This is a story about, well, stories. It begins in late 2018, when Mark (whose actual last name I still don’t know, by the way, and I intend to keep it that way) and I first sat down in some cute little coffee shop somewhere in between False Creek and Kits, and had a solid, two-and-then some hour chat about how he became Tall Mark, what the deal is with Tall Mark Milk and all of that (which was a story all in itself, back then), and about his plans for this epic European backpacking tour on which he was about to embark.
Several months later, when I finally had time to work on this ‘ere blog again, somehow, my phone had decided to render the recording useless. It just wouldn’t play. I had even made a backup, and that wouldn’t play either. Big fun.
Thankfully, Mark was very gracious about it all, and said something along the lines of it probably being for the best. Which I doubt, but it did give us the opportunity to do it all over again – three years, said backpacking trip, a pandemic and several other adventures that we got to chat about in detail – later.
This time, we went to another cute place, somewhere around Langara College which is where Janet, Mark’s home for the past year and a bit, has been parked since his (temporary) return to his hometown, Vancouver. If that’s the right word to use. Because, despite the fact that Mark was born and raised here, and has spent most of his life in this beautiful, yet exceedingly unaffordable city, I do get the feeling he found himself a new home. One he carries with him wherever he goes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
One of Mark’s favorite European backpacking photos. In Spain. Not Germany. Could have been Germany though. We like our clean streets.
Maybe it all began with this epic backpacking trip of 7 months that Mark left for in January 2019. He traveled around Europe, met a bunch of awesome people, took some amazing/funny/confusing pictures and videos (some of which are to be found on Instagram), and returned home with, I guess “the bug” (the traveling kind, not Covid. Although that came too, later). I’m not actually sure if he had planned to leave Vancouver even before then, but that’s what happened in August of 2021, after having moved many more times than he cared for – not because he loved packing boxes so much, but because ever-frustrating rental conditions forced him to. A story that, while I personally have been extremely lucky when it comes to housing in Vancouver, I’ve heard many times over from friends. But again, this is one for a different day.
When he’d finally had enough, he sold all of his stuff, bought Janet (which, as you might have gathered by now, is a camper van and has been his home on wheels ever since) and moved out. He spent a few weeks in different areas of Vancouver, navigating his recent diagnosis of Ankylosing Spondylitis and the fact that Covid was still a raging bitch back then, and finally hit the road in September of 2021, heading east.
And that’s what he’s been doing since: Heading east, along the Trans Canada Highway, which he has now traveled “from tip to tip” – the working title for a song he’s been creating, a “9-minute epic,” maybe not quite à la Pink Floyd, but “think Jesus of Suburbia”, commemorating some of the most poignant moments of his time on the road, and including bits he’s written along the way, like “Should I ever see a moose,” (he hasn’t) and, “Why aren’t there people playing music in the streets?” (that he wrote sitting on a bustling corner in Toronto). As you will soon learn about Tall Mark (who is indeed very tall, just in case that wasn’t clear): he’s all about the irony.
Mark’s performance at a Speakeasy in Halifax, NS. A venue he found asking people where “the sexiest stage in town” was. Not that it could get any sexier than this…
That, and the story. That’s what we keep coming back to, during our interview 2.0 at Café de L’Orangerie (which is definitely worth a trip down to Marpole – don’t get confused by the French name, it’s actually a Japanese-Italian fusion kind of deal, and we were quite impressed with their inspired tea menu and dessert selection, despite the fact that I couldn’t have any of it and Mark already ate): “It’s all about the story,” is a phrase that was repeated often, and with emphasis.
So let’s delve right in. Mark, who isn’t one for recording all that much – which you will notice if you try to find his stuff online (five videos on Youtube not counting) – does appreciate the video medium as a tool to improve on his act, so he assembled “the best setup you can get out of a mobile phone” and took as many videos of his performances during his tour (can you call it that if it’s basically your life?!) as he possibly could. Of which there were many – performances, that is. Over a hundred. Here’s someone who’s truly living the wandering bard lifestyle.
So there is footage, but Mark finds himself too busy “living the story” to cohesively document it. Which, I guess, is the dream. With the slight downside that, in this modern day and age, having an online presence is kind of a thing. For other people. Because Mark seems to be doing just fine without a massive Insta following. Not that he would mind it (I think), but it’s just not what his story is about.
What it is about is that moment when he finally hit Newfoundland after months and months of traveling, meeting a gazillion people, seeing the most interesting places (and some not so interesting ones, like, say, Thunder Bay, Ontario), playing shows, producing shows, recording videos, watching them back, telling jokes during songs that are really meandering pieces of art, ever changing… and so seeing that last province of this massive chunk of a country (because, as he points out, he’s not technically cheating when he says he’s traveled all of the provinces, because after all, the Yukon and Northwest Territories and Nunavut aren’t actually provinces) rise out of the mist at the end of an 11 hr ferry ride – that’s what his story is about.
