Gary Gibula for the south
“Call me Ishmael” is the memorable opening line of Herman Melville’s 1851 literary epic “Moby Dick”, possibly alluding to the narrator being a messenger as well as an outcast, like the biblical prophet of the Old Testament.
And you can call Marion native Maximillian Martini by his similar one-word stage name, Bulkington, also taken from Moby Dick. Although far from being an outcast, his first solo album, which will be released this Friday, is his musical message.
As a member of the River to River Community Records stable of artists, Sad Max Senteney calls Bulkington’s sound and new album “crooked country”.
“It’s a nine-song digital release called ‘Porcelain Country,'” Bulkington said. “I had an uncle who called me and my musician brothers ‘the porcelain boys’ because we weren’t country enough and didn’t hunt or fish. The word ‘porcelain’ implies so many things that I thought he was perfect for this album.”
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Similar to Katt Holiday’s release, “Bruise,” Bulkington’s sound bridges musical waters and genres that are far from evoking traditional twang country.
Holiday contributes harmonies and guitar on the song “No SI Now”, a lament for another of Bulkington’s uncles, who died of an overdose.
The two musicians reportedly recorded the song’s base track into a single microphone in a haunted house with all the windows open.
“‘SI’ is an acronym with more than one meaning,” Bulkington said. “It can mean ‘Southern Illinois’ but it can also mean ‘suicidal ideation’ in medical parlance.”
Lyrically, the song is about someone who sits alone with a bottle and a TV to “fight the silence”. Bulkington finger picks the melody, which he says makes it folksy.
“The song is mostly me,” he said. “I play guitar, drums, vocals, banjo, mandolin and electric guitar.”
Bulkington began his musical career on drums at Marion High School. While earning an English degree at Loyola University in Chicago, he played in several bands but decided to take up guitar.
“I have a third uncle who knew I played drums,” Bulkington explained. “One day he gave me an Alvarez acoustic guitar and I started learning it. Many of my friends already played guitar and I always thought it was some kind of magic they could TO DO.”
Bulkington said he started writing songs at this time, his first called “Bruised Architecture”.
“It was a terrible song, a real abomination,” he said. “No, it’s not on the new album.”
To date, Bulkington has written or collaborated on dozens of songs in the many local bands he has been a member of to date.
“Right before the pandemic, I was playing with half a dozen bands,” he said. “Then when COVID hit I started reviewing and thinking about my own material. I thought that instead of giving these songs to another band, I would commit to them being now my own pieces.”
Porcelain Country songs seem to have an underlying theme of surviving or overcoming unfortunate conditions.
“A lot of them relate to southern Illinois in one way or another,” Bulkington said. “These nine are the songs that I think work best together. I’m really proud of them.”
Already released as a teaser on September 9, Sky of My Mind is the album’s opening song. Bulkington sings in the chorus “I’m fine, I’m not even trying. I’m high in the sky of my mind.”
“Each verse is my own statement about ambiguity or depression,” he said. “It describes how something is wrong and I can’t quite identify it, but the chorus says I’m in the sky of my mind and I can still imagine my own happiness in my world. It’s why this is the first song, introducing you to my imagination.”
The tune features a mellotron solo contributed by a guest musician, a device used throughout the album.
“I have different musicians playing songs on the nine tracks,” Bulkington said. “A friend of mine living in France added a violin solo to a song.”
This tune, “Murder Ballad”, is perhaps the most complex and well-developed on the album. Violin lines sometimes double guitar notes, and a diminished chord adds intrigue to the musical structure.
The song’s lyrical message is one of shared despair: a twice-divorced woman declaring men are dogs and a man phoning ex-girlfriends, hanging up and laughing.
The most country song on the album is Happenstance Birth Blues, adding banjo and mandolin to the acoustic guitar performances. The tune speaks angrily of the narrator being born to a father described as “a fat son of a bitch” who abandoned the singer and his brothers.
“We are doing very well,” he says, saying it was by chance that he was born to such a man.
Another song, “The Pleasures of the Modern Mobile Home”, features rudimentary but punky acoustic guitar work similar to artist Beck’s.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the chilling ‘Wrong Side of the’, an instrumental track reminiscent of post-psychedelic English folk legend Nick Drake.
Bulkington spoke enthusiastically about River to River Community Records’ Sad Max.
“I met him about a year ago and I’m very grateful for his involvement,” he said. “Max addresses the issue of promoting all the musical talent in southern Illinois and it really fills a need. It brings tears to my eyes.”
The Porcelain Country album was “a real labor of love,” Bulkington said. I’m really proud of all the hard work and hours that a lot of people put into it. It’s a very wordy and lyrical album, because I’m a lyrical type more than anything, and I hope it resonates with people somehow.”
As for his choice of stage name, Moby Dick’s character Bulkington is one who returns from sea voyages but constantly feels the desire to return.
Bulkington — the musician — grew up in Marion and earned his master’s degree at SIU. Although he currently lives and works in Chattanooga, Tennessee, he returns to the area often.
“I’ve kind of always been connected to the Bulkington character,” he said. “No matter where I go, I always find myself coming back to southern Illinois.”
Porcelain Country, from Bulkington, will be available digitally on all streaming platforms from this Friday, September 16. For more information, visit bulkington.bandcamp.com.
Gary Gibula is a SIU alumnus, musician, writer, editor and author of the Music Historicity Columns. He can be reached at [email protected]