BY Jeremy J. Johanski
Hey You Guys! is coming through Green Bay. No, that sentence is not missing some pieces. That’s the new U.S. tour name being headlined by Marianas Trench, and it visits Titletown on November 17th.
One of Canada’s most popular young pop bands of the past decade is dropping into the U.S. this Fall on a tour pattern the jet stream would be proud of. After a dip along the West Coast and through the Rockies, Marianas Trench will play Meyer Theatre in support of their October 23rd album release Astoria.
Marianas Trench hails from Vancouver and has a massive following across Canada, but chose to endear a small U.S. city with the name of its fourth studio album, Astoria, Oregon. Astoria, the setting of the 80’s coming of age classic film The Goonies represents a suitable pairing for creativity and 80’s style immersion that Marianas Trench lead Josh Ramsay sought out for the new album.
“Once I made the choice to do a throwback record,” Ramsay said “I figured the best way to inspire it was to live it…I was recording vocals shirtless, wearing a scarf and leather pants…method acting.”
I was granted an early preview of Astoria, and after I took the headphones off, got a haircut and acclimated back to 2015 once again, I asked Josh Ramsay a few things all the “trenchers” might want to know.
JJJ: While you presented yourself and your bandmates embodying the 80’s for recording Astoria in your Vancouver home, how would you say you present yourself to others upon their first impression of you?
Josh: Ha-ha, I think people that meet me for the first time find me quite…eccentric.
JJJ: Alright, well although I’ve known your music for some time, it wasn’t until looking into a number of your music videos that it hit me…and please take zero offense to this…but I thought, ‘Wow, Marilyn Manson lookalike!’
JJJ: Have you never, ever heard this, not from anyone?
Josh: What…no?! But oh my God that’s hilarious!
JJJ: Just my thoughts, but also a few others think so too. Just go type in your name and “Manson” on Google and have a look around.
Josh: Well that’s hilarious but I definitely choose not to Google myself as a rule. But I’ll just take your word for it (laugh).
JJJ: So, you said in some Canadian media interviews that prior to writing this album you went through a very dark period and pretty much went away for 6 months or so to avoid quite a bit of crap, to be blunt, that you were trying to deal with. Do you feel like you’re completely removed from that, out of that funk from that, and riding the energy you got to write Astoria?
Josh: No…not in a nutshell but, I definitely feel hopeful again…part of the reason I couldn’t write wasn’t that I couldn’t write, it’s that I wouldn’t. Because I always write about my own life, I knew that I was going to have to take a really hard, honest look at that stuff, and I wasn’t ready to, but once I sort of got up the balls to follow through with it…and with the knowledge that I feel personally, and artistically it’s my best stuff…there’s definitely a feeling of catharsis that goes with that.
JJJ: So would you say that getting that written or on paper was somewhat…medicating?
Josh: In some ways, yes. It’s certainly a great tool…or a great outlet to vent.
JJJ: I will say you’ve been amazingly refreshing in that you’re unusually straightforward. Having reviewed your social media content on Twitter, interviews and the like, you differ from many of the other entertainers or celebrities I’ve looked at in a while.
Josh: I think you can never totally be yourself when someone’s interviewing you or what not. At the end of the day you’re still a performer and you’re portraying a performance. I kind of miss the days when rock stars were just like, ‘F*ck it, I’m going to be blunt’ like the Noel Gallagher type. I love guys that are just straight up, kind of like no bullsh*t. I aspire to be a more real performer.
JJJ: In your Twitter for example, one tweet from your follower @lovetodance1999 says “@JoshRamsay I don’t think you’ll ever really understand how important you are to us or in general. You’re worth looking up to. <3.”
Your reply was “I disagree. Entertainers only show you a performance of a character they portray. Look at the people you really know.”
Furthermore when @SJ_5sauce said, “@JoshRamsay you’re literally the definition of what I aspire to be one day. <3,” you replied, “Aim higher.”
JJJ: Do you get asked about that, or are people in the entertainment industry around you kind of like, ‘Wow, what a d*ck.’ Correct me if I’m wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with setting people straight and not leading them on some illusion, right?
Josh: Yeah…I think it’s very, very dangerous when people in the entertainment industry start weighing in on subjects that they have no f*cking right to be talking about in the first place, like mental health and immunizing babies, for example. Like what the f*ck do you know, you’re an actor, why are you talking to people about how they should live their lives? Isn’t that what psychologists are for? You know what you’re an expert at…playing parts. What I’m an expert at is like chord progressions in music theory. Ask me questions about that and I’m happy give you a knowledgeable answer, outside of that, it’s not really my field, you know?
JJJ: Right! That’s spot on! Perhaps politicians in this country can take some of that advice too.
TOUR AND TRACKS
JJJ: Doing this music thing, especially from a base in Canada is challenging. You mentioned how especially in Canada popularity doesn’t happen overnight exactly, right?
Josh: Yeah, haha. The old, 10-year overnight success.
