February - Marianas
L-R Aaron Coleman, Aaron Grauer, Tom Tollefsen, Malcom Miles, Ryan Dee
To be honest, the style of music that Marianas plays isn't usually my cup of tea. I'd heard their album a few times, and while I thought the music was very interesting, and the album very well done, it wasn't until I saw them live, and heard them working a bit more with the music, that it really caught me. It seemed like they were taking what was already really good about the music, and maginfying it greatly. In particular, I think Aaron Grauer's guitar work really stands out in the live enviornment. Aaron, along with his bandmates, Aaron Coleman, Ryan Dee, Malcom Miles, and Tom Tollefsen recently brought me up to date with them. You can see Marianas at the Powerless III show on February 25th at Duffy's Tavern.
SCS: How and when did Marianas form as a band?
Aaron C: We kicked it around in basements for quite some time with no real intentions of being a band. Aaron and I started tinkering around and recording things in March of 2002 and Ryan joined on soon after that. Although we didnít come up with our name for a couple months, I guess we can say we officially formed in early 2002.
SCS: Ambient, experimental and post-rock are descriptions that are most commonly used to describe the band. I know most bands hate being pigeonholed, or labeled, but how would you describe your sound?
Aaron C: Thatís a good question because we oftentimes have the same difficulties describing our sound to people that havenít heard us. Personally, I donít really mind any of those descriptions, because weíre all of them and more. I donít even mind being compared to other bands.
Tom: To me, our sound seems to be about making certain types of aural atmospheres. Sometimes it can be drony, sometimes it can be more straight ahead. But with all of it, I think that we're trying to push toward something that is a little different than what the listener, or the band for that matter, is used to hearing.
Aaron G: Irish Drinking Songs.
SCS: What types of music and which musicians/groups influenced the band members?
Aaron C: I know this sounds clichťí, but I would say that a tiny little bit of nearly everything I listen to seeps into what I try to add to the band. In terms of likeminded groups, I would say that artists like Fridge, Hood, The Notwist, Four Tet, and Sigur Ros have been influential to me lately.
Ryan : I grew up listening to Top 40 radio and taking piano lessons. So, my ear is bent towards catchy melodies and classicism. Thatís probably what informs most of my musical output, though it could be argued Iíve developed a skewed sense, in part due to some of my more obscure current tastes, of what some might consider "catchy."
Aaron G: Itís hard to say what influenced what I write. I start with no point of reference other than finding a melody or progression that tickles my fancy. The influence is there, but itís nothing purposeful. Iím highly influenced by melody.
Malcom: I listen to everything. Some say I'm not too discerning, but I just think there are lots of interesting ways music comes out. Everything from jazz standards to minimalist electronics but I think my 80's indie rock, once known as college rock, roots are what most influence my playing.
Tom: I learned percussion in school starting in the 4th grade and I was playing in a drum and bugle corps up until just a few years ago. So I tend to bring a rudimental approach to my playing that I try to balance out with a more freestyle feel. As far as actual drummers that I really admire, I'd say Pete Thomas, David Lovering, Grant Hart, Moe Tucker, and Levon Helm.
SCS: You added Malcom Miles and Tom Tollefsen to the lineup last year. How has that affected the way the band writes songs, or added to the dynamic of the band and the music?
Aaron C: The addition of new members definitely changes the dynamic of the music itself. Itís allowed us to be a little bit more fluid when we play live, and we certainly get a little bit louder with a rhythm section. Personally speaking, I think that all our old songs have grown in exciting ways with the new members, and our new songs are going in even more different directions.
Aaron G: Practices are a bigger mess, harder to keep organized. Itís great for playing the songs. Weíve never sounded better. But as far as trying to record new stuff, weíve had to step back and go back to the basic 3 members for the core of the songs and then we can allow Malcom and Tom to come in and add their flavor.
Tom: I think that it has changed the live sound quite a bit. It certainly allows for some of the songs to rock out a bit more live than they do on the record. Plus, with Malcom playing jingle bells on some of the songs, it really makes for a festive atmosphere, let me tell you. When he's on, it's like it's snowing in Knickerbockers and Snoopy and Linus are doing pirouettes on the pond.
