On the bleakest day of February, also known as Valentine’s Day and Oregon’s Birthday, I met Mattress (aka Rex Marshall, Circulation and Collection Maintenance Coordinator) for an interview over tea in the library. Fitting, as it was also, to the day, the 50th anniversary of PSU’s Millar Library. Marshall has worked there for 15 years, and now does library business from a coral room where the music collection used to live. You can also catch him as DJ El Dorado around town, or tune into Sunday evening radio for a show called Ballin’ the Jack on XRAY.fm.
Rex Marshall: Thanks for the write up [in The Pacific Sentinel’s January issue]! Some people that’ve written stuff don’t even see it live.
Margo Craig: It seems like something that needs to be performed. I was listening while writing it too.
R: I think it makes more sense if you see me. It stands alone too.
M: It’s the triple threat: the moves, the lights, the music.
R: Triple threat! Exactly. For fuck’s sake. All I gotta do is get people to see me once and I feel like they’ll hate me or love me. That’s all I want!
M: So, what or who is or whose “Mattress”?
R: I think that’s just unfiltered me. Why I named it that? Because the best and worst happens to you on a mattress.
M: “Going to the mattresses.” Is that the phrase? From The Godfather?
R: [laughs] The best and worst! The best of times and the worst of times. At least in our culture, right? It seems like. I mean, when else do we talk seriously?
M: If not on mattresses?
R: [laughs] Yeah, exactly—it’s kind of, how many ways to be intimate?
M: Now everyone’s on their respective mattresses just talking through phones.
R: Yes, exactly. Oh my god.
M: What other music endeavors do you have going on?
R: I have a band called Slim Fortune which is kind of a creepy country band. But everyone is so busy and I’m so busy.
M: And you’re also a DJ.
R: Yes that’s a lot of stuff. Last week I was sick and I had three, sighs, but I couldn’t not. I was like I have been waiting for this cash! I have to do this! It sucked, but I did it.
M: Are you DJ El Dorado everywhere you go?
R: mhm, yeah, mhm.
M: What does PSU need to know about the Portland music scene?
R: It needs to go into it! Maybe a fraction of a bit. It is a pretty weird disconnect here. PSU is like—I don’t think people really live in Portland it seems like. It is really strange. Once in a while I’ll get people that recognize me at the desk.
M: Art in 2019—what do you want to see more and less of?
R: mmm. What do I want to see more of? I guess I want to see more just unique things. People just get in trends and keep nailing the trend. I would like to see new things, if that’s even possible. I can’t say I can even do anything new and unique, but at least maybe some personality? Or, something different. That’s a tough question. Like, what is going on? I don’t even know what’s going on.
M: I would say those things though, “personality,” “unique,” “something I hadn’t seen before”—all fulfilled by Mattress.
R: [laughs] But I feel like especially with music now, more than ever. I’m writing a book about Mattress right now. I think it’s called Happy to Fail, or [laughs] One Man Band with No Plan, might be another title. But I’m a complete failure because I can’t commit to one genre or one trend or easily identifiable thing at the total detriment. Sometimes I’ve made some traction, but mostly it’s like, not that different from 13 years ago when I started it.
M: You started it a few years after working here?
R: Yes I did. I needed some stability, man. I don’t want to sleep on floors. Or couches.
M: The library gives you that nice post-apocalyptic edge, where you keep your soup cans and jigsaw puzzles.
R: Exactly right. There’s a lot of stuff in here that will help me. If this building collapses, I’ll be able to hide in here and I have some stuff in here. Just come to this office, I’ll help you out. Look I got garlic. [laughs]
M: For the vampires?
R: But nowadays, it is awful, you have—being…what happened to being unique? It doesn’t get paid. I mean, I can only do what I do! But I see it a lot, there’s such a high turnover with bands. I saw some fliers that somebody put up from 13, 12 years ago, and like, 95 percent bands are dead except me and I’m just all alone. A couple times I tried to be a band, but it didn’t work out.
M: Maybe the plus of being a one man band.
R: Yeah, I think that’s part of it, but also, I was a bit naive in the beginning. But then I figured out—like I don’t care to try to be famous or anything. I just like to get this out. Out. Expand at its own rate. But, ugh, there’s just so much standard stuff. That makes sense if you want to be on a label and make it. Like, you gotta just nail a genre and, like, kill it. I have friends on big labels, and the labels are like, ‘Don’t change your sound, man.” Straight up! And it’s a business thing! Like, “just make another album like your last one. We’re fine!” And they have no problem with that.
M: The same old Mattress.
R: [laughs] “I’m making a new album! Same music different words!” [laughs]. But I’m finishing one up now—I don’t know when it’ll come out actually. I’m taking my time with it. Yeah, I got a new video I’m working on now.
M: You’re a pan-artist. You dabble?
R: Uh-huh. I did a play last year that was really fun. It was more like a dance piece. I have a video of that I need to post sometime soon. And I’m writing the Mattress book—it’s going to be sad. But the new album is going to be good.
M: So I think we all agree the most efficient get-to-know-you question is what’s your sign?
R: Oh god. Shut up! [laughs] Dumb! Scorpio.
M: Do you identify?
R: No. But of course, someone who knows that shit is like, “Typical.”
M: Does Mattress identify?
R: No! [laughs] It’s not an alter ego, but I like to fuck with that a little bit with Mattress. I don’t believe that stuff, but, people always say that about Scorpios, like “of course you don’t believe in that stuff.” My mom was new-age astrology, so I’m pretty (scowl face). Hate it. It’s all a West Coast thing, right? It’s huge! Oh God. I was hanging out with a lady over the winter, and she started talking about essences.
M: Like, auras?
R: Like, laying out bottles of water under the eclipse. [laughs] People recharging their crystals! I only like that people are terrified of Scorpios—I like that. I’m like, yeah, fuck you, leave me alone! It’s supposed to be the shady one. Or just the sexual one. The player one. And dark. And troubled. Or whatever.
M: Yeah, good flex.
R: I’ll take that, yeah, back off! This one chick was giving me hell, she goes, “Oh! Scorpios! Yeah, I’ve dated you before.” She was like, “Yeah! You guys are FUN but…” I was like, “psh, what are you?” She’s like, “Gemini.” I’m like, “HELLO, you’re crazier! Your thing is craziness! Ask anybody. Everybody says Geminis are evil as fuck. Don’t trust them.” All I gotta say, though, I grew up with this shit, with my mom—who was a pretty evil person—and it’s garbage. But then I have a Goddamn therapist. I was like, “Come on…” She’s like, “Nope, yeah, there’s something there.” Like, “No come on, not you too!” She’s like, “You know, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and all scorpios have some attachment problems!” What about me being a dumb American?
Check out Mattress on bandcamp, featuring albums such as Looking for my People and Lonely Souls,” and stay tuned for a sad book written by a true librarian.