As a musical breeding ground, Seattle is mistrustful of eager strivers. Still suffering from a grunge hangover, the city would rather embrace its underachievers than hitch its wagon to the obviously ambitious. So for the past eight years, Hey Marseilles has played by the rules, earned their indie cred the usual way: by touring relentlessly across the US and releasing a pair of albums beloved by fans around the world. But even as they succeeded at their modest goals, the members of Hey Marseillessinger Matt Bishop, guitarist Nick Ward, keyboardist Philip Kobernik, violist Sam Anderson, violinist Jacob Andersonfelt restless.
With their third album, Hey Marseilles shakes off the past and takes a big, bold step. In all its panoramic grandeur, Hey Marseilles leans into a new, bright future. In its polished production, its narrative arc, its departure from the band's previous MO, the album is a leap forward. And it finds the humble quintet ready for the risk.
Two years ago, Hey Marseilles met Anthony Kilhoffer, an A-list, LA-based producer and engineer who's won Grammys for his work with Kanye West and John Legend. Kilhoffer typically trafficks in the realm of Top-40 pop and hip-hop, among platinum-status megastars like Jay Z and R. Kelly and Rick Ross. After they were introduced by mutual friends, Kilhoffer saw something in Hey Marseilles that he couldn't resist: the radical adventure of veering down an uncharted road. He jumped at the chance to work with the band. For their part, Hey Marseilles recognized an unprecedented opportunity to push their usual creative in new directions. Up for the challenge, they went all-in.
In early 2014, the group made a couple trips to LA, prewriting with Kilhoffer and a small cadre of songwriters, absorbing their almost scientific advice on how to hone the more accessible, "pop" elements of their sound. Later that year, Kilhoffer spent a couple weeks in Seattle, taking the helm at the mixing board at Avast and London Bridge Studios while the band completed recording. They found that the 41-year-old producer washow to put this delicately?eccentric in his approach. (Ask them about it; they have a zillion stories.) In his focus on immediacy and accessibility, they also believed Kilhoffer was right. His MO, as paraphrased by the band: Find the song's catchiest part. Get there faster. Do it more.
What you hear on Hey Marseilles is a band has the guts to change course deep into their career, backed by the self-awareness to understand the exact place they were meant to go. It's self-titled because, at three albums in, the band announcing itself the world as if for the first time. All of the members have individual songwriting credits herea first. The entire album, music and lyrics, is about adventurousness, finding faith in a new path.
The spirit is there from the start: Album opener "Eyes On You" contains the most explosive climax in Hey Marseilles history, and at under three minutes long, it's the shortest song they've ever recorded. Credit Kilhoffer's skills as producer and head coach: This is the kind of thrilling hit song he's known for. "West Coast" follows, inspired by endless hours on the road and the new beginnings found there, "the moment everything had changed" as Bishop sings, his tenor buoyed by Kobernik's elegant piano. "My Heart" percolates with electro-pop enthusiasm, ready to take a spot next to Kilhoffer's other Top-40 anthems. Reggie Watts, former Seattleite and current music director on Late Night with James Corden, lends uplifting vocals to the yearning, catchy "Perfect OK." On "Trouble," Bishop croons one of the album's most memorable lyrics, penned by Sam Anderson: "What good is love or trust/If you never get in trouble?" Thematically, "Crooked Lines" picks up where the band's previous album, Lines We Trace, left off. It's the album's only moment of hindsight, countered a few songs later with the band's simmering, scintillating cover of David Bowie's "Heroes." The album closes with "Horizon," its most introspective number.
"I'm out on the horizon/with the darkness below," Bishop sings, Anderson's cello and Kobernik's keys resonating like a dirge. "I'm out on the horizon/But it seems like I'm close."
Closer than close. Hey Marseilles has arrived.