Malcom: Marianas is now able to rock; before they were wimpy. Phatass still suggests that we listen to more Sabbath.
SCS: Sound advice for any band. Iím assuming the name refers to the Marianas Trench, the deepest ocean spot on the globe. Anything significant behind that?
Ryan: Ask Greg Dulli about the name "Marianas." He seemed to think our cartography might lead him to a mountain of white powder: "Youíre Marianas, eh? So, you think youíre deep, huh? If you guys think youíre so deep, you better be drawing me that fucking drug map of Omaha!" He was kidding, of course. About us being deep. He was dead serious about that drug map, though. We didnít choose the name because we thought we were "deep." It was originally the title for the song now known as "Miette." The song reminded each of us of water, so we chose the title for its aquatic reference. When it came time to finally decide on a name for the band, we liked the sound of Marianas. We stole the title and then replaced it with "Miette", the name of the main character in the film "City of Lost Children," a favorite of all of ours.
Aaron C: Of course, our name has obviously proven to be a small point of confusion with a band in Omaha called The Mariannes, but we hope people are savvy enough to figure it out.
Aaron G: We want to make it clear: we claim no relation to the Marianas Trench, and make no claims at being deep by any means. In fact, weíre all quite shallow, at least I am.
SCS: How does the band's working relationship go regarding both songwriting and arranging the songs?
Aaron C: As hinted at above, our songwriting process is one that is different for each song. On some songs, we wrote everything little by little, adding and subtracting bits here and there and feeling things out as we went. On others, one person in the group had an idea and ran with it, then the others came in and filled things out.
Ryan: The one constant in our songwriting is that not one of us comes in to the studio with a "finished" song. No matter how close to being finished a song might be, we all get to put our fingerprints on it. Marianas is an extreme version of a democracy in that way, and in other ways as well, though, like many bands, there are periodic moments of dictatorship.
Tom: At this point, it seems mainly to be Aaron, Ryan, and Aaron coming up with the initial arrangements. At that point, I just try to stay out of their way. Once the basic framework for the song is in place, then I try to fill it in my drumming. A lot of my work in the band is finding a way to build on, or sometimes replicate, the seemingly endless number of programmed beats and doodles that Aaron makes up on the keyboard and tweaks with his laptop.
Aaron G: For the first record it was usually AC coming up with an atmosphere or an inspirational backbone to a song. Then I would lay down a guitar or keyboard melody or two to tie it all together. And Ryan would add more guitar and keyboard counter melodies, and lyrics when appropriate. Then weíd all go back through and edit/scrap/arrange/re-record and turn it all upside down. Trying to keep more of a balance this time around.
SCS: Iíve heard people say that your music is great for falling asleep to, which could be a big compliment or insult. What are your feelings on the subject?
Aaron C: I have music in my collection for just about every occasion. I donít think itís an insult for someone to say that our music is good to fall asleep to, it simply means that it serves a good purpose for them. Obviously, we hope that we donít put people to sleep when we play live!
Aaron G: I love records you can fall asleep to. There are very few in my collection that I could play all the way through and not get disrupted from my slumber. Itís meant to be relaxing and beautiful. Our live set is where we want people to stay awake. We try to be an actual rock band for the majority of our live set.
Malcom: I like falling asleep to music but I don't recall anyone falling asleep at the live shows.
Ryan: I think we might be the perfect slumber party house band, actually.
Tom: I gave the disc to my brother and he almost fell asleep on the ten-minute drive back to his house. I guess it depends on the listener. I love certain bands that others say put them to sleep...Galaxie 500, Felt, The Smiths...so I certainly wouldn't be insulted by that comment. Some would say the third Velvet Underground record is a lullaby type of affair, you know, not that I would have the hubris to compare anything that we've done to anything on it. That being said, I think that we've got a nice mix of shoe-gazing and louder elements that really comes through in our live sets. If we put you to sleep, we'll wake you back up with a quickness.
