Mark Westberg is a musician of various artistic trades and talents, hailing originally from Seattle, WA and now currently residing in Santa Fe, NM. He loves and appreciate a plethora of musical styles, and personally specialize in the folk punk, grunge, and rock and roll-influenced genres as a singer-songwriter and occasional band member.
Mark plays both electric and acoustic guitar, sing, and write primarily his own material (and sometimes unique renditions of other people’s work).
“I would like to use what I do artistically, and as a queer and mentally divergent performer, to help inspire others to express themselves authentically, as well as to live their truth.”
Lisa: Thank you for your time Mark. So, given these weird Covid-19 times, what does a typical day look like for you? How have you adjusted to these times?
Mark: You’re most welcome! And for me, my days are pretty varied! A lot of self-reflection, much time spent getting closer with family and my cats (of whom I am quarantining with at this time), getting outside and immersed with nature at some capacity each day, discovering new horror films or revisiting old movies and television shows that I grew up with for fun (shoutout to Courage the Cowardly Dog for having kept me entertained), and of course, putting an exponential amount of focus into my various artistic endeavors and finding new ways to engage with and build my audience during this rather tumultuous and uncertain period of existence. I have also been putting much needed emphasis on the importance of my own mental well-being and health, as well as helping others with similar matters whenever I am able and if they need it.
Lisa: Let’s talk about your single “Amber Staircase.” What was the inspiration for this track? How would you say that it compares to anything else you have worked on in the past?
Mark: I originally wrote “Amber Staircase” about a really cool punk rock dive bar here in Santa Fe, NM by the name of The Matador, which also happens to be the first bar I ever attended in town. As far as the title itself is concerned, I remember the staircase leading down to the establishment once having an amber colored flood light that would illuminate it every evening, and I thought it would be interesting to have fun with the imagery based off of my experiences and adventures having hung out there with friends. As far as how it would compare to other musical works I have penned, I tend to utilize a fair amount of imagery and “poetic” metaphor in my lyrics, as opposed to saying exactly what it is outright (though there are other tunes of mine where this certainly hasn’t been the case either), and I also tend to mix bits and pieces of other genres, and since The Matador has an eclectic taste in music beyond just punk rock, I figured it would be appropriate to fuse some jazz elements, rock, folk punk, and a dark alternative vibe all in one track. I also have a psychological condition called Chromesthesia, which allows me to involuntarily “see” notes and sounds in color, which is typically a major part of my songwriting strategy. I like the colors that I experience to match what I am writing about.
Lisa: Where did you get inspiration for your Starseed Phantoms” EP?
Mark: Every tune off of “Starseed Phantoms” is based off of a memory, or as I like to think of it, a “ghost” or a “phantom” that lurks around within my mind. Each song is dedicated to a specific and impactful memory, how it made me feel and how it effects me to this day, how I have grown with it since their individual inceptions, and how I have come to reflect on each of these memories with newfound perception. I should also note that I reside on the autism spectrum, and many of us are commonly thought of as descriptors such as “indigo children” or “star seeds”, so I thought it would be kind of fun and interesting to play with the latter term in my EP’s title, and have it be my way of representing myself as an autistic artist writing and expressing myself through an autistic experience and perspective.
Lisa: You also have a Seattle group Black Jupiter & The Raven. Can you tell me
more about that?
Mark: Black Jupiter & The Raven (a band name comprised of each of our astrological signs, ruling planets, and imagery matching where we each currently live) is a multi-genre and experimental group that my very good friend, Alex Miles, and I formed back in late 2010 originally as a duo project, formerly called Magic Shoppe at the time. We gradually accumulated reoccurring members over the years, including a master didgeridoo player and flutist named Zachary Bainter of whom we both met at Seattle Folk Life Festival one year, and we eventually changed our name somewhere in summer 2014. We still all play and make music together in the present, and just as importantly, remain great friends. We are listed as “Jupiter Raven” on YouTube if you would ever like to check us out!
Lisa: Besides being a musician, you are also a painter, actor and model. You must have a lot of energy. How do you nourish your creative side when you’re not working? And how do you avoid burnout?
