Hey Marseilles' Grandiose, Gorgeous Orchestral Pop

Categories: Q&A
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Hayley Young

It begins with an intimate twinkle of piano and rises, fueled by orchestral strings, accordion and the occasional guitar-driven climax, to a sweeping perspective on big themes of movement and change. You could call Seattle septet Hey Marseilles' debut LP, To Travels and Trunks, grandiose. You could call it overly ambitious - this product of a bunch of dudes who met in a park is almost absurdly ornate, and sometimes uncomfortably sincere.

Yet To Travels and Trunks wears those weaknesses like a strength. Hey Marseilles' first recorded effort is strikingly beautiful and surprisingly addictive for music that, as guitarist Nick Ward explained to us from his Seattle porch, is simple folk at the core. Ward and Co. are bringing their world-weary songs to the Hotel Utah this Sunday (8 p.m., $10); we spoke to him about how Hey Marseilles came together, why he thinks the band used to be "terrible," and where the international themes in its music came from.

When you meet someone for the first time and they ask what your band sounds like, what do you tell them?

To this day, I always sort of flounder for words. I usually just say, 'It's like folk shit.' I'm really bad at describing my own music. We usually call it some sort of folk-orchestral pop.

How did that sound come together? Did you start out intending to be "folk orchestral pop"?

It's not like we sat in a room and sort of masterminded a sound or anything. We all sort of met in a park. We had big circles of people that would jam during summer nights. These are the instruments that we played, and so this is sort of the sound that came out.

Obviously there's a great deal of Francophone influence in the band's music and lyrics. Where did that come from?

The French side would more or less be me. I was born on New Caledonia, a French island in the South Pacific. My family is all French. I grew up listening to French music. Then, [when] we were making these tunes, Philip [Kobernik], by some sort of chance, went down to the pawn shop and got an accordion. We were just jamming around. We liked it. It felt fun. And Matt [Bishop; vocals, lyrics, guitar] had a good time writing on top of it. So we sort of kept that style.

So what's the underlying theme of the album, in your eyes?

The record more or less is about movement. [Matt] is basically an admissions counselor for Seattle University. He has to travel for four months out of the year. He wote the lyrics in shabby motel rooms and open spaces on the road, in between the high schools he would visit. So it's all about travel basically -- metaphorically and physically.

I've read that Hey Marseilles rose quickly in the Seattle music scene. Does it feel like that to you?

Yes and no. If you were just to discover us right now, it would seem as if we've had a quick rise. But what people don't realize is that we spent a good two years playing really, really crappy venues -- and we were terrible at first. We were not a good band. When you have all these instruments, at first what happens is everybody wants to play all the time.

Do you have plans for a next record? Where do you hope the band will go?

We're writing [the next record] right now, so it'll be a while. I'll speculate that it'll be late 2011. It takes us a while to write sogs because there's so much music in one song.

Right now I'm super pleased just to be going on these tours, playing rad venues and getting paid tiny amounts of money to be on the road and play music. I'm quite confident about our next record, and I believe we'll be able to continue playing music on the road.

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