We Are Temporary, the wired and weird brainchild of Brooklyn’s Mark Roberts, is as much the result of a musical obsession as a philosophical one. His debut EP Afterthoughts oscillates between musical violence and frailty, lyrical defensiveness and vitriol, bursts of optimism and crushing nihilism. First conceived in a small studio in New Zealand, this recording was shaped over the course of five tumultuous years, and nearly met it’s end in a Brooklyn emergency room.
Raised in Germany by an American opera singer, Roberts spent his childhood playing hide-and-seek in the halls of Europe’s grandest opera houses, and borrowing Skinny Puppy tapes from his babysitter. His mother’s love of music and strong sense of purpose inspired him to pick up the classical guitar at a young age, and he soon also began to experiment with early digital synths, MS DOS, and hissy multi-track tape recorders. He later studied composition and philosophy at Northwestern University in Chicago, then evolutionary aesthetics at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury.
In New Zealand, Mark formed The Enright House, releasing a debut album in 2007 with A Low Hum. Afterthoughts was originally conceived as the soaring, ambient follow-up record that would build on The Enright House’s guitar-centric sound. However, in 2009, while touring the US and showcasing at SXSW, his personal life—and with it, his music—took a major turn: Roberts (a staunch atheist) reconnected with his college sweetheart (a devout Mormon), and together they soon moved to Brooklyn.
While the stability of his new life was welcome at first, his partner’s focus on family, religion, and abstinence soon became the source of philosophical disagreement, lingering resentment, and deep sexual frustration: “Your prudish chill, your abstinent drill / I’m sick of your beliefs” (Swords). Roberts soon began tearing his songs apart, replacing his lavish instrumentations with the synthetic severity of the Darkwave and EBM bands he grew up with: Skinny Puppy, Deine Lakaien, Leæther Strip.. Songs like “Afterthoughts” and “Swords” became brutal, punching anthems; lyrics became weaponized: “I need to be loved by someone else / More sexual than you / A Kindred heart’s just not good enough” (Swords).
Eventually, Roberts broke off his relationship. He had always felt that once he had given everything to music, it would be enough. But as the exuberance and freedom he had hoped for failed to appear, Roberts began to question his decision. After walking 500 miles throughout the forests of Virginia, Roberts was still no closer to an answer. Then, in early 2012, he had an experience which changed him forever.
At a friend’s house in Bushwick, Roberts accidentally overdosed, and paramedics rushed him to a nearby ER. There, Roberts had an experience which was deeply unsettling for him. Speaking later of that night, Roberts recalls: “I was absolutely hysterical and inconsolable. I thought I was dying, and no one I loved was there with me, and I hadn’t left anything meaningful behind.” After hours of delirium, Roberts lost consciousness: “When I finally gave up struggling, I fell through myself and awoke in a room of golden light. I was surrounded by dozens of people, whom I didn’t know, but who knew me and loved me. It was the most meaningful and humbling experience of my life, and I still can’t talk about it lucidly. When I woke up, all of those connections I had ignored—my partner, my parents, my friends—they suddenly seemed so important.”
A heightened sense of mortality imparted not only a new sense of urgency to his life, but also a deep fragility to his music. “In a way, it re-humanized me,” says Roberts. Despite the trauma of that night, the experience not only gave Roberts the strength to let go of the songs he had agonized over for years, but also to piece together the shattered relationships he had left behind. “It’s conceited to think / Life could be as easy to mend / As it was easy to break / Terrible things happen to those who wait” (Starash).
Afterthoughts releases on July 9th via Brooklyn label Stars & Letters. Roberts (still an atheist) is now married to his college sweetheart (still a Mormon).
“Haunting, mesmerizing, magical… the result is simply overwhelming.”
— Against the Odds
“Lyrics like old love notes… smeared like tears on running eye-liner”
— Impose Magazine
“One of the most real artists you will ever have the pleasure to experience”
— Floorshime Blog
“Stark electronica with a very vulnerable human heart”
— POP LIB
“An incredible release that everyone should check out”
“Simultaneously brutal and brittle; lyrics scathe like steelo over jagged synths and rhythms”
— Cheese On Toast
“A sense of epic, but touching greatness”
— Deer Du Bois