When Mind Spiders sprung to life in 2010, the Mark Ryan-led band bared at least a passing resemblance to The Marked Men, the Texas garage-punk band he’d released four beloved albums with. But as time went on, Mind Spiders kept working away from this sound, incorporating more elements that fell into the arenas like new wave or post-punk, sometimes even sounding like the would-be soundtrack to classic sci-fi films. But with the band’s upcoming fifth album Furies, out January 26 on Dirtnap Records, the band all but eliminates their pop hallmarks, as well as their punk aggression, in service of breaking new ground.
Though it’s far from a concept album, the story of the Furies, a trio of Greek goddesses that patrolled the land and doled out retribution when needed, inspired some of the record’s themes as well as its title. The ancient story goes that the Furies were taken out of commission when a gentler societal order was established, and Ryan explores what would happen if they were to come alive and seek retribution in the modern world.
Though Ryan’s voice remains unmistakable on Furies, the band’s music is much more synthetic, using drum machines, sequencers, and synthesizers as the basis of every song. Not only that, the band is now a trio, paring things down to the bare essentials. Noisey is streaming the album-opening “Outside” below, and though it broods like the goth-tinged song it is, Ryan’s unmistakeable vocals anchor it, offering a hummable vocal melody that cuts down the center. Even as Mind Spiders becomes more dehumanized, Ryan’s heart is still at the center, and it’s still shining through it.
Noisey: What about the idea of the Furies, these vengeful Greek goddesses, reappearing in the modern day was fascinating to you?
Mark Ryan: When I’m writing songs, on one hand, I hate writing lyrics, it’s not my favorite part, so I tend to think of stories and characters to base the song idea from. I was reading about that at the time and it seemed like a cool idea that they’d been tamed and had been waiting there, lurking. And now they’re waking up. The idea of the blood feud, tribalist thing that they fuel feels more prominent today, in the way people deal with each other.
Every Mind Spiders record has been different from the one before, and this one is the most extreme example of that. How conscious of an action was it to make something so divorced from what came before?
I’m real conscious of it. I guess with this album, and the one before it, it’s almost a different band. Well, it is, basically. It’s always been primarily me and then there’s been various other people in the band. I’ve always just kept the name—though I guess I could have changed it at some point—but I’ve just gotten more into electronic music. At one point, Mind Spiders had six people in the band, and now there’s three. All those people have been automated. Automation has caused them to lose their jobs, I guess.
With machines and sequencers and drum machines, I love the relentlessness of it. The interaction between that, and playing along with it, it’s so unforgiving. Our drummer Mike [Throneberry] plays to a click and has to keep up with that to be right on with everything. I just like that dynamic. And I’ve kind of moved away from writing traditional pop songs, like I had done with The Marked Men and had done early on with Mind Spiders. It’s just not as appealing to me anymore. For some reason, this just feels right.
So do you create the songs and then kind of try attach themes to them, allowing the music to color what the songs actually end up being about?
I work with drum machines and sequencers to start out. I find something that’s appealing in some kind of riff and then I get my guitar and bang something out with it. Once I find something that I like, I try not to overthink it. I try to just record myself doing that and then, afterward, kind of put together what I just did so it has a natural feel to it. Then I just kind of see what I did and mold something from there. I have tons of demos of different ideas that I’ve done like that. A lot of the time it’s not successful. But sometimes I’ll hit on something that feels right. And I keep that and mold it into something.
I just try to really select the songs that were exciting to me or interesting to me and aren’t just like something I’ve done before so I’m not just repeating myself. You can’t get away from yourself completely but, at least, there’s something that has to be challenging to me. Every song has to have some element that is different from what I’ve done before. I’ve been doing this a long time, so I’ve got to do something to entertain myself.
Is that all in the interest of trying to build a back catalog that feels as diverse as your interests are?
I just get bored with stuff. You hit on something I think about a lot, which is that there’s music that’s comforting to people, especially stuff that you love and that sets some sort of mood, and there’s music you put on that you’ve never heard before that you want to challenge yourself with. It’s like, “I don’t know if I’m going to like this, but I’m going to try.” You sort of hope people will listen to it and it will challenge their taste a little bit. I get so kind of fed up with Mind Spiders and Marked Men being categorized as garage-rock and all that. You’ve got to find some label to stick on it, but it starts to get old. When I see people write that kind of thing it’s like, “Are you really listening to it? Because I don’t think that’s what it is at all.”
This record certainly sheds that tag. The last song is an instrumental piece that’s almost nine minutes long and sounds more like Pornography-era Cure than anything else. Does it require a bit of confidence to put that on a record where people see you as being more of a punk-oriented thing?
I love that last song because it is more of a collaboration with the other guys, especially Peter [Salisbury], the synth player. It was almost accidental. It was like, “Oh, let’s try this.” And, somehow, it sort of formed and became what it is. And, for me, it’s really fun and interesting to make something like that. I have other tracks I’ve made like that but I just haven’t put them on albums. They’re just fun for me to listen to. But it just fit the mood of this record, and I really liked it a lot. So if people don’t like it, I don’t really care.
“Outside” is the most melodic song on the record while still having that darker, harder sound running through it. How much do you try to meld those sounds instead of avoiding one or the other?
I really love noise, and I really love that relentless, machine quality and how it locks you into a mood. I think it provides a really nice base layer. And, on top of that, you have plenty of room to play around. I’ve consciously tried not to listen to other things and have other songs affect me. Early on, there were obvious, clear references in Mind Spiders songs. But all the songs on here, they’re much more genuine. The pop things are ingrained in me. I can’t get away from it.
Lyrically, this song stands apart from the rest of them because the lyrics are basically about when my dad was in the ICU last year for a month. He was completely incapacitated. I spent a month in the ICU with him and he was not even there. So this was what I would imagine it’d be like to be in that kind of state. At one point, he’d not been outside, literally outside of the four walls he was in, for months. He felt trapped in this weird state. And that’s basically what it was about, and it tries to capture that feeling. I felt like the mood of the drum machines, and the way the chord progression was, it has a sort of hopeful vibe, kind of yearning just to get the fuck out. And that’s why it all fit together.
Given that people see the band as being kind of sci-fi focused, does that allow you to kind of slip in these personal songs under the radar?
The thing is, with that song, you can very easily interpret it differently from what I just described. I definitely try to leave it open to that. Any kind of good sci-fi or Greek tragedies are sort of personifications for feelings and symbolic of different things. I just find it more fun to play around with that kind of stuff instead of explaining what all these things mean. Typically, I don’t do that. But it’s just a way to use the symbols to express certain personal experiences.
With this album, Mind Spiders now has more albums than The Marked Men, but people will always use that band as a measuring stick against whatever else you do. Do you ever wish there was more a divide there?
I’m just lucky that people liked my band. I’m glad that people liked The Marked Men, and maybe the Mind Spiders not as much, but that’s fine. I feel lucky that I’ve had a band and been able to create something with my friends that resonates with people. If that’s their point of reference for me, that’s great. I don’t resent it at all, but it is kind of hard. I’ve been lucky in that working with Dirtnap has been a really good experience, they’ve always been real straight with us and been a good label to work with, but that label has a particular style associated with it. And like you said about the last song on the album, that’s not a typical song you hear on a Dirtnap record. Sometimes I worry that people who might like this aren’t going to listen to it because it’s getting out there in a certain way. But that’s a minor complaint. I’m happy to get these albums out as long as people want to keep listening to it.