Marianas Trench // LARGER THAN LIFE

Marianas Trench is bringing the biggest show it can fit into clubs and theaters on tour.
“What we’re doing is we’re trying to bring an arena show into a club setting,” singer/guitarist Josh Ramsay said in a recent phone interview. “So it’s super theatrical and it is still very larger than life.”
More than that, Ramsay hopes this tour is a sign of things to come with Marianas Trench.
“I remember years ago, I saw Lady Gaga in Vancouver when she was doing club shows, or theater shows, “ Ramsay said. “Like you watched her show and you thought to yourself, the next time she’s here, she’s going to be in the arena. She’s ready to be in the arena because she’s already doing that (type of) show. I wanted people to have our version of that experience coming to our shows in America.”
Don’t bet against the group making that kind of leap. In its home country of Canada, Mariana’s Trench, which also includes guitarist Matt Webb, bassist Mike Ayley and drummer Ian Casselman, is already a bona fide arena headliner and one of the most popular groups in that country, having reached that level with its 2011 album, “Ever After.”
“Our band has basically a very organic exponential growth since its inception,” Ransay said, “We’ve never had one overnight success thing. We kind of had, the first time we were touring Canada, it was like two people would come to the show. Then next time, we were in that city it was four people. And it just kind of went all the way up to arenas. And we graduated to the arena stage with ‘Ever After.’”
Ramsay’s enthusiasm for the future has to please fans of the band, who waited four years for the arrival of the follow-up to “Ever After,” the recently released album, “Astoria.”
The long gap between albums was a product of several upheavals in Ramsay’s life that slowed his progress in writing songs for “Astoria,” despite the fact that early on he had already settled on a concept and musical direction for the album.
Each of the three previous Marianas Trench albums had been built around a theme, and Ramsay knew what he wanted to create next.
“I thought ‘80s adventure movies could be a fun one (concept) because everyone kind of likes ‘80s adventure movies,” he said. “And I thought there could be a lot of elements that we could pull from with that, like both with dressing and the stage show and also some (1980s) sonic qualities, different sounds and stuff. I thought we could figure out a way to have an all-encompassing world.”
Things were clearly looking up. By early 2013, the band had landed a major label deal with Cherrytree/Interscope, giving it a level of worldwide promotional support that up to that point had only existed in Canada. Ramsay was also engaged and anticipating that new stage in his personal life.
He had also gained notoriety and acclaim – not to mention no small amount in royalties – for co-writing and producing the Carly Rae Jepsen hit, “Call Me Maybe.” The smash single earned him a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year. But that achievement turned out to be a double-edged sword for Ramsay.
“It’s an interesting thing when you have (something like that). Forever after that you always see your name say ‘Grammy nominated songwriter,’” he said. “And there’s a pride that goes with that, but there’s also for me personally – I don’t know about other people who have experienced that – but there’s also a fair amount of pressure because you feel once you’ve worked on a song that took over the world, you feel a certain amount of expectation on your future work. That can be a difficult hurdle.”
The expectations created by “Call Me Maybe,” coupled with feeling that the next album would represent the big opportunity for Marianas Trench to break through to wordwide stardom sent Ramsay into
a serious case of writer’s block.
Making matters considerably worse, Ramsay’s mother was stricken with Lewy Body Dementia, an illness that acts like a combination of Alzheimers and Parkinson’s diseases – two incurable, gradually debilitating conditions.
“You sort of watch somebody disappear,” Ramsay said. “It’s really hard because they still for the most part look like them, but they’re slowly just slipping.”
Ramsay didn’t react well to his challenges, and his frustrations took a toll on his relationship, leading to a breakup up with his fiancé.
“I put so much pressure on myself with songwriting and I would go up to my studio every day,” Ramsay said. “And the stuff with my family was really difficult and I felt like all the stuff I was coming up with sucked. I would go and sit in the studio for 10 hours and then come home having done nothing. I would come home just like hating myself, and that’s a difficult energy for people to be around.”
Ramsay finally hit bottom in 2014, when he was hospitalized for problems with his gallbladder and pancreas. But during that stay, he did some soul searching that helped him put his life – and the “Astoria” album – back on track.
He realized he couldn’t fix his broken engagement or his heal his mother. But he could control his music. Recognizing that music gave his life purpose, Ramsay tossed aside the issues that had plagued him and started writing songs, even completing one of the tunes on “Astoria” (“Dearly Departed”) before he was discharged.
Infused with new energy and inspiration, ideas came rolling out, and in short order, Ramsay decided he wanted to turn his apartment into a recording space that would foster creativity and the ‘80s personality he wanted to bring to “Astoria.”
“I kind of thought this apartment was where I got so low and dark. Wouldn’t it be cool if I took this same space and used it to make the best thing I’d ever done?” he said. “Right then and there I just went to the studio and started picking up gear. I literally stayed up for five or six days just changing my whole apartment.”
The music that emerged on “Astoria” makes good on the initial concept of an album that tips its hat to ‘80s rock and pop, while evoking the feeling of that era’s action adventure movies. The album opens and closes with a pair of tracks – “Astoria” and “End of an Era” – that work like mini-suites, shifting from one distinct segment to another, while the other songs are more concise and energetic. Several songs cleverly quote ‘80s bands – “Burning Up” nicks INXS’s “Need You Now,” “Yesterday” incorporates bits of Kenny Loggins’ “Footloose,” while “Wildfire” opens by quoting Police’s “King of Pain” – while the album as a whole weaves ‘80s beats and tones into its sonic approach. Happily, the songs only touch on their influences before taking on their own character and delivering hook after hook.
One thing that changed from the original vision for “Astoria” was the lyrics. Ramsay’s songwriting, naturally enough, couldn’t help but reflect the difficulties he’d experienced. But he thinks “Astoria” is better for the darker dimensions that pepper some of his lyrics.
“It’s got a lot more emotional depth and range than stuff that we’ve done in the past,” Ramsay said. “I feel like conceptually, the sort of journey through the record ends up being a really emotional one. There are a lot of big emotions in that. And that really works to me with the movie theme idea, too, because big emotions are very cinematic.”


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