SCS: Do you have a favorite song of yours to play live?
Ryan: I think we all agree on "Summering", which will be on the next album, except Aaron and Tom...
Aaron G: I love playing "The simple things", "My body is a sail" and "You keep me up at night, late", when my guitar is cooperating. I wish weíd give "We were safe, now weíre sorry" a go. Thatís my favorite song of ours, but weíve never tackled it because there are so many layers and itís so much about the subtlety of the melodies. Iím afraid weíd massacre it.
Tom: "The simple things", which we usually close with.
SCS: When youíre playing live do you tend to do a lot of improvising, or do you try to stick pretty close to the recording?
Tom: Seems like we stick to how we rehearse the songs, but that doesn't always directly reflect the recording. Since Malcom and I have joined the band, there have been a lot of changes on quite a few of the songs to make them more adaptable to a live setting and a five piece band.
Aaron C: When we play the songs weíve written we tend to stick fairly close to a set structure when weíre playing, but in many shows that weíve played, weíve also had at least one track that is largely improvisation. A couple times, it didnít work out, but other times it was magic. Some tracks weíve only played once.
Aaron G We try to present the songs differently at each show. Meaning, as we work on them, we try to allow them to change and grow and hopefully this means, next time you hear it, youíll recognize it, but not be sick of it. Improvising is always a small part of it, but Iím not comfortable enough in my playing to stray too far. Iím not that good of a guitarist.
SCS: Obviously, a lot of work goes into your recordings. Do you have a preference one way or the other for recording process vs. live performance?
Aaron C: I canít really pick one above the other. For time vs. enjoyment, Iíd have to go with live shows, simply because there is so much excitement packed as tightly as possible into performing and playing the best set of songs that you can. Sometimes while recording, you can run into a wall and it doesnít go so well, but those times are offset by those moments where you just feel things clicking and moving on to something bigger.
Ryan: I prefer recording to live performances. I donít dislike performing live, but if I had to give one up it would be performing live. Nothing beats those ten, twenty, thirty fleeting seconds after creating that initial spark of music that becomes a song. Marianas has initiated those occasions more frequently then any other project Iíve been involved in.
Tom: The recording process for us can be really long and drawn out. I love to play shows, but it's also nifty to see how the songs evolve as we're in the process of recording. And they really do change a whole lot. I wasn't around much for the recording of the last record and I'm finding it be an enjoyable challenge to try, with the rest of the band, to push the songs to the point where they can be the best they can be and where we're all satisfied with the end product.
SCS: Malcom, how does being in this band differ from being in The Trendies or Post-Trendies?
Malcom: The biggest difference is that no one smokes in this band. Obviously there are huge differences in the sound of Marianas vs. those other bands. The way this group writes music is completely different. With The Trendies and Post-Trendies it would often start with a V-C-V song format that someone brought in and then we would fuck with it to make it a song that fit the sound of those bands. With Marianas much of the songwriting comes from little phrases or sounds or a funky beat which we try to fuse together with other pieces. There is not a base song to start so I'm never quite sure what the end result will be. Its a process that I'm still adapting to but it worked for "Onward + Upward" so I'm gonna go with it.
SCS: Who recorded "Onward + Upward", and where was it done?
Aaron C: We recorded everything but the live drums into a multi-track recorder on my computer. We produced, mixed, and mastered the entire thing ourselves. For the first few months, some of which made it onto the final release, we were recording on a ten-dollar microphone and figuring things out as we went along. I wouldnít trade the experience for anything. It was sort of nice being secluded from anyone and everyone and just working on things.
Tom: The drums were done on Nick Westra's big power-pop drum set in his basement and recorded with his equipment. Nick is sort of the best, you know.
Aaron G: Total price of production: $0. Although, AC had to buy the laptop.
SCS: Are there any local producers/engineers you'd like to work with who you think could help to develop your sound even more?
