Music And Voting Are Family Affairs For Anthony LaMarca
Music And Voting Are Family Affairs For Anthony LaMarca
By John Saeger
Anthony LaMarca has wielded his musical talents in different roles for The War On The Drugs and his solo project, The Building. The social distancing of 2020 has provided an unusual obstacle for performances and recording for the busy musician. After resetting his plans, LaMarca is working on new music and is slated to play in a live stream event for Head Count on August 14. Just like LaMarca’s career as a musician, his affiliation with voting has deep roots in family.
He took interest in music as a young child growing up in Youngstown, Ohio. His older brother took up guitar and his grandfather played accordion. LaMarca’s parents encouraged the two brothers to play music and tolerated a living room littered with amps and guitars. In an interview with The Philadelphia Globe, LaMarca said, “Music was always there. It was always a thing that I was interested in. [It was] something from a pretty young age I was very obsessed with.”
His talents found a bigger stage than the family room after high school. LaMarca moved to New York City and played with St. Vincent and Oscar winner Markéta Irglová. He also fell in with Dave Hartley, the bass player for The War On Drugs, on the musician’s own dream pop outfit Nightlands. Despite falling in with Philadelphia musicians, he never moved to the City of Brotherly Love and eventually returned to Youngstown. The multi-instrumentalist described the New York music scene as having a beautiful and inconclusive side, but noted a difference in the region’s competitive landscape.
“In New York, to get your band played on the radio is the hardest thing in the world. Whereas in Philly, if you are part of the scene, and you like hanging out, and you’re good, XPN will play you. There’s that level of community and visibility, where your little band actually has a chance of making it through the static. Whereas, you still have that chance in New York, but I feel like in New York it is instantly on the national scale. If you rise to the top of the New York music scene, you are probably known all over the country.”
Through Hartley, LaMarca joined The War On Drugs as Adam Granduciel’s group found its own way onto the national stage. He toured in support of the group’s landmark record Lost In The Dream and played on A Deeper Understanding. The latter won a Grammy for Best Rock Album in 2018, a category that included Metallica and Queens of the Stone Age.
In addition to playing with The War On Drugs, LaMarca recorded on his own as The Building and released Reconciliation in 2017. Led by the emotional song “Have To Forgive,” the album is much more intimate than Granduciel’s Wall of Sound. The musician says that the contrast in style helps balance the two projects.
“I think because they are pretty different, musically, they kind of feed each other. My role in The War On Drugs is very different than my role in The Building. I’m not writing the songs with The War On Drugs. I’m not having to sing or steer the vision of that band. Being in that five-man role is great because I love doing that and a musical muscle I get to work out in that band [is] music that is much louder and much more high-energy than my own.”
The Building continues the role of family in LaMarca’s music. His brother and wife have contributed their own musical talents to the eclectic artist’s records. Reconciliation was recorded as LaMarca battled multiple myeloma (a type of blood cancer). As he began to craft the second album for The Building, the disease flared up again and prompted an additional round of treatment. PETRA, which was released in 2019, is inspired by an acronym LaMarca created from his dog Petra’s name. The wordplay (Peace Eternal Truth Renews All) found its way into the record and helped him counter negative emotions while fighting cancer.
In addition to inspiring the album name, the decipered acronym is also the title of the final song on the LP. The wistful conclusion to the album repeats the mantra and ends the touching record with a hopeful glance ahead. His future outlook is a helpful coincidence given his current plans. LaMarca was hoping to tour more extensively in support of PETRA, but the limitations of being a musician during the COVID-19 Era shifted his focus to the studio. He is currently working on a third record for The Building that he hopes will be ready by the end of 2020.
His near-term focus is supporting efforts to register voters in advance of this year’s election. On August 14, LaMarca will participate in the Vote Ready livestream event, a voter registration drive on behalf of Head Count. The concert will feature both The Building and The War On Drugs. In addition to solo members of TV On The Radio and Grizzly Bear, Waxahatchee and Kevin Morby are among the artists filling out the event’s bill.
Just like his musical background, the Ohio native’s affiliation with efforts to promote voting is connected by family. His mother worked at Youngstown’s Board of Elections and he pitched in at the organization as he grew up. LaMarca continues to help out with their efforts when he is able to. In addition to calling for voter registration, the musician notes that the Head Count concert is also about involvement beyond adding names to voter rolls.
“I encourage any readers to sign up to be poll workers or call their board of elections to see if they need extras. This year, especially, poll workers are desperately needed because most poll workers are usually older, retired folks who are sitting this one out because they don’t want to get COVID. Now, especially, is a great time for people who are interested to get involved.”
The Vote Ready date is not LaMarca’s first streaming event of 2020. The War On Drugs previously played a benefit for the Philadelphia music community in the spring. That show required a little innovation from the group that they will deploy again on Friday night.
Despite the outward appearance of plugging into the same setup, LaMarca refers to their streams as “a mirage.” While some technology does exist to connect bands like The War On Drugs as they are scattered across the country, he described the programs he uses as not quite being able to replicate the output of a band plugged into the same gear.
“Adam [Granduciel] will just start a track to a click-track, he’ll do his parts, and then just send it along to everyone else. Usually send it to Charle [Hall] and Dave [Hartley] first to get the rhythm section down. The rest of us will add something onto it. It’s almost more of a video-taped remote recording session than an actual live thing. But it is cool. It’s fun. I’m always surprised whenever we do these things, even just playing along to these recorded tracks it does feel [like] the closest thing I’ve felt to being in a room with these guys in quite a while.”
COVID-related shutdowns have done more than send “live” music online. Tapping into the same vibe in a packed room feels like a fargone yesteryear that is fostering a newfound yearning for live events. The dystopian void is something that fans and musicians are separately appreciating together, a reality that LaMarca is also experiencing.
“You know, I miss it. I think we all miss it. You miss something you take for granted, being able to play music in a room with other people. That’s something I’ve definitely really missed. There’s a lot of these live stream things or remote recording. It’s cool, but there’s nothing quite like being in a room with other people and making music.”
About the Author: John Saeger is a music and film writer from Philadelphia. He has written the pop-culture blog Long After Dark, a site dedicated to the arts in the City of Brotherly Love and beyond, since 2017. Twitter/Instagram