Marianas Trench Embrace Their Haunted Side on ‘Phantoms’ (INTERVIEW)
You never get the same album twice from Vancouver pop act Marianas Trench, and that's exactly what makes the quartet feel most comfortable. Dishing out hits and ear-rattling hooks for over a decade, the band is back with their fifth full-length, Phantoms.
With past records involving concepts of Goonies-inspired tributes and full-fledged fantasy adventures, Phantoms takes a darker turn with influences that partly stem from real-life haunted experiences from out on the road.
Below, drummer Ian Casselman talks about the dynamic sound on their new album and the key to the band's longevity.
I saw a live video for “Eleonora,” which opens your new album and creates this really amazing vibe. How does that song set the tone for the rest of the show?
A lot of the songs that we’ve done lately have kind of had a vocal-ish intro, but they always go into a song. This one is all vocals. I think it’s a fun way to open the album and it’s a fun way to open the set. I sing the low parts, so I don’t have to warm up as much. Warming up is good, but the low parts aren’t that hard so if I’m sick on the road, my parts are always easy.
The new music has to be so fun to play live because of all the instrumentation going on. What’s it been like to finally bring those songs to life?
This year, we actually have a fifth person on stage with us. One of our crew members plays a lot of the guitar and keyboard parts that we can’t play because we only have four sets of hands up there. We’re very happy about that because it’s a little bit more live. Some things you can’t get away from. The closer and “Echoes of You” have a lot of string and horn parts, so you can’t really create a symphony unless you want to spend a gazillion dollars every night to have a whole symphony on stage, so it’s fun to have another guy on stage.
Phantoms debuted pretty high on the Canadian album charts. What is the key behind your longevity as not only a band but in terms of being able to fill venues and keep people listening?
I’m very fortunate to be in a band with a writer like Josh [Ramsay], and I think that one of the things is that he really does not like b-sides or filler tracks. He tries to make sure every verse, every chorus can stand on its own. If it’s sort of treading water, he does not like it. They don’t come to fruition. Essentially, we’re trying to have an album that’s good to listen to from top to bottom, so when you’re in your car, you aren’t hitting skip. If we’re putting out good music and a strong album, people will still want to listen and come to the shows.
You’ve had one-off singles in the past that pre-dated the album and didn’t make the final cut, so did last year’s “Rhythm of Your Heart” not fit the vibe of Phantoms?
Josh was searching for a song on his computer once and he clicked on the wrong one, and it was an idea that was kind of half-done. He totally forgot about it but became super inspired and just knew how to complete the song, so we decided to release it as a single. He’s not opposed to putting songs released before an album on an album, but it has to fit the vibe. Phantoms has a more haunted-spooky kind of vibe, so if “Rhythm of Your Heart” had that feel, he’d have been more inclined to put it on.
The band changes up their sound between every album, and it’s almost like fans expect change rather than hope it sounds like previous material. How do you grow as artists but still keep that signature Marianas Trench sound?
I think most people now, they expect it. I think there was a little bit of “Oh, I’m not sure” between Masterpiece Theater and Ever After because maybe it was a bit more orchestral, and a little more synth on Ever After. It was super successful, so we made the right choice, but people fall in love with an album and they want you to recreate that. Once it’s out, they’re like, “It’s not as good” as the one they loved—so I think there was a little of that after listening to Ever After but then they were like, “Oh, this is really good.” So once that happens, they’re used to it, so they start to get excited for the new sound on Astoria or Phantoms.
After every new album, I always wonder how you could possibly top it and outdo it on the next one. How do you manage to make sure each album lives up to the one before it?
For Josh, he’s a very creative person. His brain is 99 percent creative, 1 percent functional-organized-life kind of guy. There’s other areas of his life where, like, he can hardly use a washing machine, but knows how to compose a symphony, you know?
Once he’s onto a new idea, he gets very inspired and it’s easy for him to create when he creates from a new place. He allows himself to try things he hasn’t before and they almost always turn out well. He might have a melody from an old song. Like, he had a great chorus, but just didn’t have the lyrics. He has a great brain where it’s like a file folder that he just tucks all his ideas away.
Since each album has this overarching theme to it, what is Phantoms’ concept?
Phantoms has a haunted vibe, but not necessarily a “bad” haunted. We came up with the theme when we were in New Orleans where they have this neat voodoo culture and there’s a lot of death in their culture, but it’s not a bad thing. It can be a very positive thing. We developed this theme where like, you can maybe be haunted by former lovers or by your own past. We’ve also played in a couple of legitimately haunted theaters where we’ve had some things happen, so that played into the theme as well.
Do you take into account pop radio when you’re recording and writing?
Sort of. You can’t chase trends because you can lose yourself and your style and you might end up losing fans, too. Maybe if you pay attention to the production choices, like what the style is of the hits up there. It’s also a cool challenge where you’re trying to do what you do but use different colors and ways to shape it.
We definitely don’t chase what’s hot on the radio. As a musician, that’s less satisfying. Josh really writes from an autobiographical standpoint so if he doesn’t feel it, it’s like he’s going through the motions. When you’re going through the motions in life, it’s less inspiring and it might spell the end of some bands. We don’t want to get on that train.