Every Monday through Friday, we deliver a different song as part our Song of the Day podcast subscription. This podcast features exclusive KEXP in-studio performances, unreleased songs, and recordings from independent artists that our DJs think you should hear. Every Friday, KEXP offers up music by local artists. Today’s featured selection, chosen by Midday Show host Cheryl Waters, is “Rio” by Hey Marseiles from the 2008 self-released album To Travel & Trunks.
Seattle band Hey Marseilles released their debut album To Travels & Trunks last summer to much acclaim. Their website claims they make “simple folk songs” but the variety of instrumentation (including accordians, viola, mandolin, banjos, membranophones, guitars and more) would suggest otherwise. Many of the songs on the album drift along rather dreamily, but others such as today’s Song of the Day, “Rio,” are more rambunctious. It begins with a rather jaunty (read Decemberists’ esque sea chanty) bout of hand claps before the soaring instruments and lead singer Matt Bishop’s vocals come in. Because of the pure catchiness of their songs, Hey Marseilles have been steadily building a large fan base.
Hey Marseilles – Three Imaginary Girls Christmas Party, Chop Suey
Seattle’s Hey Marseilles have had a busy year, yet they were kind enough to let Katy McCourt-Basham sit in on their practice the night before one of their recent shows, and tell her how it all began (and how it all is going now). She got to hear them play some of their songs, including “To Travels & Trunks,” “Cigarettes,” and “Rio” as well as a couple of new songs: “Gasworks,” which is apparently a couple of years in the making, and an as-of-yet untitled instrumental piece.
Interview by Katy McCourt-Basham
Katy: How did you guys all get started? When did this all come together?
Nick (Guitar, Vocals): I was a DJ at rainy dog radio. I had a show with another guy, and we had Matt on. I met Matt at a UW house party. I told him to come by, we had an in-studio, and I thought his songs were really cool. At the time, I lived in this little house in Northgate, and I was running this not-very-good project studio. I told him to come by and do some recordings. Eventually, after a lot of emailing and bantering, he actually showed up, and we sort of started planting the seeds for what all of this turned out to be.
Did it sort of expand gradually? Or did it jump from two to… several right away?
Sam (Cello): Well we (he and Jacob) are brothers, and we knew Philip from long ago. Philip was Nick’s roommate, and we’d go over every once in a while to go work on recording projects and just mess around and stuff. And I remember Nick telling us that we should try some string parts on this Matt Bishop dude’s recordings, so we listened to them. I think “To Travels and Trunks” was one of the first ones, and “Someone to Love,” and they sounded great, and we had a good time. Next thing we knew, we were practicing.
Philip (Keys, Accordion): Next thing we knew we were coming up with a band name.
How did you come up with the band name?
Matt (Guitar, Vocals): There was a lot of deliberation [laughs]. We had a few different options. Nick, being of French descent, really liked the sound of the name Marseilles, if I remember correctly. I thought it needed a little bit more oomph, a little more Americana, so I proposed Hey Hey Marseilles. Four of the five members at that time appreciated that name. Nick vetoed it. So, we came to a compromise.
Nick: It was going to be Left Out Counties, which would have been a terrible name.
Philip: I just got a charge on my credit card the other day out of nowhere, and it was a $15 automatic renewal for the domain name leftoutcounties.com [laughs].
Patrick (Trumpet): We had actually settled on that name for a while, I think.
Matt: Yeah, we actually have one CD with that name on it.
Patrick: That’s a terrible name, dude.
Matt: I thought it sounded cool. It’d be a cool country band name, I think.
Jacob (Viola): I actually showed our music to a lady at work today. She was older, probably 65, and she was like “oh, it’s kind of like easy listening.”
Philip: Is she coming to the show on Thursday?
Jacob: Probably. [laughs]
How was self-releasing To Travels & Trunks? Was that a difficult process?
Nick: It was a long process.
Colin (Drums): It was a year long process.
Matt: Colin was the guy who actually engineered our record. He refused to drum for us for a long time.
Sam: He’s actually Patrick’s cousin.
Matt: We actually started with drummer Dan in August of ’07, and cut the whole thing, and finished in August of ’08.
Colin: They listened back to part of it, and I hadn’t heard from them in a couple of weeks, and then they came back after a couple of months with a new drummer, Victor, and re-tracked the whole thing.
Matt: Releasing the whole thing was kind of a pain in the ass.
Nick: And then there’s the whole thing with being a band in Seattle that no one has heard of, and no one really gives a shit when you’re self-releasing your album. It’s just like “oh, we released it.” [laughs] Nothing happened in the news that day.
Do you feel like it was as successful as you expected? More?
Matt: Yeah, the momentum that’s been built up has been really nice.
Sam: I didn’t really have any expectations, did anyone else?
Nick: Having never done this before, I don’t think we really had anything to base expectations off of.
Sam: And even at the CD release show, we were just like “Is anybody going to show up? Does anybody care about us that much?” and it was fantastic.
Matt: It was August 22nd, and around 380 people showed up. It was a big surprise.
Colin: I was just so relieved to have the album done, I was just like “I never want to hear this again.” [laughs] And I heard it two months later. They had a different guy do the mix on it.
Philip: And now [Colin] can’t get enough of it. He wants to hear it twice a week.
I know you guys are unsigned now, are you being scouted by any labels?
Patrick: You would probably know better than us.
Philip: It’s actually a secret. We can’t tell anyone… that was a joke.
Matt: The basic idea is that we have no idea.
Besides SXSW, are you guys planning to take things on the road at all?
Matt: I get a vacation in the summer guys, so…
Nick: Yeah, we’re thinking about it.
Colin: Getting us all to South By was miraculous, for all of us to get the time off.
Who would you consider to be your biggest influences? Do you have any in particular?
Philip: On the musical side, I would say we draw a lot of inspiration from the romantic era blended/time vortexed with Easternish music. Then we try to package that into songs that are more palpable and accessible.
I’ve heard you described as kind of sounding like Beirut, but for a wider audience.
Matt: I am by no means an expert on obscure music styles. I listen to a lot of pop, a lot of singer-songwriter stuff, so a lot of the melodies and a lot of my style as a vocalist kind of comes from stuff you would hear on the radio. So I think that’s part of what causes it to have that sort of accessible flavor.
Philip: I know who we’re not influenced by — the Decemberists. [laughs]
Have a lot of people compared you to the Decemberists?
Matt: Well, the thing is, I guess when you have an accordion, there’s only so many comparisons you can make.
Patrick: I think Andrew Bird is an influence, definitely.
Are you guys working on any new material?
Is it along the same lines? Or are you guys going to pull some kind of crazy electronica dance album out or something?
Sam: The cat’s out of the bag [laughs]
Matt: I think when you have seven people — we were trying to discover who we were as a group, as opposed to who we are individually. Even on the record you can kind of get a sense of particularly divergent approaches to songs and songwriting. I think we’re getting a better sense of who we are and more focused understanding, and I think that’s reflected in our newer stuff. We’ve talked about maybe doing an EP next, but that’s probably a ways away. We still have a fair amount of promotion to do with the full length. It’s easier to promote full lengths.
Nick: Our arrangements are getting more confident, more solid.
Have you thought about adding any more people? Any more instruments?
Nick: There’s always room.