Aaron C: Given the opportunity, I think weíd all like to go back and have the disc professionally mastered somewhere, simply because that was one of the only spots on the disc that we felt was lacking. Doug Sloan at Studio B in Omaha would be high on my list for that.
Aaron G: Obviously weíd love to have the luxury to record at Presto and work with the people there, but we wonít be shelling out that much cash any time soon.
Ryan: Working in a professional studio would be extremely cost prohibitive, because of the way we tend to work, writing and recording as we go, over an extended period of time. Doug Sloan is high on our list for album number two, though.
SCS: Are you working on a new album now, and if so, when do you expect it to come out?
Aaron C: Weíve been working on and recording loads of new material, but itís coming along a bit more slowly this time. Probably a combination of us being pickier in what we think is good, as well as trying to really define our sound a little bit more as a band.
Tom: It might be a while before it comes out. Most of the focus of the band right now is on recording, so it might be sooner rather than later.
Aaron G: Very early stages of album #2. We have one song written post-"Onward + Upward", called "Summering", which weíve played quite a bit live. Apart from that weíre hoping the creative bug bites us in the ass very soon. Iíve personally been struggling to find the motivation to begin again. It was such a long process on the first record. I need to find the motivation to start all over again and itís hard for a lazy boy like me. I keep hearing different songs and thinking, "We should do something along these lines." But you can only think that so many times before youíve got about 100 dreams for the record running concurrently. Who knows what the new record will sound like?
Ryan: All leads at the moment point in the direction of a more upbeat record. Thatís all Iím saying.
SCS: When and where was your first local show, and how did it go?
Aaron C: Our first show was at the Southwood Clubhouse on the 25th of October in 2002 with Tangelo and The Third Side. We were very loose and sloppy, several of our songs were improvised, and every single song that we played that night has changed drastically since we first played them. That said, it was a blast.
SCS: Wow, that's a pretty diverse bill. So what was your most memorable live performance, and what made it that?
Aaron C: My personal favorite would have to be Lawrence, Kansas early last November. We played a house show with a great band from California called Timonium. When we first got to the house, we thought weíd maybe made a bad decision, but when all our equipment and everyone was packed inside, we had a great time, even though I sat on a cinder block for the entire show. It was probably our best set that weíve ever played in terms of musicianship, and although there were only about 40 people watching, they were enthusiastic and nice.
Ryan : I second the Lawrence show. When we arrived and discovered the promoter expected to fit us, our gear, the other bandsí gear, and the audience in a basement half the size of our practice space, we were about a split second away from getting back in our cars and returning to Lincoln. Iím not really sure what it was that compelled us to stay, but we soon found ourselves setting up and blazing through our set. Weíve certainly had higher-profile shows, shows that have paid better, shows that have opened doors to bigger and better opportunities, but the workmanlike way we played together that night, coupled with the enthusiasm from the audience and other bands, made for what will remain my favorite Marianas show.
Malcom: I have to say my favorite show of ours was the Twilight Singers show. I thought it was our best show of our Magical Mini-Tour. But my first show with the band was opening for My Morning Jacket and that was an excellent start even if our set got cut short.
Aaron G: Both opening for My Morning Jacket and The Twilight Singers were great experiences, obviously because the size of the audience was much bigger and the opportunity to play with two great bands like that was exciting in itself. As far as the most memorable, the My Morning Jacket show was much more warmly received, despite our set being cut short by the Ranch Bowl. The people really seemed to be pleasantly surprised by us.
Tom: For me it was surreal playing with the Twilight Singers at Sokol just because I admire them so much and never in a million years thought that I would get that type of opportunity. I still can't really believe that it happened.
SCS: What do you like and dislike about the music scene in Lincoln?
Malcom: I like Tery. I love that people work on their music without taking it too seriously, but the down side of that is an attitude that we shouldn't take the local scene seriously. There is plenty of talent floating around and I think we could do a better job of showing the value of local rock.