His pictures document some of the most epic moments of his journey. He has a whole, ever expanding digital notebook full of them. ike the one of the Rooftop Pizza Party he put on in downtown Halifax, or the one where he just signed some random guys’ album at Mariposa Folk Festival where he played this year, walking around in a banana suit (eating a banana, of course) until someone asked him to sign their Bob Dylan vinyl that they had just bought, just because they wanted to own a signed Bob Dylan album. And then, a couple of weeks later at Hillside Festival, a woman who was vending at Mariposa came up to him and showed him the picture of just that interaction which she happened to witness, because she thought it was hilarious, and it also was one of the few moments she got to spend away from her booth.
There are many more stories like that, and Mark will tell them all – and very entertainingly so. Because he’s nothing if not a fantastic storyteller. Even as I’m writing this, they’re still coming. But let’s be real: The best thing is to see the man work his magic on stage – nobody has time to read anymore these days, but shows? Shows are different. And shows are what Mark does best. Because aside from being a great entertainer, he also plays, like, all the instruments, has a profound background in improv theater (thanks to Mom, who put him in theater classes to learn social skills and “deal with childhood trauma that I’d faced” – I’m still not sure if that part was a joke or not) and comedy, and since the tender age of 16 has been auditioning for and partaking in various film projects around Vancouver, as well as shooting ads for, you know, the gas money, and such. So he knows his way around a stage.
“In the same way that some people like to learn as many languages as possible,
I always wanted to learn as many instruments as possible.”
– Tall Mark
And he’s seen things. What strikes me most about Tall Mark – apart from his striking good looks, of course, and, as the kids say these days* “the drip”, which means style, or whatever… anyway. What strikes me is that he seems like he’ll never be content just watching the story, like other people watch people like Mark live their dream. Which he’s been told, repeatedly. His response? “It’s not that hard! If there ever was an omen to do it – I’m right here, doing it. This is it! Just sell your shit, buy a van! If I can do it, you can do it.” (And he is appreciating the fact that he enjoys certain privileges that allow him to do it.) Mark needs to live the story. And hopefully someday, somewhere, someone will find the time and all of those incredible videos, recordings, and images and put them all in an epic documentary on whatever streaming platform will be hip then.
* The story behind “the Drip”: Mark’s friend RJ, whom he met on his first night in Halifax at an open mic he specifically drove there for, despite some technical difficulties Janet had run into, to then not be put on because the host wanted to go home (or something like that – we don’t wanna talk about it) – told him he had it, wearing basically the exact same thing Mark was that momentous evening. That’s RJ playing in the background and the mentioned epic Rooftop Pizza Party, by the way.
So while I could really ramble on forever about all the things we had time to talk about in those two hours, let’s talk about the future. Because that’s one thing people always ask him: “Where are you headed? Where are you going?”
This winter, that’ll be “the woods”, somewhere in BC (because, you know, temperatures). To take a break – from touring, from producing, and hopefully with a finished EPK (which, I learned, means Electronic Press Kit), a video he’s been working on (which will be number six on Youtube! Yay!), and a buck load of festival applications for 2023 under his belt. And to play video games. After that, if the Gods and festival organizers will it, back on the road, back east, do it all again, but different – different people, different stories, maybe some of the same places and faces (like Newfoundland – that place really got to him, despite the fact that the 11 hour ferry ride is “basically to prepare you for the fact that everything is 20% more expensive”). Fill in the times between festivals with Side Door shows, and his own productions, which he’s gotten really good at after more than 4 years of putting them on.
What he’d really like to do though is to focus on performing, and the creative aspect of it all. That’s what he really loves: To be in – to feel the room that he’s in, and interact with the people that come to his shows. Which is why he prefers to put on ticketed events in intimate venues, at times that “don’t interfere with people’s dinner plans,” and ensure that the audience is actually there for the acts. And he for the audience. His favorite opening song is, hence, “Small Matters,” – “a back-and-forth piece with the audience about the opinionated shouting-match climate we live in”. It’s one of the first songs he ever wrote when he added songwriting to his artistic repertoire back in February 2017, participating in FAWM (February Album Writing Month, another thing I’d never heard of before our chat). And here’s another thing I’m finding about Mark: when he does something, he DOES it. No f-ing around. Where other people might cautiously write a song or two, maybe go to a few open mics, he just goes and writes a whole goddamn album. And records it. In a month.
“We’re all participating in this exchange of energy.” – Tall Mark
Anyway. We were talking about the future. So what if they don’t will it, the Gods – the epic summer of festivals? “I’ll probably move to Berlin. If I have to live anywhere, that’s where I would go.” Because it’s a place for the arts (and still fairly affordable, I suppose), and certainly full of stories. And why not North America? “Because I’ve already done that!” – that’s another catch phrase of Mark’s, and speaks to his seeking nature. The man certainly does not shy away from his path’s challenges. Which, I believe, is why all those magical things keep happening to him. Hopefully for a long time yet to come.
Because there are so many more amazing stories that Mark shared with me, we thought we’d share a couple of videos with you so you can keep going. Until the guy hits your neighborhood (sign up for his email list if you want to be notified! No spam, one email, take it or leave it, baby).
One thought on “[drɪŋks wɪð] Tall Mark”
What an incredible portraiture and analysis of my life. Thank you Jess! It feels victorious to have some of these stories immortalized through your joyous documentation.