Hartford-Born Magik Markers Pay Tribute To Roots With 'Balf Quarry'
ERIC R. DANTON
May 05, 2009
Elisa Ambrogio didn't even want to be in a band at first.
That was earlier this decade, in Hartford's Southwest neighborhood. She was sharing an apartment with childhood friend Leah Quimby and a more recent acquaintance, Peter Nolan. The two often repaired to the basement of the two-family house — owned at the time by Ambrogio's grandparents (her family also owns the Capitol View Deli in Hartford and Max Bibo's) — to make music. Sometimes Ambrogio would reluctantly join them.
"I just didn't really want to play for the first year or two, and those guys goaded me into continuing," she says by phone from Seattle, where she has since moved. "It was like when those guys would go downstairs and play, I would have some time to myself. They weren't in my hair. I like alone time."
Eventually, those jam sessions on Sprague Street spawned the Magik Markers, a noise-rock trio with a fondness for lo-fi recordings and compelling dissonance. The band has since shared stages with Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.
Now a two-piece (Quimby left in 2006), Magik Markers revisits its Hartford roots, sort of, with a new album named for Balf Quarry, the gravel pit that was a source of much fascination when Ambrogio was a kid growing up nearby.
"It was just a place that had this mysterious connotation. You'd hear, like, some kid jumped off a ledge at Balf Quarry and killed himself because he was on LSD," says Ambrogio, a 1998 graduate of the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts. "Turns out he was drinking beer, and he just fell. But [the quarry had] explosions that were really scary. It wouldn't happen all the time, but every once in a while, you'd hear the worst, most terrifying sound while you were asleep. They'd be blasting trap rock."
Ambrogio, a guitarist and vocalist, remained ambivalent about the band until a particularly miserable semester at Smith College, when Nolan, who plays drums, offered to book a tour to lure her out of her room during spring break. Suddenly she saw possibilities, though not always with any consistency.
"When we went on tour for the first time, it was really fun, and it was really fun to play live," she says. "Probably a year after that, I said, 'This isn't fun anymore. I don't want to do this'."
She kept finding ways to make it interesting again, though, through a series of tours, self-released home recordings and, eventually, an official LP, "I Trust My Guitar, etc.," on Ecstatic Peace, the imprint run by Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore.
"Balf Quarry" features guttural, often discordant squalls of guitar, distant drums and Ambrogio's resolute vocals on lyrics that are intentionally opaque — though less so than on the band's early songs, which often featured recitations of elements on the periodic table.
"I hated emotional lyrics, and I liked the idea that there would be no emotional connotation," Ambrogio says. "It would just be elemental and recognizable. Those are the building blocks of everything else, so you could make what you wanted out of them."
Although Ambrogio is now in Seattle, and Nolan resides in Brooklyn, the distance hasn't gotten in the way of continuing to make music.
"We still spend, on average, a week or so a month playing together, whether it's live or practicing," Ambrogio says, "which is more than when we started and were living in the same town."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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