Black Marble is playing to a crowd of 400 people at the Good Room in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Most of the audience is dancing with one another under the large blue disco ball and the rest are staring at the stage, entranced. This Orlando Weekly reporter is a visitor to the city and venue, and Chris Stewart, the mastermind behind Black Marble, former-NYC, now-L.A. resident, now falls into the same category.
"My initial aspirations were incredibly modest," he told me over the phone, two days earlier, during a van ride from Detroit to Toronto. "I didn't have any idea I'd be here at this point." Perhaps to most people, playing at midnight on a Tuesday in a dark, sweaty bar may not appear glamorous, or even remotely appealing, but to Stewart it comes across as a crowning achievement. The band formed in Stewart's NYC bedroom in 2011, and has since then been meticulously crafting wistful synth-pop ballads in the vein of New Order, Oppenheimer Analysis and Solid Space. His sparse, lo-fi early demos caught the attention of independent label Hardly Art, which, as Stewart remembers with amusement, led to Black Marble becoming "one of those bands that had a record deal without ever playing a show." His first LP, A Different Arrangement, was released in 2012, and attracted thousands of listeners with its cold yet inviting and honest themes and melodies. Over four years later, he's performing a handful of songs off his newest record, It's Immaterial (Ghostly International), and while there may not be a smile on his face as he gently sings under buoyant guitars and icy synth lines, it's not hard to tell that he's happy. That he's comfortable for now.
Earlier, Stewart had expressed some of his dissatisfactions with touring, mentioning that it can feel "surprisingly like a job," and that "it's hard to find a moment to just chill out." But, watching him on stage, it's clear those shortcomings have become, well, immaterial. After each track finishes, the dancing stops for a few moments, and everyone claps and cheers. Stewart and his touring band effortlessly create an intimacy between audience and performer, and according to Stewart, that accomplishment is not purely coincidental. "It's sort of like a relationship to me. ... There's a mutual effort, I guess," he explains.
During our conversation, Stewart stresses, "It's boring to just have a bunch of sad songs; you can only have so many before you just start bumming yourself out." While Black Marble's music may be associated with sadness and melancholy, it isn't simply one-dimensional. "I have things to write about that I think are more interesting," he notes. The mood of the show isn't sad; no one in the crowd is crying or looking upset. Indeed, there is a subtle communal joy, almost as if Stewart has cracked open the window enough for everyone to feel a small breeze for a precious few moments.
After playing for about 45 minutes, Stewart tells the crowd that the next song they play will be Black Marble's last for the night. It won't be long until Stewart is off the stage, packing up his gear, and leaving New York again, just like he did months before. When Stewart moved to Los Angeles in 2016, it was with feelings of pure wonder and mystification.
And when asked if those emotions are still present he admits, without a hint of regret, that they aren't: "I don't think it's necessarily a bad thing, that it isn't magical anymore – it's a place to live, I still really enjoy it. I think it was the right thing to do, and I'm happy with being here. I like it for different reasons now, things that I didn't know until I moved."
There is clearly something fleeting about the music of Black Marble and even Stewart himself. But, as the crowd departs the venue to head home or to a bar or anywhere else, Stewart seems fully at ease with the temporary nature of it all. "I'm having fun," he says, no matter how long it lasts.