Amidst the many others across the nation eagerly keeping an eye on the weather forecast as the snow hit Britain last week were Marsicans, a rising indie four-piece hailing from Leeds whose harmony-led melodic tracks have launched them onto the ever-growing British music scene, who just so happened to be on the eve of setting off on their biggest headline tour yet. I spoke to keyboard player, bassist and vocalist Rob Brander about their tour expectations, stories behind their singles and videos and their busiest year as a band to date.
Hello Rob, your biggest headline tour kicks off tomorrow, how are you all feeling about it?
Really, really excited! The snow has hit, so we’re all a bit up in the air as to whether everything’s going to work as planned and that everyone will make it as planned, but we’re really hoping that the snow will subside and that we can go out and do what we’ve been preparing to. It’s the biggest one that we’re embarking on and that we have ever embarked on, so it’s just so exciting. We’ve been doing production rehearsals today and taking out a lighting engineer to do some exciting stuff for us, visually, so hopefully it’ll be a really fab event for the band.
Have you got any expectations for this tour in particular, which you maybe haven’t had for your others?
This is the first time we’ve ever sold out shows in a band, so it was actually a bit of a surprise to us to sell out as far in advance as we did. We booked this tour quite a long time ago and we’ve had a few singles since then, so I think in terms of our fanbase, things are a lot bigger than we expected them to be at this point, and it’s really special knowing we’ll be turning up to places we’ve only played once or twice on support tours, and that there’ll be a full room of people wanting to hear our music, so I think that’s the big difference with this tour.
So, 2017 was a pretty big year for the group, was there a particular highlight for you out of everything that happened?
It was mad! I think my favourite moment of last year was playing KOKO in Camden on a support tour with a group we love called Hippo Campus. They took us to Europe on their headline tour, and we opened for them on their London date. I’m not sure if you’ve been, but it’s one of the coolest venues we’ve ever seen. It was sold out, so there were lots of people there, and it was just a really special moment. We met the guys at the start of the year in January, and it was four guys from Minnesota and four guys from Leeds who had come together just through loving each other’s music on the internet and then gone around Europe and played places we’d never been before, and it just culminated in this London gig, so it was really special.
You’ve toured with other important rising indie groups such as JAWS and Clean Cut Kid, as well as Hippo Campus – what do you think is the biggest challenge facing an indie group in 2018?
I think the biggest challenge is that on a broader scale, people aren’t listening to indie music. Obviously there still are people listening to it who love it as much as we do, but it’s not the prominent subgenre that it was when we were growing up. When we were teenagers, guitar bands of our ilk were like the big thing, groups like Arctic Monkeys, Kings of Leon, the Killers – ten years ago, they were the biggest artists around. Music is totally cyclical, we expect that guitar bands will make a comeback, but now, urban music is really huge. We love a lot of different music, so we’re not sad about that, it just means that it’s harder for us to break out when lots of indie bands aren’t getting signed.
How did you all manage to come to your current style and sound as they are today, as I know harmonies are important in the group?
I think our current style is a big melting pot of all our different musical loves. We don’t exclusively listen to bands that sound like Marsicans, so the vocal harmonies thing really originates in James’ love of The Beach Boys, and bands like the Eagles, loads of different bands that were singing in harmony informed our decision to try and badly replicate that! Even bands that are really contemporary still push us to be better at what we want to do, there’s a band called Flyte that we all really, really love and FOURS, they sing like nothing we’ve ever heard. We were lucky enough to do a few shows with them and listen to them warm up and it makes us want to work harder at what we want to do. So that’s where that originates from, but I think musically, there’s a lot going on – our drummer Cale is actually a samba drummer by trade, he learnt to play samba, so that sort of upbeat nature of our music stems from the rhythm section of that, it’s just constantly merging depending on what we’re listening to at the time and what we want to push in the songs.
Who would you say are your personal influences?
