Gig Seeker Pro


Madison, Wisconsin, United States

Madison, Wisconsin, United States
Band Folk Acoustic


This band has not uploaded any videos
This band has not uploaded any videos




For as long as Mark Adkins has been making and recording music, it’s strange to think of Subvocal, his musical alter-ego, as embryonic. But here it is, the first full-length release from Subvocal, Nikki’s Room. The band has been reborn since appearing on the verge of dissolution earlier this year. Vocalist and mesmerizing stage presence Vannesa Tortolano moved to Hawaii and Adkins had moved to Oregon. But as our good luck would have it, Adkins returned later in the year. It would seem he had an epiphany of sorts, as he went almost directly to DNA Studios and Brian Daly and turned out a gorgeously haunting recording, one of which Roger Waters and Peter Gabriel would be equally proud. Something tells me, however, that deeper and darker forces were at work in order to bring forth what can only be described in musical terms as “song painting,” or, more concisely, art.
Joining Adkins and Tortolano are cellist Steve Pingry and drummer Gregory Thornburg. Making additional contributions are guitarist Brad Graham, bassists Randy Salber and Brian Daly, and vibraphonist Geoff Brady. Jake “Dr. DeKreep” is also present to lend macabre voice-overs to the cryptic “FistStickKnifeGun” and the very Floydish “3rd Person.” But it is Adkins who conjures up these demons, writing all the music and lyrics and supplying the structural framework which the other musicians expertly adorn. Acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica and samples are all performed by Adkins but it’s his production and engineering expertise and his vocals that breathe life into these pieces, transforming each track into a living being.
Enticing vocal performances abound but “Judi” has to be Adkins’ finest moment to date. Here he demonstrates the full range and power of his voice, which is substantial. In fact, throughout the disc, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish his mournful backing vocals from Tortolano’s. On “3rd Person” Adkins sustains a climactic vocal note for a full forty-five seconds. On “Rain Version 2” he perfectly balances tension and release, the calm understatement of the vocal melody mimicking voices from the beyond. Tortolano takes the lead on the album’s most beautiful song, “Ghost,” cementing her importance as a major contributor to Subvocal’s sound (Tortolano is returning to the Madison area to rejoin the fold). This is a tune that will reverberate in your mind for a long time to come.
Pingry’s contributions are also substantial and it would be difficult to imagine Subvocal without him. “Ghost” is where he also shines most brightly, a double-tracked cello solo gracing the midsection. You can hear him throughout the recording, peeking around the corner with a heavily delayed accentuation, hovering above the songs with an alluring detachment, or grabbing attention momentarily with a wild burst of bowed madness. Graham throws in some delicate and spacey guitar work. He gets his chance to come to the fore in “Fields of War,” in which the slide-guitar fills and flighty soloing recall the best, most intense work of David Gilmour.
Other standout cuts include “Possession,” an excellent composition in the Peter Gabriel mode featuring some effective and worldly percussion from Adkins and Thornburg, and “Raising Sails,” which boasts some of the most exquisite acoustic guitar tone ever committed to disc.
There is little fluff in the lyrical content and “heavy” only begins to describe the psychological leanings of the music’s subject matter. From hopeless loss of both life and love, to the mythology of the better aspects of human behavior, to war, this album is full of searching, pain, despair and suffering. One cannot know the depths of darkness, however, without also knowing the light that pierces it and Nikki’s Room is enchantingly uplifting. Mild disassociation, headphones and candlelight strongly encouraged.

Rick Tvedt
- Ricks Cafe

"Shepherd Express"

Subvocal’s members migrated to Madison from places as far-flung as Alaska, California and Hawaii. Subvocal is one of the few Wisconsin outfits to embrace eclecticism without sacrificing musical beauty, lyrical relevance or commercial potential. Nikki’s Room quietly pulsates with mesmerizing ambiance and haunting (sometimes spoken) vocals that linger in an ethereal and dark otherworld, where time and place no longer seem to matter. Subvocal makes nods to both modern noise and classic melodies. Vocalist, guitarist and band mastermind Mark Adkins sounds like Peter Gabriel and is often joined by the angelic voice of Vanessa Tortolano, with occasional backing by cello, bass, keyboards, vibes and percussion. Nikki’s Room is alternately sparse, stark and stunning.
Michael Popke Dec 2005
- Shepherd Express


Not all albums bloom in a day and wilt in a few weeks. It's been more than 18 months since local songwriter Mark Adkins and his band mates released Nikki's Room, but college and community radio stations just keep playing it. Maybe that's because the album's two knockout singles, "Judi" (a tribute to the late Earth First! leader Judi Bari) and "Fields of War," have endured as musical elixir for anxiety about global warming and Iraq. "Judi" not only provides catharsis but inspires with a story of individual resistance to environmental decay ("Judi Bari gather your seeds, planting rainbows in the wild country").

Nikki's Room has psychedelic, folk and tribal influences throughout. The extended shelf life of this recording speaks to the fact that it's one of the most substantive albums to originate from Madison in a long time.

Reviewed by Rich Albertoni

"Bqarrymore show"

Not since Spooner's triumphant performance at the same Barrymore theater

In 1991 in celebration of the release of "The Fugitive Dance" has Madison witnessed such a fine performance by a local band as this evening's/ or should have witnessed.

Only 128 ticket holders showed up for the CD release party of "Union Cab Presents: Rearview Visionaries". But the house should have been packed for what went don as one of the finest and most complete performances I've ever seen anywhere.

Mark Adkins, guitarist, vocalist and man in charge at Brokenshitstudios, has found his stride with Subvocal, his dark ethereal, psych-pop trio. Combining the superb lighting effects of Curtis Mitchell and the mesmerizing aerial dance and suspension art of Aeros, it proved to be way more than the sum of it's parts. But having heard Subvocal's recordings, I knew that the music alone would be enough to transport the audience to another realm. I was not disappointed and neither was anyone in attendance.

