You may have seen Mark Mallman straddling his keyboard as he performed at this year’s 80/35 Music Festival. “Offbeat” wouldn’t be a bad way to describe the Minneapolis-based singer-songwriter who plays Vaudeville Mews this week. But that’s hardly an expansive enough term.
Take his marathon song cycles. In 1999 Mallman decided to perform a 26-hour song. He doubled up on that in 2004 with a 52-hour song, and then performed a 78-hour song in 2010.
Last month Mallman completed his fourth marathon, 150 hours of music over seven days while being driven from New York to Los Angeles. Seventy-eight hours is pushing healthy levels that a person can go without sleeping. A week without sleep could result in insanity or death, so Mallman decided to make music while he was sleeping. He accomplished this by hacking a heart-rate monitor and a Mindflex headset and running them through sequencing software and a program called BioWave.
“It’s a simple principle, but it’s not really a way of translating your music to reality yet,” Mallman said during a phone interview. “All I could really do was make the music go up or down. The principle is fantastic, but the outcome is fairly crude and simple. One of the songs was like a chicken on a keyboard, writing out your epitaph.”
Thursday’s show will be in a much more traditional concert mold, with an hour-plus set comprising 3- to 5- minute pop songs. The Des Moines show is Mallman’s first concert outside Minneapolis since releasing his new album, “Double Silhouette,” earlier this month.
The album and its title track are partly inspired by a breakup and partly inspired by the films of Humphrey Bogart.
“It’s about how you face being alone in the world,” Mallman said. “The title is a reference to ‘The Big Sleep,’ but for the song I kept thinking about ‘Casablanca.’ Rick is alone in this bar, and then Ilsa walks in. How does he process this new guy she’s with when he’s trying to escape this girl? I wanted to write a song about all the different ways to process a breakup, and at the same time how are you supposed to be friends with the new guy?”
The songs of “Double Silhouette” are much more conventional than the epic works of Mallman’s marathons. Mallman compares pop songs to a sandwich: The format has already been defined, so you have to try to make the best sandwich you can.
“On the record, I was going in the direction of increasingly tighter pop songs. Some are just two-and-half minutes,” Mallman said. “The marathons allow me to explore the part of me that’s bored by that.”
When he’s not touring or making ridiculously long rock songs, Mallman is a working class musician and composer. He composes music for the YouTube zombie comedy series “Bite Me,” but his goal is to just tour forever. For now, he’s trying to make his music pay the bills.
“I’m just going to barrel down and hustle and hopefully sell enough records to get through the winter,” Mallman said. “It can be scary, but you weather every storm because that’s what you’re supposed to do. The most exciting stories are never awesome to live.”
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Where: Vaudeville mews, 212 Fourth St.