Right now, maybe Willie J Healy, who’s really cool, his music has this sort of 60/70s swagger to it, it sounds really modern but it’s got all this cool guitar stuff which resonates with me in terms of the bands I grew up listening to. Broadly speaking, I think the Beatles, and Michael Jackson and his kind of brand of really unapologetic pop music. I think classic pop in general is a big one for us. We always want to make sure that things sit within a certain structure which we’re familiar with and which makes us feel a certain way and makes us feel comfortable, which is what pop does, I think. It’s got enough familiarity that if you’ve never heard a band play before and they play a certain way it’s got that sort of familiarity.
I’ve read that you like a lot of 80s music, have you got an ultimate 80s track that you put on all playlists or which never fails to lift your mood?
I really like the song ‘Rosanna’ by Toto, and I just love how f**king eccentric it is. If you don’t know, Toto were a band of sessions musicians so they were all just the best at every instrument that each of them played. They formed a band around that, and that song is really just them all showing off! It’s such a great song, such a great melody, and every time it comes on I absolutely love it – I also love that it’s like twenty minutes long.
I really like that Toto’s ‘Africa’ has made a bit of a weird comeback on the internet recently!
Yeah man! People love it, in fact it’s on a playlist we have between bands and you can be stood backstage and you’ll just hear all these people, all these kids singing along to it!
Going back to your singles now, what’s the story behind your latest single ‘Wake Up Freya?’
So ‘Wake Up Freya’ is a single that James wrote, and it’s kind of a love letter to his then unborn niece. It was a particularly bad news day when he started to write and so he started thinking quite broadly about how messed up the world is and what a new-born child would think, opening their eyes for the first time in a world this crazy and sometimes unkind. It was him being pensive and thinking about all the things which are important in life and the type of advice he would give to someone who’s new to all that. He brought that in and we helped him to mould it; it’s a very interesting concept for a song and we were blown away when he came in with it and we like it a lot.
Your videos are all quite unique and suit your songs well, how do you come up with your ideas, especially thinking about the ‘Throw Ourselves In’ video, which is what first caught my attention about the group?
That’s really reassuring to hear as it’s the only one we’ve gone blindly into without a director telling us what to do, our manager took the role of director but it was a bit of a stab in the dark – it’s my favourite video as it depicts our humour so well and is something we’ve wanted to do for a while but didn’t fit any of the other songs. The process varies from video to video, dependent on production companies and directors we work with. We largely bring a lot of ideas to the directors and they will either tell us that they’re far too ridiculous, far too expensive to achieve, or we can do it if we reign it in! With the ‘Throw Ourselves In’ video, we actually took the whole process in house. Our friend Adam Wood, who’s a complete diamond, hired a camera and worked out how to use it, and then we got some friends who are gymnasts together – it just so happens that one of them was an Olympic athlete and gymnast! We said it would be funny if we did this video where we were terrible at gymnastics, so that’s where it all stemmed from, and it’s just our ridiculous sense of humour and spending a lot of time together in a van up and down the country, you have a lot of time to flesh out ideas together.
Without wishing your tour away, what’s up next for Marsicans?
Loads of things! We will be retiring to our studio for a little bit to write some more music. From then our really, we hit festival season, we’re doing all the city ones – Liverpool Sound City, Jimmy’s Festival, Kendal Calling and 110 Above. Essentially writing for a while, and then festivals throughout the summer and then more music, so more of the same really. We have this thing at the moment that things are going so well for us at the moment and we’re all so happy it seems like if it’s not broken, we shouldn’t fix it. We just want to keep releasing music, touring and keep growing our fanbase to the point where we can say ‘this is it, this is what we do’.
Lastly then, are there any album releases that you’re currently loving or that you’re really excited for this year?
We’re all massively into the Everything Everything record, A Fever Dream, that’s a band favourite. That Willie J Healy record which came out last year, and the Superorganism album will be really exciting. The Gengahr album comes out in a few weeks, they’re a really cool band on Transgressive Records. Matt Maltese will be bringing out a record soon, and The Magic Gang too, they’re a really lovely band. I could go on all night!
As I thank Rob for his time and wish him the best of luck for the tour and everything else in store for Marsicans, we end on a positive note. It’s clear to hear the passion and energy this young group has for what they do, and I’m confident that their moment of ‘making it’ is closer than they think – they’re certainly giving it everything they’ve got, regardless, and are one to watch this year.