Mark (on the right) with their friend Ben (left).
I'd seen Mark Garza's name a lot on the internet for a while, as I'm sure many of you reading this have as well. I knew they were around my age, and eventually they followed me back on Twitter and accepted my Facebook friend request. However, I didn't really know them that well and my curiosity kept leading me to ask myself, "what's the deal with that Mark Garza kid?" So I decided I should take matters into my own hands and get down to the bottom of this question. I really enjoyed finding out Mark's deal, as well as their endeavors with their label/blog Funeral Sounds and their work with The World Is A Beautiful Place's label Broken World Media, and hearing their thoughts on the current states of emo, marginalized groups in music, the "record biz", and Omegle among other things.
Hello! What is your name, from where do you hail, how old are you, what pronouns do you prefer, what’s your general deal, etc.?
I'm Mark Garza, from San Antonio, Texas, currently living in Houston, Texas. I'm 17, and they/them is cool. My general deal is that I really liked Linkin Park as a kid and everything kinda got better or worse from there, depending on who you ask.
It seems like you wear a lot of metaphorical hats. Manager of one record label, employee of another record label, blog manager, computer programmer. Are there any other prominent things I’m missing? Do one or two of these roles take priority, or are the hats pretty much of equal size?
I've been doing freelance publicity for James Cassar's Dragonfoot PR on the side to try to build up some more funds for Funeral Sounds, the label I co-founded and currently own/run. That's also one of my main responsibilities at Broken World Media, publicist and label manager, which means I essentially do whatever Derrick [Shanholtzer-Dvora of TWIABP and Broken World Media] doesn't want to do or know how to do. I'm also the webmaster for BWM.
It's been weird lately! I'm still in high school, so I'm dealing with all the graduation shit right now as I’m trying to juggle the three or four PR campaigns that BWM has me working on while also keeping up with Funeral Sounds mailorder and planning more projects, and then trying to get some freelance gigs. So yeah, a lot going on, a lot of multitasking, inevitably a lot of fucking up. But it's all working out, I'd say. I've also thought about starting to book tours, but I guess we'll see about that.
What inspired you to start Funeral Sounds? Did it first start as a blog or as a label? Did you want to start a label then find bands afterward, or did finding a band or two inspire you to start the label? How old were you when you started both the label and the blog?
I had just moved to Houston in the summer of 2012, so I had no friends and little ability to make them until school started, so I was really bored. I met this guy, Chase Jennewine, on Omegle (right?) who told me he was the brother of one of the members of Merchant Ships, a band I was in love with at the time. So we started talking, I got to know his friends, and we always talked about starting a music blog together. It wasn't until September that we finally did, and it was called Troo Scrums, a play on the "true screamo" phrase that a lot of our friends would use, some ironically, some not. A day later, we changed it to Funeral Sounds and started writing about shitty emo bands.
I think in October, Chase asked me if I wanted to make it a label, since a lot of our friends were doing their own DIY labels at the time, and he had all the equipment, so I said "yeah," you know, "why not?" I was 14 then. I think the first band we worked with was our friend Franco's, called I Would Run That Stoplight For You. Someone occasionally asks me to repress it and Franco always goes, "Why would anyone want that?" The first band we worked with outside of our friend circle was a band called Alaurabyrd that sent their music in for review.
As far as inspiration, the first two bands I thought of when we made FS a label were Ghost Cat and Shark Bait, and we actually got to work with both of them, which was really, really cool for me.
My jaw dropped when you said Funeral Sounds started because of Omegle. There's no way that's real.
I can refer you to 10+ people that can verify it, and possibly dig up old Facebook posts that might verify it. It is wacky.
How did you learn the ropes of the music industry? Research? Trial and error? Pestering older people for advice? People taking you under their wing? A combination?
A combination of all of that, probably. I was fortunate enough to have a lot of friends that answer all my dumb questions, the internet at my disposal, and an unwavering work ethic that I get from my mom. More than anything though, it's been friends being kind enough to help me out, answer questions, give me advice or pointers, and all of that is worth more than any amount of time I can spend googling "what's the best time to send an email".
I’m hoping to work in the music industry at some point, but I’m also worried that working in the music industry is the equivalent of throwing my future in a trash can, which I’m often reminded of going to a college prep school. While working on putting out music would be fun I figure, I also figure there isn’t much money in that. I find myself only paying money for recorded music a handful of times a year, so going into an industry so reliant on people actually paying money for music is a bit scary. What do you think about the current and future states of the music industry, and are you looking to pursue a full time professional career in the biz?
Virtual reality Tupac hologram shows are the future. Cassette tapes are the now.
