Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Marianas Trench - Interview with Josh Ramsay and Mike Ayley (Completed Interview) By: Christine Albrecht

Marianas Trench - Interview with Josh Ramsay and Mike Ayley. (Completed Interview)

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Mike Ayley (vocals/bass) and Josh Ramsay (lead vocals/ guitar) from Marianas Trench were kind enough to set aside an evening interview at the 604 Records studio Monday evening. I immediately congratulated the band on their cd release of ‘Fix Me’ due in stores October 3rd. Go out and buy, now.

I have to say that the biggest compliment I could hand this band was the fact that they sound like themselves! To expand, I was listening to their tunes and I thought, ‘Oh yes, I’ve heard this before’... and as I scoured all of the songs on my desktop I found the ‘similar’ gem - yeah, it was a song by... Marianas Trench. So I guess they sound like themselves.

Swanktrendz - First some basic editing stuff - Marianas has no apostrophe - right?

Marianas Trench - That’s right.

ST - I know you’ve been asked this a zillion times, but is the name from the geographic feature or from a line in the Pixie’s ‘Wave of Mutilation’ song?

MT - Neither, but that’s a new one. I didn’t know there was a lyric like that and I like the Pixies. No one’s ever asked us if it was from the Pixies.

ST - So the name doesn’t come from some obscure lyric?

MT - It’s a long story involving bricklaying and parasailing and the accidents that happen when you try to combine the two. One day we just said, maybe we should call ourselves ‘Marianas Trench’ - that’s the short version of a long story.

ST - You’ve been around since 2001?

MT - Sort of. Josh and Matt (Webb) hooked up in high school (both were in choir).

ST - Josh, you’ve been around music all of your life, and your mom (Coralynn Hanney) is a vocal coach - did she train you?

MT - Yes, but when I was younger I tried to avoid taking lessons with my Mom and she wanted wanted to avoid it as well as that was a strange dynamic. For a year or two in high school, I took lessons from the person she took lessons from. And then eventually that guy couldn’t teach me what I needed so I did some research and it turned out that the only person that could teach me what I needed to learn, was my mom. She still helps me from time to time.

ST - Your music, the song ‘Say Anything’ has consistently sat in the top 5 for Canada. Did John Webster produce this cd?

MT - I worked with John Webster independently from the band - when I was 16 or 17. He and I worked together when I was a solo artist. John is the one who introduced me to Jonathan Simkin (co-owner of 604 Records studio). He mixed a couple on that venture and I mixed four.

ST - You mixed? Is that an area you would like to pursue?

MT - It’s not my main passion - I’d rather play the music than produce it. But it can be good because I understand more about music. Also, it helps to know the technical language when you go into the studio to listen to the tracks. I can be really specific about what I want, as opposed to being vague like, ‘I would like something more green’.

ST - What about you Mike - would you like to do mixing?

MT - I don’t think I could do it - there’s too much information. I could probably mix a mean bass track.

ST - Some the stuff I’ve been reading about you (Josh), and I don’t know if this is applicable, but the discussions on addictions and then reading your lyrics, well... did you used to smoke heroin?

MT - Yes I did. I’ve been in recovery now for a long time. That was a big problem for me as a teenager.

ST - You must have started young.

MT - I was also fortunate enough to get out young. It is something that still inspires me to write lyrics because you end up with so much baggage from that. I went to a treatment centre when I was 18 (or 17).

ST - That is young. Then again, being surrounded by music when you were a child, I suppose it made you grow up fast.

MT - On one side you do grow up fast because you are faced with these harsh realities, and that teenaged feeling of being invincible suddenly dies. You also learn some really dark things about yourself and life. At the same time, as long as you’re using, emotionally, you don’t age at all. That’s the same for all addicts or alcoholics that you meet at a treatment centre. You may have different ages, let’s say 45 years old and 17 years old, but they are all talking about the same thing because, emotionally, they are the same age. It stunts your emotional growth.

ST - As you said, it does give you a lot of fodder for lyrics.

