Hey Marseilles: Worth the Wait

I’ve seen a lot of concerts. Some good. Some bad. Some memorable. And some terrible. It is easy to get swayed during a bad concert into thinking it is okay or even good. You spent some money and there is probably some teenaged wisp of a fan dancing around making you think the band is better than it is. She loves it and the overpriced cocktail you just downed is fighting to change your mind. But there are two objective signs that always show me whether I actually loved a show or was just influenced by the silly wisp and the cocktail.

The first is what happens when I get into the car after the show. Is it silence? Some other band? Or the music that I just enjoyed live? After watching Hey Marseilles kill it during their set at the San Diego destination dive venue, Soda Bar on March 26th, I jumped into my car and listened to their music all the way home. The sweet sounding band from Seattle seamlessly maneuvered between songs covering three albums in their set. Combining electric guitar, cello, bass, violin, drums, recorded samples and keyboards (while leaving the accordion and presumably the acoustic guitar as singer Matt Bishop said “back in 2008”), the six man group produced an epic musical evening that was over way too soon. Turns out it wasn’t the silly wisp or the cocktail.

The show was well attended with a mix of people who knew the music well and obviously a few who were getting introduced for the first time. That makes sense because last August, San Diego lost its only truly independently owned radio station (KPRi) and the one place Hey Marseilles had a chance of getting played.

So the truth was, going into the show, Hey Marseilles wasn’t getting promoted on the radio in San Diego which normally spells disaster for a band that doesn’t already have a devoted local following. So why would a band trying out a new sound with a new direction, come to San Diego when they know there is risk involved?

I normally don’t like to interview a band before I see them live for the first time. Too much risk of a letdown. But despite loving Hey Marseilles for five years I unfortunately managed not to see them live (see link in bio…I have kids). Against my better judgment (although it turned out great), I had to see them and interview them on the same night. So I met up with cello/bass/jack of all trades musical phenom, Sam Anderson for a few short questions prior to the show to get insight into their latest self-titled album, their journey into pop, and his thoughts on the question of radio play and how a band like Hey Marseilles could find their way into a market like San Diego.

Sitting down in one of the surprisingly clean booths inside Soda Bar, we started off talking about the risks of heading into a market without radio backing. Anderson explained, “We understand the value of independent radio and what it means to the people in the community, so if we’re getting radio play, we will go and play there…it can change the ticket sales.” But even without radio, Sam confirmed what we all know, “I ask fans, if I have the chance, ‘How did you find out about us?’ and the number one answer is Spotify.”

Wondering about the timing of the San Diego stop, I found it odd that a band would play Arizona, then Los Angeles, then San Diego and then San Francisco. It is not necessarily a direct route. Their tour manager mentioned San Diego actually got added after the tour was booked. They had the time in the schedule and so it worked out. No big master plan, just a luck of the draw with extra time. Sam seemed just as happy to be in San Diego as anywhere else and was looking forward to the show and the set they had planned.

We then pressed on to a discussion of why the band was mixing things up. With their latest self-titled album, Hey Marseilles made a concerted effort to push into a different realm of the music genre machine by working with producer Anthony Kilhoffer, known more for his work with Kanye West, Jay-Z and John Legend than “indie folk chamber pop” harmonious ensembles. I asked Sam where the interest was in the LA producer choice, “We wanted to pick someone who could deliver what our whole concept was and he did that.” Further pushing outside the realm of their hometown, “The reason we had LA in our sights was because of the pop industry being majorly based out there and we wanted to move pretty confidently in that direction…stylistically…aesthetically. We couldn’t think of anyone in Seattle.” It was a huge risk for all involved but after a “magical, very strange, awkward meeting” and a three day trial working together in Seattle, the song “North and South” was born and they were on their way.

We chatted about some mutual friends in the music industry and what the band had planned for their day off. There is no real separation between the room, band, stage, and audience in Soda Bar so our interview transitioned into waiting for the opening act and chatting with people who were coming in.

After the show I caught up with Sam again for a minute, congratulated him on the transition between old and new songs and told Matt Bishop (the lead singer) that I thought they did a great job and despite his previous suggestion that the David Bowie cover was the highlight of the set for many — “West Coast” and “Rio” were clearly the room’s top choice.

At the beginning I said there were two signs of a great concert…The first was playing the music of the concert you just left. Check. The second, is the immediate desire to see the band play live again…and soon. No question that is true for Hey Marseilles who I would see again tonight if they were anywhere close. Which is good, because it can be tough to be a music fan in San Diego…often skipped for the more glamorous neighbor two hours to the north (who are we kidding — 3 or 4 hours on a good day). Hey Marseilles would even get me to make the trek north, so long as they keep making music in all genres in whatever form they want.