Aaron C: I think that Lincoln has really grown in terms of overall awareness of all the different bands and general knowledge of the average person. Both SCS and the message board have been a big part of that, and although I still think that some people are wary to head out and listen to groups they may not have heard before, awareness is growing and the amount of shows is as well.
SCS: Agreed, and that's why I included SCS Radio, so people could listen to the bands. I think there's this general attitude among people, that if it's local, it can't be that good, or if bands aren't on MTV or The Blaze, then they're not worth paying attention to. I think that people have so long been fed the concept that if they're not "in" on what everyone else is "in" on that they're not going to be loved and accepted, and they've bought it hook line and sinker. That's what leads to the creation of tons of bad music and reality TV...but I digress. Let me ask you this. Have you learned anything in your experiences as a band that you feel newer local bands could learn from, or made any mistakes they should avoid?
Aaron C: My one big thing that I would tell young bands is to be assertive, but not pushy. Weíve ran into several situations at clubs where our set was cut short due to poor time management by the venue, and we could have been a little more vocal in terms of trying to keep things on course.
Ryan: The one thing that has struck me time and time again is the friendliness of the musicians weíve played with. Be it local bands, or bands that have just played a show on Conan OíBrien and are in the position to have big egos and whatnot, weíve been fortunate that attitudes have been, one or two individuals excepted, overwhelmingly positive. That said, my advice would be to keep a positive attitude.
Malcom: I think it is important to recognize the work that has to happen outside of the music of it. Certainly the music should be the focus but so many bands would have a greater impact if they spent a little time on the non-music aspects of being a band. The good thing is that I think a lot of Lincoln musicians are recognizing this.
SCS: Who are some local bands or musicians that you admire or feel should be recognized?
Aaron C: Some of my favorite Lincoln bands are RIP and of questionable status right now. Iím a huge fan of Mr. 1986 and think that theyíre creating unique and exciting music. Some of my favorite RIP bands include A Dim Halo and Plastik Trumpet. I enjoy The Golden Age as well.
Ryan: Prairie Psycho, The Amazing Disappearing, Mr. 1986, Junior Mighty, Tangelo. I wish Lullaby for the Working Class would get back together.
Aaron G: Honestly, there just isnít a lot of music being played here thatís what I get into. But there are a few bands in the Lincoln/Omaha area that I really enjoy. Mr. 1986 is really good, The Amazing Disappearing is good, A Dim Halo were great until they split up, I wish they were still around. I enjoy some of what Crush the Clown did. Itís not as progressive and experimental as Iíd like to see it around here.
Tom: I've been living in Michigan for the last 3 years and am pretty much out of the loop in terms of the local music scene. I lot of the bands that I really liked seeing when I was last living in these parts seem to have gone by the wayside; Black Dahlias, Drive By Honky. I'll refer you to my esteemed colleague Malcom on this one.
Malcom: I'm not just being diplomatic when I say that there are too many to mention. I think the most overlooked aspect to local music is the history. Maybe we need a Lincoln Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. It would be great if all the bands that are up and coming were able to tap into that lineage.
SCS: Whose music are you listening to right now? -- What other bands would you recommend people check out?
Aaron C: You know this is a bad question to ask us given our over-excitement at Friday Fives. For me personally, Iíd say that some of my favorite current groups are Broken Social Scene, Do Make Say Think, The Books, Four Tet, Sufjan Stevens, and Matmos.
Ryan: Supersilent, Jean Sibelius, Deerhoof, M83, Robert Wyatt, Sagor and Swing, Basil Kirchin, Fennesz, Jason Moran, Valentin Silvestrov.
Aaron G: I really listen to very little that sounds like us. Iíve been listening to stuff from the German Raster-Noton label: William Basinski, Pixel. I love Prefuse73 more than words. Van Morrison; Astral Weeks, Moondance, St. Dominicís Preview. Some XTC. Creedence is always good. Broken Social Scene is one of the best new bands out there. Some John Martyn circa "Solid Air", and some Badly Drawn Boy.
Malcom: Berg Sans Nipple "Form of..." and the yet to be released A Situation compilation of local bands.