MT - Yes, it does. And the stuff I took away from it certainly gave me patience for a lot of other things in life. The tools you use to stay away from (in my case) drugs are the same tools that help you in life, to be a healthier person.

ST - And you Mike, did/do you have any vices?

MT - (Mike) I am a hard core chocolate addict. Any chocolate, as long as it’s not unsweetened. I will rummage through trash, through closets for it. I would go to the grocery store, buy icing and hide it. I’m pretty good now. (Josh interjects) You wouldn’t want to catch Mike on the wrong end of a chocolate fix.

ST - You’ll be in the 12-step chocoholic program.

MT - Nah, I’m never stopping. (Josh adds) Admitting you have a problem and doing something about it are two different things.

ST - With Marianas Trench being from Vancouver, well give me some hot West Coast spots that you enjoy hanging out in, or clubs you enjoy going to.

MT - I love Vancouver. After touring the country, I think Vancouver is the best, and most beautiful, place to live. It’s also the most versatile, by far. Vancouver’s got the beach, a major metropolitan area, the forest, and skiing all within a stone’s throw of each other. It’s amazing. I’m certainly not the guy to talk to about clubbing because as a recovering addict I don’t go to the ‘bar’. Plus when you make your living playing in bars five nights a week you’re not going to say, on your day off, ‘Hey let’s go to a bar’.

ST - Turning to Mike - what about you - where do you like to go?

MT - I used to know where all the great places were until we started spending most of the time playing in bars. Now I say, ‘Let’s just stay home.’

ST - What about local restaurants? Do you each have a favourite restaurant?

MT - (Mike) There’s a place down the road (from the studio at Ontario and 3rd) called Bin 49. It has around 30 seats and it’s got wicked food. As well it’s got the local ‘feel’. (Josh) Hamburger Mary’s on Davie. I live about a block from there and they have great food.

ST - Favourite unsung - unsigned bands?

MT - Jellyfish, Ben Folds Five

ST - They’re kind of popular. What about bands you’ve liked but they aren’t known?

MT - Total indie? There was a band that we played with in Hamilton. Mike, what was their name? (ST note - either The Flairs or Obsidian or Charlemagne...?) They sounded like ACDC, the drummer was the singer and they were awesome. I think Canada has a lot of good singers - like Matt in Tupelo Honey. Also, Vancouver’s Yuca - they won the Seeds Festival. Marble Rye are also good.

ST - That brings to mind another question. When a band has obvious talent, good vocals, good playing, what’s the difference between being unsigned and the ones who get signed?

MT - I think the difference is some bands spend most of their time on being great musicians, but they may not spend the time writing good songs. Or you’ll see great songwriters and none of them can play or sing. I think it takes a lot of work to build up both sides of the spectrum. It’s like playing baseball and having a really good pitcher who can’t bat. It’s a long process and I don’t think people have taken the time to work on all of the skills. There are bands out there that make you feel that they are the best musicians you’ve ever seen, but they can’t sing very well.

ST - (Jonathan Simkin co-owner of 604 Record Studio joined us at this stage.) What makes a band stand out to the degree that you would want to sign them?

Jonathan Simkin - Well in Marianas case, it would be the nude pictures they have of me... (now here is a funny guy) They dazzled me with their mediocrity. Seriously, Chad Kroeger and I are of the mind that the songs come first and the music comes second. Most bands, if they work hard enough and are willing to listen and improve, they can learn about playing and performance. But song writing is an innate ability - you can get better at performing. You can either write songs or not. I’d rather find a band that writes great songs than a band that can’t. You can always arrange for someone to have vocal lessons, etc. But you can’t teach someone to write great songs.

MT - - (Josh speaking) I have the opposite problem - I write too many songs, but that’s a good problem to have.

ST - What about bands who rest on their laurels after getting signed and don’t market themselves?

Jonathan Simkin I have no problem with bands who creatively want to make art for art’s sake, but stay in your garage and play. The minute you come into ‘our world’ (music business) you’re saying you want to do this for a living and the reality is you have to accept that marketing is part of the ‘job’. Music is a business. Some of the greatest bands in the world have subverted their own careers by being unwilling to be flexible with their music. Being signed only cuts your odds of becoming famous from one billion to one to one million to one. It doesn’t solve anything or automatically do anything. It just offers more resources.

