Video Credit: Old Man Markley Official YouTube Channel
No matter the size of the venue, Old Man Markley never fails to deliver. Their first ever show was at a bar in Pasadena, California to a standing room only audience. The bar ran out of beer, and the band brought down the house.
When people hear the concept of Old Man Markley’s sound they usually respond with a confused: ‘huh?’
But integrating the backyard nostalgia of bluegrass and the rowdy romp of punk, Old Man Markley have found the happy medium between banjo and badass.
The band started in the Southern California living room of band members Johnny Carey, Ryan Markley, and Annie DeTemple in mid-2007, and has since, travelled the world in support of it’s music.
Nowadays, through touring and the internet, they are bringing the music they started in the family room to audiences all around the world. Their fusion of bluegrass roots and punk energy sounds like country music on speed, and is largely a result of the creative backgrounds of their band members.
Autoharp player Annie DeTemple, along with fiddler Katie Weed, and banjo player John Rosen bring their bluegrass influence. Lead vocalist and guitarist Johnny Carey, bassist Joey Garibaldi, and washboard player Ryan Markley have all previously been members of successful LA-based punk bands and therefore bring that accelerated energy and experience to the creative process. Drummer Jeff Fuller has been an Americana musician and fits right into the Old Man Markley lineup with his preformed style.
DeTemple says, “Between the members backgrounds, it came together perfectly, to form this organic mixture of punk and bluegrass.” And she’s right, because their sound is uniquely their own.
It is their sound that attracted the attention of artist and producer Fat Mike Burkett (of NOFX fame) and his label Fat Wreck Chords. Signing the band in 2010, Fat Wreck Chords has provided a number of unique opportunities including production, touring, and exposure. “Working with Fat is amazing. Its one of the most well respected punk labels that you can be affiliated with,” DeTemple said of the experience.
DeTemple went on to say, “Working with Fat, we knew that it meant [it] would open the doors for us to be on some really big punk tours – which it has; touring with NOFX last year, and the Dropkick Murphys this year, Old Man Markley has seen the globe while touring with a number of well respected groups in both the bluegrass and punk communities.
They were on tour with the Dropkick Murphys in mid-March when they got the news that they had been named #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts for Down Side Up. Currently, mid-way through an international tour that will take them around Europe, they plan to link back up with the Dropkick Murphys for the rest of their North American tour in late May.
At this point the band is seemingly seasoned when it comes to touring, but DeTemple says that the vibe on the bus still changes depending on the venue they are playing on a given night. They try to be as prepared as possible, and have even sworn off junk food while touring. DeTemple said that band members treat every show as a new experience and try to be organized because “its like game day.”
Their touring experiences have had a huge influence on the band and their creative process. Katie Weed explains, “The songs on Down Side Up are the result of touring for two years and waking up together in cities across the world, of discovering new worlds while still missing home, of stories that we’ve wanted to tell for ages, of melodies that permeated our minds and then sound checks, and of ideas that took shape truly as a collaboration between all seven of us.”
That collaboration is something that the group takes great pride in, and doesn’t put limitations on. In the song writing process for Down Side Up, DeTemple said, “It was all encompassing of all the members. Some people that we had worked with in the past…People that have been involved with the band but never toured with us are still involved in the song writing.”
She said that this is the way that Old Man Markley operates. Having so many cooks in the kitchen allows for the creativity to flow freely. “There are so many people involved in our band, and I feel like that’s how we are going to make the best music we can. It happens organically, and it involves whoever needs to be involved,” she said.
The album’s opener “Blood on My Hands” maintains more of a serious tone, while the political message on the spirited “America’s Dreaming” is lyrically thoughtful. The slow-tempo closer “Too Soon for Goodnight” rounds out the album with its softer melody and contrasts well with the rest of the tracks. While the subject of the songs varies, the artistry and anecdotal nature of bluegrass lyrics is evident throughout the record.
The creative liberties that Old Man Markley has taken with its songwriting has been, in large part, because the band members have invested in their music.
For this record, rather than funding and scheduling themselves into a studio, the group created a home studio. “Johnny thought that our money would be better spent if we built a studio… So at the same house where we had band practices and Ryan’s birthday party where we started as a band, we ended up building a recording studio,” said DeTemple.
By scouring Craigslist for deals on equipment, a sound booth, and other essentials, they moved out the laundry machine and moved in a home studio.
DeTemple said its nice to have everything in house and that because they aren’t on a studio’s clock “We really have a nice relaxed setting. We can work starting as early as we want, and we can work into the evenings. We can take a day off. We can do it at our leisure.” The band enjoys the convenience of the space when they are home from touring, saying “its nice that it is in a familiar environment and its ours. We can call it home. It’s the Old Man Markley home studio.”
Keeping with their DIY style, they bought a Seattle City Bus on Craigslist in 2010, gutted and repurposed it as their tour bus. It might not be the most attractive vehicle on the road, “Its green and yellow, and its got a big black strip across the middle of it. Its quite an eye sore,” said DeTemple. But it serves its purpose. With nine bunks, a generator, a flat screen and a Play Station, the band has all the requisites for life on the road.
“Its quite a cozy little vehicle for us,” she said, and it seems to work for them especially because they are such a close knit unit.
The members of Old Man Markley like to do things themselves. From their studio to their instruments, they have their hands in every aspect of their music. When they aren’t touring, a few band members are employed by DeTemple Guitars in Sherman Oaks, CA.
The family business allows a home base for instrument modification and construction. Whether it is creating “the tub” which is the upright bass, building a washboard, or installing bridge pick-ups on the fiddle, the musicians are able to do it all themselves and really learn their instruments inside and out. “I think that is so important for us touring and our stage shows. Being able to know how your instrument works and how to make it sound the best that it can sound,” DeTemple said.
The band has developed a sound that translates well from album to stage because they know their instruments inside and out. “We really found a way to play the folk instruments live, electrically, without the use of these huge amps. So we aren’t really changing the sound of the instrument,” she said. They do this through the use of direct box pedals for each member. “It’s a direct line, we don’t have to plug it into amps,” said DeTemple. She argues that the lack of big amps allows the group to present the instruments in a pure form, even to larger venues where that quality might be less common.
DeTemple said that even though they play bluegrass instruments, their live show is very energetic and loud. Through knowing the manufacturing of their instruments and finding unique ways to deliver their sound, “we can amplify and bring those instruments to a rock show.”
Putting their friendships and the music first has benefited Old Man Markley. Whether its sharing a bottle of wine and a movie in the back of the bus as a band, or laughing with each other on stage, the fortune of sharing this experience with their band mates is something each of them cherishes.
DeTemple, who has known bassist Garibaldi since she was 14, and shares the stage with husband Johnny Carey recognizes how lucky she is. Saying “We are really fortunate to have the group of friends that we have in this band, and that we are able to do this. I can’t express that enough. Its something that I could only have dreamed of.”
They are a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll. They have a bus and a fiddle player that they found on Craigslist. They fix and modify all their own instruments, and recorded their latest record in their self-made home studio.
They make funky, inspired music, and they play it loud.
**A version of this story was published by Performer Magazine in May 2013