That's what I hope, anyway. I don't think about the industry any more than I have to, since I still don't really consider myself a part of it for some reason. But maybe that's just my hesitation to call it an "industry" or to give in to the fact that I've sold out. It's actually been a big struggle for me, recently. Like, since I started working with BWM, I've met a lot of people that I've looked up to for a long time or just others I thought would never give me the time of day, things like that, and so suddenly especially with the SXSW showcase we did, it's like, people wanna talk to me now and it's, like, weird. Really cool and crazy and exciting but also very weird and maybe a bit anxiety-inducing, to an extent.
I've been describing a lot of my efforts lately as trying to help make others dreams come true, because so many of my dreams have already come true just with Funeral Sounds and Broken World. I've always believed in using your position to help others. But there's also the whole conflict of like "now I gotta think about what will sell and how to stay afloat" especially with something like a record label that is, more than anything, based on luck.
All of that to say that the last few months of feeling like a "professional" with "potential" in this "industry" has weirded me the fuck out and caused a lot of anxiety but is also extremely exciting and I am beyond grateful to everything and everyone that has helped/supported/believed in me, and I can only hope to give back as much to this wonderful community, as cheesy as all of that sounds.
I've put way more effort into making music than helping out others get their music out there, but it's really nice to hear you talk about all this work being *worth it*. Sending out emails and doing mail order for sure seem like pretty tedious, thankless jobs, but they're vital and I'm glad that while the result might not directly benefit you, you're doing it out of the goodness of your heart to support people you believe in making art you and them believe in. You got a good heart, Garza!
You are extremely involved with music, yet you don’t perform, correct? What’s your advice to people, specifically kids, who don’t want to play music but still want to be involved with music?
I've actually always wanted to perform music, and like, really perform. I never really wanted to run a label, it just kinda happened that way. No one in my areas have ever really been into punk music, or at least I didn't know where to find them, but I've always wanted to be a vocalist in a band in some way. I used to really want to sing, now I just really want to yell and thrash myself on the floor. I love that energy so much, whenever I'm at a show and a band is playing has a really palpable energy, it's incredible. I really admire the performance aspect of it, and I think a lot about the movements and being in sync with the music and all that.
If you actually do want to work on the more business-y/"industry" side of things, reach out to someone in that field whose work you like, be it a label owner or a publicist or a writer or otherwise, and hopefully they'll answer you (following up is an important skill to learn!) and give you some good advice or give you some tips on how to do the thing you wanna do. This probably doesn't apply to anyone at, like, Sony, but I think anyone within our general punk/DIY/alternative music scene would be willing to help to an extent, at least answer an email. My inbox is always open, but I might forget about your email, that's where the follow-up comes in.
Most of your work seems to involve current “emo" (for lack of a better term) music, a genre that often is criticized for being dominated primarily by cis straight white dudes. As a genderqueer person of color, do you agree with this criticism? If so, do you have ideas as far as a solution? Has your sexuality or race affected your work in a significant way?
Something I’ve struggled with in my experiences with emo is how to participate in a scene with a rep for not having “much to say", and trying to balance that by wearing a Downtown Boys shirt or something to show some awareness of the outside world. I worry about taking up space with something that doesn’t “deserve" that space. Downtown Boys are certainly more important for the world to have than Tiny Moving Parts or something, you know? I wanna hear your thoughts on this.
My race/gender/sexuality/identity/politics have definitely affected my thought processes behind working with bands and finding bands to work with. It's a bit weird for me, as a queer Mexican-American person, to be working with so many white dudes, you know? I've been really jaded about music lately, which is one of the worst things when your whole life is based around being excited about music, and that internal struggle of "ugh I work with so many straight white cis dudes" definitely happens a lot, but it's also kinda rare for me to find a band I really enjoy, so I don't put too much weight on it lately, I guess? I don't know. It's a big internal struggle of mine and I'm still figuring it out and I'm really just not sure how I should feel about it.
I do think social justice and political issues are very important, and I do my best to work with bands that don't spread shitty, non-empathetic attitudes, and like I've talked to you about, I'm trying to make FS more politically involved as a blog right now.
I'm a bit confused on what you mean by the last bit. To be fair, Houston doesn't really have an emo/punk scene, most of my interactions with any emo/punk scenes have been online, so there's probably different perspectives and issues on both of our ends there.
For that last bit about taking up space, I'm referring to the feeling I've had playing "emo" shows where I feel like my band is taking up space in the local music scene/the world that we shouldn't really be taking up.
Obviously not just emo has this problem, but emo seems to be more concerned about expressing as much personal feeling as possible, but like who cares about this person's feelings? This voice isn't marginalized at all!
I don't think "let’s get rid of all emo" is the answer, but "let’s ignore this issue" isn't the answer either. I definitely don't have an answer, but it's something I think about a lot.
