Marco Mahler is used to the cultural shifts and transitions relocation can bring. Born in Chicago to Swiss parents studying in the U.S, he moved back to Switzerland, where he grew up, at three and a half.  At twenty, after knocking around various music scenes in Switzerland, he headed back over the pond to New York, to pursue a music career.

Eight years later, now part of a burgeoning music scene in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Mahler was now married with a son of his own. The couple reconsidered their surroundings: the urban grit of New York didn’t seem like such a mecca after all, not ideal to raise a kid. They packed up and set out for the Appalachian foothills.

“We were looking for an alternative and we went to Virginia because my wife went to college there… It was temporary, before we figured out a long term place…”

The couple bought a house fairly cheaply.  It was half finished and they set about renovating with the idea that could sell it at a profit later. Mahler had picked up construction skills building lofts in Williamsburg. It looked good on paper, but the project was beset with problems:

“It would have been easier to build a new house than to finish that one. There was something wrong with everything except for the electric. So we gutted the whole house, fixed the plumbing and then rebuilt everything…”

The “deconstruction” of the house was a painful one: many things were nailed, screwed an glued together in inexplicable ways. It made for a long road ahead with little relief in sight.  The new neighbors weren’t forthcoming either: “We were really isolated out there, the people really treated us like outsiders–they weren’t interested in any sort of communication. ”

Amidst the frustration and isolation, Mahler begun crafting songs and recording them “—it was sort of like a way to reach out–something that would bring me to a better place…” The result is the Design in Quick Rotation a collection of handcrafted lyrics and melodies that convey the looming spaciousness of the landscape they were forged in. They are also private intimate songs that come with invisible headphones, made distinct by Mahler’s expert finger work:


The title of the album comes from the last line of the first song:

your heartbeat is putting me to sleep,

it’s design in quick rotation

“I liked the line—design and rotation—cd or a record in rotation–or like when it’s being played on the radio ‘it’s in rotation’—”


Mahler cites Bert Jansch and Bob Dylan as his strongest influences—listening for a while, a latter-day Nick Drake begins to emerge “shying away from melancholy” as Mahler states elsewhere. True, there is intimacy and gentleness here, but also a sturdy undertow that rescues the music from the negative space of haunting: these songs endure, they embrace the material world.  After all, these are the songs a house built.


The house itself was completed after three years and Mahler, wife and son have moved on to a better place: Portland Oregon.  “It’s a very progressive place with a high quality of life and can offer so many things.  At the same time it’s very affordable too.  The music scene is very interesting”.

What’s left of that episode in the Appalachians (apart from a renovated house) is an album which captures the time, space and intimacy that grew out of a few hard knocks.

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