Humanist is a big, ambitious record, a rush of future rock’n’roll which showcases the songwriting and production of Rob Marshall, and the vocal talents of Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), Mark Lanegan (Queens of the Stone Age) and Mark Gardner (Ride) among others - a heady brew, masterfully conducted by Rob Marshall (guitarist of Exit Calm and co-writer of Mark Lanegan’s celebrated “Gargoyle” album) who wrote, played and produced all the music: a swirling Niagara of fuzzed-out industrial melody and noise, flowing into darker, more brooding territories, the boom of drop forges in shadowy, cavernous factories pounding white-hot steel…
Perhaps it’s in the blood: Rob hails from Teesside in the North East of England, a land of blast furnaces, petrochemical estuaries and fiery skies, the broken heartland of the industrial revolution. He grew up in a small terraced house, with six framed pictures of Elvis in the living room, and music never far from his parents’ record player. At the tender age of eleven, Rob saw Jimi Hendrix on the telly, and his young mind was blown. He spent the next five months secretly stashing his £1.50 bus fare and lunch money by walking to school and not eating, just so he could buy the cheap guitar and amp set he’d set his heart on. He proceeded to teach himself how to play by practicing endlessly to Hendrix, T-Rex, Stones and Beach Boys records.
“I’m fairly quiet and dreamy,” he muses, “my head’s away in clouds of thoughts and imagination, but I’m driven to be as real and authentic as I possibly can musically, trying to push forward and harness all I’ve got; it was never really a choice, but the only thing I ever felt I could do - to swim with the tide, accept your fate, ride the waves. I’m a shy person but on stage my guitar leads me to a place of innate confidence, so I guess that’s where I’m most comfortable”.
Rob formed his first real band in the year 2000: Lyca Sleep spun a dreamy, languorous psychedelica, and toured extensively with South, The Warlocks and Engineers. Later Lyca Sleep morphed into Exit Calm: "This band reclaim the guitar band as something to have faith in again,” wrote Mojo, They released two critically acclaimed albums, played festivals including Glastonbury, V and Leeds/Reading. Big tour supports with Echo and The Bunnymen, Doves and The Music followed. After extensive tours in Europe and Japan, they split in 2015, and Rob found himself without a band, a stranger in rough-round-the-edges, bohemian Hastings on England’s South Coast.
The inspiration for Humanist came after watching ‘The Living Room’ - a documentary about Gavin Clarke, a singer Rob had once shared a manager with. Waking the next day to find Gavin had sadly taken his own life, Rob was so moved by the situation, he sat down to write, quickly developing a piece that sparked an idea for a soaring, ambitious project that dealt with the deepest of themes - mortality, the ways we find meaning, the liberation of the human spirit.
Humanist is also a magnum opus musically, a fully realised and rounded work - not only Rob’s first solo project, it was also the first music he’d ever fully produced, teaching himself production while making the record, just like he did with his signature guitar sound, forging its rich, brooding sound-world on instinct. Similarly, his production is raw, spirited and unique. Rob also played and recorded nearly all of the instrumentation, but he had a vision of the album going far beyond a one-man project, opening its palate and scope by making it a showcase for many of the singers he’d always admired.
“I can sing a little, and I do sing on some of the tracks, and I’ve written some of the singing parts too, but I’ve always preferred the art of collaboration, I guess that’s being in bands your whole life…so I had this daft ‘wish list’ of vocalists I’d always loved, which I passed to my manager, along with some early demos..I had the full expectation of being told NO. To my surprise, nearly all of them said yes, and it was an enthusiastic yes too. I was blown away. I still am - to be working with some of my musical heroes”.
The first to respond was Mark Lanegan (Queens of the Stone Age), which began a deep and ongoing musical friendship. Many collaborations together since, the much celebrated album ‘Gargoyle’ (2017 Heavenly Records) which Mojo described as “A triumph”, The Guardian “A bravura statement” went onto become Mark’s most successful record since 2004’s Bubblegum. Mark’s forthcoming album ‘Somebody’s Knocking’ (Heavenly Records October 2019) features six more co-writes from Rob, but the tracks which first inspired their bond are finally available here on Humanist in 2019.
The album features vocal contributions from Mark Lanegan, Mark Gardener (Ride), Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode), Joel Cadbury (UNKLE), Jim Jones (Thee Hypnotics), Carl Hancock Rux (David Holmes, Portishead) and John Robb (The Membranes) among others. Rob provided the finished music and song titles, which suggested the subject matter, and the vocalists responded to these themes with their own lyrics, giving the work unusual richness and scope, providing each individual track on the Humanist debut with distinctive elements within a unified whole, united by an overarching exploration of the concept of Humanism - in Rob’s words, a study of..
“Life, birth, death, religion, mortality. A philosophical stance, looking at the value of people and what we mean to each other…It’s about creation vs. evolution, Heaven vs. Hell, the grave vs. eternal life, and how human beings react to those concepts. It’s an album about what hope means to us all.”
And hope it gives us – hope in the future of music. From the thunderous gothic opener ‘Kingdom’ to the cataclysmic finality of ‘Gospel’s’ closing notes, Humanist is a visceral, cinematic, tripped out, mesmerising cacophony of songs; from kraut rock number English Ghosts, to out and out rock / post punk inspired Skull, these are songs with gnarled roots, where demonic and angelic impulses collide. Anthems and ballads set to boisterous and robust instrumentation, bringing to mind bands as diverse as Doves, Killing Joke, UNKLE, and labels like Factory Records. All providing the perfect setting for Rob’s distinctive guitar sound. With divergent, gritty productions in the vein of Martin Hannett, flavours of Joy Division and Duritti Column contrast with the cinema of Sigur Ros – whatever inspired it, wherever it came from - Humanist is what we need.
Humanist have just signed a worldwide record deal with Ignition Records and an international publishing deal with Warp Records.