I feel it's important to keep speaking out against all forms of abuse and violence, and work towards educating community members to unlearn destructive mindsets and behaviors that the patriarchy has instilled in us. So, like I said before, I've been trying to figure out more ways to use my position/privilege/power towards those goals. I really feel like getting out of high school will give me more free time to develop these ideas and work towards them in ways that haven't been possible in the last four years, so I'm just really excited for the future.
You seem to be quite the internet personality! Would you agree with this? Is the internet personality “brand" something you’ve put thought and effort into crafting? It seems to be the case that for many of the people you work with, you have only met them online. Do you wish more of your work was done with people you had real life interaction with, or do you find yourself simply grateful for the internet as a resource? Do you wish less of your notoriety came from your internet presence?
Sure? I won't deny it. I do use social media a lot but I have lately kind of found myself giving in the culture occasionally for those sweet, sweet likes, that validation. Which can be a bad thing for sure, I think. I wouldn't say I've put forth thought and effort into "branding" but sometimes I think of something and go "Shit I gotta tweet that" or "That would be a good Facebook post". I'm not regretful about it though, I'm really appreciative and grateful for all the opportunities an internet connection and a computer has afforded me (literally everything I am). I would probably say that it's made it easier for me to do my job, as I find it a bit harder to interact in social situations in real life as opposed to online, though I have gotten a lot better/more comfortable with it as I've grown up. Kinda just wish less people thought I was/am really into screamo.
I’m really glad to have met people like you (and pretty much all the people involved with The All-Ages Issue for that matter) through Facebook and Twitter, but I also find it uncomfortable at times that the music community is so reliant on social media. Is that just "networking"? With current emo in particular, I find it pretty crazy and funny that so much power and control in a genre with a large fanbase is based in Facebook groups like NDE and Twinkle Daddies. Does this component of the music scene scare you too a bit?
I would agree that to be active on social media is a rather necessary form of networking , especially if you're running something like a label or even just making music that you want people to hear. I am kinda weirded out by music-based FB groups. Makes me a bit uncomfortable, don't really relate to a lot of what's going on in them anymore, don't participate much outside of promoting FS or BWM stuff or occasionally commenting on a post about a cool band. I used to be a lot more active in them, so I guess in a way it's subconsciously reminding me of being 14, and I did not like being 14. Or 15 or 16 for that matter. 17 is alright so far.
What hurdles, if any, has being as young as you are created in being involved in the music industry? When did your general involvement with the music scene start? Did you always love music and want to be involved, or was that a more recent development?
Ever since I’ve been involved with music I’ve been struggling to choose if I want to wave the flag of “teens in music! look at us! we exist!" or just being a regular participant of the music community who happens to be a bit younger than most other people. Regardless, it seems like my work can get undervalued and overshadowed because of my age, or that my work can’t be talked about without my age being mentioned. Do you encounter these same problems or have the same internal struggle of labeling your work?
Mostly just financial issues and people not taking me seriously. Well, it was like that in the beginning, but once we started working with nouns, that's when people started to pay attention to us as a label, and a lot of people that found us that way didn't know me as a kid. I think that's again one of the many big advantages the internet has given me: once people started paying attention to us, they didn't really know anything about me unless we had mutual friends, and even then my Facebook age for a long time was a lie, anyway.
So, I guess it stands to mention/possibly reiterate that I live on the internet. I wasn't really involved in music until I moved to Houston, and Houston doesn't really have a punk scene really, not a lot of local bands doing that kind of music, most of 'em are an hour out in Conroe/the Woodlands area, besides, of course, the wonderful Football, etc. And Lindsay agrees that there's not really a punk/emo scene here, so I just became intertwined in the internet scene, I guess?
So, with that, I haven't really encountered a lot of problems in any sort of scene relating to my age. And like, when the Summit [a Houston DIY venue] existed, that was kind of where all the punk/emo/indie bands went, and I started booking shows there kinda regularly for like 4 months until it shut down. But going there, everyone already knew me as the kid that runs Funeral Sounds, and maybe even then not as a "kid" per se. I mean, people always tell me I look older than I am, the only thing that hints towards my age are my braces (getting them off in 5 weeks!) and my height (5ft and looks like I'm staying that way). I used to think about using my age as a kind of a selling point, mostly when we were putting out the nouns record, just because I wanted the world for nouns, and now lately with this SXSW showcase. But I turn 18 soon, so, like, that's it for me as a "wunderkid", yeah?
