Mark Growden

Mark Growden

 San Francisco, California, USA
BandAmericanaFolk

Mark Growden is a singer, multi-instrumentalist, composer, and songwriter based in New Orleans, LA. He is best known for his passionate voice, intelligent lyrics, and captivating performances. His work draws form influences as broad as early American field recordings to contemporary art music.

Biography

Recurring themes in Mark Growden’s intensely personal new album Saint Judas include love and loss, sin and faith, perseverance, compassion, and, most significantly, redemption. There is a darkness that haunts Saint Judas, though not without an undercurrent of hope. Growden explains that, for him, the resurrection theme that surfaces throughout the work isn’t of the magical rise-from-the-dead variety, but rather that, “it takes some grieving to get through to the joy.”
Growden is captivated with old American music, mainly African-American, recorded by ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax in the 1930s and 1940s; several tracks on Saint Judas are reworkings of these songs. Album opener “Undertaker,” based on a Lomax field recording of the prison work song “Rosie,” introduces the theme of resurrection. “Dig me a grave, in the open plain. Lower me down, and pull me up again,” sings Growden, over a howling guitar and trumpet. And the closing banjo-and-voice only “All the Pretty Little Horses” is a version of an old spiritual Growden calls “one of his favorite songs ever” which was written, according to legend, by a woman watching horses pull her child’s hearse through the streets.
The title track on Saint Judas – a cabaret rocker with its refrain of “bottoms up to you, buddy, ’cause somebody had to take the blame” – honors the biblical “Saint of Sinners” often vilified as the traitor who turned on Jesus. The song is a call to acknowledge and accept the worst that lies within everyone while finding the strength to forgive and carry on.
The biblical references that pile up throughout the album are no accident – Growden’s father was a preacher in the northern Sierra Nevada town of Pinetown, California, where he was raised. But Growden is less interested in religious iconography than he is in seeing biblical stories as universal themes. As an example, “Delilah,” with its plaintive accordion and cello, references the story of Samson and Delilah, but as a metaphor, he says, “of the death of ego, of the illusion of yourself, for love.”
In perhaps the most moving piece on the album, “The Gates/Take Me To the Water,” Growden asserts that “every soul is welcome,” in a line that sums up the overarching theme of Saint Judas, “be you a virgin, a whore, a sinner or a saint.” This adaptation of an old spiritual delicately builds from a percussive accordion-heavy opening to a rousing choir-fed climax before launching into a rollicking New Orleans-style version of the traditional song. “Everyone assumes that it’s about Katrina, says Growden of the track, “but it was written before Katrina. It’s about walking in Oakland and seeing the pain in people’s eyes.”
As a composer and performer, Growden has released several critically acclaimed albums and performed at venues such as the Fillmore and Great American Music Hall in San Francisco, and Tonic and The Knitting Factory in New York. He has performed and collaborated with a wide range of musicians and artists including members of The San Francisco Opera, Bob Weir, Hamza el Din, Kid Congo Powers, John Santos, Omar Sosa, Remy Charlip, Faun Fables, and Stan Ridgeway. He has composed original musical scores for a number of dance and theater companies including Joe Goode Performance Group, The Crucible, and Alonzo King’s LINES Contemporary Ballet with whom he and his collaborators won the Isadora Duncan Award for Best Original Score for a New Dance Piece. He has scored several films including 2005’s Blood Tea and Red String, which won Best Animation at the San Francisco Independent Film Festival and at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal. Growden also co-produces San Francisco-based COVERT – a site-specific concert series with famed artist John Law.
After initially establishing himself as a jazz/new music winds player and composer in the mid-1990s, Growden began playing accordion and banjo when all his other instruments were stolen from a theater where he was accompanying a dance performance. He is currently writing an opera based on Saint Judas, is working on an educational film about how the harmonic series works, and leads singing workshops in various cities. In October 2009, Growden and Porto Franco Records signed the recording deal for Saint Judas. The team is now getting ready to produce two more albums to be recorded with his Los Angeles and Tucson ensembles, in those cities, respectively.

