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Music on his mind

Mark Hutchins returns to the same

By EA Poorman

Fort Wayne Reader


"Push pins are the only thing keeping me awake now.
Constellations on my leg, glowing red, bleeding thin.
Row the boat to the golden shore and you'll find me bleeding like
a sun trapped inside a song for everyone."

Words from a guy name Mark Hutchins. Perhaps you know him, perhaps you don't. It doesn't matter really, at least to him anyways. He's that kind of guy. If you like him and the words he spouts on top of acoustic strums and sometimes jangly electric, then that's cool. If you don't, well that's cool too. He's still got a roof over his head in that quaint little town called New Haven. He's got a great wife and kids that get his humor and put up with that racket he calls songwriting. He's also got one of those things folks call a 9 to 5. Yeah, he punches a clock just like you and me. He drinks his coffee and drives to work every day. He's not different than the next clock puncher, right? Yeah, but those words. What 9 to 5 guy comes up with words like that?

Mark Hutchins, that's who. The guy that led Vandolah from a small town garage onto small town stages and put out three of the best local albums this area has heard. The same guy that put out two amazing albums under his own name within two years, plus an e.p. last year. That's who writes words like that, and like this:

"Cut the ropes like you were born to chase the shadows for their skin
Drink the oil of turpentine, sleep beneath the spiring pines
Dreaming of a palace of the brine"

These were the last words heard from Mark Hutchins the artist. The wordsmith. For the last year Hutchins' live gigs have been sporadic at best. Non-existent at worst. Where did he go? Existential crisis? Family life keeping him busy? "I had been playing pretty regularly (for me, anyway) since Sleepy Furnace came out in, what, 2010?" said Hutchins as we talked over a cup of coffee. "I guess it was just a combination of a little bit of burnout, some health stuff and lack of new material. I've spent most of 2013 just working and doing some freelance writing projects. Now, I'm gearing up for a run of solo and band shows booked through winter. Great time of year to load up on shows, huh?" Maybe if your winter is spent in Arizona, but in Indiana it can be a hassle. Such is the life of the gigging artist.

"Song For Everyone" was the last musical nugget Mark shared with the world before he took his musical hiatus(it's also the song quoted above.) Does the end of this music sabbatical mean new music is on the way, either from the Vanolah camp or Hutchins solo? And what constitutes a song to be deemed Vandolah or solo Mark Hutchins? "It gets kind of blurry, because Vandolah, at least the latest iteration of it, was or is a recording project with some live shows here and there. I play out with the same guys for both Vandolah and my full-band solo shows. Vandolah's always kind of had its own sound, but One More Minute (the Vandolah e.p. from 2012) has a couple of tunes on it that wouldn't have sounded out of place on Liar's Gift (Hutchins' solo LP from 2011.) The lazy answer is that sometimes I just get tired of pimping music and shows under my own name... but on the other hand, Vandolah DOES seem to have a slightly different vibe overall, Hutchins says as we go for another cup of joe. "Originally, I approached my solo stuff with an attitude of, "Gotta be able to play the song on acoustic, solo, if it's any good." And Vandolah became more of an "anything goes" project. Keep in mind, this is stuff that's heard by, what, TENS of people? It's kind of a grownup's game of pretend. As far as new music goes, some new songs are starting to take shape, and I'll probably do them under my own name. But I don't feel any need to hurry the process. I'd rather write three songs I like than an album's worth that I don't care about."

A grownup's game of pretend. That seems to be the case with a lot of local bands. The 9 to 5 hat on during the day, and then the rock n' roll hat at night. There still needs to be time for your family and friends. Plus writing more songs, cause what's the point of playing if you're not coming up with new music? It can be daunting for the artist with that other "real" life up and running. I could see how it would be easy for a guy to just say the hell with it and hang up the guitar for good. What drives a guy like Mark Hutchins to want to keep this up? Keep this game of pretend continuing? "I wasn't sure if I wanted to play anymore. I felt kind of emptied out. But it's not so easy to just walk away from something you've poured your soul into for years and years... it's kind of seeping back into my bones, I guess. Also, I have the good fortune to be able to play with really, really good musicians who happen to be great guys, and I miss that. It's just fun to be around these guys and make music. Plus, they put up with me playing upside-down guitar. As far as money goes: as long as I'm doing original music, I'm gonna have to have a day job too."

