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 Rock and Soul

An interview with Justin Marler of The Sabians

By Bob Ignizio

“I was in a situation where I wanted to die and I needed to figure stuff out for myself,” says Sabians guitarist/vocalist Justin Marler.  At the time, Justin was playing guitar for legendary doom/stoner rock band Sleep and appeared on their first self released album 'Volume 1'.  Although things were happening for the band and Sleep would eventually sign to Earache Records, Justin says, “Being in Sleep and living in Oakland and the whole thing was just making everything worse.  So I left and happened to run into a monk.  He invited me to live at a monastery and that just cleared out my mind and my heart and helped me figure stuff out.  I was there for seven years and experienced quite a lot of stuff.”  So why return to music?  Justin says, “I wanted to apply the things I’d learned to a real life instead of being secluded on an Island.  And I wanted to play music, too.” 

It’s perhaps only natural that Justin’s spiritual beliefs would influence his music and lyrics, but he isn’t trying to preach to anyone.  Justin says,  “What I learned in the monastery isn’t about making someone believe what I believe.  It’s really about being a centered person.  Most people can identify with human plight and internal struggle.  Most of the songs are coming from my point of view and what I’m going through.  They’re not telling people what they should do or feel.  It’s more like find yourself.”  The same holds true for political subject matter.  Although Justin is not without his opinions on the state of the world, he says, “Monks are all about peace and living a simple life and showing compassion for others.  Politicians are doing their thing and I don’t feel it’s my job to go out and stop them.” 

When Justin went to put together his new band, he turned to his former Sleep bandmate Chris Hakius to play drums.  Patrick Huerta was recruited to play guitar, and after running through a few bass players the band settled on Rachael Fisher, the wife of drummer Hakius.  Despite Justin and Chris’ history with Sleep, though, The Sabians are definitely not “stoner rock”.  Justin says, “We draw from all kinds of things; Pink Floyd, Johnny Cash, all over the map.  A lot of Sleep fans just aren’t into us, and there are some other Sleep fans who like what we’re doing because it’s refreshing and different.  When Chris and I got together we didn’t want to go that route at all.”  One listen to ‘Shiver’ should dispel any lingering doubts. 

Actually, saying what The Sabians aren’t is easier than saying what they are.  Justin says, “When you’re booking your show or talking to press everybody wants to know what kind of music you play.  It’s been really hard so we’ve given up trying to match ourselves to a genre.   As long as they don’t call us pop.  We believe in hooks, but we believe in tweaking them just enough so they’re uncomfortable.”  Not surprisingly it has been somewhat difficult for The Sabians to find compatible bands to tour with.  For their current tour, Justin says, “The way we set it up with the booking agent is we are doing support slots for different headliners.  For the last four years we’ve been struggling to find bands to play with.  It’s been a real source of pain for us.”  

Just getting to the point where they were happy with their sound wasn’t easy for The Sabians.  Justin says, “In all honesty, up until this new CD, we were grappling with a few things.  We’re trying to produce music that is completely our own, not trying to coattail on anything or anybody.   Also, trying to find a definite sound for ourselves.  With the first record we were struggling to find our own sound.  In writing the second one we nailed it hard.  We knew exactly who we were and how we wanted to do it.”  In the time between their first album and their second, Justin feels he and the rest of the band have grown significantly as songwriters.  

So how does a band that defies easy categorization reach potential fans?  The old fashioned way.  Justin says, “Word of mouth and through playing live.  It’s pretty grass roots.  We will keep day jobs so we can do things 100% on our own and do things the way we want to.”  As for radio, Justin says, “Frankly it’s not on our schedule.  It’s so narrow and run by conglomerates so it’s really hard to break into.  We’d like to circumvent it.  We just want to play the music that we want to play for people that want to hear it.  It’s not about monetary success.”   Justin says the band plans to play as often as possible and spend about a year on the road in support of ‘Shiver’.  Fans on the east coast, including Cleveland, can expect The Sabians to roll into their neck of the woods some time in the late spring or early summer of 2004.   

But I wondered, considering the amount of time Justin spent studying spiritual matters, does he ever feel like he should be doing something else?  Justin says, “That’s something I struggle with all the time.  It always comes back to the same thing.  You can go off and be Bono and travel through Africa, but at the same time there’s another approach that’s simpler.  From your own way you live and working on yourself to be a good person, that’s good enough.  If everybody did that there would be no need for Bono to travel around the world.”  Besides, the world needs good music, too.  If ‘Shiver’ is any indication, The Sabians will be providing just that for some time to come.

Visit The Sabians website.