Tom: I seem to be into much more mainstream stuff than some of the other guys in the band. I can't seem to keep the new Shins record out of the stereo. As far as bands that are around these days, I would recommend that people listen to as much Luna and Belle and Sebastian as humanly possible. I'm anxiously awaiting the new Magnetic Fields record. I also tend to listen to older records more than newer ones. In that vain, I say you can never go wrong with anything by the Replacements, My Bloody Valentine, Big Star, and Talking Heads.
SCS: What are your top five albums of all time.
Aaron C: (in no particular order)Henryk Gorecki - "Symphony Number 3"
Steve Reich - "Music for 18 Musicians"
Portishead - "Dummy"
Sigur Ros - "Aegitis Byrjun"
Radiohead - "OK Computer"
Ryan:Boards of Canada - "Music Has the Right to Children"
Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares - "Volumes 1-3/Ritual"
Keith Jarrett - "The Koln Concert"
Stevie Wonder - "Talking Book"
Arvo Part - "Te Deum"
Aaron G:Radiohead - "Kid A"
Anything by Crowded House/Neil Finn
Talk Talk - "Spirit of Eden"
Stevie Wonder - "Talking Book"
Miles Davis - "In A Silent Way"
Malcom:The Beatles - "Revolver"
Sinead O'Connor - "The Lion and the Cobra"
U2 - "The Unforgettable Fire"
Van Morrison - "Moon Dance"
Miles Davis - "A Kind of Blue"
Tom:Pixies - "Doolittle"
Smiths - "The Queen is Dead"
Velvet Underground - "Live 1969"
Elvis Costello & the Attractions - "Get Happy"
X - "Under the Big Black Sun"
SCS: Oh, you were all so close, but I'm afraid the answer we were looking for is "In The Aeroplane Over The Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel, but we do have some lovely parting gift for you...Johnny, tell them what they've won!... Ok, so What single song, in the entire history of music, do you most wish you'd written?
Aaron C: Aphex Twin - "Girl/Boy Song"
Ryan: Frederic Chopin - "Nocturne in G minor Op. 37 No. 1"
Aaron G:Iíve actually had a daydream about going back in time before it was written and recording the entire songbook of Neil Finn, formerly leader of Crowded House but I have no singing voice so maybe Talk Talkís "Sprit of Eden"...such a beautiful record.
Malcom: They Might Be Giants - "Don't Letís Start"
Tom: Velvet Underground - "Sweet Jane"
SCS: Whatís the last record/CD you bought?
Aaron C: Animal Collective - "Here Comes The Indian"
Ryan: Black Moth Super Rainbow - "Falling Through a Field"
Aaron G: Umm, Elbow "Cast Of Thousands". Thanks Julian.
Malcom: Le Mystere des Voix Bulgares - "Volumes 2 and 3"
Tom: Camera Obscura's "Underachievers Please Try Harder"
SCS: Whatís the best gig you've ever seen, local or otherwise?
Tom: Afghan Whigs: Bluebird Theater, Denver. 1965 tour. Holy shit.
Aaron C: Sigur Ros: Liberty Hall, Lawrence, Kansas. November 2002.
Malcom: These are subject to my whim of the moment, but best local gig: The Millions CD release at Duffy's, and the best gig ever: PJ Harvey/Tricky at La Luna in Portland 1995.
Ryan: Tori Amos: Orpheum Theatre, Omaha. November 1996, back before she went all VH1.
Aaron g: Hard to say. Either, The Flaming Lips in Lawrence, Kansas on theSoft Bulletin tour or Neil Finn in Denver last year.
SCS: What can we look forward to in the next year from the band?
Malcom: A freaky Powerless show followed by a new album.
Tom: More shows, a new record, and I think Aaron just about has that cure for cancer worked out.
SCS: Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Aaron C: I would like to thank everyone that has come to any or all of our shows and/or given us comments good or bad. Iím just happy playing music that I love, and if someone else enjoys it, then that only adds to my joy.
Malcom: Anyone But Bush Again!
- Tery Daly