It's a sickness you never quite get over, this "music" thing. I wondered what Hutchins thoughts were on the current state of local music in the Fort. "I've never been a very good member of the scene around here, mostly because I don't get out much. That said, I'm always impressed when people from the area take it upon themselves to do something original and cool and different. I've been around long enough that it feels kind of like that burst of activity and interest in original music is a bit on the wane. That's understandable: this isn't a huge town, and it lacks the kind of constant turnover and constant influx of energy that, say, a college town has. That said, pound for pound, Fort Wayne still has a better mix of bands doing originals than just about anywhere else in the state. Just my opinion. You can go out and catch The Orange Opera, or Thunderhawk, or Flamingo Nosebleed or I,Wombat, Superhunk, Heaven's Gateway Drugs, and any number of bands I can't even think of off the top of my head. And the quality of area albums that come out every year or two is ridiculous."

So what about these new shows? Where's Mark taking his songs this winter? "I'm doing everything from unplugged house shows to coffeehouses to taverns to full-on electric shows at clubs. It's always been rewarding to get to run the gamut like that. I'll be playing a few different venues here in town, including a new place called the Phoenix. Pretty excited whenever a new venue opens up to original music. I'll also be hitting Toledo, Ohio, which is kind of my second home. Then there's Indianapolis, Cincinatti, East Lansing, Cleveland, and a few other places. It's been easier to play out of town sometimes than to get bookings at some places here locally; some places I used to play on a regular basis. That's a bit of a bummer, because I'd prefer to keep the mix more heavily weighted toward local shows. Not to throw stones, but I guess that ties in with what I mentioned earlier about the local music climate kind of cooling at least my experience with it."

One of the shows Mark is doing is a breakfast show at the Glass City Cafe in Toledo, OH. It's a morning gig, acoustic, and served sunnyside up. I asked him about the breakfast shows and how they differ from an evening club show. "The breakfast show environment is so different from a regular show; it's kind of a cross between a house show and a coffeehouse show, with a really friendly and loose atmosphere. The folks who run the Glass City Cafe in Toledo really make me feel welcome, and I'm always eager to play there. And my coffee cup is never empty! I'd love to see something similar here locally some time."

As we leave I throw one more question at Mark. I wondered what inspires him nowadays. Music, books, film? "I've spent most of the summer and fall listening to the last two albums The National did. It's so different from what I do, and it's really cool to hear the music reveal itself over a bunch of listens. Let's see... Richard Buckner's great. So is Califone. And Strand of Oaks. I stumbled onto an Amsterdam-based band called The Great Dictators a couple of months ago. They're really interesting. Books? There's a Russian short science fiction novel called "Roadside Picnic" that really drew me in. You end up with more questions than answers, but that's what's cool about it." You end up with more questions than answers, much like Mark's music. Very cool, indeed.

Make sure to catch Mark live on any of the dates below. And check Mark out at facebook.com/MarkHutchins, reverbnation.com/markhutchins, and markhutchins.bandcamp.com.

Mark Hutchins tour dates:
Nov. 16 - Indianapolis, house show
Nov. 30 - Glass City Cafe, Toledo - breakfast show
Dec. 5 - Phoenix, Ft. Wayne - with D. Ferren
Dec. 11 - East Lansing, MI
Dec. 13 - One Lucky Guitar (no ticket info yet)
Dec. 14 - The Village Idiot, Maumee, OH
Jan. 4 - Lorain, OH
Jan. 5 - Cleveland, OH
Jan. 9 - Phoenix, Ft. Wayne
Jan. 10 Cincinatti
Jan. 11 - Friendly Fox, Ft. Wayne
Jan. 17 - CS3, Ft. Wayne

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