• Joe Mruk

House Music

What if passions could be felt and seen as clearly as wood, brick, drywall and piping? Joe Mruk invites you into a house built of an everlasting love for music and its power to heal, inspire, and move the soul. Step inside.

Joe Mruk Pittsburgh Local music The Pittsburgher
Illustration by Joe Mruk

I love these rooms. Each alone is not like the others. That’s why it’s a house—each room connected by drafty hallways, creaking stairs and yawning doorways.


There is no room that may suit me forever.

I’m restless; I wander.

I haunt this house.


But I don’t wanna scare ya! C’mon in, you just got here. You want a beer? That’s fine, I’m cutting down myself. Welcome to my living room—I’ll put on a record, if that’s alright. I love records more than just about anything. They spin and put music in the air so that it fills a room. Great floods of it from two speakers, filling all nooks and crannies, touching every cracked outlet, stirring each corner cobweb. Sometimes it’s so dense I’m surprised I don’t have to swim through it to the next room.


Yeah, I know, they’re mostly indie records. That’s me. Indie rock is my living room. I love it here. That’s why the room’s so big—I’ve spent more time here than anywhere. Lots of comfy spots here, have a seat! The old couch sinks in all the right places. Yeah, that’s a good one, put it on! I didn’t know you were a fan, too!


I wish I knew more people like you growing up. I wouldn’t have felt as isolated. But hey, we live in the city now, right? We can go to shows whenever we want, with other folks all around who just know. Things are different now…than they were back then.


We both grew up on pop music—who doesn’t? That’s pretty much most of what indie rock is, anyway. I always found it more relatable than the heavy hitters of any decade. The American underground, man. Unencumbered by the trappings of what it means to strike it huge. Ambition's there, sure—but when folks really do make music that’s more for themselves than anyone else, with whatever is on hand or what they can afford, and who gives a shit what anyone thinks—that's earnestness. Sincerity. There’s so much more to life than love songs. Books, science, nature, religion, animals and airplanes. Songs about buildings. Food. That’s what I want. Don’t you?


Check out the kitchen, it’s psychedelic. I’m always losing my mind in there, cooking up something new. I love it! Wild, what you realize you can put in the pot. It even gets silly. That’s fine. I like my meals with some laughs on the side. I wish more of ‘em tasted like that. It’s more than just humor, though. It’s a counterculture. It meant something, and still does. It stands for

something. Some of the best art roughs up our familiar forms, speaks to us of war and suffering. Reminds us that everything can change at the drop of a hat. I think we oughta remember that. To survive. Right?


Anyway—sorry, didn’t mean to get all heavy on ya! It does get heavy in here.


Let’s head back to the living room. Don’t trip over the wires to the basement, there! Always a lot of stuff going on down there…it’s under construction. Things get weird in the basement. Industrial stuff, noise experiments, DIY performances…a lot of what’s down there is unpalatable, inaccessible. That’s why I keep it down there. But when no one’s around, I check it out. Even when it gets dark—I love exploring in the dark. An exposed coil of wire flashes uncontrollably in the corner; it may be dangerous. There’s even a new room down there where everything is destroyed. I was never a punk growing up, but I’ve sure found a lot to be upset over since then. Punk and post-punk are the rooms I’m most excited to renovate. But I can’t stay there forever. Darkness gets oppressive.


That’s why we’re here! In indie-rock land, the house's heart, where other forms of music merge from all around but things feel mostly sunny and laughter is legal. The spirit of counterculture persists here, too, that’s why it’s connected to the—what’s that? Upstairs? …Oh, there’s a lot up there.


All the pop music is kept in my bedroom, due to my serious relationship with it. We go way back. The floor is still scattered with tapes I got as a kid, and my parents’ old records. They loved sunshine pop; that’s probably why I love psych and pop, and indie by association. This room is where I learned how the pop body can be stitched together. Stanzas, bridges, choruses, pre-choruses...it’s all quite Byzantine, and feels like the culmination of decades of human agreement on accessible forms. They pummeled the ancient song into something that sticks to the brain like candy, wandering around in their lab coats in search of universal experiences. Preferably profitable. Though results may vary, I find their experiment deeply noble. The perfect pop song can shatter the illusion of isolation in the universe, in search of a single singing chord. A thrumming of unity that—shit, I’m doing it again, aren’t I?


There’s a back bedroom too. It’s small, but it’s where I keep the heavy stuff. Metal, sludge, doom. There’s even a hardcore laundry chute that connects down to punk. I go here far less than any other room in the house, but I need this room. I can’t let the heat of all that rage color my life too much, but my rage is a part of me, as is everyone’s. And the core of rage is despair. We do some intensive soul repair when we listen to music that suffers. I love watching that violent arc of the sledgehammer to the walls of my fragility, driving a wedge between myself and my suffering by going right in and wrecking the place.


Plus, it’s a place for my friends if they need a snooze.


There’s more up here—don’t even get me started on the bathtub full of electronic records. The chalk-green fluorescent lights hum and flicker in there. The circuitry is damaged and I cannot

seem to get it to stop. I live with the glitches and immerse myself in that fizzy water. I especially love warm electronics, and the feeling of settling into a synth bath is never unwelcome. Which brings to mind…


The attic, great lid of all houses. I go up there to listen to my ambient records. I’ll tell you right now, the attic is huge. A sacred space, like a chapel. That zen rake against the wall is for cultivating this great field of emptiness. Territorial border-music pushes up at the sky, at the edges of known continents. There is no roof in my attic, just me and the stars. It rains in here. The suns of all American states bake me down into the floorboards. I love this peace room. Treehouse of my life. A droning cathedral where the infinite is felt: stars in the hand.


Watch your way back down that ladder—it feels longer every time I cross over.


Sorry, bud, it’s been heavier than expected, this journey! I’m glad you’re with me. Maybe we should take a breather and step outside.


That’s better—smell that air! I love looking out at the countryside. Let's chew on a hayseed and kick back in these rocking chairs. I’ve got some stools for any singers or songwriters who want to come around, and a banjo leaning against the wall just in case you forgot we’re in Pennsylvania. I love it out here! See those mountains in the distance? That’s where God brought the pedal steel down from the heavens to grace us with the most cryingly beautiful sound ever heard by human ears. Who the hell are we to deserve all these treasures? And what, pray tell, is the spirit of this particular country, fenced yet fenceless?


Why is it that so many of these rooms are beautiful, despite their long-aching timbers? How might we triumph over our suffering, and what is the glad story that triumph tells?


How many rooms must be added to this house before it is complete, and within each, how ornate the features?


And what of your house? Surely as your own experiences paint you whole—shoulder, knuckle and jaw—some of your rooms must counter mine. Perhaps some are the same. Maybe one day I will pass through your house, as you have passed through mine. After all, I’m just a tourist in this town.


There is no room that may suit me forever.

I’m restless; I wander.

I haunt this house. ▲


Joe Mruk (Red Buffalo Illustration) is a Pittsburgh-based full-time freelance illustrator aspiring to write and illustrate for the children’s market. Most of his existing work is music-based with an emphasis on posters, maps and album art. Having graduated with a BFA in painting and graphic design at Cal U of Pennsylvania, he has now been freelancing for ten years. See his illustrations online at www.redbuffalo.org, or his Instagram: @redbuffaloill