Ever After – A Love Story – Interview with Marianas Trench singer/songwriter Josh Ramsay

Posted May 23, 2013 in

Canadian rockers Marianas Trench will perform in SLC on May 25.

Being a parent is never an easy thing. Being a teenage dad, I would say, from my own experience, is harder. It is with much respect that, unfortunately, came a bit later for me, where I came to understand how what my dad and mom taught me and parented me has affected what type of parent I've become.

I remember when I started listening to music that wasn't my parents’, and what I viewed as a skeptical eye watching over me, though I didn’t know that it was my parents just trying to figure out who I was and, more importantly, who I was becoming. It is with that same sense of wonder that I wound up interviewing Josh Ramsay of Marianas Trench. My daughter, Lindon, is 14 years old, and in the last few years, she's started to become just as big of a music junkie as her dad. Lindon, whether she may want to admit it or not, is obsessed with Canadian pop-rock band Marianas Trench. And with that same skeptical or curious eye my parents had when I started listening to Metallica almost religiously, I'm curious as to why there is that hint of obsession or just over-zealous curiosity and fascination she has with the band, and in particular, it's singer/songwriter Josh Ramsay. 

Marianas Trench play Salt Lake City on May 25 with openers Air Dubai and Protector at the Complex. Unfortunately for Lindon, she's in Arizona still in school and won't be able to get to see her current,favorite band. So when the chance happened that I could interview her favorite artist and maybe give her a little chat with Josh Ramsay, there was no question that I'd take that opportunity—actually, I made sure that opportunity happened for her just so I could maybe get some sense of why she's so into something I don't get. 

If you're tired of hearing Carly Rae Jepsen's “Call Me Maybe,” you can in part blame Josh Ramsay—he co-wrote the song. Listening to Marianas Trench as much as I have to figure out my kiddo hasn't really answered many questions for me—I still don't get it, even though I will argue that the band has chops that break out of the one-hit-wonder status and leave a lot of room for fans to jive on just more than one album track or a single. Lindon is growing up, and every day that goes by, she has more options to make her own decisions. I still don't fully get why she likes the music she likes, but she's her own person and has her own views just like me—because I'm pretty certain she has no idea why I listen to 99 percent of what I listen too. The certain fact is that Lindon sticks to her guns, doesn't hide her opinions from anyone, and will argue what she loves (without saying that stubbornness is a quality to love in a teenage daughter). I couldn't be more proud of her and how she's growing up. So while I wanted to figure out her favorite band, I equally wanted to be the cool dad and talk to her favorite band—and give her the chance to talk to them, which despite my efforts and hers to get the two on the phone together, Ramsay left her a voicemail message, and I think that was just as cool for her, judging by her excitement when I talked to her after she got said voicemail from Ramsay. 

In addition to trying to figure Marianas Trench out—let alone pop music—I talked to Josh Ramsay about his experience growing up and what influenced his musical career. 

