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Through a Glass Darkly: A chat with Athan of NØIR

NØIR performing at The Unconvention Festival in November of 2022

(Photo: Mandi Martini)

Interview by John Wisniewski for MK ULTRA Magazine

With their uncommon flair for the dramatic, NØIR recently released Fallen, an EP on
Metropolis Records, their first original material since 2019’s A Pleasure. Fallen features
vocalist Athan Maroulis along with the guitarist and producer Erik Gustafson (Adoration
Destroyed, Grendel) backed by a great cast including remixes by Silver Walks and
Paradox Obscur, who also created a dreamy video for their remix. Surprisingly, amidst
the electronic darkwave rhythms, the closing song on Fallen is a haunting acoustic piano
and cello lullaby version of the Psychedelic Furs hit “Love My Way.”

Like something out of Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, the New York City-based NØIR
perform live in masks, making each performance their own elegant masquerade. With
that and their sophisticated brand dark pop, NØIR differs vastly from the crowded field
of various dark synth bedroom juvenilia and ho hum Sisters, Cure and Joy Division
replicates. Perhaps it’s because NØIR’s vocalist and leader has seen a few things in his
days fronting Spahn Ranch and Black Tape for a Blue Girl, so instead of elevating the
1980s, he seems like a crooner from the 1930s dropped into an electronic trio with lyrics
that sew together cruel tales, dreams, loves, Hitchcock plots and the things that all flesh is
heir to. Curiously, Maroulis a scattered workaholic, recently completed background work
on the final season of the TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, has produced hundreds
of diverse reissues on everything from Ike & Tina Turner to Goth Box to Julie London to
Ministry and Leæther Strip box sets. Additionally, he currently handles select A&R for
Metropolis Records where he signed Ludovico Technique, Paradox Obscur and Ego
Likeness, to name a few. Maroulis has an obsessive penchant for vintage cars, suits,
films, ancient history, primitive bicycles, LP records and the Catskill Mountains. While
he likes to talk of such things, conversely, I tried to keep him focused on music just long
enough to sit down in a dirty Greenwich Village diner to shoot the shit about his state of
affairs with NØIR.

Chinatown 2023 (Photo: Mandi Martini)

John Wisniewski:

Could you tell us about recording the new NØIR release Fallen? What were the sessions like?

Athan Maroulis:

It took so long to complete, that I started to sarcastically refer to Fallen as the “Chinese Democracy” of Darkwave! (That’s a reference to the bloated album by Guns N’ Roses
that took piles of money and 14 years to complete). My collaborator Erik Gustafson and
I, started on Fallen in late 2019 in Austin, TX, right after the release of NØIR’s last EP, I
cut the remainder of my sessions in NYC and Erik did his in Vancouver. Then came
Covid, followed by artwork problems, lost acoustic recordings, mix trouble, multiple
mastering issues and more. Then, just as we started to make progress, the president of our
label Metropolis, Dave Heckman unexpectedly passed away. All in all, Fallen took “a
mere” 3 1/2 years to complete, although it felt like 14, yet in a strange way, it made
Fallen a far more versatile and collaborative release than I originally planned.

What inspires you to write?

I have drawn inspiration from a number of different sources over the years. Sometimes it
can simply be a newspaper article, politics, observing people on the train or a scene from
an old movie. At other times it can be recollecting parts off my past, dreams,
relationships and so on. Writing lyrics is everything to me, it has always been my way of
keeping a diary. At present, it takes me much more time to write than it once did. I jot
down phrases and thoughts in a black and white notebook that I later consult when
writing songs. I have briefcases filled with lyrics, poems, bits, sometimes I even reflect
back and recycle.

What were you listening to while recording the album?

That’s a good question. I purchased new 180 gram LP copies of all of the original Roxy
Music studio albums, so I know I listened to quite a bit of that. I went through a period of
listening to Japan, T-Rex, Sinatra, the Psychedelic Furs and I really had a thing for a
sensual song by the recent metal band Frayle called “Bright Eyes.” As an addicted vinyl
record collector, I am constantly buying tons of vinyl. I recently scored a bunch of
excellent Dolly Parton albums from the late 1960s. Lastly, because I also work for
Metropolis, I am constantly listening to new Goth, Industrial and Post Punk material from
dozens of bands regularly.

Athan Maroulis (right) in an episode of the TV show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Who joins you on the album?

Fallen is a true collaboration that features guitarist, programmer and producer Erik
Gustafson (Adoration Destroyed), vocalist Kai Irina Hahn (The Sedona Effect), cellist
Rebekah Feng (The Neuro Farm), friend and veteran guitarist and producer Ray Wilcox,
mastering by Xris Smack and remixes by Silver Walks and Paradox Obscur.

Will there be any NØIR side projects?

Ironically, when I was the vocalist of Black Tape for a Blue Girl, NØIR actually began as
a side project that wasn’t supposed to last beyond a few singles. Later, the gears shifted
and NØIR became my main outlet. At that time, I figured NØIR would be it until I set
sail for the Undying Lands. Suddenly, an old bastardized German proverb I heard on the
TV show Deadwood comes to mind, “announcing your plans is a good way to hear god
laugh.” That said, things change.

At present, I have a new side project with members of Pittsburgh’s Ether Rising, we are
calling it the Shimmering. I’ve never met them in person, we were introduced by DJ
Kelly A, a longtime mutual friend, who accurately believed we could make some fine
music together. It’s a real band with guitars, a rhythm section and violin with a touch of
shoegaze psychedelia with a biting edge along the lines of the Swans and the first
Christian Death album. We’ve managed to complete a pair of original songs with more to
come, it should see the light of day by years end. Lastly, I cut some vocals for Renard, a
project from Markus Reinhardt formerly of the German band Wolfsheim, which might
also be released later this year.

Athan, can we take a look back at the past? How did one of your earlier bands get
together, Spahn Ranch?

With the determined mindset of getting very serious about making music, I packed up my 1961 Dodge and moved to Los Angeles in late 1992. At that time, some friends of mine
from NYC, were living in LA and had just released an EP as Spahn Ranch. They were
having some problems with their singer, it seemed that my arrival was the solution and
like Greg Brady, “the jacket fit.” I joined the band in early 1993, immediately after we
began work on what was to become the Collateral Damage album on both Cleopatra and
Zoth Ommog labels. I just realized it is the 30th anniversary of that album and I’m still

Any future plans and projects?

Fallen features an acoustic cover of the Psychedelic Furs “Love My Way,” which is a
preview of an all-acoustic NØIR EP entitled These Cars Collide planned for later in the
year. I am also assembling an EP with all female vocalists singing NØIR songs.
Additionally, I am slowly working on a full album of originals for next year, even more
slowly, I am toying with the idea of an all covers album with the working title 1983 of
songs that ultimately influenced what I do with NØIR. I’m also assembling a collection
of material for release from when I was in the Philadelphia band Executive Slacks 1988-1991 Lastly, although we are very selective about performing live, NØIR just completed
a few road dates and I expect additional dates in the fall.