- April 2013 -
HAVE A BEER WITH HEY MARSEILLES
Meet Hey Marseilles, a Seattle-based band with seven members and even more instruments. Their unique “folkestra” sound, in addition to the recent release of their second album Lines We Trace, has gained them national attention and warranted upcoming performances at Firefly Festival in Dover, Delaware and Chicago’s very own Lollapalooza. We drank some beers with the guys before their April 3 show at Evanston SPACE to get the details on the origin of their band name, their artistic process and upcoming stops on their musical map.
The Show: April 3, 2013 // Evanston SPACE
Drinks of Choice: IPAs, Pilsners, Ales
Kristen from A Beer with the Band: How did the group get together?
Jacob Anderson: Nick was a DJ at The University of Washington radio station. Matt was a sensitive singer/songwriter. And they were both at a kegger together and Matt was quietly playing his guitar in the corner. Nick was attracted to that, and it started a beautiful relationship of basement recording. And then through kind of a connection Nick had with Phillip…Phillip, Samuel and I [who are brothers] had been friends since we were about two-years-old. We played strings and they said, “You guys should come out and play with us.” And then it kind of built from there. We started adding layers and instruments until it felt right.
Kristen: And where are you all from?
Samuel Anderson: We’re all from the Washington-area. Phillip was in a military family, so he kind of grew up around the world, but we all grew up around Seattle.
Kristen: Where did the band name come from?
Nick Ward: It didn’t really come from anywhere. We had to have a band name.
Jacob: We need a new story for this.
Nick: Marseilles is a city in France. And “hey” is to let everyone know that we’ve arrived to America.
Matt Bishop: It really blends our European folk influences with the commonality of pop music as represented by the declaration “Hey”—simplicity—and “Marseilles”—complexity. Orchestral pop.
Jacob: And “Hey” by way of rhyme is a way to let people know how to say “Marseilles.”
Phillip: We’ve never been to that city. And when you talk to someone from France, they say, “That city is shit."
Matt: Isn’t it the oldest port city in the world?
Ahamafule Uolo: Yeah, that’s what I like about it. It has a history of being sort of this blue collar, kind of trashy place.
Nick: It has a history of being shitty like we do.
Jacob: It’s like the dive bar of French cities.
Kristen: Any plans to go there?
Samuel: Hopefully. We’ve had a couple of fans take pictures with the sign from Marseilles wearing our t-shirts and stuff. That’s always kind of inspired us to make our way out there. Or go to Europe at least to start.
Kristen: On your Twitter page you describe yourselves as “orchestral folk rage.” Can you touch on what that sound entails?
Matt: That’s mostly me trying to be funny because we are the farthest thing from “rage.” But I always describe our sound as orchestral folk pop. “Folkestra” is what we used on our MySpace page circa 2007.
Kristen: For someone who’s not familiar with Hey Marseilles, what instruments are involved in that sound? My guess is that there are more instruments involved than there are people in the band.
Samuel: Let’s do a round robin. I play cello and the bass.
Ahamafule: Trumpet, clarinet, percussion.
Phillip: Keyboards and accordion.
Jacob: Viola and good moves.
Nick: Electric guitar.
Matt: Acoustic and vocals.
Colin Richey: Drums.
Kristen: Doesn’t that get crazy? I’m just picturing you guys throwing shit across the stage.
Samuel: We literally used to throw a shaker or something diagonally across the stage during shows.
Jacob: It was a great stage trick.
Ahamafule: There are definitely times where I have to have two instruments in my hand at the same time in order to make the transitions, and it’s been great to get better at doing that. It’s a really nice skill. Sometimes I’ll have one measure to switch. I’ll be playing the trumpet, and I’ll have my hand ready to grab the clarinet. The second I finish, I have an orchestrated hand movement of reaching down and switching from one instrument to the other.
Kristen: I feel like watching you guys could be a sports play-by-play. We should do a slow motion Hey Marseilles instrument transition.
Samuel: Aham is definitely the most impressive. It was more impressive when you had your bass clarinet hooked up to that piece of headgear that you love. Kept your teeth straight.
Kristen: Let’s talk about the album that you released in March, Lines We Trace, which is your second full-length album. How do you feel like you’ve changed or progressed as a band—or with your sound—between those two releases?
Colin: For me personally, the transition isn’t any different except that the first record of songs I was playing somebody else’s parts, and now it’s more in touch with ideas that are my own. The overall sound is similar, though I guess it’s got a less waltzy, kind of sailor feel to it.
Kristen: More rage?
Colin: More poppy, more ragey.
Matt: Colin doesn’t like that shitty waltz stuff.
Kristen: What about the songwriting process?
Matt: We collaborate. We spend a lot of time on the musicality of each song idea that we have and try to make it as interesting as possible—particular progressions or instrumental dynamics. I write the lyrics by and large but that’s kind of an afterthought. Most of it is a collective energy on the songs.
Kristen: Where did the inspiration for the lyrics on this album come from?
Matt: I wasn’t intentional about writing about any one particular thing. And then when I looked back on the lyrics that came out, they were kind of sad. But not necessarily.
Kristen: I don’t think they’re all that sad. There’s a positive spin to a lot of them.
Matt: There’s hope to be found in sadness. That’s what I’ve learned from reading my own tropes of wisdom.
Colin: I was going through a divorce during the record, so I see exactly what he’s talking about. I was like, “Man this is really, really good.”
