Interview: This Obsession talks band history, new album, and everything in between

If you’re not already aware, This Obsession is a quickly rising star in the Chicago pop-punk scene. They recently put out an amazing full-length, A Confrontational Effort, via Wiretap Records and I was lucky enough to corner Mark and Jess from the band to chat about it.

We talk band history, Wiretap, influences and everything between. Read the interview below.

First off, what is everyone’s name and what is their position in the band?.

Mark: I’m Mark and I play guitar and “try” to sing.

Jess: My name’s Jess. I play bass and do back up vocals.

When and how did This Obsession get together?.

Mark: This Obsession came together in 2009 after I moved out to South Elgin and met Jess in high school. I found out she played bass and since I played guitar, we started something up together, also recruiting her brother Jordan to play for us on the drums. Jordan never played any instrument so we started him on an electric drum set and he eventually worked his way up to a real kit. After 2 EPs went by, Jordan and the band departed and I put up a post on Facebook looking for a drummer. Jon and I used to play in a band in Lombard when we were freshman so he reached out to play with us. He learned both EPs and eventually we recorded Cheers to Regret with him. Now were releasing A Confrontational Effort!

Is there a story about the name This Obsession?.

Mark: Yeah, it’s not something I’m ashamed of admitting. Alkaline Trio’s This Addiction actually ended up being one of my top favorite albums by them so we took the “This” part and applied it to Obsession instead of “The” which is used very often, which there is nothing wrong with that. This Obsession in general came from the lyrics I wrote about. I felt my lyrics tend to have themes of obsession whether it’s over someone, a grudge, or whatever.

For those who have never heard your music, how would you describe it?.

Mark: I usually like to describe our music as Metallica meeting Jon for the first time and cutting his head off, and hearing his head fall to the floor. It’s pretty raw stuff.

Jess: I think the lyrics really help define the songs and our sound in general. They paint a picture that is very easy for the listener to recreate in their minds, and this is consistent throughout our EPs and albums. I’d tell a listener who’s never hear our music before that it’s very punchy and in your face, but there are times when we tone it down a bit. Each album has its own similar but unique sound.

What musicians got you all interested in playing music?  What sort of music did you all listen to growing up?.

Mark: I was actually a huge hard rock/metal fan growing up. The first band I ever got into was Adema and shortly after fell in love with bands like Korn, Godsmack, Slipknot, and all those tough guy bands. As I got into the playing aspect, I would say Sully Erna of Godsmack was my inspiration to pick up the guitar and sing at the same time. I liked his demeanor and style. I always thought that’s what I wanted to be when I got older. Of course, my music taste changed as I got into bands like Sum 41, Alkaline Trio, Social Distortion, and Nofx. Matt Skiba is a lyrical genius to me. I find him to be very clever, so when I listen to his lyrics and eventually start my own writings; I challenge myself to write more metaphorical songs with more similes. Other than those few bands I’ve listed, I found a love for old honky-tonk country music such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, and Merle Haggard.

Jess: I’ve always been into playing music. I started with piano, violin and oboe, so I was surrounded by your typical concert band/orchestra music growing up. I eventually found bass guitar and really started getting into bands such as Metallica and Rancid. Cliff Burton has always been one of my biggest influences.

You released a new album (A Confrontational Effort) in March, can you tell me a little bit about how that recording process went?.

Mark: A few years back during the recording for Cheers to Regret, Jon talked about having Dan Precision record our next album. As time went on, we contemplated it even more. Dan actually showed up at one of our gigs at Brauerhouse and approached me with an offer to record us because he thoroughly loved our set. To hear that from Dan was extremely exciting so eventually we booked our recording time with him in September. The recording process only took a week to do and Dan was very on point with everything. He was extremely helpful with backing vocals, other ideas, and having a good ear in general. He was just such a friendly and professional guy to work with and I wouldn’t hesitate to work with him again.

Jess: It really helped that we demoed the songs ourselves in our basement before actually recording. It was a nice way to work out the kinks and make sure we were ready for the actual recording.

How did you guys get involved with Wiretap Records?.

Mark: I was sitting in a life skills high school course one day during my clinical with nothing to do. All of my students were out at their job fields and I had plenty of time to kill once we received our recordings from Dan. I took a look at quite a few labels, some being really big ones and some not so much. I wanted to listen to a couple of labels that might be more suitable for us so I attempted to send out the album to them via email. A few got back to us but felt like they couldn’t offer much, which I totally understood. Rob from Wiretap reached out and said he thought he could get behind it but wanted a week with it still. He eventually got back and wanted to sign us, which was exciting. Since then, Rob has been extremely resourceful. He has pushed us in ways we struggled to achieve, giving us a major boost in recognition. He’s been very helpful, friendly, and is always there when we have questions or thoughts. You can tell he genuinely cares and looks out for the bands on his label.

