Music / Features
Track by Track:
Marcus Whale - The Hunger
Words by Matt Thoreley
Tuesday 7th September, 2021
Marcus Whale’s The Hunger is a haunting ambient pop odyssey; a touchingly twisted exploration of doomed infatuation and a desperate plea for transformation, all told through the bloody lens of a vampire love story. We caught up with Marcus to get a better understanding of the meaning, inspiration and creation of this uniquely dark album experience.
Over the past decade, Sydney-based multi-instrumentalist and avant-garde experimentalist Marcus Whale has built an impressively unpredictable back catalog of artistic output: dropping outsider pop with Collarbones, nightclub styled electronica with Black Vanilla and cloudy ambient under the Scissor Lock moniker, all before transitioning into sole practitioner for his surreal debut Island Sea in 2016, and last year’s Lucifer. Whilst his recorded output has been consistently ambitious, it is just as impressively reflected by his visual and live output. The performances for Lucifer were award winning collaborations with artists Athena Thebus and Chloe Corkran, which like all his work, was just as at home on a festival's rolling hills as within a gallery's white walls. Outside of his own material, last year he performed a mystically dramatised musical tribute to Wong Kar-Wai’s incredible 2000 film In The Mood for Love - presented by the Sydney Opera House.

So after a busy 2020, this all leads up to the strange synth led ambience of The Hunger. A beautiful, metaphorically rich tale of a human servant, known as a familiar, and their destructive devotion to a vampire in hopes of receiving eternal life. The tale opens in an eerie catacomb of hazily intimate chamber pop, alone in an ambient shroud with only Marcus’ siren calls from the deep. The density builds gradually, with liquid electronics bubbling underneath the surface on ‘Two Holes’, which masterfully blends into the gorgeous cloudy balladry of ‘Impossible’. In fact, the seamless oozing transitions between most of the tracks is consistently a sound to behold. 

The swelling synth sounds then erupt from below in a startling piece of raving trance on ‘Portal’. The rest of the story blends this murky pool of sounds in an ominously minimal manor, heightening the impact of explosive moments like the chaos of the aforementioned ‘Portal’, the throbbing synthwave of ‘Familiar’ and the hauntingly abrasive saxophone section on ‘Raining Blood’. 

Marcus' masterfully longing vocals offer a comforting and romantic hand throughout, guiding the listener through this immersive, bloody story of the macabre.
Cowboy Song

The Hunger album follows a story of a human who wishes to be turned into a vampire by their master. This figure is often called a familiar, which often also refers to the animal servant of a witch - same concept. There’s quite a specific narrative thread through it, although it exists more for the purposes of teasing out the power play of this relationship, the impulses of devotion and servitude and this longing of transformation that this thread inspires in this character. 

To that end, ‘Cowboy Song’ is a country ballad that I started singing live, a capella, as a means of expressing this kind of mournful longing. I’ve also often dressed up as a cowboy in performing these songs trying to channel this campy melancholy into something that resembles my story and my life more closely. I’m not totally sure why it’s compelling for me. The cowboy figure, as we can see from Solange, Mitski, Lil Nas X etc, has become really ransacked by artists outside the country arena in recent years and I’d love for a smarter person than me to diagnose why it has such currency at the moment.

It also sits outside the vampire narrative at the beginning. It could just as easily be about any kind of lost lover. However, I also wanted the album to begin with this sort of vulnerable arresting moment that the vampire world could gradually swallow up. That’s what you hear in this track, with this rising, fattening ambience that leads directly into the next track, ‘Two Holes’. That structure is designed to shift this cowboy mourning into the mourning after an undead object of desire.

I’m also just a sucker for a two-track medley to open an album! Although I’ve never been a big Neutral Milk Hotel person I have always felt very inspired by the powerful and intense way In the Aeroplane Over the Sea begins with this two-track medley, especially how it uses this medley to shift seamlessly from something a bit more straightforwardly folksy into something quite epic.

Two Holes

I rarely make multiple versions of songs, but this one originally had a completely different instrumental which was made in a flurry of activity in April last year when we all had all the time in the world. One day while I was in the shower, I dreamed up this version that could link ‘Cowboy Song’ with this in one big, thick medley.

The two holes, if it’s clear, are the two holes left by the fangs of a vampire after feeding, to a non-fatal point, their familiar. I like to think of these holes as being the literal, physical mark on the familiar that unequivocally proves their worth, as well as representing the possibility of their future transformation into a vampire. It shows, also, the connection that the familiar has with their master. This sort of submissive power play can be addictive - this is why the pull of these two holes is felt even from a distance.


There’s also a dovetailing of lyrics from ‘Two Holes’ into ‘Impossible’: “suck the air out”. It’s a line that originates from a song that predates this album ‘Proud & Dirty’ which is on my last album Lucifer. That song was about sex, so perhaps placing it into this vampire context reveals that the vampire story is ultimately an erotic metaphor. In the world of The Hunger though, it’s about wanting to be undead! And perhaps it’s fetishising the moment of transformation itself as much as the form of being that the familiar wishes to become.

This was the first track made for the album, early in April 2020. I’d felt a little bit alienated from music-making for some time. Sometimes the processes that lead to making can calcify, or become less powerful. This song represented a new way of writing for me, one which was freer, less tied to a sense of pulse, or even a repeating song structure. I love that everything just keeps moving forward. I wanted it to have this endless sort of feeling.


