In Conversation With Marsicans at Jumbo Records

The Leeds staple for music lovers is abuzz with a diverse crowd of such individuals.  All of us were there to see fast-rising local band, Marsicans (#1 in the UK Vinyl Singles Chart) launch their dynamic new single, Your Eyes.

After an intimate, yet electrifying acoustic set, followed by talk and tea with fans, we sat down with James, Oli, Rob and Cale to discuss their history, the new release and their upcoming tour.

Photograph by Mark Wheelwright

Okay, so, the first thing we should do is introduce everybody.  Who are you guys individually? What do you play? What’s your role? That kind of thing.

Cale  I’m Cale, individually, and I play drums and do a little bit of backing vocals.
James  I’m James and I play guitar and sing.
Oli  I’m Oli, I play guitar and do some vocals as well.
Rob  I’m Rob, I play bass and keyboard, and sing, and go to bed early on tour.

James  That’s true; he does.

How did you all meet?

James  Well we (Oli and Cale) met in high school. We wanted to start a band and rock out; take over the world.  So we did that for a couple of years- didn’t take over the world- and then we met Rob, who was playing in another band at the time. We became very good friends; our band and his band became very good friends. Then after a year or so we ended up being in a band together and that was it then. We are now birthed into the world as Marsicans and kind of went from there.

So where did the name, Marsicans, come from?

Oli  The name, Marsicans, came from- well, it came as a result of two or three other band names.

James …and the rest.

Oli   Yeah, we couldn’t possibly keep having those names if we wanted to be successful.  So, it was kind of a Google search type thing. We were looking for a word, or a name, that we’d not seen before. And marsican was just one of those. One of those “Oh, that’s a cool looking word”.

James   That’s a cool word, we’ve not seen it before.  That sometimes does cause a bit of trouble because people are like, “What is it?” But, y’know, if you see it; it’s us. It’s nothing else.

Cale  The number of people who get it wrong it’s- it’s crazy. Even backstage at festivals where you’ve got your name above the door: Mariscans, Marsicinians

James   Marsicians.

Cale  Marsicians.

Oli   There’s a common misconception that we’re people from Mars.

Rob   Yeah people think the band is Marsicians. And they think we’re musicians from Mars. Like that’s a cool thing to do.

Oli   We’ve also forgotten to add what a Marsican even is.

James   Oh no we haven’t actually, that’s crazy. Marsicano is an area in central Italy and has the Marsican bear, which is a brown bear. They’re endangered, so we’re quite fond of them.

Oli  Very endangered.

James  We’d love to go one day. We’ve been invited by someone who lives there. They said, “If you ever come: you’re welcome”. We’ll drive up the Marsican population by four. We’ll go for a coffee; a well-earned coffee.

Photograph by Mark Wheelwright

What genre would you classify yourselves as?

Rob   We are an Indie/ Pop band. Really, we’re a Pop band, but we play guitars.

Cale   We’ve got rock elements. Your Eyes is very rock.

James   There’re a few bands that we universally love. The Maccabees are one. Bombay Bicycle Club are another. And they’re from when we were growing up. Fifteen years old, going to gigs.  That really exciting time. That was the type of band we were into and that kind of has, probably, rubbed off.Oli   I don’t think any of us listens to one type of music the whole time. You get bored, don’t you?  So we all listen to quite varied music. Month come month there’ll always be some new influence that one of us tries to shoehorn into a song or something.

In regards to Your Eyes, and other songs: what’s the process behind writing it? Who does what?

James   This may not be the answer you’re after, but it kind of changes with every song. With Your Eyes I had a verse and Oli wrote a riff to it. Then we scrapped my bit and Rob wrote lyrics to his bit. It went through a few iterations as well, so it was kind of a bit of a Frankenstein’s Monster of a song.

Rob   Usually either James or myself will have like the bones of an idea.  Melody, lyrics, some kind of chords. Something that you can play in a rehearsal space and it doesn’t sound like nonsense. We’ll all just start throwing our two cents in; for a long time. Then we’ll argue about it for a longer time.

James  Yeah, we’re always challenging each other. We never let each other get away with easy. You know, like, “You could do that, but you did that a few songs ago; do something else.”

Rob  I think it would be lazy of us to just allow someone to bring an idea in and drive the whole process from start to finish. It’s a really collaborative process. Sometimes we go make cups of tea; Oli James and I. We come back into the rehearsal room and Cale’s left the drum kit. He’s sitting playing guitar and we’re just looking at him like, “What on earth- What on earth is this noise?”

Oli  He’s entered The Tone Zone basically.

Oli, Rob, James   The Tone Zone.

Oli   When we go to make a tea and we chat to people for 20 minutes, Cale enters what we like to call The Tone Zone. And that’s where he puts all the drive pedals on and… just makes a mess.

Rob   But from that indistinguishable cacophony of stuff, there’s always something good.

What was the inspiration behind Your Eyes? What’s it about?

Rob It was in a particular time in my life where I’d just moved in with James after University and all my mates had got…..

James  Real world jobs.

Rob   Yeah, they all had really attainable and achievable goals in certain fields. People started to make mortgage plans and things like that. I felt like I was treading water a bit.  All I knew was that; we were in a band and I wanted to do that, but being in a band is not like having any other job. You can’t say, “Right, okay, I’m gonna do this, this, this and this, and then I’ll be there.”