Mark: I definitely consider myself as having quite a bit of energy, but at the same time, I think it has given me an opportunity to work on a fundamental balance between maintaining said energy and giving myself time to rest in order for that energy to be developed and fueled in the most productive and healthy way that it can be. I have admittedly experienced burnout every so often, which is one of the reasons I have taken an interest in more than one practice. If I know that I need a break or an indefinite hiatus from one endeavor, then I am able to just accept it and use it as a time to reflect and as an opportunity to redirect my focus towards something else entirely. If I’m taking a break from the stage, I can use it to help myself improve auditioning for films, maybe even hop into the makeshift studio and create some more art pieces, do things that I enjoy that don’t explicitly have anything to do with art but may inspire or influence something artistically-related in the longer term like traveling/road tripping with friends and family, or even focus on activism and different causes that are important to me (I also currently serve as a director on Human Rights Alliance of Santa Fe, NM). At the end of the day, I think I would much rather be overwhelmed as opposed to bored.
Lisa: How would you go about energizing a tired audience?
Mark: Audiences vary all the time, and you may never know what type of audience will show up or why they respond in the way they collectively do, in which there could be a plethora of reasons for including physical environment or a difference in how appreciation is expressed. In the case of theatre, I have performed for audiences who will laugh and applaud at virtually anything that happens on stage, and alternatively a Sunday matinee performance where the tonality and energy of the collective patrons are much more relaxed and quiet. It truly boils down to the fact that, no matter what the audience may be like, you still have an opportunity to do what you love up there with as much vigor and passion as you are humanly capable of. If you can enjoy another day of giving others your gift while refraining from being discouraged or taking any low or quiet energy personally, then you will have succeeded just as much as you will have on evenings when the crowds go wild. Being observed as doing your work with genuine and pure joy is much better than the antithesis thereof.
Lisa: What was the best concert you’ve seen and why?
Mark: I have enjoyed a plethora of amazingly unique concert experiences, ranging from the very special to being just plain surreal, and all of them being unforgettable. If I had to pick one for this interview, I think it would have to be the first concert I ever attended when I was thirteen-years-old, which was seeing the Rolling Stones on the evening before Halloween 2005 at what was once Key Arena in Seattle, WA (where I originally grew up). There is no other descriptor for this particular experience other than life-changing. I was infatuated in particular with Mick Jagger’s energy, showmanship, and how unapologetically himself he truly was on stage in front of many. It made me really understand how fortunate I am to be a performer myself, and I was inspired in a way I had never felt before to learn from that energy and presence exhibited on stage and apply it in some form to my own work while also discovering more of who I am as a performer and artist; as a human being.
Lisa: What does your curiosity look like? How do you explore things?
Mark: I have a rather wide array of ways in which I explore things and express my individual curiosity of observable nature and existence. I’m sure this is uniquely the case for many other people as well. Sometimes it can be from doing research, it can be from painting something how I see or think it and exploring life that way, challenging my consciousness by experimenting with psilocybins in tea or on a nature hike, or perhaps it comes from something as simple as stepping outside and taking a walk or stargazing. My individual brand of curiosity is fairly unlimited, out of “comfort” zone, and explorative.
Lisa: What are some newer projects that you are currently working on?
Mark: As far as new projects are concerned, I have currently been partaking in virtual theatre performances, continuing to work on new music and build my audience for this as well, continuing to create more art pieces whenever possible, and also immersing myself in the duties I have as a member of Santa Fe Human Rights Alliance, which has been very much rewarding. Expect more to be posted with regards to things I am working on soon!
Lisa: If you could get into the studio with any artist today and collaborate on a new song for you, who would it be and why?
Mark: I will give you three artists of whom I would love to work with who are alive and three of whom I wish I could work with who have since passed. Three artists who are alive today that I would love to work with are Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, Rachael Price of Lake Street Dive, and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam. My three deceased artists of choice would be Richie Havens, David Bowie, and Jeff Buckley. Each of these incredible artist and performers are people who have helped inspire or influence my musical style/nuance in some way, and have each helped give me something when I thought I had very little to nothing during particular points in my life. To work with either of them in some way, at some capacity, would truly be one incredible experience of which I would be immensely fortunate for!
Lisa: At the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
Mark: At the end of the day, I would like people (artists or otherwise) to understand that there is a vital duty and responsibility for us all to resist certain conventionalities that may keep us limited and bound, and that now more than ever, it is important for so many of us to tell our stories and share our lived experiences and perspectives among others; to create dialogue in a multitude of expressed ways. As an openly queer and mentally divergent artist and human being, this has not only become necessary for my own continued personal transcendence, discovery, and growth, but it is something that I hope I am able to send potential listers and spectators home with, to both inspire them to create in their own way and to value, respect, and love themselves just a little bit more.