MT - You have to have talent, luck and a hard work ethic. Talent doesn’t always enter into the equation. The days of being discovered while pumping gas are long over. You have to work hard. We work really hard promoting ourselves. (Mike interjects)The harder we work, and the more we get noticed, just makes us want to work even harder. And sometimes getting noticed turns out to be being at the right place at the right time. If you are working your ass off, it just gives you more opportunities to be seen.

ST - As well , it builds your reputation (within the music community) as being hard workers. I would also like to know about your upcoming tour with Lillix. That should be a nice line up and it will provide you with a different audience.

MT - We are looking forward to the tour. Now that we’ve had some success with our video on MuchMusic, this tour will bring us the younger demographic because we are performing all-ages shows. Most of our fan base is not old enough to get into a bar so this should be really fun.

ST - Josh, you write all the lyrics. Do you write the tune and then the lyrics or...?

MT - I do most of my writing before I fall sleep, or instead of sleeping. (Josh is an insomniac.) I’ll come up with an idea and I’ll go over and over it in my head while I’m falling asleep. Sometimes, if I am lucky, I will have the tune in my head and I will actually work through it while I’m sleeping. Most of the time it just causes me to have a fitful sleep.

ST - And the band comes in with the music? Does Josh come with the song ideas and then the band works through it?

MT - Yes. (Josh states) I will come in with an unfinished song and the band will flesh it out.

Jonathan Simkin (to Josh) Won’t the producer, after a couple of months decide that he has co-written a couple of the songs? (laughter)

MT - Nooo. Dave Genn did not cowrite anything on the record. He did help a lot with the arrangements because that is what he’s good at.

ST - So we’re not going to have a Sarah McLaughlin court case happening a year down the road?

MT - (loud laughter) Oooh - Jonathan Simkin was the lawyer on that case... (note - Swanktrendz did not know the link between Jonathan Simkin and the Sarah McLaughlin trial so it was not an intentional statement).

Jonathan Simkin If the case at been based on who cried the most tears, we would have won.

ST - That case made me aware that listeners don’t always know what is going on behind the scenes.

MT - If anything, Dave Genn will be suing us for emotional abuse. (laughter)

ST - Speaking of business, the band is very accessible for publicity. I guess all publicity is good publicity?

MT - Yeah, I get freaked out if I miss one opportunity to discuss the band.

ST - You’re good businessmen then - always looking for opportunity.

MT - Yeah, I don’t want to miss anything, ever. Even if it makes only ten new fans. That’s ten fans we didn’t have before.

ST - I have a Swiss friend visiting, the ‘Swiss contingent’ I call her, will be attending your concert. Hopefully she’ll go home in October and talk about Marianas Trench and garner some European exposure.

MT - That’s great.

ST - I did want to ask you a publicity question, Josh, because you were exposed to Tommy Lee and other rockers at a young age (through his dad’s studio). What do you make of Tommy Lee’s ‘Rockstar Supernova’ show? I thought it was a clever publicity ploy as Tommy’s turned on a whole new generation to his music.

MT - And he is also with 604 Records. It’s a smart business decision. Any of those shows are essentially karaoke. I do find it funny that no one has clued into the fact that they’re a televised karaoke show, but that being said, I think it’s proved to be a very smart way of marketing. But I wouldn’t say the show is marketing ‘artists’. As Jonathan was saying, song writing is very important. No one from those shows can actually write a song.

ST - Perhaps, but I do believe that Lukas Rossi (winner of Supernova) can write songs. He had his own band in Canada and wrote his own songs.

