By ERIC SCHELKOPF
Let's hope that Mark Vickery doesn't wait another 20 years to release his next album.
And given the excitement that this album has been generating, no one will allow him to do that. Vickery, who releases music and performs under the stage name Cosmic Bull, recently released the 6-song EP "27x2," his first volume of new music that he has released in 20 years.
To mark the release of the EP, he will perform a 45-minute solo acoustic show at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Montrose Saloon, 2933 W. Montrose Ave., Chicago. Discoveries of the American Scientific will follow at 8 p.m., with The Thin Cherries closing out the night at 9 p.m.
There is a $5 suggested donation at the door. I had the chance to interview Vickery about the new EP and his music career.
Q – Great talking to you. "27x2" is your first volume of new music that you have released in 20 years. Was that by choice?
The choice to come back felt more like being compelled emotionally than anything I consciously thought about. As I see it these few months later, I felt a sudden pang that what I had to say about what’s going on in this crazy world right now did have relevance, especially compared to what I was hearing coming out elsewhere. So I pulled the trigger.
Q – It seems like there is a meaning behind the album's name. Is there? Does it have anything to do with the meaning behind the number 54?
Very good — 54 is how old I am right now. So 27x2=54, with 27 being the number of rock star lore at the age so many people died, from Brian Jones and Jimi Hendrix, etc. to Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. So it’s a joke, or at least it represents my sense of humor, to suggest that I’ve already lived the life of two dead rock stars.
Q – What is the meaning behind the name Cosmic Bull?
I like the fact that Cosmic Bull can mean so many things: heaven and earth — a variation on the "light" and "heavy" theme Jimmy Page talks about with the name Led Zeppelin, and he got the idea from Iron Butterfly (and whoever said the New Yardbirds would go over like a...).
But the real answer behind the name came to me in a flash: the bull stands for my creative endeavors — not that they are "bull," but that they potentially represent an intemperate animal — and "cosmic" represents where I sense my ideas come from.
Q – What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them? Do you have any favorite tracks on the album?
I think the jury’s still out on the "fulfilling my goals" thing. Some of this has to do with how it’s received as a body of work, and as listenable music.
I wrote "27x2" as a song cycle with a general narrative, and four of the songs’ lyrics were written to establish and advance that narrative. However, two of the songs came from earlier, and one of those, "The Sweet Art of Holding On," I wrote a couple years ago.
Q – I know you released a couple of songs last year, including the song "Holding My Breath 'Til The End Of Time." Did the pandemic provide you with the inspiration for that song? It seems like the song could take on even more significance these days, given that everybody is holding their breath to see what happens next in Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Oh, that’s really great. And I don’t want to keep anyone from believing what they wish about this or any other song of mine. But I’m pretty sure that one was written a few months before the pandemic even materialized; it deals with my frustrations getting into political arguments on social media.
The bad thing about writing songs about current events is that they are necessarily reactive to the facts on the ground. One of the more recent songs I wrote is about the Jan. 6 insurrection, with a verse dedicated to Jeffrey Epstein.
My Putin/Ukraine songs have yet to materialize. When they do, I’m sure there will be another as-yet-unforeseen atrocity beyond that that I don’t address in real time.
Q – In addition to being a musician, you are senior editor at Zacks Investment Research. Is it hard switching between doing that and writing music?
I tend to find ways to play to my strengths, and I’ve been with the same firm a long time. My job fits me like a glove, although instead of writing about the stock market I’d prefer writing about various forms of artistic expression — particularly music, and its cultural and historic relevance.
I’m obviously less free to say what I want there than I am in song. But it’s still writing, and writing is what I’ve always done, even before learning to play an instrument.
Q – As I understand, you also do voice over work. How did you get into that and what kind of projects have you worked on?
I’ve always had one of those voices that makes people think I do voice over. Eventually it dawned on me to try it.
That said, I think I sound distinctive enough that if someone were looking for my peculiar bent on a VO read, I could knock it out of the park. And a little success there could lead to bigger things over time.
Q – You do have a very distinctive voice and a unique style. Who are your musical inspirations?
Back when I was younger, there were no — like, zero — low-voiced singers in popular music. Even guys who sang in their lower registers, like Dr John and David Bowie, sang higher than me.
So when I heard Gil Scott-Heron for the first time, and "Step Right Up" by Tom Waits — both on Chicago’s WXRT, by the way — they really arrested me. Although when I first started recording, I wasn’t getting the results I desired; my voice sounded thin compared to how I sounded in my head.
Now I get closer to the mic and let my throat and sinuses contribute to the sound. And when I want my voice to take up even more space, I like doing mults, including falsettos, whispers, etc.
Q – A few years ago, I had the honor of interviewing Mars Williams regarding Liquid Soul's 20th anniversary show. Of course, Liquid Soul helped pioneer the acid jazz movement in the '90s. What was it like being a live guest vocalist for the band and how did that experience shape your musical horizons?
I was flattered and surprised to be waved onstage by Mars Williams the first time — at Elbo Room in the mid-90s, when they’d play to packed houses every Sunday night. Liquid Soul’s keyboardist, Frankie Hill, had played some gigs on sax with the first band I enjoyed success with in Chicago, Word Bongo.
It was months later when I finally got called up. I was playing with the big boys at last, and I was acutely aware of this. It was too long ago to recall how well I did, but I guess well enough to go back.
If you ask me, Mars Williams is living the dream as much as any musician in Chicago I can name. He plays whatever he wants and gets booked wherever he wants, his CV is impeccable and he’s on some of the great New Wave recordings with the Psychedelic Furs, the Waitresses — that solo on "I Know What Boys Like" is still fire!
Q – What plans do you have in the coming months? Will you be performing more this year?
It’s been a very fast realization. When I finished the "27x2" EP and put it out on all the streaming services, the most common inquiry I got was, "Are you playing any shows?" I mean, they hadn’t even heard the music yet and they’re asking what my gig schedule was.
But it wasn’t something I had planned for. So I’m doing a solo acoustic opening spot at Montrose Saloon here in Chicago at 8 p.m. March 30 for 45 minutes. It won’t sound the way the songs are on the recordings, but they should be pretty easy to discern. Plus, I’ll have a couple surprises, to make sure people are paying attention.
Beyond that, there are some things in the works. But it’s helpful to understand that these songs and recordings did not come from a band setting — they came from one guy who has friends in music production and decided to release onto streaming services the fruits of this labor.