James   We’ll plan a year in advance of what we want to be doing, but that changes week on week and might not happen. You’re kind of just winging it all the time. It’s weird, it’s weird to get your head around: the fact that you have no idea what you’re gonna be doing next week.

Rob   Your Eyes started quite specifically, but soon into writing lyrics I stopped myself.  I started to think a little bit more broadly about that feeling; comparing yourself with other people. James came up with the chorus; your eyes, about how people perceive you. Basically, there’s always longing, there’s always wanting. Everyone always wants to do what other people are doing. It’s just comparing yourself with other people and their successes and stuff.
So that’s what Your Eyes is about; it’s a bit of a mess.

Photograph by Mark Wheelwright

How did it feel getting played on Future Sounds with Annie Mac the other week?

James   It was very nice actually. Being played on Annie Mac’s Future Sounds show is a big deal. Being played on any radio is amazing, but Annie Mac’s definitely a special one to get on.

Oli   I’ve listened to Annie Mac for years, in different radio capacities. Now she’s doing a lot of TV and that’s cool. She does a lot of cool stuff, so it’s kind of cool, that someone that cool…..

James   Say cool more.

Oli   And she’s got a cool accent.

Rob   And the thing is we’re not cool. You’ll see this from, you know….. interviewing us. It is validating when someone who is cool, a taste-maker, is willing to play you on her radio show.  Something that we made in a dingy rehearsal studio is now acceptable to cool people and that’s- that’s a nice thing.

How was being here today? Meeting fans and playing a set.

James Today was fun. We’re always a little bit nervous before playing acoustic sets because you’re so exposed. We usually run around stage and have a laugh, but this is a bit more- it’s not more serious, but definitely a lot more exposed to people.

Cale Raw.

Rob  Yeah it’s a little bit more nerve-wracking because you can make a mistake in a full band scenario. There’s usually loads of cymbals and distortion to cover them up. But acoustic you’re a bit naked aren’t you? It’s like in TV shows when they say, “picture everyone naked.” That’s what we feel like. Just- kind of… totally exposed.

Oli In that case; I would’ve seen Rob’s bottom throughout the whole set.  If I was imagining that.  I wasn’t imagining that… but if I was I would’ve seen his bottom.

James  Doing it in Jumbo is very nice. I come here to buy records. It’s really cool seeing a jukebox by Sound Leisure stocked with a few of our records. That was so cool; the little label, seeing your name.

Oli  Big up Nige’!

James  Yeah, Nigel’s very nice to do that. It was a really cool moment to see your records in a proper jukebox.

Photograph by Ton Conway

How did you come up with the design for the disc?

Oli   Well that’s one of our friends who’s done the artwork for all our singles; called Liv Hodder.  She’s just knocks them out.
James  She’s very talented.

Oli We say, “We’ve got a new single coming up.” She makes collages all the time so…

James  He’s being modest.  She did the artwork, which is superb, and he turned it into the disc you see before your eyes- if you’ll pardon the pun.

Rob   Liv does the actual piece of art, then Oli digitizes it.

Oli   I do the packaging element.

Rob …..And puts the name on it.

Oli   It’s very glamorous.

Photograph by Tom Conway

Finally, you have a tour coming up. How are you preparing? How excited are you to get started? What are you looking forward to most?

Rob  To prepare for the tour we’ve booked ourselves three warm up gigs. That’s something from really early on that our manager instilled in us. You can practice in a rehearsal space for as long as you want, but it’s different playing in front of people. You need to know how your set is gonna flow with an audience, so we played in Preston last week, which was really fun.

Oli  Stage invasion.

Rob  We had a stage invasion.

Oli  In Preston.

Rob  On a Wednesday night of all things. Then we’re playing in Lincoln tomorrow and in Luton the night after. They’re places that are kind of off the beaten track in terms of touring.

James  Well, they often prove to be just as crazy as the actual tour. It’s quite nice because we’ve been holed up in the studio for quite a while and it’s been the longest we’ve not played live before, until last week. It’s nice.

Oli  It’s our biggest headline tour as well.  It’s eight dates and bigger venues than we did last
year, so everything’s just a bigger step up.

James  Everything’s supersized, isn’t it?

Rob  Yeah, man; supersize my tour. Harkening back to what James said about being in a band and not knowing what you’re gonna do next week.  When you’re on tour you know exactly what you’re gonna do all the time. I love how you don’t have to think about everything all the time; you don’t have to over-analyse. There’s so much more to being in a band than just playing songs and when you’re on tour, you just play songs and that’s a nice element of it for me.

James  And going to bed early.

Rob  And going to bed early.

The Tour

Marsicans are kicking off their tour at Rough Trade in Bristol on the 2nd of April, then Birmingham, Southampton, London, Manchester, Glasgow, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, Nottingham, Warrington, Sheffield, Steventon, Atherstone and in Leeds for Live at Leeds on 4 May.

For dates, times and venues visit their website.

Watch the Interview

Video filmed and edited by Rose McLaughlin

Feature photograph by Mark Wheelwright.  

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