Performing as one person with one acoustic guitar, it can be easy to get lost in the shuffle. That archetype provides just about the simplest and most direct way to express oneself in music, so there’s naturally a lot of competition. A compelling lyrical output and dynamic performance style do their part in clearing those waters, though, as Marcus Volk can attest.
Volk’s guitar-playing, for a time, was all that was for sale, as he was generally a performer of instrumentals. Instrumental music tends to have a hard time connecting with casual music fans, so it’s a mark of his talent that people began to pay attention. On his fourth LP, the recently released The People We Were, Volk opens his repertoire to include vocals and an expanded sonic palette.
“There was a time when I enjoyed that limitation,” says Volk, “of being able to pull off just playing your guitar without singing, or anything else. But that’s very limited. I started hearing lyrics and vocal melodies and more orchestration and got back to more traditional, if you will, songwriting — something that people can relate to a bit more. No matter how good you are as a solo-guitar player, it can still come off oddly to some audiences. It’s like the band didn’t show up or something,” he says, laughing.
As represented on People, Volk’s music rides the line between exquisitely delicate singer-songwriterism and ferociously strummed stompers that veer toward heavy-metal territory. Part of the joy of listening is falling into his gentle wavelength, only to be taken on a swift detour into a galloping intensity. “S.W.A.N.” and “Warhorse (The Bronze Age)” most obviously evoke this spirit, getting our heads banging on the back of an acoustic guitar.
“When I got to high school” says Volk, “I started getting into heavy, heavy music, and that was the same time I started playing. Some years down the line, I discovered Michael Hedges. … So I was doing my heavy metal thing, and then way on the other end, I’m dabbling in this new-age music on the other side of the spectrum. … I don’t really like the term ‘heavy metal,’ though, because it’s so comic book-y, but that’s the going label.”
It’s invigorating to hear those two ends of the spectrum fit so swimmingly in Volk’s work. His latest, The People We Were, is available to stream on iTunes and Spotify, and it’s well worth a listen to hear a man and a guitar be so expressive.
What: Marcus Volk’s The People We Were
Where: CDBaby, iTunes, Spotify
When: available now
How much: free to stream, $0.99 to download