I guess there is a bit of an internal struggle there. I have found myself defining my life through milestones, mostly due to my age and having done all this shit. I wrote a lot about it on a blog post actually; on the anniversary of FS every year I write this long rambling sentimental post on the blog talking about how grateful I am for everyone and everything and all that. Here’s an excerpt that’s essentially insight into my answer to the latter question regarding age and participating in music:
"In 2012, it was starting Funeral Sounds. In 2013, it was getting an AbsolutePunk spotlight and 420 likes in the same day (and, in retrospect, a bit silly). In 2014, it was starting the label back up on my own. In 2014, it was our first zine. In 2014, it was reissuing Donovan Wolfington’s Scary Stories You Tell In The Dark on tape. In 2014, it was nouns’ still. In 2014, it was people actually starting to give a shit.
In 2015, it was getting to be a part of the vinyl reissue of nouns’ still, my favorite album of all time made by my favorite people, the reason people still keep up with us to this day, the reissue that couldn’t have happened with our name on it had it not been for Mitch Welling/flatsound sending me the rest of his sleep tapes and letting me keep the profit. In 2015, it was flatsound’s i clung to you hoping we’d both drown. In 2015, it was Atlas At Last’s A Composition of Functions. In 2015, it was seeing ROMP get signed to Bad Timing Records. In 2015, it was going to SXSW and meeting so many friends from all over. In 2015, it was getting a job offer from Broken World Media while at SXSW. In 2015, it was securing my future."
Point being, I've been measuring my self-worth in terms of accomplishments per year, because I feel like people won’t give a shit about me the following year. At 15, it was when I turned 16, at 16, when I turned 17. Thankfully, I seem to have gotten over that hurdle, but that fear was haunting me every day for those years, just a voice in the back of my head always reminding me that I had to keep things going or we'd fade away and I'd have peaked at 16.
So Houston isn't that cool? Football etc and not much else? I feel like I don’t hear about Houston much here in DC, but I’m sure there has to be some cool stuff since it’s a pretty big area.
I'm sure being an active participant in music is pretty hard but also pretty interesting living in a place that's by no means a hub for music, at least the kinds of music we're into.
I went to Texas once with my family and I remember the regional fast food spots being on point-Taco Cabana in particular. What other regional chains should us East Coasters feel bad about missing out on? I’ve see you sing the praises of Whataburger on the internet a few times.
Houston is cool in its own way, just not really ways I'm interested in, I guess? I miss the Tex-Mex in San Antonio. Don't let anyone tell you that Austin invented the breakfast taco; the best Tex-Mex is in San Antonio. Austin has good Tex-Mex and I have yet to go to a Tex-Mex place in Houston that I give a shit about enough to remember.
Whataburger is the best place for fast-food burger on this goddamn earth. Bill Miller's has the best fried chicken on this earth. San Antonio is the best place in the south and possibly in the world.
Would you say that now you're over that hurdle of worrying about people not caring "year x when you turn x years old"? Did being younger unconsciously force you to want to do a sentimental end of year blog post showing appreciation and talking about your milestones? Not many other labels are doing that if any, but most labels aren't run by 17 year olds with that same problem.
Do you anticipate or hope to not correlate milestones with age, or maybe when the label possibly reaches a point where you consistently have cool milestones, each one becomes less noteworthy and more forgetful?
Also you bring up a good point about the whole "wunderkid" thing. It's annoying that my age is pretty much always mentioned when my work is mentioned, but like the fact that I'm young is definitely good free PR and something that will make me stand out, which is great since it seems like everyone and their grandma has a Bandcamp page nowadays.
Yeah, I think I'm mostly over it. I dunno. I was thinking about how it seems that I'm more reserved emotionally now, and I think you can tell that if you look back on the year-end posts from the past three years. I feel myself thinking "is that too dumb/weird to put on a public forum" or things like that. Like I can feel myself hardening as I get older. I don't really like it. Feels almost disingenuous, maybe? Still figuring it out. But I think I'll always do it, for as long as FS is a thing, which is hopefully forever. Showing appreciation is one of the most important things to me, you know? Letting people know that I'm grateful for them, the whole reason I write notes for every single order is to let people know that I appreciate them supporting me and that there's a human on the other side of them receiving their shit. I just want people to feel good and appreciated and welcome and okay. "We just want you to be okay" is the text of the imprint on the first cassette press of nouns' 'still', and I like to think it was both a message from the band and from me.
I think it's kind of a blessing and a curse; that mentality has kind of forced me to push myself with it all the time, along with the fear of being financially unstable. I do hope that the label reaches a self-sustainability where cool milestones are less noteworthy. I still want to be excited about them, but maybe not have it weigh so much on my psyche and being. I’m still figuring it out, this big transitory period and emotions and feelings and learning how to feel and how to process feelings and work to be better, or something. Who knows.