SLUG: Your first US tour just started. How excited are you to get your music to your fans in the US for the first time?
Josh Ramsay: It's awesome—it's not the first time we've toured the US. We have toured here a few times—we did a tour with Simple Plan. This is also the second time we've worked with the Journey's Store. We did a series of their backyard barbeque shows last summer, and it went so well, they asked us to come back this year. It's great. I think this is the probably the fourth time we've come, but it's the first time we've toured the US with a major label behind us—that's really the thing that's changing for us, and we're really excited about it.
SLUG: A question I was told to ask because I've heard you answer it differently most times is: How did you decide to name the band Marianas Trench?
Ramsay: The reason we came up with the band name was, originally, before we played music—we were actually a Navy Seal team and we were in an expedition in the Arctic. We had to save this young beluga whale via helicopter, and once we got out of the whole thing, we we're just like, “Dude, you know what? This is so dangerous … We should do something else. We should be in a band … and someone was like, “Why don't we call it Marianas Trench” and I was like, “Yes!”
SLUG: When I was a teenager, I was obsessed with Metallica like a lot of teenage boys. In a roundabout way, my teenage daughter found Marianas Trench's music through Pandora Radio, and she got hooked, and she's pretty much obsessed at the moment. I'm kind of doing this interview for her. Long story short, when I was her age, Metallica came to town. My dad writes for the major newspaper here in Salt Lake City. We ended up writing an article together on what it what it was like to go to a heavy metal concert with each other. So I'm sort of recapturing that a bit with my teenage daughter here. When you were a teenager, were there any bands—specifically one band—that you were way into?
Ramsay: Not the kind of thing your talking about, specifically. There's been a lot of bands that I've loved, but there was never that one band that I was completely obsessed with. I think that it was a bit different as a teenager because I always looked at bands that I looked up to and like as people that I could learn from because I was already pretty serious about being musician. I also grew up in a recording studio. When I was a kid, if I went to work with my dad, Aerosmith was there and stuff like that, so I just thought everybody was a musician. I maybe had a bit of a different relationship with it than most teenagers would have.
SLUG: That's interesting, that would be a lot different way of growing up.
Ramsay: Yeah, with Aerosmith there [at my dad's studio] or someone from AC/DC was taking singing lessons from my mom at the house. I literally thought that everyone was a musician when I was a kid.
SLUG: Growing up in a family that was so musically oriented—your mom a vocal coach, your dad owning a recording studio—how did it influence how you, musically, to grow into what you are now?
Ramsay: All of it, for sure. When you’re surrounded in that environment, you can't help but just take it all in. By the time I was 9 or so, every question I had for my parents was like, “So, if you add a D into this C7 chord, is that what makes it a C9 chord? Why does that work like that? I was so thirsty for all that knowledge, and I guess I still am, but really, at that age, I was obsessed with learning everything I could and figuring it all out and picking up every instrument I could and trying to learn how to play it. All my teenage years were just spent trying to learn every instrument I could. I'd see all these people who were really good at all this stuff, and I'd be like, “Oh, cool, maybe I want to learn how to play drums. OK, let's do that. Sweet, guitars. What about bass? What about trumpet? What about anything?” It was a great environment for someone who was that into music because there were always these awesome examples of what good players could be around me, and perfect people to ask questions to.
SLUG: Going into the music of Marianas Trench—the funny thing is that I mention to my friends that my daughter is really into these guys, and that her Instagram name is Marianas Trench–related and stuff like that, but a lot people that I've talked to—maybe it's just because I'm a weirdo and I listen to weird stuff—but people I've talked to haven't heard of the band. Basically how would you describe the sound of Marianas Trench for audiences that have not heard you?
Ramsay: A little bit of everything, there's some rock elements, there's some pop elements, there's some dance elements. I think part of the thing that makes us a little more unique is the fact that a lot of my influences were like the Beach Boys and Queen. So there is a lot of intense vocal arrangements that go into it, too. I think that kind of sets us apart a little. Every member of the band sings and sings well—we do a capella stuff, even. We're sort of all over the place. We don't just have one style that we stick to. I think that also comes through because outside of the band, I work as a producer and writer for other people—I think [because] I have to write a lot of different genres all the time, I end up bringing those tricks to my own band and don't really stick to one genre that much, because we get bored.
SLUG: I've read and heard that a lot of music imprints on people as youth and a teenager and you mentioned the Beach Boys—I grew up listening to them and so did my daughter through her grandpa. All that stuff imprints a lot when you're a teenager—like the stuff I was listening to made huge impacts on who I am and the choices I've made in my life. This also translates to your fans and what they're into. What do you think makes the music of Marianas Trench so emotionally impacting to your listeners?
Ramsay: I think maybe people respond to it because I try and write pretty personal songs I think, which sometimes can kind of backfire on you because then, when fans meet you and stuff, it feels kind of like you've let everyone read your diary. I think people respond to it because, lyrically, it's pretty honest. I don't make up stories about anything—I just write about myself and my life and how I feel, and shit that I'm going through at the time. It seems like not a lot of people are doing that in pop these days—they’re just about dancing or something like that, and I don't do that. No offense to dancing or being in a club.
SLUG: Something It seems like a lot of the people who listen to Marianas Trench are die-hards. That's a testament to what you’re doing because most people in similar genres to Marianas Trench are all over the place—it's kind of the one-hit-wonder curse. I think that noticing people’s comments on the little things and songs … It’s interesting how that's worked out for you guys.
Ramsay: We're really lucky to have people that are so supportive—the same thing happened for us in our own country when we were coming up in Canada before we were playing arenas and stuff, even when it was like back when we were started and it was 20 people at shows. Still, those 20 people that would come were really pumped on it. I remember feeling like, “Wow, we might actually have something here.” Even though it wasn't a lot of people to begin, if people feel strongly about it, those are the kind of people that tell their friends and want their friends to be into it. 
SLUG: My daughter actually will get very defensive about why she likes you and why her friends should like you, and she gets mad with her friends. She's gotten in big arguments with her friends because they're not into it and she thinks should be—it's funny. Historically, younger generations have  almost unintentionally found ways to rebel against their parents with the music they’re into. I had my mom take away CDs of mine that she didn't approve of. When I was a young dad, I was kind of like, “Well, what's my daughter going to listen to that I could consider some sort of rebellion?” Because there's nothing that's too foul for me that I would just be like, “No, you can't listen to that.” Long story short, was there anything when you were a kid that your parents found offensive or something that you did as a youngster that they didn't like?
Ramsay: I had a drug problem as a teenager—I suppose there was that. I wouldn't say that had anything to do with rebelling against my parents.
SLUG: How was it to struggle with the drug addiction at such a young age?
Ramsay: It was pretty intense. I didn't finish high school because of it—I got kicked out of school. But then my parents, because they're so awesome, sent me to a treatment center to deal with it. It was intense because—especially when you go to a treatment center—it becomes super real. And when you’re 17 and you're in there and everyone else there is an adult, and I'm just this one teenager, it was really scary at the time.