What do you guys do when you’re not playing in This Obsession? I’m assuming you all have day jobs..

Mark:  I am a school-age teacher at a daycare as well as a tattoo artist of 7 years.  Jon is a cook at a restaurant, traveling every now and then to help open new restaurants and train their cooks. Editor’s note: Since this writing, Mark finished his degree and has accepted a full-time position teaching special education.

Jess:  I’m an environmental specialist at a recycling company.

How do you typically write material?  Lyrics first? Music first? Collaborative jam sessions? .

Mark: I tend to write lyrics first when I’m out and about. I’ll be sitting in the car, work, or school, and I’ll have a line or melody that pops in my head. Once I have that, I sing it into my voice memos app on my phone so I don’t forget it. I then take it home and listen to it, pick up the acoustic guitar, and turn it into an acoustic song before I take it to the band.

Jess: Mark will come to us with lyrics and a rough guitar part. Jon comes up with his beats and I keep playing along until I finally “hear” my bass line. Sometimes we tweak things in the studio too.

Do your band’s lyrics tend toward similar topics and if so, what sort of topics do you fall back on typically?.

Mark: Writing the lyrics, I tend to write a lot about what recent experience I’ve gone through. The first 2 EPs were kind of dick around songs that had a bit of humor to them. Cheers to Regret was a concept album about an experience I had while dating someone for so long and how it fell apart. I ended up getting more involved with alcohol and my temper was pretty out of control. I eventually shaped up though and became more mild-tempered and calmed down on the drinking. After all that happened, we literally became best friends. On another note, A Confrontational Effort is about the struggle I dealt with after my ex-fiancé walked out of my life completely and ceased all communication. At the same time, I learned that my best friend/roommate completely lied about his life to my friends and I. After that, he completely bailed on our friendship while still paying rent, fortunately. The whole album is a concept of confronting the situation with what I wish I could say to them now.

Jess: When I try to write lyrics it’s usually about someone I know. I try to make it so that the listener can make their own assumptions. 99.9% of the time Mark has to finish my lyrics for me though because I suck at writing lyrics.

Any touring plans once the album is released?.

Mark: There are talks about a tour this summer but it’s still being planned out.

Jess: Possibly! You may or may not find out!

The Chicago music scene has seen its share of fantastic musicians come out it.  How about a local’s perspective on the state of the Chicago music scene?.

Mark: I’ve seen plenty of local bands in Chicago to say that I think it’s so unfortunate that many of the great local bands we hear in the city are easily passed up. Not many people come out to shows, which for some I understand because of work or time. Others just choose not to come because they don’t want to spend the money or make the drive, which really sucks. There are great bands out there in the city such as Johnny Automatic, October Bird of Death, Death & Memphis, The Mizzerables, Welfare Beer League, Get Up & Go, CHX Collective and many more I can list.

Jess: I agree… there are sooooo many great bands out there!

What are some of your favorite venues to play?.

Mark: I tend to like most venues I play, but I would say my top 2 favorites are Brauerhouse in Lombard and Liar’s Club in Chicago.

Jess: Definitely Brauerhouse and Mahoney’s Pub in Villa Park… I don’t think they have bands play there anymore though.

What are some of your favorite bands that you have done shows with?.

Mark: One of my favorite bands I have done shows with are Johnny Automatic because we all just get along so well and their music is so great. Another couple of bands are Get Up & Go, and October Bird of Death. Not only do I like their music a lot but their energy is what I love the most.

This question is not music or band-related. What are your top 5 favorite movies and/or books?.

Mark: I’m a big fan of biographical books but I don’t read much in general. I don’t really watch too many movies either. If I had to list in no particular order, I would say I loved reading Damien Echols Life After Death and Brandon Novak’s Dreamseller. My top 3 favorite movies I can think of now are “The Strangers”, “Law Abiding Citizen”, and “Evil Dead”. Personally, I love the newer version of Evil Dead.

Jess: I’m more of a TV show person. I loooooove South Park, Seinfeld, Parks and Rec, and documentaries. I love a ton of different books but the one I’ve read the most would be the Harry Potter series


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