Mars Argo’s Surreal Satire and Skewed Pop
The camera is rolling and Mars Argo and Titanic Sinclair are standing against the plain white backdrop they’ve erected in the living room of their apartment. Sinclair, in a deadpan voice, reads the definition of the word “gun” from his iPhone; Argo, dressed in a bunny suit, says, “Guns should be illegal, because if they are illegal, then bad guys won’t have them.” Later, they will film their friend Tony Katai exhaling weed smoke and declaring between coughs: “Marijuana should be illegal.”
All of this is being recorded for one of the L.A. duo’s “Computer Shows” — short, satirical videos Argo and Sinclair have been creating since 2007. The duo began filming the videos — which they post to YouTube under the username GROCERYBAG.TV — shortly after relocating from Michigan to Chicago in search of a larger art and music scene. (In 2012, they moved again, this time to Los Angeles.) The videos are brief, clever takedowns of topics ranging from art school and social media, to celebrities like Beyonce and Amanda Bynes. All of them are soundtracked by original music the duo creates.
In 2009, they released much of that music as their first full-length, Technology is a Dead Bird, under the name Mars Argo (much like PJ Harvey in the ’90s, Argo’s alias doubles as the band’s). The album is full of dizzying, complex songs that question humanity’s increasing dependence on technology. Argo’s honeyed voice delivers its contemplative lyrics, and Sinclair volleys between shredding and sweetly strumming his guitar. The group rifles through a host of musical styles, from garage rock (“Love in Black and White“) to synth pop (“Sideways and Sideways“) to tender acoustic ballads (“Machine“). Throughout, the duo balances the serious with the silly, offering messages that are tough to hear in songs that are impossible to resist.
On the relationship between their music and their Computer Shows:
Mars Argo: We started making these videos in our bedroom when we met about seven years ago. This was when YouTube first started pulling videos that had copyrighted content in them. [Sinclair] had always been in bands, and I played piano and sang in church choir, so we just started making instrumental tracks for these short videos. The videos started getting a lot of attention and people would ask where they could buy our music — we didn’t even consider ourselves a band at that point. From there, we started sending these silly demo tapes to record labels around Chicago. We decided to record an album, though we had no idea how to do it. We borrowed a bunch of recording equipment and put out Technology is a Dead Bird, which had crazy success. So the music really developed from the Computer Shows.
Titanic Sinclair: Living in Hollywood, you can go out any night and see a multitude of live performances. You really have to stand out and be captivating and interesting for anyone to care. You can be the best band in the world, but people are looking for something more. With the Computer Shows, we can focus more on piquing peoples’ interest, because that’s when we get the biggest response. What we’re trying to do is make people question what they are experiencing.
I think we both gravitate more towards very serious subject matter, and there’s a lot of truth behind a lot of the Computer Shows. We made this video called “You Can Do This,” and it’s probably the most sarcastic inspirational video ever made. I was going through a rough time then, but making that video actually helped me in a really weird way. People watch the videos and say, “Oh that’s so funny!” But we’re actually quite serious about a lot of it.
On the future of their channel GROCERYBAG.TV:
Argo: When we first started this project, our idea was always to turn GROCERYBAG.TV into a network or a channel with more than one show. Mars Argo was just one project inside of that. We always wanted it to be something we can curate, where we have a lot of different people making shows.
Sinclair: Moving to L.A. has helped with developing the channel, especially because we’ve been able to meet TV executives out here. We’d like to produce other shows, and right now we’re talking to a pretty big network about doing shows for them. We have a big opportunity to be able to do what we set out to do on a large scale, and we are going to be able to really expand the Computer Show element.
Argo: In L.A., we get to be around people who get what we are doing. In the Midwest, people thought we were weird for making videos. But in L.A., we’ve found so many like-minded people who ended up here for the same reasons as us.
Sinclair: Yeah, back in Michigan people thought we were crazy and looked down on us for what we did, but we come out here and people think we’re geniuses [laughs].
On the blurry line between their identities and their alter egos:
Argo: We created this project without a plan. We were pretty much making fun of hipster culture at the time. Then we got quite a bit of attention and got thrown into a totally new world. At one point, we ended up evolving into our alter egos and had to stop and [rediscover our real selves]. Now, it’s a healthy balance of the two. Though the music has always been real, the acting in the videos — those are characters. They can be turned on and off. I think what’s really important is to keep doing things that we were doing [as individuals] before we started this. I found a place to ride horses out here, and I’ve been doing that since I was a little girl in Michigan. That makes me feel a lot more like me, versus how I was when we lived in Chicago and I completely left that world behind. It felt like a part of me was missing.
On deciding whether or not to sign to a label:
Argo: We’re definitely at a crossroads right now. We haven’t signed so far, because it’s important that we find the right manager — someone who understands both the music side as well as everything else we want to do with the Computer Shows. So far, we haven’t come across somebody who we think is right.
Sinclair: We’ve been really lucky to meet a lot of awesome people who want to manage us or want us to sign to their label, but we haven’t found the person who understands both sides of what we’re doing yet.
On society’s obsession with celebrity culture:
Sinclair: Every time something happens in the media, I feel like no one is there representing our voice — people who are into the [kind of] media criticism that we’re into. I think it’s amazing that, through the Internet, we have the opportunity to put our voice and our thoughts out there. People want to [understand] celebrities for some reason, and I’m obsessed with the way people treat them like gods. Being in L.A. has inspired more of this criticism, because now I see celebrities at places like the grocery store. I want to dive even more into this, and release more criticism and commentary on this culture.