MT - I don’t know the artist you’re talking about, specifically, so I will not speak to his ability. Those shows, however, are marketed for entertainment not songwriting. The contestents are singers, and what a great way to get a career - even if it’s only for ten months. You might make some cash, you can have some fun, and you’ll get your 15 minutes of fame. The management can provide you with an army of songwriters who will sell you a hit song, and that’s cool. From a business perspective it makes a lot of sense, so I don’t have a problem with it. (Mike counters) - but it doesn’t nurture the ‘finding’ of a great band. It makes it too easy to ‘discover’ a favourite singer without helping the grassroots of the music business. (Josh) It’s a smoke and mirrors kind of marketing, like a star machine. These show contestants are not people who have paid their dues in the music industry. They’ve enough dumb luck to fall into that instant stardom, but they’re not going to be a healthy person when they receive too much attention, too soon. They’’ll get all this exposure overnight without having done any work. They’re not going to appreciate or respect the position they’re in. They’ll treat people badly because they don’t know any other way.

ST - So, because they’ve been thrown into this position of power so quickly, and don’t know what it’s like to be on the receiving end, they may behave badly?

MT - And I would probably be that way, too, if I were 16 years old, won some show and didn’t know my ass from a hole in the ground. I just look at the whole phenomena as pure business - those shows are pure business. I don’t think they are anything to do with good music. It actually doesn’t matter what the music’s like. That’s another thing - you could go on the show and win, or not even win, and you’ve built this huge fan base. All the power to them (the contestants). I don’t compare them to us as they didn’t spend years learning how to sing and learning how to play.

ST - Someone I was speaking with the other day said that music, nowadays, appears ‘cheapened.’

It is and it’s not just because of the fake reality shows. It’s also because the production of music does not rely on talent, anymore, or performance. It’s an industry that relies on computers. (Mike) The finished music is not a direct representation of what is happening in the live studio. (Josh to interviewer) I don’t know if you can sing or not...

ST - Laughing - definitely NO!

Well, I could get you into a studio and have you to sing for ...10 minutes and you’d be amazed at how good I can make you sound.

ST - That would definitely be a miracle. I recall hearing something you said about singing a cappella and if a vocalist cannot sing without accompaniment or studio help, then he/she can’t sing. I thought that was a good comment because how many singers can go onstage and sing well, live?

MT - We actually do sing a cappella during our gigs. I think that’s why music is becoming so soulless. You have reality television shows on one hand, and crafty studio engineering on the other and at the end of that, what you get is a product.

ST - And I suppose a fallout of that final product would be lip-synching during concerts?

MT - Yes. What are you going to get? Look at Ashlee Simpson. Here’s and example of a double-edged sword. What’s more embarrassing, getting caught lip-synching on Saturday Night Live or being booed off the stage at the Super Bowl because they don’t like your voice? I think the lesser of two evils would be doing a silly dance at SNL. And don’t tell me that it was acid reflux, or whatever. I’ve produced a lot of stuff and you are looking at a lot of work to get a backtrack together that only has a few things on it so you can play it during a live show. You can’t just ‘happen to have’ that track ready to go. Itt takes hours to put that tape together.

ST - That’s a good point.

MT - Well it’s ludicrous that anyone would think otherwise.

ST - But I think there are a lot of people who don’t know what is involved. They really believe this (having to lip synch at the last moment) is a real predicament. And these artists are selling a lot of records.

MT - We should all be that lucky. If I was some hack who couldn’t sing and I could get a career handed to me, I’d be saying, ‘Hell ya!’. I don’t begrudge Ashlee Simpson, but I don’t view her as competition either. We mght as well be jealous of Barney the Dinosaur because he’s popular.

ST - Never mind, we are all jealous of Barney’s fame.

MT - Well Barney and Raffi are not the kind of competition you worry about in the business.

ST - I really enjoy your lyrics - they are very ... raw. I hope to review your upcoming gig, as well as have the Swiss gal take Marianas Trench’s music back to Europe and start a buzz.

MT - Great. Get that European fire started. Worldwide domination! (Mike solemnly adds) But all we really want is ... Latvia... (laughter)

On that note, I said good-bye to Mike, Josh and Jonathan and I am presently trying to think of anyone I may know in Latvia.

Thanks to 604 Record Studios, Julie (label PR) in Ontario and Marianas Trench for accomodating a last minute interview. They are an extremely personable, and talented group.


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