Lyrics

Bones

Written By: Mark Growden

You can lead a horse to water
But you can’t teach him to fish
Blow out the torches with a whisper and a wish
Wrap up your troubles in a rolling melody
Sing it to the moonlight with a cricket on your knee

Diggin’ up the bones
Diggin’ up the bones

You can drop me in the ocean
Lose me in the sand
Find me in the river with a glimmer in my pan
Cryin’ with the coyotes
Sleepin’ with the bees
Dreamin’ ‘bout a blackbird with an eagle up its sleeve

Diggin’ up the bones
Diggin’ up the bones

You can lead a horse to water
But you can’t teach him to fish
Blow out the torches with a whisper and a wish
Wrap up your troubles in a rolling melody
Sing it to the moonlight with a cricket on your knee

Diggin’ up the bones
Diggin’ up the bones

Saint Judas

Written By: Mark Growden

You got a shot glass scar on your forehead
You got holes in the soles of both of your boots
You’re a movie where the good guys are bad
And the bad guys are good

You like you whiskey neat
As a military sheet
So you drink it straight from the bag
But the kiss on the lips that that whiskey is kissin’
They ‘bout to execute an innocent man

Saint Judas,
With your noose on tight
Saint Judas,
Guide us through the night
Saint Judas
Bottoms up to ya buddy
‘cuz somebody had to take the blame

You got a stack of cash in your pocket
Oh you sold him for the price of a slave
But at the end of the day which of you is the slave?
You both got your price to pay

Oh, Jericho it fell to the trumpets
Oh and Heaven it’s going to fall to the hounds
Oh, but you’ll take your fall like a tightrope walker
But you’ll never hit the ground
No, no you’ll be dancing on nothin’

David, he’s the Saint of the Poets
Julian he's the Saint of the Clowns
Oh well now you’re the Saint of the Sinners, boy
So won’t you buy us all another round
Oh buy us all another round

Saint Judas,
With your noose on tight
Saint Judas,
Guide us through the night
Saint Judas
Bottoms up to ya buddy
‘cuz somebody had to take the blame
Bottoms up to ya buddy
‘cuz somebody had to take the blame
Bottoms up to ya buddy
‘cuz somebody had to take the blame
Saint Judas

Discography

DISCOGRAPHY
Mark Growden - In Velvet (to be released in 2012)
Mark Growden - Saint Judas Solo (to be released in 2012)
Mark Growden - Lose me in the Sand (to be released February 2011)
Mark Growden - Saint Judas (2010)
Mark Growden - Island of the Gondoliers (soon to be released)
Mark Growden – Blood Tea and Red String (2005)
Mark Growden – Live at the Casbah – San Diego (2004)
Mark Growden - Live at the Odeon (2003)
Mark Growden’s Electric Pinata - Inside Beneath Behind (2001)
Mark Growden - Downstairs Karaoke (1999)
Mark Growden - This Piggy (1997)
Mark Growden - Don’t Wanna Go Back (1996)

COLLABORATIVE PROJECTS

Tock - Tock (1996)
Big Butter - From the Udder (1990)
Big Butter - Step In and Do a Certain Something (1988)
E is for Elephant - Uncle Grapefruit (1988)

AS A GUEST

The Crux - Now Ferment (2009)
Splatter Trio - Splatter Trio + n (2007)
Six Eye Columbia - Frowny Frown (2001)
Six Eye Columbia - A Million Six (2001)
Ray’s Vast Basement - On the Banks of Time (2000)
Steve August - Happiness the Hero (1999)
Lori B - Hurricane Child (1998)
Alonzo King’s Lines Contemporary Ballet - Sacred Text (1996)
Bob Weir (Grateful Dead) - Baru Bay (1995)

Set List

The set list depends on the room and the band I bring out. I have multiple sets worth of material.