Mark Cokes is a singer/songwriter and marathon swimmer. Mark was born in Dublin (Ireland) where he lived till his early twenties before emigrating to Australia, New York and Los Angeles finishing his travels in Bosnia and Italy.
“I returned home with a head full of cultured madness and a heart full of exciting opportunity.”
“I am now settled with a family in Wexford a short distance from Dublin. Ireland is a great country full of passion for music, poetry and the arts, a catalyst for everything that is creative in me. I feel so blessed every day to be able to express myself this way.”
What got you into music? What kind of music do you like?
“Well bands and artists like Thin Lizzy, The Cranberries, Boomtown Rats, The Stunning, Paul Brady and Rory Gallagher to name a few had a huge influence on me growing up alongside internationally, the wonderful era of Punk, Ska and New Wave with a sprinkling of the Grateful Dead to keep it authentic”
Who are your main musical influences?
“The Clash undoubtedly were one of my biggest influences showing how to change with the times and reinvent yourself with their iconic album ‘London Calling’. It was an album with so many different music genres on it, they risked losing their core fanbase of Punk/New wave; instead, they exploded on the scene after it.”
“This never left me, encouraging me at first to get my youthful angst out on a drum kit where I ended up in the Dublin school of music learning how to play drums and see how music came together in a disciplined format, something I struggled with at first. If I am honest, I skipped off a lot of theory classes (to my regret) to run across to the Dandelion Market to watch a very new band just starting in the tiny water puddled rat infested gig area, called U2. Yes, Dublin really was a music heavyweight at the time it just didn’t know it.”
Have your musical tastes changed over the years?
“I suppose the string of bands that I had the absolute fortune to drum with and have been a part of from my early teens till now (Rottweiler, Intensive care, Dead Drunk, One Too Many, Too Many goldfish, Open Vision and The Field), drumming with solo artist John McGlynn (Anúna/Riverdance) are like a sign post of how my musical taste knowledge and experience went from manic excitement to an urge to want to express what lay deep inside in a melodic yet lyrically evocative way.”
“Now amazing Irish singer/songwriters like Glen Hansard, Declan O’Rourke, Damien Dempsey and Damien Rice evoke emotions in me that are simply too amazing to describe but have helped target that inner poet that is Mark Cokes.”
You’ve played in bands before. When did you decide to go solo?
“I had always written poetry from a very early age and have amounted a selection of around a hundred poems. They have been faithful companions unveiling an unknown self that became strong enough to get me through the difficult periods of life none more so than the death of one my best friends from cancer. Out of a need to shout out the visceral grief from this monumental event unfolding in my life I picked up the guitar in an attempt to tell him how I was feeling and I suppose that’s when I became a solo artist, I think (laughs).”
What can you tell about the first song you wrote?
“I simply wanted to tell my mate two words “Thank you” for being you, and there it was my first solo song. I nervously approached my trusted musicians that I had played with as a drummer for twenty years on/off and they accepted me into the fold as a songwriter helping me put a wonderful shape on it. But here I ask, is anyone really a solo artist?”
“‘Thank you’ hasn’t been officially released yet, something I know there will be a right time for. Through my mate’s death he gave life to so many people and in particular to my song writing. It was so appropriate that he was such an ardent music lover but couldn’t play a note.”
What are your fondest musical memories?
“Well, ‘Thank You’ got the ball rolling and lots of those poems that had been hiding in the recesses of my heart found their way on to the strings of my guitar and out to the world as melodies so much so that the ‘Seannachaí’, which is Gaelic for “Storyteller”, was born.”
“In a natural progression the theme for my first solo performance in the iconic Dublin gig venue The Sugar Club was “Seannachaí, stories of Hope and Love” a musical experience I will never forget. I surprised my best friend by playing ‘Thank you’ in the middle of my set, having invited his 15-year-old son on stage to play piano with me and my band. My friend died shortly after this, but this memory in particular still lives on in me every dayand the bones of my first EP was conceived that night and is aptly named ‘Seannachaí’ of course. His death encourages me now to live everyday like it is my last, something he was a perfect example of.”
Let’s talk about your new single ‘Dive Right In’. What inspired you to write this song?
“Outside of music my other love is swimming and I am an open water marathon swimmer. Recently in August 2021, I swam 16 kilometres (10 miles) along the Irish coast to help raise awareness and funds for two great friends Marty and Al and their organisation Ataxia Foundation Ireland, who have this life limiting incurable muscle degenerative condition called Friedrichs Ataxia.”
“In July 2021, in prep for previously mentioned swim above, I spent a very intense week swimming with some of the best marathon swimmers in the world in what is known as Cork Distance Week in Ireland. I was humbled and honoured to be there swimming every day for 4 hours on average and I realised how much support my fellow swimmers, friends, family, back home in Wexford, internationally and now in Cork were giving me. They have become the “light that shines on the water” which helps me to ‘Dive Right In’ everyday just like they do living with Ataxia. (Read about it here afi.ie)”
“My new single is serving as a tasty appetiser, for 2022 is going to be a massive year for afi and I, huge surprise and challenge coming.”
What does it feel like as an artist waiting for the songs you’ve lived with to be released to the fans?
“Releasing this new single in particular felt very emotional as not only is my friends “live everyday like it’s your last” and Marty and Al’s approach to life in it, but the warmth, support and friendship of all my other friends is so closely weaved into the lyric. What else can I do but Dive Right In and let it out to the world. I hope it helps people reflect about their loved ones and seize the moment.”
How do you balance music with your other obligations?
“Alongside my music I started to work with those struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, something all too prevalent in the music industry. Most songs start out with a feeling of melancholy, even the happy ones, so the work music balance can be (but not always) complimentary.”
“In helping others, you need to know yourself very well, when you get lost for words to say, music helps you stretch out your fingertips in to the darkness and let go; as one of the concepts of AA states “in order to keep it you have to give it away”.”
“…just like swimming it never really is a solo sport you always need a team.”
What can you tell me about your creative process? What inspires your lyrics?
“It can be different every time, words first, music later or vice versa. Sometimes a guitar, sometimes a drum beat. For example, with ‘Dive Right In’ there was a melody on loop in my head as I looped the swim route in Cork, the lyrics inspired by “living in the moment” came to me. When I got home, with a very rough guitar I went to the most amazing producer/musician and friend Jimi Hemp, who just gets what I am trying to say and we weaved, together, a song that we are very proud off. Without Jimi it wouldn’t happen and just like swimming it never really is a solo sport you always need a team.”
What’s next? Are you working on an album?
“There is no album in the pipeline yet, but there are two singles which Jimi and I hope we can finish sooner than later. One about my soul mate and the other of course about the water as a place to simply let “the sea within me” tell the stories.”
What’s your favourite song from the Cool 20?
“Oh, that’s easy ‘Paris’ by the Collective Music Society because they stand for everything that is right about indie music, literally the collective collaboration is brilliant.”
What song would you like to add as a bonus track and why?
“‘Breaking Through’ by A band Called Paul ft Joelid. There are few people that I know that I can call real musicians and this man Paul is one. He humbly teams up with American rapper Joelid in what is an amazing fusion of talent to bring out a kick ass tune.”
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(All photos by Una Williams)