definitely like the idea of short easily digestible albums, and the EPs helped me express that, while also giving me the opportunity to progress my sound with each release, which happened frequently due to the nature of the EPs.
TD: I couldn’t help but notice the “Return of the Jedi” blanket in the Sleeping album cover—are you a big Star Wars fan? I’ve always really liked General Grievous, who is your favorite character?
EO: Yeah I love Star Wars. Currently playing Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic. It’s pretty insane, and Star Wars has always been an inspiration to expand a visual universe around my music. I really liked Luke, he was pretty relatable and cool.
TD: How do you go about finding inspiration for song lyrics? Is it hard to find words that have meaning?
EO: I do sometimes go through periods of not being able to express any lyrics that have any meaning. Usually when I’m writing a song, there will be a clear vocal melody in my head and that evolves from humming to actual words that have a weird amount of meaning, and I usually write the song around that.
TD: How has being from Quin, Ireland influenced your sound?
EO:Being from Quin when I started Martian Subculture was pretty uninspiring, no-one really making music or art. But there was a small community of friends with all interesting inspirations. For instance, I was in a band called Flying Geezer, and we played Thee Oh Sees-esque speedy krautrock jams and King Gizzard covers. And my friend Kevin has a project called Coma Persona which is really great, and helped pumped more much needed inspiration into the small community of artists. Now I’m living in the city and have a lot more artist connections and such. All of the above has inspired me to where I am today.
TD: The first three EPs’ covers look as if they were drawn on MS Paint, who is the artist behind these minimalistic pieces?
EO: I drew those cover with a felt tip pen, and scanned them into my laptop to be colored in with Photoshop. They are a big part of making a visual connection to the universe I am developing around Martian Subculture.
TD: What new elements, if any, are you experimenting with for a new project?
EO: I’m falling in love with beefy percussive piano and drums, and that’s something to be expected on the 6th EP. And developed even further on my first album which I am now beginning to record. I am also recording a lo-fi folk album, compiled of many fictional various artists from a future Mars which is another key part in developing this Martian Universe. This is a more long term project I will be spending a lot of time on in the coming year or two.
TD: Were you always interested in creating this unique branch of indie rock? How has your sound evolved over your time as a musician?
EO: Yeah I always felt, if I was going to make indie pop or whatever, I gotta keep it fresh and ripe, and not some passable indie pop song that you stumble across on YouTube and briefly enjoy. I think since I started Martian Subculture my sound has gotten increasingly darker in a sense, my love of exploring sounds is still strong and changes to my sound is inevitable.
TD: What artists did you keep in mind while developing your sound?
EO: In terms of having influence from other artists, there are many many musicians I have in mind when I am recording something. Kevin Parker has always been a big influence in me exploring a more free sound without limiting myself too much. He has also pushed my love of melody in a song.
TD: What essential elements need to be present in order to create a good song?
EO: For a song to be great, it has to have gone some fermentation process in the artist’s mind. A song that is just shit onto a tape recorder can be great but sometimes underdeveloped when made into a full song right away. A song also needs to sound beefy and thick.
TD: Is there any new information concerning an upcoming album?
EO: Yup, a sixth EP will be released next. And I am currently starting actual recordings of the first album.
O’Malley’s gloomy music is covered with a thick haze of tired and heavy instrumentation. The mysterious guitar tones and vocal pitch add a luscious layer of interest and intrigue, abducting the listener with addictive melodies and captivating tunes. With a solid collection of five EPs and a sixth in development, Martian Subculture is undoubtedly a frequency worth giving a listen.
Featured image courtesy of Evan O’Malley and calligraphy by Thomas Dunlap.