Kristen: What’s your favorite venue that you’ve played in U.S.?
Jacob: Benaroya Hall.
Colin: It’s where the symphony plays in Seattle.
Ahamafule: I didn’t play that with you guys, but I’ve played it before.
Kristen: When did you play there?
Samuel: A year-and-a-half ago.
Nick: It was also the most terrifying venue we’ve ever played.
Kristen: Why do you say that?
Nick: It was a nightmare for me because my amp was titled. It was so tight. You’d think that a stage where the symphony plays would be quite big—you don’t think about needing room for the band because usually the whole symphony is onstage. But the amp was so close to me that I couldn’t hear it, but it was blaring into the first chair violinist’s ear. I couldn’t hear anything but she got too much of me. It was a nightmare.
Ahamafule: That room is crazy. The first time I played there I had keys in my pocket. I brushed my pocket, my keys jingled and it was so loud.
Nick: It’s just the most transparent thing. I realized when I had my guitar off and I was just tuning, you could hear everything.
Samuel: We’re used to playing venues that soak up a lot of the sound, venues where the crowd is loud.
Kristen: You’ve got a lot of big shows coming up. It was recently announced that you’ll be playing Lollapalooza in August. Are you excited to be on that lineup?
Nick: My ‘90s dream is coming true.
Samuel: It has a lot of prestige.
Jacob: I think for me it’s really cool because I’ve only been to Chicago briefly for shows, so it will be nice to be here for a couple of days.
Kristen: What’s the boldest thing you guys have done in the past year? It can be personally or as a group.
Matt: I quit my job. We all started freeing up our schedules enough to be able to tour nationally. I think collectively doing that is the boldest thing we’ve done as a group.
Samuel: Touring’s not easy. This will be our longest tour that we’ve done and things are going well. The first long tour that we did was five-and-a-half weeks and while we’re so happy to have the opportunity to do it, I think making it work can be difficult.
Ahamafule: The boldest thing I’ve personally done in the past year isI made a musical. It’s called Now I’m Fine. It’s pretty recent. It’s a series of monologues with semi-orchestral pop music for a large brass ensemble and vocalist. It’s something that I’ve worked on for five years. I debuted it at a theatre in Seattle. I have a residency at Town Hall Seattle, which is a theatre there, so we had a big debut of it, and now I’m working on setting up a longer run of it.
Matt: I think the presentation of our shows has gotten a little bolder. We used to put on a really rowdy show with a lot of gypsy music and invite a bunch of people onstage. This tour has been a more mellow set of music, and I think some of that is a lot harder to execute. We haven’t pulled out any tricks to get us through a show. The arrangements are pretty stripped down, so if something’s bad it’s pretty apparent.
Jacob: We’re doing a pretty good job of keeping it exciting, though.
Kristen: Do you guys ever get pissed at each other on the road?
Nick: Surprisingly, not really.
Kristen: Are you in a van?
Ahamafule: We’re in seven different Toyota Tercels.
Kristen: I read somewhere that you guys live in a house in Seattle together. How did that come about?
Jacob: Nick, Samuel and I live in a house together. It’s this old, abandoned, huge brick house. I bought it in 2010; it was a good price and I had a job so somebody had the terrible sense to give me a mortgage. But we bought this place that was falling apart and fixed it up ourselves…We designed and constructed it very intentionally around playing music. It’s got a practice space and a recording studio—a really nice recording studio. It’s weird. It’s this crazy brick house that is sort of falling apart but sort of not.
Ahamafule: It’s got exit signs.
Jacob: Before I owned it, it was a shelter for homeless youth.
Kristen: Did you record the album there?
Jacob: Most of it. Samuel operates the studio and engineered most of the album.
Kristen: What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
Matt: To get a tour manager
Colin: Hey guys, I did fine.
Matt: Colin hasn’t thrown a single chair since Nathan [current tour manager] took over.
Samuel: Didn’t Billy Bragg[Wilco, Riff Raff] give one of you some solid advice?
Colin: He gave me a tea bag, which I still have in my pocket. I didn’t brew it.
Nick: He told us to get guitar stands I think.
Phillip: This is sort of more on the business side of things. We received good advice once from Damien Jurado [Indie rock singer-songwriter from Seattle]. We had a pressing business question about a deal. We were obsessing about it, and his advice was so timely. He basically said, “This is a great deal. You should take it. Stop worrying about it and get to actually making your record.” I thought that was timely for what we were going through. As a band, we were obsessing about how we do this, and how we do that, and how we advocate for our music in the most efficient way in the music industry. And his advice was, “Stop being so detail-oriented. It’s good. Run with it. Make your record.” I think it really helped us out.
Kristen: I think that applies to life sometimes, too: stop worrying about all the minor details and re-focus at the bigger picture.
Phillip: It’s that, and trying to decide which details are the most important.
Ahamafule: I had a mentor and teacher Hadley Caliman who passed away a few years ago. The best advice that he gave me was that I don’t know shit, which he meant in a very positive way. I think about it all the time. No matter how much I learn, I always remember that I really don’t know shit. There’s always more to do and more to learn. I’m reminded of that every day in this band.
Kristen: What’s next for you guys?
Samuel: We are going to be doing a good amount of touring up into the fall. And we’re already working on new material, getting started on the third album. We don’t have an estimated release date, but we know it won’t take us two-and-a-half years this time.