From the shimmering opening notes of his first solo recording, many listeners will get a familiar feeling hearing Mark Thackway’s music. One of Toronto’s premiere guitarists, Mark is best known within Canada’s jam band community for leading two of its pioneering bands of the 1980s and ‘90s, The Other One and Days Of You.
Now, after several years of tending to other aspects of his life, Mark has returned to writing original songs that display his impressive storytelling ability along with his guitar skills, but this time in an acoustic setting. The initial results are contained on the eponymous Mark Thackway, six songs recorded live off the floor with Mark accompanied only by his longtime collaborator Steve Himel on upright bass. For fans of Bruce Cockburn and especially Jerry Garcia’s acoustic work, the EP offers a true feast for the ears.
Each song on Mark Thackway stands on its own, from the celebratory lead off track, “Into The Light,” to the closing outlaw ballad, “Owens Valley Gold.” In between, Mark gives us a seagoing allegory in the form of “All Hands,” a modern love song with echoes of Mississippi John Hurt in “Caeleigh,” and a rousing sing-along in “Me Oh My.” It was all captured beautifully by engineer Kevin Ker and lovingly mastered by Brad Sarno.
As for his overall musical evolution, Mark has become committed to improving himself in all creative aspects, and believes he’s playing better now than he ever has. Committing to performing solo, as well as following the work of more current artists like The Milk Carton Kids along with Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, has played the biggest role.
It’s clear from this first collection of material that Mark Thackway is loving this new phase of his musical life, and we were happy to sit down with him and find out more. Listen to him on Spotify and keep up to date at markthackwaymusic.com.
This EP is your first release as a solo artist. How does that feel after playing in bands for most of your career?
So far it feels great. I just started playing solo last year, and as scary as it was at first — and still is a little — it’s so freeing and loose. I can do what ever I want, and I’m only accountable to me.
I know you had a lot of material from which to choose. What made you settle on these six songs?
These are the songs that had the fewest warts, at least that I could hear. Given that at this point in my life I just want to get on with making music, I could have spent more time dissecting the material and likely would have ended getting way too close to it.
How challenging has it been to make the transition from playing electric to playing acoustic?
I’ve always been playing acoustic, mostly in bluegrass and rootsy bands. I think I’ve morphed my own approach to playing to the point where both my electric and acoustic sides complement each other.
Some of the songs like “Bridie Swallow” and “Owens Valley Gold” tell great stories. Did the lyrics come first with some of this material?
Pretty much every song I write starts as a riff that I hum a melody over top of. So, the stories that each of those songs tell took a lot of time to develop.
What are your thoughts on the current “jam band” scene?
I’m not really invested in it, to be honest. I’ve heard a few bands that sound pretty cool, but as long as people are coming together in a peaceful way, I’m good with it. My ears are mostly tuned into Americana roots music now, and pretty much always have been. I love good songs that are sung and played well.