In Pound for the Sound, Phoenix New Times gets technical with local music community members about what "gear" they use to create their signature "tones" in our community.
The Blood Feud Family Singers upright bassist and vocalist Marc Oxborrow got an interesting start in music. Born in Provo, Utah, Marc moved with his family all over North America, including stints in Miami, Mexico City, and Puerto Rico. Even while bouncing around constantly, his mom made certain to take him to church to sing in the choirs, where he learned to read music. His first instrument was piano, and his mom, being a piano teacher, gave him his first lessons growing up. Eventually, Marc grew tired of his mother's piano lessons. She allowed him to stop, but suggested that he may one day regret this decision.
He knew he could sing, especially with groups, but he also wanted to play an instrument. While in his 20s, Oxborrow began to regret quitting piano. He still had the desire to be a musician – he was still capable of reading music, and he knew he could sing, especially with groups, but he also wanted to play an instrument. In 1986, Marc decided to form his first band, Six Flags Over Jesus, here in Phoenix, where he started playing bass "out of necessity." In his mind, all he had to do was play root notes on one string and he could "play" in a band. He's been playing bass ever since, most notably in The Blood Feud Family Singers, The Haymarket Squares, and The Shivereens. Over 30 years after restarting his musical career, he still uses his original electric bass guitar.
Marc and the rest of Blood Feud Family Singers will play tonight, Friday, October 5, at Rips Bar. They plan on playing new material ahead of an album release party on Sunday, November 11, at Last Exit Live. New Times spoke to Oxborrow about his gear, his love for vocal harmonies, and his band's upcoming show.
Phoenix New Times: What's the secret weapon of your sound? And how did that help you find your "signature" tone?
In the world of bluegrass and Americana, tone is less important than solid time, playing in tune, and striking a balance between interesting bass lines and supporting the soloist. When I work with a drummer, and don’t have sole timekeeping duties in the band, I try to flavor my playing with a bit of Motown bounce.
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What's your favorite piece of gear in your collection and why?
On top of being challenging to play and a pain to lug around, the upright bass can be a giant feedback machine, especially at high volumes. After years of fighting weird hums and unwanted rumbles, I got a Krivo magnetic pickup, which is similar to the pickups used on electric bass guitars. It has basically eliminated my feedback problems and made being on stage a lot more pleasant.
Any special pieces of gear acquired over the years? Any special story, or stories, behind your collection of tools?
My German upright bass and I are about the same age. It was a gift from my then-girlfriend, now wife, when we first started living together 30 years ago. I mostly played electric bass back then, so the upright sat unused for 20 years until I started playing bluegrass with The Haymarket Squares a decade ago. I kick myself for not getting serious about the upright sooner!
Just listened to “From Grace to Ground” off of The Blood Feud Family Singers’ upcoming new album, a track featuring local violin powerhouse Megyn Neff. Great song and great work. Loved the vibe. How did you guys go about writing and recording that tune?
Daryl Scherrer writes and sings most of band’s material. I was a huge fan of his songwriting before we teamed up to form BFFS, and he seems to have an endless supply of these beautifully dark, literate tunes. Like the rest of the album, “From Grace to Ground” was recorded at Ex Nihilo Audio, better known as Daryl’s living room. We’re justifiably proud of the sound and mood he captured with modest gear. And Megyn’s violin work takes the song to whole ‘nother level.
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You mentioned during our phone conversation that your favorite part of music was vocal harmonies. Can you please explain why you feel that way?
It goes back to singing in church as a kid. In a typical Mormon service, the congregation sings three to four hymns, so I got a lot of early exposure to the power and pleasure of group singing. When I was 10 years old, my mom encouraged/forced me to join her in the choir, and I learned how to harmonize by emulating her alto part. There’s just something about two or more voices combining in harmony that hits me on a molecular level.
The Blood Feud Family Singers have a show this Friday, October 5, at Rips Bar. Any words you wish to share with readers about your upcoming performance?
I wasn’t sure what to expect the first time we played Rips, but it turns out to be a great dive bar that happens to have a real sound system (and someone who knows how to run it well). The low-key vibe of the place is perfect for our brand of “Americana Noir.”
The Blood Feud Family Singers. Friday, October 5, at Rips Bar, 3045 North 16th Street; 602-266-0015; ripsbar.weebly.com.