Words by Jenkin Au
Photography by Adam Luk and Tony Einfeldt
Born and bred in Vancouver, Marianas Trench is one of Vancouver’s hottest bands of today. You have probably heard their songs playing on the local radio stations or on the music entertainment TV channels. Frontman Josh Ramsay was in between working in the studio and working with Faber Drive when he spared us some time out of his busy schedule.
Why is the band named after the deepest known part of the world’s oceans?
Well, that’s a common misconception. We didn’t name ourselves after the deepest part of the ocean; it was named after us after the fact, which most people don’t realize, which is true.
Do you guys feel you are stuck between a western plate of ‘pop’ commercialism and just trying to be a good quality band that sticks to their ideals?
I don’t think so. Most of that stuff is with your own doing. I don’t think I was ever trying to be like everyone else. I don’t feel like we were ever stuck within any sort of perception, really. I just did what I wanted to do.
Does the band claim to shake up the music scene with straightforward lyrics?
I don’t know. Again, I just write what I want to write. I don’t think I ever went out to write for a specific purpose or for anything other than what I wanted to say, whatever the subject is. I think that as soon as you set out to accomplish something, you take away from the final effect of the song. I think my approach has always just been to make each song the best it can be. If it happens to make an impact somewhere, that’s cool, but that’s a side-effect. Most song writers would agree that you should just focus on writing a good song.
Is the top of a mountain better than the bottom of the sea?
I guess it depends if you’re breathing air or not. For me, the mountain is better, although it’s the air is pretty thin up there. I don’t know, in this fantasy, do I have the option of breathing underwater?
Yeah, you do.
Well, then I suppose I’m like Aqua Man, although he’s not a really cool superhero. I’d still go with the mountain. Plus I look good in a parka.
Has the world explored the entire bottom of Marianas Trench?
Has the world discovered the entire bottom? You mean of the band, or the ocean hole?
The band. Or whatever came first.
Dude, I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve even found the bottom of it yet. You know what? Every time I write a song for the band, I write it as if it’s the last song I’m going to write. For the band, it sets a standard for me that if it’s the last one, then it’s going to be a good one. I don’t know, every time I write a song, I feel like I’ve found the bottom, but then more come along.
Since the popularization of the band, has the band felt any pressure to change any of its ideals?
If anything, I think it’s the pressure before we got popular. As a younger band, when you’re trying to find yourself musically, that’s when you feel the pressure. Also, relating to your other question, that’s when you’re within a certain genre and you’re trying to be whatever is successful. I see some song writers that go and write their own version of whatever is popular now on the radio and you can always tell which those are because inevitably, that song doesn’t get released for another year or two and every time they play that on the radio, people go “Isn’t this the song from a while ago?” I don’t think I feel that pressure now but we certainly did when we were just starting out because we did a lot of the harmonies and stuff and that’s what got the industry interested in us at first. It was also something that made everyone afraid to sign us as well, because we were just so different. We were too different, and there is good different and bad different. I think I felt the pressure back then but once we had success, once any band has had success, it creates new pressures but it alleviates the old pressures of trying to find who you are because then you have established yourself and you can do pretty much whatever you want. New pressures that come are like the ones where you have to keep up with yourself and keep up with releasing songs that are as strong as your last ones.
Has fame and success like the recent Juno and Much Music nominations, as well as platinum songs, changed the band individually?
I can’t speak for the other guys but for me, I used to be really shy. I used to be really introverted, and I still am most of the time. Therefore, popularity makes me, in public places, crave anonymity a bit more. It’s something I never thought of before and I guess [popularity] has changed me that way. Also, when I listen to the radio, I don’t just listen to the songs, I also listen to the craft of it, and so it’s almost like work sometimes.
It has totally changed your perspective of “listening” to a song, right?
Well no, not all the way. It certainly is another level of listening to a song but it’s the same as when someone who works in comedy will talk about writing jokes and someone will ask how a certain joke is. The writer would go, “I think it’s funny. I think it’s the funniest thing I’ve ever heard,” but they’re not laughing and they’re just listening to the craft of it; that’s how I listen to music.
How has the band matured over the years that you’ve been together?
I’ve moved out of my parent’s basement, that was a huge thing, and I hit puberty recently, which is awesome. I’m hoping to lose my virginity next summer, but I don’t want to rush anything. Other than that it’s pretty much the same.
Does the band have any plans or aspirations to venture into different sounds?
I think that was a big thing that made us approach our second record differently than our first. I still feel good about the first album but I feel like some of the songs were a little interchangeable. There were some songs that could be confused with some others, but for the second one, I really made an effort to make each song be able to stand alone and be its own thing and not relate to the other ones. By looking at it that way, it ended up such that there were a lot of songs that were drastically different from each other. I think I’ll continue to work that way because I had a lot more fun writing a diverse album; it’s also much more rewarding to play live, too. Hopefully it’s rewarding for people to listen to as well.
Other than musical inspirations, have you incorporated any other influences into your music? For example, I definitely see the Queen in
fluences throughout the Masterpiece Theatre songs.
I’m a big fan of Mussolini…I’m kidding, obviously. I don’t know. I can’t think of anything specifically. I guess I’m inspired by anyone and what they do, regardless of what that are. I think everyone gets inspired by underdog stories and I’m certainly no different, but I can’t think of a specific example.
What helped you overcome your biggest challenges in life?
I jumped right into a heavy one.
