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Nashville not the place for Hurricane native Mark Bates

WANT TO GO?

Mark Bates

WHERE: Creekside Cafe, 3380 Teays Valley Road, Hurricane

WHEN: 10 p.m. Saturday

TICKETS: $5

INFO: 304-562-2494CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Mark Bates was in Nashville when he realized that he might have made a mistake.

About five years ago, the 24-year-old Hurricane native moved to Music City, U.S.A., with the usual big dreams and aspirations about music. He said he'd gone to Nashville with clarity of purpose about what he wanted to do, but things didn't go quite as expected.

In 2006, Bates graduated from Winnfield High School and spent a semester at Marshall University on a jazz trumpet scholarship before deciding what he really wanted was to learn to play guitar and write songs.

"I realized I wasn't going to get anywhere at Marshall doing that," said the current L.A. resident, who performs Saturday at Hurricane's Creekside Café in support of his new record, "Night Songs."

So he dropped out.

"I didn't drop out because of any academic thing," he added. "I've always enjoyed learning. I could just tell I wasn't going to get anywhere there, but I wasn't really prepared to play music for a living."

Instead, Bates holed up in an apartment in Sissonville, where he knew no one, and spent some time listening to music, taking apart what he heard and teaching himself songwriting, along with piano.

"I got a piano bar gig and just kind of jumped into things obsessively," he said, referring to Dak-a-Reez (now the Whiskey River Pub) on Kanawha Boulevard.

Everything seemed to be falling into place so after a little more than a year in Sissonville, Bates decided to strike out for Nashville.

That's where he kind of crashed.

"I wasn't making any money," Bates said. "It was a bit of the world hitting me in the head kind of thing."

After a year and a half, he decided to quit music -- at least as a career.

"I kind of came home with my tail tucked between my legs."

But he had to make a living. So he put an application in at the state police academy and was accepted. Training, he said, was physically demanding and emotionally draining.

"They had us up doing pushups in the snow at three in the morning or staying up for 48 hours. When you made a mistake, you were ostracized and repeatedly embarrassed in front of everybody else."

Bates said he learned to toughen up and deal with criticism. He also learned to make fewer mistakes.

Meanwhile, he couldn't help but be fascinated by his classmates. Many of them were guys not much older than him, a lot were ex-military.

"I was sitting next to and polishing shoes with guys back from Afghanistan and Iraq. I listened to their back stories."

Bates found himself writing songs in his off-time, and when a friend in Los Angeles called about a job doing music for film and television, he decided that maybe he'd learned enough in nine weeks at the state police academy to do what he needed.

"It was probably the best thing I ever did," he said. "They beat every timid bone out of me."

To be sure, he said, working as a musician with the film and television industry, is a very "foot-in-the-door" kind of thing. In L.A., he records music demos called pilot tracks, which other musicians use to sing finished songs to.

He also had a song in this spring's cage fighting drama "The Philly Kid."

"Sean Connery's son directed," Bates said. "It was a very low budget film -- about five million dollars -- and to be honest, the movie was kind of terrible."

Bates said he looks at his time in Nashville as a "constructive failure." He learned a lot, but it wasn't where he was supposed to be.

He's still working on that, but so far, California isn't bad.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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