For local musician Brian Andrew Marek, his Bandcamp page is something like an aural scrapbook. Scroll down far enough into his catalog and you'll find a 1989 live recording from some long-ago club made when he was playing drums in Angus Tweed, his first real band. A few years later Marek stepped to the forefront in the power-pop quintet Not Actual Size, and by the turn of the century he was leading Rocket Park through sets of varied, bizarro rock songs.
As he enters his third decade as a public performer, Marek is happy to curate his back pages, but doesn't dwell too much on the past. That's mainly because he's never really stopped making music, releasing it digitally both under his own name and with projects such as Polyphilo and the Vertigo Swirl.
His latest collection, however, marks Marek's return to physical media: Modern Variety is available online and on CD, though he says he initially had other ideas for the album's format.
"I kind of set my sights further and came back a little bit because I was thinking of putting this one out on vinyl," Marek says. "And I was starting to save up the money but I lost my job and was out of work. I thought, 'I can still do this, but it will have to be a CD.' Maybe the vinyl will be a future dream to see out."
After so many years of doing small-scale or digital-only releases — throwing his work into the vast, gaping maw of the internet's streaming services, as it were — it was the encouragement of those around him that gave Marek the push to commit the songs to something tangible.
"I think there was a certain amount of confidence that has grown through the years, and I feel like I'm at a place now where I have a lot of supportive voices around me — people who would tell me, 'You don't promote yourself enough,'" Marek says. "The message was there that I should take this to the next level, do something that has a chance of giving me a little more of a face on the scene."
Whatever the medium, Marek's music is perennially infused with the knack for harmony and hooks that come from having ingested 60 years' worth of pop music, from AM pop mainstays like the Zombies and the Association to outre-rock icons like XTC and Todd Rundgren.
On Modern Variety, Marek handles all the instrumentation and, on most tracks, a few strands of vocal harmony to boot — his lead vocals tend to land with a wry, winking grin atop his compositions' zippy frenetic energy. The pep of "Big City Dreams" kicks the record off with a start — Marek says he wrote it in tribute to his girlfriend's globe-trotting spirit — and closing track "Sky Ranch" ends the disc with a ruminative piano ballad that wouldn't feel out of place on the Kinks' Muswell Hillbillies.
The just-released CD may help reintroduce Marek to a music scene that he's skirted the fringes of for a few decades, but at the moment he doesn't have plans to recreate the album live on stage. Part of that has to do with his lack of an actual band (though he maintains a working relationship with longtime foil "Manic Myk" Thompson on drums). But these days, he's less interested in leading a rock band from behind his guitar; he'd rather float in the background at some local dive from the piano bench. A few years back, at the now-shuttered Cherokee Street tavern the Blue Pearl, Marek would do just that, playing a free-form set of originals and covers.
"From a logical standpoint, you can fill in the blanks easier on a piano; guitar has limitations in terms of doing it solo," he says. "With piano you have the possibility of chords and melody happening simultaneously."
During a conversation over beers at the Tick Tock Tavern on a recent Sunday afternoon, pianist Ellen Cook is doing much of what Marek describes: playing idiosyncratic covers from the pub's spinet. Asked what he might conjure, given the chance, Marek says he would reach for an old standby.
"The first thing that comes to mind, because it's kind of a go-to for me, is 'I Can't Get It Out of My Head' by Electric Light Orchestra, because that's a song I have ingrained," he says. "But you just never know what I'm gonna do; sometimes I would get some crazy wavelength in my head that made me say, 'I'm gonna do "I Got You" by Split Enz as a piano song.'"
Having a catalog of 30 years' worth of songs at his disposal is comforting to Marek, and it serves as a reminder that there are always more songs to be sung, even during those rare moments when he's not working on a new collection.
"There will always be another thirteen good songs, I hope!" he says with a laugh. "In private, I do doubt myself, but I know logically there will always be something that's interesting."
That thought keeps Marek looking ahead rather than behind. It's doubtful that another collection, no matter the format, will take long.
"I could have put together a compendium," Marek says, "but I like moving forward and being able to show, 'Here's my progress over the years.'"