What do Jessica Simpson, Filter, Disturbed, Pussycat Dolls, Metal Sanaz and Carlos Mencia have in common? Until recently, not much: Simpson and Pussycat Dolls are bootylicious pop stars; Filter and Disturbed are heavy guitar bands; Metal Sanaz is an ambiguous internet celebrity; and Carlos Mencia is a comedian.
But these diverse acts became unlikely barracks fellows last month, courtesy of social-networking site MySpace and its parent company, Fox. Operation MySpace sent them all to Kuwait to perform for American troops stationed at a military base there. The mass media powerhouse, not known for halfway measures, turned the performances into the first-ever high definition Webcast.
While most of us can only witness this surreal desert mash-up of American popular culture via screens, one Carrboro resident, Mitchell Marlow, got to experience it firsthand. Marlow has a neat faux-hawk, lots of colorful tattoos, rectangular glasses and an easygoing manner of speech. He grew up in Hillsborough, picking up the skateboard and the guitar in elementary school. Locally, Marlow is probably best known as one of the proprietors of Warrior Sound studio, although some know him as a veteran of local bands like Regatta 69, Blankface and He is Legend.
Three months ago, Marlow joined Filter as a guitarist. Filter had some hits as a mainstream industrial act in the 1990s. You’ll most likely remember the band from the seething Nine Inch Nails-style single “Hey Man, Nice Shot.” After moving toward a more alterna-rock style, Filter dissolved around 2002 but reunited last year.
Joining Filter wasn’t Marlow’s first brush with fame: When Wes Borland left rap-metal band Limp Bizkit, the band invited Marlow to join. He declined: “Their manager also managed Michelle Branch, who I had a thing for,” Marlow recalls. “I joked with him that I would [join Limp Bizkit] if he’d get me a date with her. The next day, he called back with Michelle Branch on speaker phone, but I was too nervous to say much.”
Marlow owes these connections in large part to his time living in New York City, playing with the band Sound of Speed. He characterizes Sound of Speed as “an industry buzz band. No one in the general public knew about us, but we were a ‘band to watch’ in all these industry magazines, so I met a lot of people.”
One of these people was producer Josh Abraham, who has worked with Alkaline Trio, Weezer and Slayer. “He helps me out with Warrior Sound when I need advice,” Marlow says. Abraham had just finished recording Filter’s new album, on which Filter singer Richard Patrick played the guitar parts. After the sessions, though, the band needed a touring guitarist. Marlow joined as a touring and possibly permanent member. A longtime fan of the band, he accepted: “Filter is fun for me because they tour nicer. I’m 29 now and am kind of tired of driving for 13 hours in a van.”
After a month of rehearsals and one small tour, Marlow decamped for Kuwait with Filter. He spent three days on base. “It was hot as hell, and I didn’t get to see much outside the base,” he says. His time was spent rehearsing, going on ersatz training missions and chatting with the troops. He took a helicopter ride over the desert, got photographed with Kuwaiti royalty and fired a grenade launcher at a virtual reality screen. “It was like a big video game,” remembers Marlow, who characterizes his position on the war as “complicated” and says he’s still undecided about it.
Marlow got to know a lot of the male performers, he says, but the females, all bona fide pop stars, were less approachable: “They were always mobbed with cameras and people,” he says, “like something you’d see in L.A., but in the desert. Everyone was in shorts, and they would show up with all this fancy hair and makeup. There was a Starbucks on base, and I was hanging out there talking to some photographers. Then Simpson walked in, and all of a sudden, I’m getting pushed aside.”
The performance took place in an on-base amphitheater. Marlow says the troops were appreciative and enjoyed the reminder of home. “Watching them dance, I was like, ‘Man, I bet they haven’t done this in forever.’ We ate in the mess halls with them and talked to them a lot,” he remembers. “Mostly they asked us about things going on in the States and talked about how they couldn’t wait to get home.”
FOX will nationally air a condensed, one-hour version of Operation MySpace April 12 at 11 p.m. on FX.