Madder Music, Stronger Toy Piano

Posted January 31, 2008 in Feature Story

The Mad Marionettes rent the childhood home of members Daniel and Ivan McCormick on a sleepy suburban street in Riverside. Each band member has arranged their work schedule to make the Marionettes a full-time job. The band lives with two Romanian brothers who used to reside on the corner, and those brothers always leave their shoes in the hall. The house was supposed to be a Victorian-style musical retreat for the band—a quiet respite from the chaotic outside world where the group could tinker away at the frantic, dark sideshow aesthetic unhindered. It didn’t work out quite that way.

Which isn’t to say that the Marionettes haven’t come a long way since their inception. The proto-Marionettes, boasting both McCormick brothers and bassist Damian Aguyao, first materialized as The Psychobilly Flapjacks, but they were, self admittedly, a horrible psychobilly act. The genre didn’t provide them enough flexibility anyhow. In early 2006, they took a hiatus to work on a demo, where the McCormick brothers developed a new sound for the band. They added some new instrumentsaccordion, banjo, violin and a toy piano, to name a fewand a plethora of musical influences that includes everything from French circus music to rock en espanol, and mixed it with the intensity of their former furious endeavors. The McCormick brothers also abandoned guitar based songwriting and began doing all of their composing on the piano.

“We really needed to experiment,” Daniel says. “We, me and Ivan, started listening to a lot of French music and a lot of swing and hot jazz. And then [Ivan] got the accordion and we just started adding more and more. We weren’t very good at the psychobilly thing. It had just gotten kind of boring.”

 Still, the Marionette’s needed more musicians to be complete. That’s when they met Magnifico Ulises, who had a lot of musical tastes in common with the band, but none of their experience.

“I’d inherited this big organ, this Hammond, and I needed someone to play it,” Daniel said on adding Ulises to the band. “I said, ‘This is an organ. I’m looking for an organ player. Do you want to play?’ And he tells me, ‘Yeah.’ He had never played music before. But the next week he came every day, and he learned it.”

The band then sent the demo in to KUCR, and landed an hour-long interview on The Bat Hours, and a write-up in this very rag, which they claim as instrumental to drawing 50 people to their second show at Riverside’s Tremors. The Marionette’s first gig at the venue was “a horror story.” Everything that could go wrongunsympathetic sound guy, failing equipment, malfunctioning electronics and hostile friends who wanted to be supportive, but were ready to go home—did go wrong.  

“All the mistakes we made in that show were corrected,” Daniel said. “Every one since then has been awesome . . . at our last show at Biacci’s, for our Buckingham Burlesque show, at one of the back tables were a bunch of ladies that looked exactly like my great grandmawhite hair, a little shaky, moving really slowlybut they told us that they loved it.”

Since perfecting their mythically energetic live shows, the Marionettes have decided to take a break from live gigs to work on their first album that’s still in the nebulous pre-production stage. An EP is currently on the way, which is comprised of the first batch of songs that wasn’t recorded in a bedroom or a garage. The band’s new album seems almost daunting in scope—the band has a ton of new ideas for the album and various elements they want to add to their already eccentric sound. Daniel is a bit nervous about fitting all their burgeoning ideas onto one album, but the rest of the band seems pretty nonchalant about their impending album, which will take a slightly different turn than their demo. The band promises a bit more melody.

“We all have our different influences, but I’m all about melody,” Daniel says. “I don’t even listen to a lot of energetic music anymore, just a lot of melodic stuff. We still like to play energetic music because it’s fun and our crowd likes it, but we want to experiment a little and add some new elements.” The band can often be heard trying out their new songs at Back 2 The Grind’s open mic nights.

Even though the Mad Marionettes are investing a lot of time refining their sound and writing their upcoming album, the Marionettes don’t have any corporate rock star aspirations, as they plan on releasing and promoting the record themselves and are setting their sites on performing benefit shows.

“At this point, it’s a privilege to be in music,” Daniel says, “because [music downloads] are causing the record companies to crash. With that and the whole home recording thing, the underground is becoming more important and more popular, and the mainstream is getting more and more marginalized. It’s great because you don’t have executives deciding what’s popular anymore. The band is all that matters, so the music it all that matters.”


The Mad Marionettes are nominated for Best Punk Band at the Inland Empire Music Awards.




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