Marianas Trench On Tour: Be On The Lookout for PHANTOMS!

Marianas Trench On Tour: Be On The Lookout for PHANTOMS!

By David DeRocco

Depth has always been something associated with Marianas Trench, the crescent-shaped trough located in the western Pacific Ocean measuring over 10,000 metres below sea level at some points. For Marianas Trench the band, however, the upcoming release of their fifth albums sees the four-piece Vancouver-based outfit carving out new depths of their own in terms of their ever-deepening catalogue of infectious pop-rock tunes. And that presents some challenges, including what to play – and what not to play – on the tour that’s bringing them back to Niagara for a gig at St. Catharines’ Meridian Centre March 15th.

It’s a great situation to be in according to lead guitarist Matt Webb, who says he and his bandmates – Josh Ramsay (lead vocalist, rhythm guitarist, pianist, songwriter, and occasional drummer), Mike Ayley (bass guitarist and backing vocalist), and Ian Casselman (drummer, percussionist, and backing vocalist), have been mining their album catalogue trying to find the right mix of new songs and classic favourites to appease fans. Given initial response to Phantoms – including 1.2 million streams of its lead single, “I Knew You When” – fans are more than ready to embrace the new album, but will no doubt be expecting a steady stream of classic hits when the band rolls through town. In anticipation of their upcoming "Suspending Gravity" tour appearance in Niagara, Matt took time to chat with about the new album and some U2-sized dreams for its success.

GOBE: In 2001 the band put out its self-titled debut. That’s 18 years ago. I don’t think of Marianas Trench as a band that been around nearly two decades. What do you feel when you hear that?

MATT: (laughing) Old. No, it makes me feel lucky. Not a lot of people get to do music for a living. And if you do, not a lot of people get to do it for very long. So, we’ve been chugging along for a while now, still having a hell of a time, still laughing at a lot of the jokes we did in 2001. We have this wonderful network of people who are concerned about what we’re doing. So it’s a great situation to be in.

GOBE: In the infancy stage of the band, at the very genesis of your career, what was the pipe dream. How big were you willing to dream in the beginning. 

MATT: Well, everybody starts being a musician with aspirations of taking over the world. I’ll tell you one interesting thing. Back then I would think to myself, ‘wow, wouldn’t it ever be cool to be as big as U2.’ And then, interesting enough, not that we’re anywhere near that, but U2’s fifth album was The Joshua Tree, and it launched them into the stratosphere. And our fifth album comes out on March 1st, called Phantoms. And it’s going to be released the same week as The Joshua Tree was released. And our lead singer is named Joshua. So I think we can’t lose. This is going to be the album that gives us the platform to tour all over the world and tour bigger venues and finally get that Lambourgini.

GOBE: Why not dream big, you have to have goals, right.

MATT:  Exactly.

GOBE: To prep for this interview I asked my 17-year-old what her favourite Marianas Trench song was and she couldn’t pick just one. She just kept saying ‘I forgot about that one,” she liked so many. When you start rehearsing for a tour and practicing the catalogue, do you ever say, ‘man, I forgot about that one.’

MATT: I don’t forget about the songs because we’ve played them eight billion times. But what I do think is interesting is that we do now have this extensive catalogue of songs that have been very successful for us over the years. So we’re running into this issue now where we have so much material that we have to start cutting it from the show to find the balance between the news songs and the old songs people want to hear. It’s actually quite difficult. When you look at songs that have been successful do we say, ‘can we cut this, will people be pissed off at us if we don’t play it?’ I hate it when I go see a band and they don’t play the hits. So you have to respect people’s money. Hopefully we’re able to satisfy as many people as possible. It’s a great problem to have.

GOBE: You could pull a Springsteen and play for four hours every night.

MATT: You know, we could do that (laughs). I could do it. I think the set is very taxing on Josh vocally. He sings circles around Bruce Springsteen. But it would be hard for us to play that long. I love going to see bands like Foo Fighters play for three hours. I saw Bryan Adams, he did the same thing. We’re slowly extending the set song by song, but you do have to get those muscles warmed up to do it.

GOBE: What’s been the biggest eye opener for you over the years as the band has maneuvered its way through the endless cycle of writing, recording, touring and promoting.

