Hailing from the US, drummer, composer and bandleader Mark Holub is perhaps most notably known for his work with 2009 Mercury Music Prize nominees – Led Bib. Since the band’s inception in 2003, they have gone on to win the Peter Whittingham Jazz Award and give performances at major festivals including the North Sea Jazz Festival and Jazzfestival Berlin.

Away from Led Bib, Mark has secured equipment sponsorship, given a series of masterclasses, composed for choreographers and performed with a variety of outstanding musicians based in Austria, the US and the UK. To learn more about his fascinating career to date, we caught up with Mark.

How did you begin working with Led Bib?

Led Bib started as a project for my MA at Middlesex University in London. Basically I was writing music and performing with the band as my main project for the course. It went through a few different musicians at the start, but by the time we went into the studio to record our first album in 2005 the line-up was fixed - it has stayed that way ever since. 

What do you attribute to the band’s critical acclaim?

Hard to say of course, I guess a mixture of hard work and luck. From the start I have always been interested in the music first and foremost, but also making sure that the music got heard, and that drive has meant that I worked hard to try and get the music in front of as many people as possible. This in practice meant applying for various funding opportunities, awards, learning about the PR and marketing side of things, and how to do most of the processes of putting out an album and touring it myself.

What’s changed for the group in the past 15 years, since its inception in 2003?

Most of all my concept about how to lead a band has developed. Over all those years I have learned to trust the players in the band to come up with things well beyond what I can come up with - hopefully they also learned to trust themselves more in the process. I think that me allowing the other guys in Led Bib to have more free rein has meant that the music has been able to develop in ways it wouldn't have otherwise had it been something I was always leading from the front. 

Does being a drummer naturally lead towards becoming a bandleader and/or composer?

I would say probably not. There are not so many bands led by drummers, but there are of course some notable ones. In my case, playing the drums is really at the heart of what I do, and working as a composer and bandleader was really about being able to play the drums with people in a way that I wanted to - I felt this would be best enabled by actually doing it myself. 

You’ve worked as a composer for theatre and dance. How do you approach this?

Obviously this depends a bit on the project and how much scope you have within what works with the piece. I guess it all started when I was at university and I began to work as a contemporary dance accompanist. This of course gave me a window into the dance world, but also made me think about how my music could fit into the context of different art forms, and how to work within different art forms. It was a learning process for me to see how much of a different language we can speak sometimes - trying to unify my own musical language with say the musical language of a choreographer. 

What other projects are you currently working on?

At the moment I am fairly regularly playing with Blueblut, a trio from Vienna with Pamelia Stickney - theremin and Chris Janka - guitar, a new trio with Liran Donin and Jan Kopinski that just recorded this week, a contemporary classical/improv ensemble led by Alessandro Vicard called Perlin Noise, various improvised music configurations - most regularly with Colin Webster and Irene Kepl, and I am still occasionally working with contemporary dancers.  

How has your experiences of living in the USA, Austria and the UK influenced your musical thinking?

I wouldn't say the places really influenced my musical thinking, but certainly the people that I am working with. In some way the scenes are different of course, but things are sort of the same too....it's the individual musicians who actually make the difference, rather than the scene itself for me. 

What lessons did you learn from your time at Leeds Conservatoire?

I think the most important aspect of any music college is to have the time to focus exclusively on music. Having the ability to spend 3 years just practising playing with lots of different people without all the distractions of a professional career is something which is really great and helps to form your direction.

I don't know if this is a particular Leeds Conservatoire thing or not, but certainly in the course I thought a lot about what jazz education is for, and if it is meant to be an 'art' degree, or a vocational one. - I guess it somehow falls in the middle. But, I think it made me think that I wanted to go down the 'art' route, but I also wanted to somehow make that something which I could make money doing. I guess it's sort of a lifelong task, but I suppose it started there.

How has the recent tour been going with Led Bib?

The Led Bib touring this year has just finished, and it's been great. In my opinion, it has been our best yet! We even did a little live album from some of the concerts which I am really happy with. I think this year we played something like 50 shows and it really showed in the way the music developed. This last tour was a great closer for us, and the final show in Aachen in Germany was just great and makes me remember why we bother.

How did you approach getting endorsements for your equipment?

This is quite a while ago, so some of the details are quite hazy. I think perhaps my first endorsement was with Mapex, who I just approached saying I liked their drums and gave them a little information about me and what I was doing and they were interested. From there the others started to come in, a lot of people in the industry know each other, so once you know the UK representative of Fender he probably knows the guy from Ampeg or whatever. Around the Mercury Prize nomination time I got some more endorsements, because of the high profile nature of the prize.

The most important thing is to not go fishing around for free/cheap gear, but to actually approach companies that you love their instruments!

You’ve done a number of masterclasses and workshops for young musicians. Do you think it is important for established musicians to give back to those starting out?

I think it's a real learning experience and I love doing it when the chance arises. I am not so interested in instrumental teaching, which is something I have never pursued, but I really like talking about concepts about music and getting people playing together. I suppose my interest has always been more in the actual music rather than the technique behind it.

I wouldn't say that I do it out of a need to give something back, as the students give something to me! It's a tricky thing as so many people leave music college and go into teaching, and they perhaps aren't so good at it. It's a really difficult thing to be a good instrumental teacher - a skill which I don't have (!). I think for musicians who enjoy teaching or leading masterclasses it is really enriching, but for some, they are better off just sticking to the stage, as this is giving young musicians a lot to learn too!


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