4 To Watch For: Charlie Mars

Music Features Charlie Mars

You can almost hear the pounding hooves. Throughout the eponymous V2 debut from Oxford, Miss., artist Charlie Mars, a spooky Southern Gothic aura gallops like some spectral pale stallion. Underscored by Mars’ haunted ethereal tenor and mired in swampy piano and acoustic six-string, songs like “Silver Buttons,” “Bay Springs Road,” “Gather The Horses” and “When The Sun Goes Down” channel the blood-and-dogwood spirit of decidedly Dixie authors like Cormac McCarthy. And that’s no accident, cedes the singer—“Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian is my favorite book. I’ve read it 12 times. And it’s funny—when I was really f—ed, when I was not in my right mind, I had a copy of Blood Meridian, and I would just lay in the back of my tour van and read it.” He sighs, then bashfully admits, “I don’t even understand it all—there’s so much in that book that’s over my head. But I think it was Salvador Dali who said ‘Just because I don’t understand the images in my paintings doesn’t mean that they don’t mean anything’.”

Mars also idolizes similarly cryptic Southern scribes such as Barry Hannah and Walker Percy. And his own recent circumstances read like some grim Flannery O’Connor novel. Mars, 29, released three failed independent solo efforts. This fourth outing, he says, was truly his Last Chance Texaco. Currently, he’s handled by the prestigious William Morris Agency; A year ago, he was out of money, out of bandmates, out of inspiration and literally almost out of time. “I was on the road for five years, developing some very bad habits,” he recalls. “I mean, you name it, I was using it, if you could use it to try and escape. I got to that point where I was either finished or I was gonna have to make a change. Fortunately, I had some people around me who helped me see that change was possible.”

Clear-headed, Mars determined to make this recording count. Painstakingly, he pieced the cuts together, tossing out any idea that wasn’t up to snuff. “I knew the material had to be great in order for me to rise above where I was,” he says in a loping Delta drawl. “And it took a long time for me to get enough material that I felt was great.” And he swears he’ll never detour down a blood meridian again. “I’m staying in Oxford, not moving to L.A.,” he declares devoutly. “My family lives there, it’s cheap, and the food’s really good—chicken-fried steak, mashed potatoes, and fried okra and catfish. And it’s down-to-Earth. There are a lot of good people there who are very kind and generous, who genuinely care and want the best for you.

“And it’s important for me not to get any delusions of grandeur. I don’t need ’em. I’m happy just talking to the guy at the tire store down the street, ya know what I mean?”

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