When a band reimagines who they are on a third album, when that reimagination is so deliberate that it has them trade in folksy singer/songwriter tunes and acoustic musings for a Bowie cover, autotune, compact tracks and fast hooks -- you listen. You have to. Because that’s a band done with tapping you on the shoulder, politely asking you to turn around and pay attention. They’re just gonna punch your eardrums instead, which is exactly how Hey Marseilles approached their latest release, embuing it with energy that thankfully returns after going missing for a record.
Not that the Seattle band’s energy has ever been in question. But with this third album [listen to/buy it here], a self-titled effort for which they worked with Grammy-winning producer Anthony Kilhoffer (Kanye West, John Legend, Jay Z), it takes new form, distilling what the quintet deliver onstage and taking that to the studio in a way they haven’t since their debut album, “To Travels and Trunks,” nearly a decade ago. Frontman Matt Bishop ditches his acoustic guitar safety blanket, and in doing so, removes a barrier between himself and listeners. The entire band -- which in addition to Bishop includes guitarist Nick Ward, keyboardist Philip Kobernik, violist Sam Anderson, violinist Jacob Anderson -- has a stake in the tracks, tangible ownership and its accompanying responsibility and pride.
That’s all to say that when Hey Marseilles dropped their record in February, they dropped a doozy. Whatever we were expecting, it wasn’t this. Which is maybe just a lesson in why we shouldn’t have expectations -- they limit the possibility of greatness and joy and pleasure, all of which Hey Marseilles continue to dream up new ways of delivering to us.
With that in mind, we ditched the regular interview in favor of 20 some odd questions with Matt Bishop, who we caught up with on a much-needed off day between SxSW and their Soda Bar show on Saturday, March 26.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz: What’s the last thing you ate?
Matt Bishop: Chickichanga, which is like a chimichanga but made out of eggs and sour cream and chicken, and chocolate chip pancakes -- that’s a separate thing from the chickichanga. I think it’s a cafe specific thing, where I ate.
HLS: You’re a Seattle guy, obviously, through and through, but if you didn’t live there, where would you be?
MB: Huh. Damn. Austin or New York? I mean, I was just in Austin. So yeah. I could live in Austin. I’d say Austin. Portland is the honest answer, but that’s because it’s not that far from Seattle.
HLS: What’s the first song that comes to mind right now?
MB: “You Can Call Me Al” by Paul Simon.
HLS: Do you have any advice to aspiring musicians?
MB: I mean, I have so much advice. Keep creating. And connecting and networking and listening to constructive criticism and keep playing shows. And if that doesn’t work after 10 years, get a day job [laughs].
HLS: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
MB: Center fielder for the Atlanta Braves.
HLS: What’s different about Hey Marseilles’ third album?
MB: This is the first time we worked with a producer. It’s the first time we all wrote our own sets of songs instead of working on them collaboratively. It’s the first time we’ve recorded the whole record in the studio in a short time as opposed to dragging it out in our home studio. It’s the first time there is no acoustic guitar or accordion or trumpets on any song. The songs are more typical pop formula.
HLS: Do you enjoy writing like that?
MB: Yeah, that’s always kind of been my default actually. As a singer/songwriter, I’m inclined to focus primarily on melody and story and transition between verse/chorus, and catchy hooks. With Hey Marseilles I had to acclimate to complicated orchestral arrangements, you know, long instrumental pieces. Those aren’t things that I really contribute much to. But in pop music it’s just all about the strong melody and lyric and underlying music instrumentation. And that’s my jam.
HLS: What would embarrass you?
MB: Talking loudly in public spaces about intimate things, about sexual acts or complaining about other people, things that if the table next to you heard… I’m just hyper aware.
HLS: Do you believe in ghosts?
MB: Oooh, I’m open to it. Never experienced them.
HLS: Shot of choice?
MB: Jaeger. You know that about me.
HLS: How long has it been since you’ve had a milkshake?
MB: Too long. I had a Blizzard like a week ago. Milkshake? Uhhh, probably a few days ago. I wanted to have one yesterday because we went hiking. It was probably a week ago at a gas station. Gas station milkshakes. What are those called?
HLS: They’re called something?
MB: Oh, there’s a brand for sure. I take a lot of Snapchats of gas stations milkshakes. F’real! That’s what it’s called. Chocolate peanut butter, mmm.
HLS: First album you ever purchased?
MB: Phil Collins’s greatest hits.
HLS: Celebrity crush?
MB: Scarlett Johansson. Jennifer Connelly. Do I only get one? Who’s the guy, Paul, that Paul guy in “Anchorman”?
HLS: Paul Rudd?
MB: Yeah, him.
HLS: I have a crush on him too.
MB: Everybody does. Predictable.
HLS: What’s your favorite song on the new record to play live?
MB: Mmmm, probably “Heroes,” David Bowie cover. People respond to it really well, so that’s fun to see.
HLS: Would you rather go to Europe or Mexico?
MB: Right now? Urf. I’d rather go to Mexico. I want to lie on a beach somewhere. But over the course of my life, I’ve never been to Europe, so I want to go there. But I want to be on a beach for sure.
HLS: First band you ever remember liking?
MB: Ahhh, Caedmon’s Call.
HLS: Favorite place in San Diego?
MB: Encinitas? That’s like the only place I ever hang out. Yeah. I mean, the beach is the best. Really haven’t spent much time in San Diego proper. Whenever we travel there, we stay in Encinitas with our friend. All my memories are of hanging out in downtown Encinitas.
HLS: Do you have a bucket list?
MB: No, but I’m feeling like I should. Not explicitly. I mean, I want to be happy and have kids and be married and have a retirement account and go to Europe, but that’s not a bucket list -- those are life goals.
HLS: Podcast or radio?
MB: Sheesh. Probably radio. Current events. NPR.
HLS: If you weren’t in a band and weren’t playing center field for the Braves, what would you be doing?
MB: Mmmm, I’d probably be a college admissions counselor. Advertising executive!
HLS: Where’s your happy place?
MB: My happy place? Huhh. Making coffee in the morning, listening to NPR.
HLS: Are your songs autobiographical these days?
MB: The ones I write are. Autobiographical with a degree of flexibility.
HLS: Have you ever eaten dog or cat food just out of curiosity?
MB: Yes, dog food, dry. Ugh. I was probably 7 or 8. I think I threw up.
HLS: What’s something you’ve learned on the road that you couldn’t have learned in school?
MB: How to maintain how to maintain a healthy relationship with oneself in the absence of stability or close friends or family. I’ve learned what not to do [chuckle]. How to be happy with yourself away from everything you know. And enjoy the adoration of people you’ve never met before [laughs].
Hey Marseilles play Soda Bar on Saturday, March 26. Hibou open. The show is 21+, and tickets are $14. Buy 'em here.
Hannah Lott-Schwartz, a San Diego native, moved back to the area after working the magazine-publishing scene in Boston. Now she’s straight trolling SD for all the music she missed while away. Want to help? Hit her up with just about anything at all over on Twitter, where -- though not always work-appropriate -- she means well.