No. I think for me personally, probably… probably a fear of regret of not knowing what could have been is what has driven me to overcome anything that I’ve overcome or continue to overcome. I would hate to look back later in life and wonder. I would rather fall on my face trying my best than to not try at all and be comfortable. I think there is still an honour in failure as long as you were trying your hardest, and I know that sounds like a postcard or something, but it is totally true for me. I would much rather, even if it meant a lower level of success, try all the things I wanted to try as opposed to just being safe.
What song would the band have wanted to be their best selling and/or trademark song?
What I wanted versus what we actually have?
(Pauses and thinks hard) I think for me, I was most excited about a three part song called “Masterpiece Theatre” and I think that as a whole, all three together, is my favourite work. The funny thing is that when I was writing those songs, I knew they weren’t going to be a single and none of them would ever be singles. When you go into a song not writing it to be a commercial song but rather as something artistic, fun, and not necessarily following normal pop conventions, that is what I consider the most enjoyable. Those were some of my favourite ones on the record and I think the closest representation of what we do were those songs.
Going into those three songs, can you tell us more about them individually and what you intended with Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3?
Well, it’ sort of -
Well, when I first listened to it, I was expecting a continuous song through all three, but they’re quite different.
That’s right, they are different. There is a continuation but my idea was I wanted it to feel like when you watch a play. There is always the opening number which sets the scene for the play and the basic plot and characters; that’s kind of how I look at the songs. The first one, the melody and lyrics are like the statements of character. The point of the first one was really to set the stage and kind of have some melodies and themes that could show up again. That being said, it’s hard to write a song when you’re writing and planning a song to have words and lines that can be recurring in other songs in the album; that’s a weird way to write. I wrote them in order, with the first one first, etc. I wrote the second one a few months after the first one and the point of the second one was to feel like the beginning of the second act where there’s a symphonic reprise. Again, in a play, a lot of times the symphony would come up and it’ll be playing bits of the songs that you’ve already heard to set up the second act and then the third one. It’s the most important one because it has to tie everything together. I couldn’t write that one until every other song in the album was written because I wanted to incorporate at least a line or melody from every song in the album; kind of have them all intertwine like that. After everything had been written and recorded, I came in [to the studio] and then started recording it in pieces, like the first two minutes, then the next two minutes, then piecing it all together. Then the band came out and replayed some of the parts and threw in a few things and off it went; that was the point of the last one, to tie in the whole project. I would never say something as arrogant as the whole “piece” but you know what I mean, to tie everything together for the climax. That’s why at the end of Part 3, there’s a ridiculous marching band feeling. I would never choose to do that but I was thinking, once we got to that part of the song, “What else can we do with it? Where can we go and what else is going to feel like the end, the end?” In the end, the only thing I could think of was that fan fare thing because that really feels like an ending. That idea came about because we couldn’t find anything else that sounded like the end.
Well when you’re producing a song, while we’re on that topic, do you hear all the sounds together or do you go at it part by part?
When I write stuff, I usually start with the melody first because I view that as the most important part of the song. I usually think of a melody first and then I picture what kind of music would go around it and what chords would best support that kind of melody. You can take the same three notes and put different chords underneath it and it’s going to feel drastically different. I always start with the melody and see what music would support it the best. I usually do the words last but sometimes it’s the other way around. I have a book where I write words in when I’m searching for lyrics, and I’ll go through it and see if anything sticks out or not. Usually, I do the words last which is often the part that takes me the longest. I feel like that’s the weakest part for me out of the three. I spend the longest on it. If the rhythm isn’t the same way you would speak it, then you end up having emphases on the wrong spots and it doesn’t roll of the tongue the right way. Most of the time, I’ll sing gibberish first and see if it sounds like words and then I’ll pick it apart and find words that go the best with it.
In the bio on your webpage, it states that you wish to work with greater and greater people in the industry. Who is the one person or group, you wish to work with, regardless of time?
(Answers instantly) Brian Wilson.
Because he’s a genius. Because he’s the only guy alive that could keep up with the Beatles. That time in the sixties when it was The Beach Boys versus The Beatles, people forget, when they look back on it, that The Beatles had three independent writers and a producer who was a genius. The Beach Boys had one guy doing all of those roles and managed to keep up and I think that’s impressive. I would have loved to be able to sit down with that guy and pick his brain apart. I’d go sit in the sandbox with him or whatever he wants.
What’s the one question you would ask him?
That’s it. Only one question.
I’d probably ask something totally unrelated like, “Do you have any doughnuts?” Because he always has that huge thing of jelly doughnuts. No, what I’d actually ask him is, “What did you have to do with Wilson Phillips and why? Why did you have to do that to us?” That would be my question.
What does Marianas Trench have to do in order not to be sub ducted into what the band would consider not unique?
I think what we’ve done is to not sound like the other bands and I think it’s sad that this is considered unique. I think there are so many sound-alikes now and it’s really un-inspiring. I think for us, the thing that has made us unique is the courage to try things that aren’t necessarily logically good together in songs. I really try to approach that stuff with the love for music and not caring about what genre is better than the other. I really think that a lot of musicians and fans of musicians cut themselves off from a lot of great stuff because it’s not the genre they listen to and can’t get past the fact that a good song is a good song, regardless if it has a fiddle in it or not. There are perfect examples of hit songs for an artist and you hear it being covered by another artist in another genre and it’s still a great song, but now it has a techno beat underneath it. I think for us, the thing that has made us unique is by not really worrying about sticking to any sort of formula and being unpredictable. Although, I can name a hundred bands that are a hundred percent predictable who are a lot more successful than me so I guess something is working for them and not my method.
What is HYPE?
I guess to me, when someone says HYPE, I think of excitement for something without knowing what that thing is. There is a lot of HYPE around this new band but you don’t know the band.