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Q&A with Hey Marseilles' Matt Bishop

Last month, Hey Marseilles played with the Seattle Symphony and appeared at the CMJ Music Marathon. At the former, the septet tested out its baroque and melodic take on orchestral pop with a real orchestra; at the latter, it hoped to garner some real industry support for its second full-length release, due out in early 2012. This month the band gives its fans a taste of the new stuff with a seven-inch release, “Elegy.” We spoke with singer Matt Bishop before the trip east about the band’s upcoming journey. 

Are you excited to get back on the road? I’m excited to play some shows. This year is the first step in seeing if it’s worth anything.

Do you fear that the appeal of orchestral folk pop bands has waned? Oh yeah. I live perpetually with that fear. As soon as we introduced an accordion, I was like, ‘What the hell is this?’

Why don’t you change it up? A lot of people still like bands with handsome dudes in their 20s playing acoustic guitars. Whether the critical community finds something worthwhile in that, I don’t really care.

Your first album was all about love and loss. Will the next album be a departure from those themes? I’d like to say it’s not about love. I told some friends that I never wanted to use the word “love” in lyrics again, but I just can’t do that. I’m too weak to the allure of romanticism. 

What was the inspiration behind this first single, “Elegy”? It’s about love, but it’s also about going to live in a bunker on a hillside while the world’s collapsing. But that’s not as marketable.

Well, it’s coming out in 2012. That end-of-the-world stuff is going to be popular. Yeah, for all those people out there buying gold and records.

This seven-inch is the first music that you have released that was written collectively with these bandmates. What’s the biggest challenge in writing with so many musicians? What I appreciate about this record is that we started writing it and finished mixing it in about nine months. We know how to work with each other and how to do it quickly and effectively and we are all committed to that. Getting to that point was probably the most difficult thing.

Last time I saw you play, you performed “Rio” solo acoustic and said that the band hijacked this heartbroken song and turned it into a pop hit. And then you performed it and it was clear that it was a very painful song; nobody cheered when you sang, “There are always Brazilian boys to discover.” So, I wonder if you were able to retain any of that bedroom balladeer aspect of your songwriting on the new material, or is there no room for that in the band? I think there is less room for it these days because the songs aren’t necessarily so reliant on the singer-songwriter, which is something I appreciate about them. I think that’s a strength, that we are a more cohesive operation now than we were.

And you’re not lonely anymore. That’s right.

I’ve heard you do “Love Vigilantes” by New Order with the band and “Never Tear us Apart” by INXS solo. Are you working on any new covers for the live show? We’ve been working on “Come Together” by the Beatles, but we probably won’t play that out for a while.

What is it about covers that appeals to the band? Having something that’s already there and then making it our own by putting it into a different time signature or bringing in a riff that we have been holding onto for a while. And whenever people know words to songs, that’s always fun.

I was at this admissions conference last week in New Orleans and every night there was an ‘80s cover band, so I would find myself watching these throngs of people fist-pumping and enjoying these ‘80s hits. For a moment I thought that the only value in music is being able to get hundreds or thousands of people together in one moment to agree on something, even if that agreement is the lyrics to a Journey song.

Hey Marseilles performs Saturday, November 12, at the Neptune. Bryan John Appleby opens.

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