Belmont Lights have been a bit of a hidden gem for awhile...a rock band that immediately stood out to me when I first heard "Halfway" a couple of years ago.
As 2015 wound down, they began posting mysterious messages, bordering on cryptic. I couldn't discern much from the short video clips of the BL logo in flames, but rumors abounded that the band was gearing up for a name change.
Sure enough, in October, Isaiah, Jed, Casey, and Chad revealed their brand new name...MRKTS.
To top it all off, the San Diego natives also surprised everyone with Last Call, their debut album, which was (and still is) free for download.
Talk about a head spin. It took me awhile to process this information--it's a bit of a fan's dream, really.
I didn't exactly have any expectations for Last Call. I went in just hoping I'd still recognize the band that captured my attention back in 2014.
Good news? I did recognize them.
The great news? They subtly remolded their sound into something even more addictive than before.
From "Lay Me Back Down" to "Tidal Waves," Last Call is a cohesive journey of soulful vocals and assertive, dynamic instrumentals--from those perfect moments of realism in the more downtempo tracks to the high energy, "screw the negativity" anthems.
I recently caught up with MRKTS to discuss what I've been dying to know - Why the change? And what are the plans for Last Call as the new year continues?
PW: How long have you been together?
MRKTS: With this band, two months, but before that, about five years total.
PW: What prompted the transition to becoming MRKTS?
MRKTS: We decided that we wanted to go through some rebranding. We saw a lot of flaws in our past project that weren’t able to be rectified, so we decided to start fresh and give it a different outlook. Same approach as far as the music and the band goes, but without the errors and mistakes that we made as Belmont Lights. It gave us a chance to have a new perspective on the business. We grew out of that phase.
PW: What was the inspiration behind the name MRKTS?
MRKTS: It looked cool aesthetically, and that’s a problem we had with Belmont Lights. We had a problem branding. It looked interesting enough, and it was ambiguous. That’s how we wanted our image to be.
PW: Walk me through the process of writing and recording this.
MRKTS: This was music that we were in the process of writing, and then we decided to change the name and release the album at the same time. As [the idea] developed and we saw what we wanted to do, we decided it would be a good launching pad for the new band. We write songs all the time, so there were songs that we started over two years ago, that never made it onto Empyrean Kings; there were songs that we just started in the studio with a producer. Whatever songs we were drawn to, we wanted them on the album.
PW: Why name the debut album Last Call?
MRKTS: It had a couple of different meanings for us--obviously, it’s the last time of the night when you can get a drink, we have a couple of songs on there about drinking on the album. “Faded” has a kind of bar setting. We really wanted to just give the album one big push, we’d been going at this for awhile. We wanted to give this our all, give it everything we could. We quit our jobs, recording took between 6 and 10 months...we wanted to do it the right way. And it gives it an “out on the town” vibe.
PW: What was going through your minds as you were getting ready to release this?
MRKTS: It was a whole process of rebranding, not just releasing a new album as Belmont Lights--[we were] releasing a whole new image. It wasn’t nerves or anything, because there was so much going on with the whole change. We put the album out before we planned to, but we had to announce our new name and make that splash. It was another piece in the move. Forefront on most of our minds was that we just hoped people would like it and transition from being fans of Belmont Lights to being fans of MRKTS. Most of them did, which is cool.
PW: Are these upcoming shows the first time you’ll be performing songs from Last Call?
MRKTS: It is the first time since releasing the album. We played a show last year and we had a couple of songs on there, but this is the first show as MRKTS. At our shows now, we play the entire album, so it’s the first time we’ll be playing Last Call.
PW: That’s exciting. How do you feel about that?
MRKTS: Pretty good. We had a run-through in LA; that was the first time we’d played in 7 months. It was very low-key, no pressure; we had a chance to see how people responded to it. We’re excited to be on stage and be home. We’ve gotten a really great response from the album.
PW: What song are you most excited to see the crowd’s reception to?
Casey: I think it’s my overall favorite song on the record and my favorite to play--”Lay Me Back Down.” It’s my favorite to see the crowd interact with.
Jed: I’m excited to play “Headshots”; it’s a little bit of a challenge to perform live, but I think we have a cool structure and way of playing it.
Chad: Mine is also “Headshots,” for the same reason. I also like playing “Lay Me Back Down”--I think that song is the best song on the record.
Isaiah: Probably “Tidal Waves,” because that’s the only time people get to hear me without the distraction of the band. Me, my voice, the piano...no one else. I’m just kidding. I really like “Headshots”--I think we have a really cool spin on it, like they said. That was the most fun song to write. I love “Lay Me Back Down,” I think it’s a great song; we end the set with that, it’s really energetic. But I’m excited about “Blackbirds.” It’s structured to be a sing-a-long song, and I wanna see if people catch onto it.
PW: Do you have an official first single for this album?
MRKTS: Well, our album just went to college and alternative radio. Our first week, we broke the top 200 played, so we’re really excited about that. From what we’ve gathered, the single is “Lay Me Back Down,” and it’s going to commercial radio this month. We really need people to request it!
PW: Is there a particular song or album that you listen to before a show?
MRKTS: We try to make it a tradition to go in a room and turn off all the lights, and we have a little group meeting. We listen to “”G.O.M.D.” by J. Cole.
PW: If you could get a phone call tomorrow saying you’re going to be performing at a festival, which one would you want it to be?
Casey: Since we’re California boys, it has to be Coachella!
Isaiah: Any festival is awesome, but I think Coachella is one of those--especially being from Southern California--it would be iconic for us to play there.
PW: Going with the Last Call theme, what are your go-to drinks?
MRKTS: Whiskey on the rocks. Sometimes we mix it up, and do honey whiskey, but mostly whiskey on the rocks. And Chad does kombucha only. He’s a hippie.
Thank you to MRKTS for taking the time to chat.
You heard them--download Last Call and request “Lay Me Back Down” (my personal favorite) on radio.
If you're lucky enough to live in their home city, MRKTS' next show will be at The Merrow on February 16.