MATT: That’s interesting. I think these days the challenge for us is trying to stay relevant in a musical culture where music is consumed so quickly. The attention span of the average listener is not very lengthy. I’m guilty myself. I go on Spotify and listen to a song. Two weeks later I’m like ‘I’ll probably never listen to it again.’ We spend so much time in the studio working on these records and we never cut corners. We take a long time to make this music and then you put it out and it’s like, I really hope that there will be some longevity to this, that people will listen to it front to back. And you know, unfortunately that’s not the way music is consumed anymore. At the end of the day we just want people to enjoy what we’re doing and get a nice long touring cycle out of it. We take a year to make a record and that’s a year out of the public eye where you’re not putting out content. You’ve got social media to fill the void or whatever. We’ve never been that band that could crank out song after song after song. A lot of bands have teams of writing for them when they’re on tour. We write everything ourselves. I’m just excited about the new album.

GOBE: What’s the objective then, after existing in that bubble for a year, knowing that the musical landscape has probably changed since you first starting working on a new album.

MATT: Growth is always the objective. I’d like to see new fans at the shows and be able to perform in new territories. That right there is really how you measure it for us. If we can go to a new town and sell some tickets and people are singing the words to our songs back to us it means we’re doing something right. And if we go there again and have gone up 30 or 50 or 100 percent, we’re doing something really right. So far in our careers in most cases it’s always growing and for me that’s what keeps me motivated, knowing that there are new people finding out about our band.

GOBE: Well I’m sure the new album will bring more new people. It’s a great album, very polished with some great lyrics and the usual solid vocals. What’s the inspiration for the title, Phantoms? Does that reflect otherworldly inspirations, ghosts of memories, or is it being phantoms from the charts for a while.

MATT: They’re otherworldly inspirations. We were going for a haunted theme on the record. We were touring through New Orleans and were really moved by the voodoo culture down there, the sort of haunted feel. Josh likes to write around themes. Not only does it inspire lyrical content and song writing content, but also the clothes that we wear and the production elements that we incorporate into the live show and the album art. So you’re not grasping at strews pulling in random crap from all over the place. You’ve got a cohesive theme to build your work around. It makes things fun and different for us. And then the fans get into it too. Not that we’re writing scary ghost songs or anything. It’s still Marianas Trench.

GOBE: The first single “I Knew You When” has racked up 1.2 million streams on Spotify. We all hear the nightmares about streaming services and royalty payments. Does that number translate into coin in your pockets?

MATT: Oh yea, absolutely. These days people don’t buy records very much. I certainly don’t, I stream everything on line. And as more people that stream and pay for those subscriptions get involved, the bigger the pool of money for all the artists. Spotify has turned into a giant stream of revenue for us. A lot of money flows from them into the label and all those platforms, Google and iTunes. Our manager always jokes that the music industry is an industry of pennies but that there are lots of sources for those pennies. Those pennies are now turning into nickels and dimes. It’s not like the 80s where everyone’s flying in Lear Jets. But I put a roof over my head doing what I love and that’s all that matters at the end of the day.

GOBE: You launched your 2009 tour from St. Catharines, and have played here a few times including your upcoming gig in March. What do you like about the area that keeps bringing you back.

MATT: It’s beautiful. This time of year is fantastic. And in the summertime, there’s lots of wine down there. I love to go hitting the wineries, and sip some wine down by the lake. We’re just happy to be touring in our home country and bringing the music to people.

GOBE: What’s the most meaningful song to you personally on Phantoms.

MATT: I like “Don’t Miss Me” a lot. I just like that one and I’m pleased with my performance on that one. It’s tough to say. We’ve invested so much of our lives this past year into the record we’re very close to all of the songs. We’re very proud of the work we’ve done. We put a lot of hard work, thought and effort into it. And I hope people feel it when they listen to it.

GOBE: Well, given those U2 comparison’s what can we expect on this tour? Joshua Tree-sized pyro, giant lemon space pads?

MATT: (Laughing) No, nothing like that. We have a few tricks up our sleeves like I said, otherwise we would get bored. We’ll put on a good show for everyone. We’re going to rock real hard. We’ve been rehearsing real hard band sounds great. We’ve got lots of new video and stage content. It’s going to be fun!

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