JJJ: This tour is going through much of the heart of the American music scene geographically, minus the southern part of the country, is that focus based on demand or popularity, or is it with the hopeful intent of evangelizing and spreading more?
Josh: We’ve toured in the states a lot in past years, but there are so many cities that you just can’t possibly do the whole country in one single tour. So we’re just breaking it up in chunks…we’re kind of getting to the places that have been the longest since we’ve been to them. Many of the places on this tour are places that we likely haven’t been to in probably three years or so. We’ve played Green Bay before. I don’t remember the name of the place…but it was on our Ever After album tour. [Green Bay Distillery, June 2012] I remember it because Ian (Casselman, drums) had horrible food poisoning and we thought he wasn’t going to be able to play the show. Anyway, because I play the drums too, I thought that I might need to play drums and do lead vocals from behind the drums. That’s how we sound checked and that’s how I remember Green Bay.
JJJ: Hopefully the food poisoning wasn’t from food in Green Bay…right?
Josh: (Laugh) No, it was from questionable mayonnaise actually.
JJJ: Many critics and fans agree that your music, especially the hits have largely a positive vibe or energy to them, a feel-good spirit to them. I agree personally. What would you say from Astoria are songs that fit that description?
Josh: In terms of feel good songs specifically, it’s not much of a feel-good record (laugh). There are still a few ‘fun’ songs, and feel-good jams. For one, if you’re going to do a record that’s a meticulous and loving tribute to the 80’s, you have to have at least one feel-good up-tempo song, a la “Walking on Sunshine,” or “Footloose,” or something like that. We did do a song like that called “Yesterday,” where some of the lyrics actually quote some 80’s movies and I felt like it had been a long time since someone did that kind of a feel good jam, like a Kenny Loggins type of song.
JJJ: In speaking about the full album and its tracks…would you agree with my thinking that “One Love,” “Yesterday,” “Who Do You Love,” “Wildfire,” and maybe “This Means War,” will become the favorites?
Josh: I don’t know…I guess that remains to be seen! I’m always very curious to see when a record of ours first comes out to see what the standout tracks are for other people because I mean, I’m so inside of it that I can’t really be a reliable voice on that subject.
JJJ: So you talked about the 80’s and being embodied in it. The very first track “Astoria,” I got 2 minutes into and went, ‘He sounds like Prince!’
Josh: Yeah? That’s a great compliment, thank you! Yeah, I guess I can do the girlish falsetto thing (laugh).
JJJ: The song moves forward and into kind of a Supertramp, Queen, Abba…a little hint of MJ in there?
Josh: I’m a big believer in an album being an entire body of work, not with throwaway tracks. So for me, I want the opening of the record in that first track to be setting the stage for what you’re going to hear in this album. What are some of the sonic qualities, the lyric qualities that you’re going to hear? So yeah, I wanted “Astoria” to feel like a preview to all of those things. I’ve done this on most of our albums where there’s a big opening number and I don’t follow standard song structure, and I just kind of make it big and free form. Being that this record has all this 80’s feel to it, I really wanted to approach a song like that, probably how I would have if I was a contemporary in the 80’s. That meant each section of the song has a different 80’s band feel. There’s some U2 in there, some Police, Tears for Fears, some Michael Jackson, there’s some Prince…some Queen…all things I probably would have drawn on if I was around at that time.
JJJ: Take me for crazy, but I think the production of the song “Who Do You Love,” feels a bit like One Direction. In a full, potential pop, young love and repeat-play again and again capability. I did make a note to myself to apologize in advance to you in case that reference hurts (laugh)!
Josh: Well, I will tell you what I was going for, and it had nothing to do with One Direction…it had a lot more to do with Toto.
JJJ: Whoops, okay…
Josh: I was after that sort of really lush production, like with “Africa,” something of that era. That sort of vocal quality, really tight gang vocals and using some sort of African instruments…like there’s a kalmiba in it.
JJJ: The superior production quality makes it jump out.
Josh: Thank you! We even recorded it with ten of us playing drums at once. Ian and I playing drums, and then eight other guys and we were all in a circle, and we mic’d it in the middle and everyone playing along with these big parts and it ended up sounding very thunderous.
Ramsay and Marianas Trench are an interesting mix of solid musicians and performers. Ramsay himself was nominated for a 2013 Grammy for his work on Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”
Ramsay’s bandmates dig into current mainstream sports, and Ramsay’s Twitter calls himself “Gayest straight boy ever.” They’re like brothers on the road together.
I tipped him off to just make sure he knew about the Green and Gold while in Titletown.
“I do know…the first time we were there we went to the radio station,” Ramsay said “and the Packers were playing and Green Bay was just a complete ghost town! Like you could lie down in the middle of the street!”
Green Bay won’t resemble a ghost town when Marianas Trench plays the intimate Meyer Theatre on November 17th, and hopefully for Ramsay and company they’ll soon be in well-populated US hit music charts as well.
Tweet Jeremy J. Johanski @TripleJx