Hey Marseilles isn’t breaking up. But when cellist Sam Anderson talks about the past six months for the Seattle indie-chamber-pop band, it does sound a lot like it. And when the band comes together at Tacoma’s Rialto Theater on Saturday, it’ll be after a long “evaluation” of what those five young men really want to do with their lives.
Formed in 2006 when guitarist Matt Bishop and singer Nick Ward met as University of Washington students, they were soon joined by Ward’s roommate and pianist/accordionist Phillip Kobernik, drummer Colin Richey, multi-instrumentalist Patrick Brannon and brothers Jacob (viola) and Sam (cello, electric bass) Anderson.
Albums in 2008 and 2013 highlighted the band’s signature sound: a rainy-day Northwest mix of homespun lyrics and eclectic, folksy instrumentation. In 2014, they met Los Angeles producer Anthony Kilhoffer (Kanye West, Jay-Z), and made a third, self-titled album, released this year. Slick, drum-and-guitar-heavy and far less idiosyncratic, Hey Marseilles now “bubbles with electro-pop enthusiasm,” as the band’s Facebook page says.
I don’t regret touring; it was an amazing experience. But it’s a pretty intense job. People don’t realize the way it takes over your life.
Sam Anderson of Hey Marseilles
But this spring, after several festival gigs failed to materialize and they had a hard time finding venues, Hey Marseilles took a break to think hard about where they wanted to go. For Sam Anderson — the youngest in the band, now 26 — that meant finally being able to hang out at home with his family on Anderson Island: attending one sister’s wedding, playing in a sibling string quartet for another sister’s senior recital at the tiny island community hall.
The band still played some summer gigs: the Seafair Fourth of July, some Seattle concerts, a Yakima winery.
Now, two years after their last Tacoma gig at the University of Puget Sound, Hey Marseilles — in quintet form — is back in town. The News Tribune caught up with Anderson to talk about the band’s past and future, and what they’re planning for Tacoma fans this weekend.
Q. So are you looking forward to playing Tacoma again?
A. Yeah! It’s kind of funny because I went to Tacoma School of the Arts, and every Friday we met in the Rialto (Theater) for a kind of talent show. I never really played much for that. But it’s interesting to be back in that space for a proper concert.
Q. Is the concert based on the new album?
A. It’s part of the album cycle, but especially since we think we won’t have an opening band, we’ll be playing a long set with older songs too. And we’ll take requests. It’s hard for the second album, since we haven’t figured out satisfying arrangements of those songs. But for the most part, we enjoy playing material from all our albums — it’s an eclectic mix of instruments and styles. And it’s fun to stretch out and pull up some rare pieces.
Q. Tell us about the new direction you went with the new album. What was it like working with Anthony Kilhoffer?
A. For us it was a combination of things: our changing styles as individuals, and an attempt to make things more concise and more commercial. Up here in the Northwest artist community, that’s something you’re supposed to be shameful of — to be commercial. You’re not supposed to talk about it. But working with Anthony, he’s from L.A. and he’d be like, “Music’s a commodity.” We’d be, “Really? How can you be saying that?” He challenged us as artists. It was really, really fulfilling. But as a band, he gave us a new language. We wrote down his quotes constantly. No one else would talk to us like that — like he’d say to Matt (Bishop), “That lyric sucks.” We’d never, ever had that pressure put on us before. It was good for us to get out of our little Northwest bubble. None of us will ever forget making that album. And we did it in just 11 days.
We’d never, ever had that pressure put on us before. It was good for us to get out of our little Northwest bubble. None of us will ever forget making that album.
Sam Anderson of Hey Marseilles
Q. So is the band a new and different Hey Marseilles?
A. No, it’s still the same animal, particularly as a live band. The fans who came to shows when we were just starting out won’t miss anything. We’ve just gotten so much better as musicians — more confident and experienced. But the album aesthetic sounds like a departure.
Q. How are sales?
A. They’re not amazing, but not terrible either.
Q. So where is the band going now?
A. We’re reevaluating. We were touring for four years, and we always thought that if we kept working and working we were going to make it. Matt got a job, and we all took a little step back. That’s where we’re at right now. It’s not sexy from a career point of view, but from a well-being point of view it’s the right decision. I realized I could actually plan for my future. Previously you could, say, have a family wedding, but that would still get booked over if a sweet opportunity came up. Now we have agency over our own lives. I’m happy with where we’re at.
Q. What do you want to do, personally?
A. I’ve been running a recording studio out of my house for a while, and I want to continue that and teach people how to record. I just rented a 1,000-square-foot commercial space and built it out. It’ll open in the new year. In the long term, I’d like it to be a kind of community space, but in the short term I need it to make a profit.
And I finally get to (hang out on the island). It’s the first summer in five years I’ve been home, so I had a nice time.
Q. What’s the future for the band?
A. We don’t know, honestly. We’re still very creative, we have good chemistry and respect for each other. We just needed a little break, time to get rooted back in all the things we gave up for the touring life. I don’t regret touring. It was an amazing experience. But it’s a pretty intense job. People don’t realize the way it takes over your life.