SLUG: Is there anything you would say to fans that are struggling with addiction or going down that road?
Ramsay: When you’re younger, you have maybe warped views of what it means to be an artist or what it means to do this, because you look at like all these singers and stuff, and have had all these problems and shit and really it's stupid and there's no real connection—you don't need one to do the other. I don't think anyone should look at me as any sort of example of anything. The only thing I would say is don't be afraid to talk about it with people—that's the most important thing, whether it be a parent or a friend or anybody. I think the worst thing to do is to struggle with something that's also a secret, because then you're really fucked. As soon as it becomes a secret, it becomes this secret relationship you have that nobody else has, and there is this whole extra thing that goes along with it.
SLUG: Going back to the music: Your latest album, Ever After, is a concept record, which is something a lot of bands in your musical realm don't even attempt to do. What made you decide to do the concept record?
Ramsay: Because I just wanted to, honestly. Smile—that is a record that Brian Wilson didn't finish with the Beach Boys and finished years later. I really liked that that kind of stuff was almost like a pop symphony. I don't understand why people aren’t trying this stuff now. I think so much of the industry has gotten so stuck on singles and stuff—“just make sure the single is good and who cares about the album tracks?” I really feel like making a full album, sadly, is becoming like a lost thing. People don't really try anymore. I really wanted to try and have something that was a cohesive effort [where] it depends what order the songs are in to make an album flow. I don't know why more people don't do that anymore—it's fun. You focus on having good singles and stuff, but I don't understand why you shouldn't put the same effort into [it]. If a song is not going to be a single, that doesn't mean it can't be a great song—it can be a great song in another way. How many records have you listened to where your favorite song from the record is not the hit? I mean, it's Track Five or whatever that you happen to like the best. I think too many people are wrapped up in just singles.
SLUG: Being a critic for such a long time, I'm very album-oriented more than “Oh, there's one good song.” If there's just one good song, then it's like it's not a good album and I'm not going to spend much time with it—you just get burnt out and then you’re done.
Ramsay: And then you feel resentful—if you like a song and you buy the record, and the rest of the album sucks, you're like, “Thanks, dick—I just wasted my money.
SLUG: Speaking of your live show and making records, is there anything you would say there is unique you do or any way you express the concept of the latest record?
Ramsay: With the Ever After record, the whole album plays as one song—there's no stops on the record. Every song leads into the next, and then I wrote a little fairytale thing that goes with it that incorporates some of the lyrics and stuff and the song order. So throughout the album, there are stand-alone songs, but it does sort of tell a story. Then I wanted the live show to feel like that, too, so we filmed a bunch of stuff that was like a narrative that tells the story that I wrote, and that sort of plays in between a few songs here and there, so by the time you're at the end of the show, you actually had the story of it. I feel like the live show—I wanted to do more than a show than just a concert, almost like you’re watching a play or something.
Be sure to check out Marianas Trench this Saturday, May 25 at The Complex with Air Dubai and The Good Natured!
Canadian rockers Marianas Trench will perform in SLC on May 25. "I think people respond to [our music] because, lyrically, it's pretty honest ... I just write about myself and my life and how I feel," says vocalist Josh Ramsay.