Diary Of A Songwriter: Marsicans
Returning from tour gives this Leeds band a chance to get back to songwriting, fuelled by cheese and bean toasties
It’s no surprise that Marsicans have been gaining attention and acclaim in equal doses. An indie four-piece from Leeds with a love of harmonies and knack for writing stealthily seductive melodies, the quartet of James Newbigging, Oliver Jameson, Matthew ‘Cale’ Mchale and Rob Brander have made big strides this year with singles such as the summer anthem Pop-Ups (Sunny At The Weekend) and recent release Suburbs.
2019 is already shaping up to be another step forward for the quartet after the announcement of the group’s headline tour next spring. Having completed their recent shows supporting Fickle Friends, the band’s chief songwriters Brander and Newbigging were able to keep a diary for us about their return to rehearsals and need to get back into their writing groove.
Rob Brander: The last two weeks in Marsican-land have been spent on many motorways in the back of an old Royal Mail van, touring the UK with those lovely people in Fickle Friends. Touring is very fun but also very tiring, and so, today is a slow moving Monday. I am going to see the Bohemian Rhapsody film pretending that it’s a productive thing for a musician to do.
James Newbigging: Similarly, I spent the day finishing off the new series of Making A Murderer and watching the Green Bay Packers game from the night before. It’s a full day of doing nothing, which always gets boring about mid-afternoon, but sometimes it’s needed.
Rob: It’s our first rehearsal back after the tour and with no more live shows on the cards until the new year, our minds are firmly focused on writing songs. The writing process for us is very democratic. James or myself will usually bring in an idea, written on an acoustic guitar or piano, and together we embellish that idea in our windowless rehearsal room. More recently, however, Oli and Cale have been presenting riffs-a-plenty for the two of us to write around and so we have created the role of the ‘Song King’ to help us steer the ship on who gets to have the final say. It’s Cale’s turn to wear that crown this week and so we set about trying to make sense of some chords he has put together. Sometimes a song seems to come to its fruition almost by accident, everything slotting into place with ease. This is not one of those times, so we knuckle down and settle in for the long haul.
Rob: We’ve been home and come back to the studio (two homes for me as I’m currently in the midst of moving flats) and we are still no closer to a fully formed idea. Oli has taken his guitar sound all the way from The Pixies to a pizzicato string section and finally into the world of synthesiser stabs, using his extensive collection of effects pedals. Still no joy. I’m struggling to see the wood for the trees in bass world, whilst James and Cale swap subtle amendments to the original relationship between guitars and drums. Whilst it seems that we’re going in circles, it’s important to have these days when writing as, an idea that might not fall into line in one incarnation might inform a new idea, or rear its head further down the line but with more clarity and confidence. It’s the songwriting equivalent of a slow news week, I suppose.
James: After the struggle we had with the slow start the past couple of days, I spent the morning going through old voice memos and notes on my phone to see if I had anything which might flick a switch. Unfortunately, nothing seemed to fit. On a positive though, I listened back to a chord sequence I recorded a while back and it sparked an idea for a new song, which I spent the afternoon working on. Every so often I go right back through my voice memos or notes and see what ramblings I have forgotten about. It’s interesting what you find. There could be something which really takes you off down a path – and there are also things which make you wonder what you were thinking to even press record.
James: Today we all got together at Cale’s, instead of our usual rehearsal room, and delved into some lyrics. It’s quite the event. Basically, whenever we’ve demo’d a batch of tracks, we get together to talk through the lyrics and drink tea. We really take pride in our lyrics and we’re quite a critical bunch. Between a couple of cheese and bean toasties and strokes with Cale’s two dogs, we finished the day with all the lyrics finished and even started throwing out some new song ideas like we were at a campfire sing-along. It was a great way to finish the week, which is always needed after a couple of slow days. I spent the night at my friend’s house for Bonfire Night, which was nice as I hadn’t seen them for a while due to touring commitments.