To celebrate the release of their excellent new single Friends, Rob from Leeds-based indie-pop rockers Marsicans' answered a few questions for us at No Ripcord, on topics including the band's influences, their future musical direction and how to capture energy in studio recordings.
Your new single Friends comes out this week. How did the song come about?
As a band we spend a lot of time on the road and a lot of time in windowless basement studios making records. And because of that, it’s hard to just keep up general social relationships; we don’t see our friends very often. So we started writing about that. It started out with James writing lyrics as something of a cry for help. We moulded that into an upbeat indie tune that we hope people can enjoy with their friends.
You mention that it's upbeat. I think even by the standards set by your previous releases, it is upbeat, full of energy. Is it difficult to capture that energy in a recording, did it take a few attempts to get the sound right?
We work with a producer called Mickey Dale, who is the keyboard player in Embrace. Embrace specialise in ballads, and so they write emotive music with string arrangements and all sorts going on. So at a base level, it might seem like an odd pairing, for him to be working with us. But what Mickey’s good at doing is bringing out the best in whatever we present to him. He got hold of that song and made the drums come alive. Everything in Friends is not quite as polished or pop as things you might hear on the radio, or things we’ve done previously. We wanted to keep it a little ragged, a little less tame than other tracks we’ve recorded. It is difficult to reproduce the sound that we make live but I think we’ve done a reasonably good job.
Does it sound very different live?
It just has a bit more energy. I think the main difference between hearing the record and then seeing us perform it live is the movement that we bring to the live performance. Everyone in the band tends to throw themselves around stage quite a lot and that adds a lot.
I saw on your recent blog entry that when you performed recently in Leiden, you were each given the chance to take home a vinyl record. You opted for Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool, a very good choice. Your bandmates chose Bon Iver, The Prodigy and Arctic Monkeys. All great artists but none of them sound anything like the music you make. So I was wondering, how did you end up making music as Marsicans?
We do have shared influences, but it’s more genres than specific artists. So we’re all quite big fans of 80’s pop music, in one incarnation or another, and we’re all fans of guitar bands. But that list of artists that you mentioned, they all contribute in some way to our writing, even if you can’t directly hear a link. Just from us listening to those albums, they influence us. There’s always a connection. When we write music, it usually stems from myself or James. We'll sit at a piano or with an acoustic guitar and write something really stripped back, often just a chord sequence. We’ll take it into our rehearsal space and from there, everyone adds their two cents. All of our songs have an element of everyone in there, and so all those influences make their way in there somehow.
This may be difficult to answer given that you’re still relatively early in your career but can you see how your music will change over time? Will it become more alternative, more experimental, like Bon Iver or Radiohead?
It’s hard to tell right now, but certainly in the last six months to a year, the writing style has changed. We’ve learned to embrace the heavier influences slightly more. We’ve always thought of ourselves as an indie pop band but some of the songs we’re writing now are probably more indie rock. In six months’ time, one of us might turn up with something that sounds like Prince, and we’ll fall back in love with that kind of vibe. But it’ll always sound like Marsicans and a bit of something else.
You’ve had a pretty crazy start to the year, with a dash around Europe followed by a week in the UK supporting Minnesota’s Hippo Campus. How has it been?
It’s been nuts. It’s been the most enjoyable January of my life. January is always considered to be a bleak month. Post-Christmas, no-one’s got any money and it’s quite difficult to have fun. And yet we toured Holland and played our first ever show in Paris and then followed it up by being on tour with one of our favourite bands. We’ve played in venues up and down the country that we’ve not had the opportunity to play in previously. We’ve picked up a lot of new fans off the back of the Hippo Campus tour, and we got to hang out with them and they’re really good people. So it’s been an absolute joy from the start of January...until this conversation right now, where it’s taken a massive turn for the worse!
How easy do you find writing? Are you prolific writers?
Separately, James and I have hundreds of half-baked ideas that may or may not ever come to fruition. We want to be really confident about an idea before we present it to the rest of the band. If there’s a confidence in what is essentially just a chord progression and maybe a few lyrics, then we know that it’s going to be a good song, with everyone’s input. So we don’t write full songs separately. We like to keep ideas a little open-ended so that everyone has the chance to put their stamp on it.
In what ways is being in a band like Marsicans most different to what you expected it to be like?
I think generally, it’s quite different to how I thought it would be growing up, and also quite different to how people that aren’t in bands see it. There’s a whole different side to doing this that you don’t necessarily see very often. I won’t bore you with the details but there’s a lot of time spent planning, a lot of time spent thinking about the music you’ve created and how it will fit into what is essentially a business. In a band like ours, we want to make a career from this, so there is a considerable amount of business thinking that needs to be done. We’re really fortunate that we have a manager who’s not only our best friend but he’s also completely got his head screwed on, and is always thinking towards that.
One of the gigs you played recently was a DJ set in Glasgow. How do you approach that as a band?
DJ sets are really fun. We started our own...we’ll call it a club night for want of a better word, in Leeds at a bar that we love called Oporto. We do that when we can on the first Wednesday of each month. We call that our school-night DJ set. And separately, we’ve been adding every week to a Spotify playlist that we’ve called the SCHOOL NIGHT playlist. That is a collection of songs that we’re listening to, either new stuff or something that we’ve fallen back in love with. And what that gives us is a massive pool of amazing music to pick from for when we go DJing. So the preparation for the DJ sets is done steadily over time. The beauty of it is that all of the songs seem to work well together. So as long as no-one cuts off a song halfway through and boos us offstage, we tend to go down reasonably well!
What does 2017 hold for Marsicans?
We’re going to be releasing loads more new music, doing a lot more touring. In the most boring possible way, we’re going to be doing the same as we did last year but bigger, and better! We want to meet new people, we want to play in new places and we want to release music that connects with people on levels that it might not have done before. We had a really good year last year so we don’t want to stray too far from that path.
Is there likely to be a debut album this year?
No, there isn’t, in short. It’s something that we’re all quite precious about, the notion of the debut album. We want to make sure everything is right before that happens. And to harp back to what I was talking about earlier about the boring business side of being in a band, no-one wants to put out a record unless there’s the right infrastructure there to help that record reach as many people as it can. And I think at this point, it would be the wrong time for us to put an album out. But we’re writing towards that, aiming towards that goal. So it is on the horizon but I don’t know how far in the future that will be at this moment in time.
Our thanks to Rob for taking the time to talk to us at No Ripcord. To check out the band's upcoming tour dates and for all Marsicans-related news, head to their website, http://www.marsicans.co.uk20 February, 2017 - 00:21 — Craig Stevens