When you listen to a Marianas Trench album, it’s an experience. Masterpiece Theatre plays like a soundtrack to the theatre. Ever After takes its nods from the fairy tale universe and uses that as a central theme. Astoria takes a page out of the 80’s kid playbook and plays like a soundtrack to The Goonies or some other great 80’s movie. The point is, there’s a central idea and usually a well thought out concept with every Marianas Trench record. That’s the case with the band’s new album, Phantoms too. Alternative Addiction talked with Josh Ramsay from the band about the new album, including the central theme this go around.
“I wanted it to feel like a haunted house, haunted by the ghost of a former love,” explained Ramsay. “That’s why we have a bunch of ghostly song titles. I intensely started reading a lot of Edgar Allen Poe. I made a lot of references to him on the record. The theme choice ended up giving us soundscapes that I would have never thought of, using a harpsichord or a theremin, stuff you wouldn’t normally use. I set out to make a haunted style of record.”
In order to make the type of record he wanted to make, Ramsay got to work on some research.
“There was a lot of reading Poe. I wrote notes about instruments that I associated with unsettling sounds. I had a big list of sounds that I wanted to use within the album, there was even chord progressions and things like that too, I grabbed that list and then I went to work. I wrote a bunch of song titles in advance too. ‘The Death of Me’ and ‘The Killing Kind’ – I wrote from the title first.”
In our dealings with Ramsay over the years, he’s a cheerful guy. You wouldn’t think that he’d be able to pull off an album about death and ghosts. Josh explained that while it’s an album that seems like it has a darker mood, it doesn’t.
“I don’t feel like it’s a depressing album to listen to. To me, a lot of that stuff isn’t that depressing. I was watching a lot of ghost-related things and it’s not all meant to be bad. Like “The Haunting of Hill House” – one of the points that I took away from it is that ghosts can mean different things to different people and to some people, it can mean hope. There’s a lot of hope and rebirth to the record as well.”
Diving in with a big concept and a lot of grand ideas while making an album is something that Marianas Trench has done for their past four albums now, the other thing they’ve done with the albums is really going all-in on production. Ramsay talked a bit about that in our interview too.
“I guess that’s my nature, that’s just who I am. I look at a lot of production these days as minimalistic. It’s a popular thing right now. That’s cool, but that’s not my style. I do things over the top, that’s just who I am.”
Over the past few albums a big part of Marianas Trench albums are giant medleys. They either open the album, close the album, provide an interesting segue in the middle of it, or they do all three. That’s something Ramsay enjoys doing, but that’s not something he wanted to do with Phantoms. Instead, the band opened this album with an acapella song called “Eleonora.”
“I had thought about a few things,” said Ramsay while talking about opening the album. “I like to do things differently and I don’t want to fall into a formula. People were probably expecting a big seven-minute song to start the album and I wanted to surprise people and do something different. Not a lot of bands have done awesome acapella songs, but the Eagles always start their show with “Seven Bridges Road”, and I started thinking about how awesome it is when you see them, and they do it. I started thinking about what our way of a song like that would be, that was it. That’s all of us singing on the song, there’s no auto-tune, we just took a couple of days and laid it down.”
Just like their past few album cycles, Marianas Trench plans on opening the shows on their upcoming tour with the first track from their latest album. They’ll do that with their upcoming run and “Eleonora” too.
“That’s something that I’m really looking forward to. That’s going to be a cool way to set the mood for the show. There are some intense moments in rehearsal right now because we’re having to learn to play it all and sing it all. We’re redesigning the look of the band to suit the theme of the record too. The fun part about being the artist is being able to reinvent on every album and doing that for each record is really exciting to me.”
Just because there’s no seven-minute medley song on this Marianas Trench album, that doesn’t mean there’s not a special seven-minute song. Instead of doing the medley, there’s a creepy seven-minute operatic song that incorporates a lot of those creepy sounds that Ramsay was talking about earlier.
“It was difficult. For any song like that, I do free-form writing. I didn’t have much of an idea to start with. The album had to be ready to mix on January 2nd and I started in the studio with no idea for that song on Christmas Eve. I knew it was the last one on the record, and I just went in every day and wrote a new section and kept going until the song seemed like it wanted to end. That’s what I did instead of Christmas, I wrote the song.”
“I saved some tricks to use just in that one song. As much as it has some curious instrumentation, melodically it’s still a pop song. I tried to keep it simple on the melody side because it’s challenging on the instrumental side. I wanted it to be still accessible to the listener.”
The one thing that’s different with this Marianas Trench album from records past is that the track list isn’t nearly as long as we’ve seen in the past. Instead of doing fourteen to fifteen songs, the band opted to do ten songs for the record.
“I specifically did that on purpose. I set out to write a record that was concise. I did that because these days album cycles are so much shorter now. I think you’ll see people just doing singles eventually. That’s not what we’re going to do, but I think some artists will do that. On the last album, there were a couple of songs that I thought were worthy of being singles. By the time we got there, the album had been for a year and we couldn’t do it anymore. A year seems to be the length of an album cycle now. I didn’t want to have a song get lost in the album cycle, so I specifically set out to make a shorter record.”
strong>Phantoms from Marianas Trench< is available now. -aa