Amid frequent shouts of beautiful from a female member of the crowd and some good-natured heckling from Mark's many taxi driving friends, subvocal absolutely enchanted the stunned audience with beautiful melodies amid a wash of echo and reverb and the sweet sounds from Steve Pingry's cello. At one point Adkins addressed the crowd saying, "welcome to your life". True, and well spoken by a man who's found a way to turn all his fears, frustrations, pains and pleasures into something this creative and innovative.

Guitarist and newest member, Brad Graham, has found his pocket also, weaving heavily processed textures into the mix with superb effect, and occasionally taking over the lead vocals.

It is a rare occurrence when you leave a venue feeling like you have witnessed an outstanding artistic performance that carries inexplicable importance. It's even rarer when the muse visits the room of a local band, as was the case here. But it is the rarest of all evenings when every single member of the audience is cognizant of those facts and reveling in the moment.

Rick Tvedt, Editor, Ricks Café 2002
- Ricks Cafe


Madison's Subvocal plays moody, layered music that should appeal to fans of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. The group's performance with Tracy Jane Comer was one of the highlights of the 2006 Madison Area Music Awards show.

"ishmus rearview visionaries"

Union Cab Presents: Rearview Visionaries
Tiny Records printer friendly

Musicians have a hard time making a good living from their art. In some places, working at the corner copy shop is the preferred day gig for paying off life's necessities. In Madison, driving shifts for Union Cab is a time-honored tradition for players who need rent money along with a chance to perform.

For the most part, the tracks on this Union-centric compilation are new, but old-school metallions Model Citizen are also represented by a pair of crunching rockers recorded in the early '90s. One of the most interesting tunes is a product of the aptly named Subvocal, a space-rock-cum-industrial act ramrodded by the CD's producer, Mark Adkins. It's been a while since smart, truly experimental rock bands cut and pasted the anxious recitation of, say, an oddball love letter with woozy, highly processed guitars and undermixed rhythms and created something exciting and special. But that's exactly what Subvocal does on the enjoyably crazed "Heidy's Letter." Other notable offerings include the tongue-in-cheek Goth-metal of Waysyde's "Beer Song," Kurt Stiemke's arid electronic groove "Unpleasant Nature" and Ingrid Frances Stark's lilting folk song "Taxi Driver's Lament."

Itchin' to tip these music-making drivers in person? You're in luck: a release party for Rearview Visionaries takes place at the Barrymore Theatre on Friday, Oct. 18.

Tom Laskin, Isthmus Magazine
- Isthmus Magazine



Subvocal Live 2011



Mark Adkins’ life did not start out an “easy” life though it seems it should have... Born In upstate New York in a small quiet town on the Saint Lawrence River just across from Canada, Adkins left those Idyllic woods, at the age of 3 when mom moved the family, Mark, brother and sister to Los Angeles to be near her family. They landed in, what was then, a middle class neighborhood in Watts, just in time for the Watts riots.

Music entered Mark’s life through his Mother who sang everyday, and from the albums that his older siblings played nonstop in the house. By the time he was 5 years old he knew he wanted to be a musician. Mark started singing at this very young age. It would be later in life that he would finally pick up an acoustic guitar but his first love would be the drums.

Adkins' first instrument was given to him by his sister’s boyfriend, at age 13. The harmonica quickly became an obsession and a release. He did little else but practice and play harp at all times and wherever he could and was soon playing regularly in local bands but it would be much later in life when Adkins would begin to take serious steps towards his musical ambitions. Leaving home at 16, his first long detour would be a 10 year stint living in the wilderness of Northern California as a hippy dirt farmer in the California Redwoods.

Mark’s first efforts at performing were at the open mics of Berkeley, CA at places like The Starry Plough and The Freight and Salvage. Before coming to Madison, Adkins teamed up with fellow songwriter Vincent Gambino and the two formed a duo called “Toxic Balance”, performing briefly in the Bay Area. Vincent was eventually needed back home and Adkins went on the road to find the next thing. Several months later and after landing in Madison, WI, Mark and Vincent ended up together again for a brief stint and opened up for Three Dog Night in Madison, WI.

After arriving in Madison, Adkins started truly fulfilling the promise he made to become a working songwriter. With the addition of cellist - Stephen Pingry, drummer - Gregory Thornburg, Guitarist - Bradley Graham and Singer - Vanessa Tortolano, he formed “subvocal ” Mark has performed with subvocal and as a soloist for almost ten years. “subvocal” has won “Best Band”, “Best CD” (NIKKIS ROOM, 2005) and “Best Song” in the Madison Area Music Awards and they have been nominated several other times. Possession, from “Nikki’s Room” was licensed for a radio ad. “Judi”, inspired by the death of environmental activist, Judi Bari, caught the attention of the Station manager for KMUD (Garberville, CA) and this led to an on air interview and regular airplay for the song. Mark and subvocal has also been on Community radio stations in Park City, Utah and in Madison, WI and were featured on Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Simply Folk” show. Mark Adkins and subvocal have opened for Moira Smiley & VOCO and Zoe Keating.

Mark’s dark, moody songs, come straight from the heart, unfiltered and very accessible. Combined with the ambient, layered instrumentation of the songs, Mark’s performances fill the venues, and the hearts of listeners in an emotionally charged ride. It’s common for people to come up after a show and say: “I cried during..…..” Whether solo or with his ensemble, the music is rich, full and dynamic, propelling listeners to another world.

“It seems that turmoil and having not been formally initiated as a songwriter has had its benefits”. It was friend and lead guitarist, Brad Graham who first coined the bands genre:
“Ambient Psychedelic Folk Noir”