‘Portal’ was the last thing written for the album, in fact coming after I had initially thought the album was finished. I think its presence transforms the complexion of the album quite dramatically since it’s wildly different from the other tracks in terms of its production. The honest story is that I heard the Smerz track ‘I don’t talk about that much’, which rocked my world enough that I immediately realised I needed a rave synth moment on the album. I’d also been listening to a whole lot of Massive Attack at the time, so perhaps I felt emboldened to do a wordier vocal. I’m grateful to these influences for giving me permission, at least inside my own head, to attempt things I might not have felt were in my purview.

Even though it probably wouldn’t go that hard on a dancefloor (although I’m willing to be convinced), this track was also made thinking about the times when I could surround myself with rave music, with my friends, in the environs of a club, warehouse or paddock. I miss that a lot.


I did an interview last week with my friend Jared who asked about this question, bringing up that vampires might not have a smell, because they’re long dead, don’t breathe, don’t sweat, etc. In any case, this “perfume” is generated by the allure of desire, in the way that wanting something with this level of depth and obsession can sometimes conjure a sensual response.

The source for some of the earlier lyrics in this song are from diary entries from many years ago, describing my ex’s reaction when I came to see him shortly after a breakup. In this part of the vampire narrative, there’s a fear of violating or overstepping. I think when I have a crush like the familiar in this story, I am constantly holding this fear, that my desire is a monstrous thing that needs to be tamed. It’s probably revealing in some way that I’ve cast myself as a vampire-chaser in an allegory about the way I desire.

The Hunger

I love having a title track. It’s a deliberate act of pointing and saying: “this is the important song, this is the one that tells you what everything is about”. ‘The Hunger’ is no different.

This song is named after the film of the same name, which I watched for the first time last year, again, in April. At that point I was doing a lot of remote co-watching with my friends, pressing play at the same time, then messaging through it, and discussing afterwards. I watched this with my good friend Kane Gaundar, who directed the video for ‘Impossible’ and whose generally spooky and vampiric vibe I find very inspiring.

I love this film for many reasons, especially its heightened stylisation - by design it deals with vampirism in a melancholic way that is extremely overwrought, almost cartoonish. Its premise is also powerful to me: a vampire who takes lovers who must live as decrepit corpses once their unnatural long youth ends. But for me, the moment that really connected with me is a scene in which the central vampire character, played by Catherine Deneuve, weeps while playing my favourite Ravel piece for piano (‘le gibet’ from the Gaspard de la Nuit suite). The scene cuts between her mournful, veiled figure and her new love interest, played by Susan Sarandon, who also weeps while sleeping in her own bed.

To me, this moment encapsulates these ideas I’ve been trying to articulate in this album: on one side, the way that desire pulls from a distance and on the other, the grief of already knowing that your love is ultimately doomed. This doom is almost the way in which these characters are connected. Catherine Deneuve’s character pursues these lovers even knowing (or perhaps because of?) the grotesque fate to which they’ll be consigned.

So immediately after the movie ended I started playing the Ravel piece. It’s a little out of my skill level, at least sight reading, so it eventually melted into the piano part that you hear today on the track. In the end, it’s a track about the burning desire to not merely be with someone, but also to become like them. This sentiment then generated the entire vampire narrative in the album generally.


This song attempts to play out the moment of transformation in which the familiar is turned. I love describing this moment in these lyrics. There’s something delicious about the idea of it being a change on a molecular, chemical level. ‘Familiar’ is in that way a very romantic dream. However, if you follow the last two songs semi-closely, you can learn that this feeling of union with the master is illusory and temporary. Even when he is transformed, the familiar is still always and already distant from something he wants or needs.

Raining Blood

This is another track that started as a completely different song. It was a guitar-heavy song called ‘Godspeed’, which you can hear on a 2RRR fundraiser compilation. In the end, I wanted this moment of the album to be a more epic, cinematic interruption in the sound of the album because it narrates the death of the master vampire. In the end, its glitchy, sinewy layering resembles more closely the music I used to make under the name Scissor Lock until my early twenties. I’m still holding a flame for ambient music in my life!

It also features some really breathtaking saxophone work from Charlie Sundborn, who plays ecstatic, maximalist tremolos while circular breathing. I’ve seen Charlie perform many times. These days it’s not so often that you see someone going through a singular process of endurance while making music and in Charlie’s case it feels brutal and elemental in a way that I love. I can’t recommend enough his recent album Trust In The Long Decay.

And yes, it’s named after the Slayer song. I’ve always loved the sensuality of that song title and thought it’d be fun to reference in this vampire context.


At this point in the vampire story, the familiar keeps seeing his beloved in many different places. I’ve touched on this type of longing and mourning in other works. The general idea to me is that when I long after someone, it’s a process that takes place internally, without the involvement of this desired object. It follows, then, that perhaps the thing we long after is an outline we project onto others, confusing them for the idea we generate in ourselves. This song expounds on this fixation and inability to move forward, a desire that burns even after the object is gone.

The lyrics begin in the sanctuary of a church before moving to a toilet cubicle and a carpark, cast as spaces for men to cruise one another for sex. The association of these spaces is intentional. All are spaces for this character to chase a dream of a transcendent, transformative connection to others that turns out to be an impossible longing. The reason for the vampire reference is that I was thinking about how past loss and past desire persists into the present, much like how the undead walk the earth reanimated, haunting us.

The Hunger is out now via Dero Arcade - head to to purchase the album on limited edition vinyl.
Header photo by Richard Sawyer
Cowboy photo by Andrew Haining