Never Say Die: Marianas Trench talks ‘Astoria,’ the ’80s and the healing powers of “Call Me Maybe”

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Canada’s Marianas Trench has been around for more than a decade but hasn’t reached their full potential in the U.S. until their most recent album Astoria came out earlier this year. The pop quartet then began the first half of their Hey You Guys!! Tour, which is the first time the band has toured in the U.S. since 2013.

“We’re trying really hard to break the U.S. market, which I’m really encouraged about because I think it’s going really well,” frontman Josh Ramsay tells us. “I know what it feels like right when your band breaks because we’ve done it before, which is good because it gives you a little bit of confidence when you go into a new market. It’s really exciting in the States right now. It feels like palpable energy around it and around the record itself.”

It the band four years to put Astoria out, and Ramsay says he used the album to answer questions people had. “I told the story of what the record was about because I felt like I needed to answer questions on why it took so long for the record to come out, which is why I didn’t put forth any major details about my shit,” he says. “I obviously took six or seven months off and when you do that there’s going to be some questions, so I was like, ‘Well, I might as well be honest, for better or for worse.'”

Roughly three minutes into the album’s opening song and title track, Ramsay sings, “Everything happens in threes.” The reference to that is personal to the vocalist, but he did share what happens in the song itself. “That section also turns into 3/4 time, is in parallel thirds and modulates three times,” he explains.

Marianas Trench’s new music video for “One Love” documents the band in a room filled with water. “That [concept] wasn’t mine,” Ramsay reveals. “I had ideas in there, but that one really came from Kyle [Davison], our longtime collaborator, friend [and] director. Sometimes the ideas come from me. Sometimes they come from Kyle and me. Sometimes they’re from Kyle and that one was just him. His first idea was, ‘Let’s shoot it in a flood, an indoor flood.’ I liked the metaphor of losing someone and your world falls apart and you feel like you’re flooding, that claustrophobic-flooding feeling. It kind of just went from there. He did a really good job and I liked the idea so much when he told me that I was like, ‘Fucking A, let’s do it!’

“I had to really believe in that idea because there were some very realistic personal safety issues that I had to deal with and it was a really hard physical day for me,” he continues. “It’s easy to believe in those things if you believe in what the other person is after. Kyle and I have collaborated artistically for so long that I knew he would nail it. It was a very difficult video to make, though.”

There’s a constant ’80s feel with Astoria, and Ramsay admits that the whole era inspired him, which he drew on for the album’s numerous interludes. “You need to take mood changes like going from ‘Dearly Departed,’ which is such a vulnerable song, and going from such a vulnerable, low moment and if that was an ’80s record, that’d be the end of side A,” he reasons. “So going into side B, we wanted to start with this upbeat, Jackson 5-sounding thing. It doesn’t sound good to play that one song and let it lead into the next, so I wanted to write a film score-sounding thing that felt like it could take you from low to hopeful, to do it instrumentally—which was a fun challenge, actually. But I tried to do those things where that I felt emotionally that it needed to be there.”

Marianas Trench has changed a lot since their Fix Me days where their sound was more rock than pop. Will the band continue down this more pop road or will they journey into something new? “I’m going to continue down whatever route my gut wants to go in songwriting,” Ramsay explains. “I don’t think you have a long career if you just try and keep redoing the same thing over and over again. Most artists with long careers were constantly reinventing, except for AC/DC, but that’s because they should never fucking change. They got in right the first time. Other than AC/DC, if you look at legacy artists who have a real dynasty of a career, like Madonna [who] is a great example of someone who reinvented themselves almost every album, her look, her music, the whole thing. I hope that’s what we’ll continue to do. In our way, I feel that we have reinvented with each record that we’ve done. I can’t tell you what the next one’s going to be like. I don’t know yet. I haven’t written it yet.”

Unless you follow Ramsay’s life outside of Marianas Trench, you may not know that he co-wrote Carly Rae Jepsen’s 2012 hit “Call Me Maybe.” This lead to some changes in his life including being nominated for a Grammy and being able to provide better care for his mother. “My mom is really sick,” he admits, “and ‘Call Me Maybe’ gave me the means to be able to make she can have whatever healthcare that she would possibly need and to be able to take care of my parents—that, to me, is the single most important thing that came out of that song.”

Since Ramsay is an experienced songwriter for not only Marianas Trench, but other pop artists, how would writing for one be different than writing for the other? “[When] you write a song for someone else, it’s not about what I want to say, [it’s] what that artist wants to say and how does that reflect what they want to do,” he explains. “So it doesn’t even matter if I like it. It matters that they like it. And that’s a really interesting challenge as a songwriter, because you want to have artistic integrity to it, but in a very different way. What I would view as cheesy and ridiculous, that artist may not view as cheesy and ridiculous. I really like the challenge of it, especially because you’re working outside of your comfort zone. You’re learning new tricks. It forces you to be a chameleon and then those are all songwriting skills that you can bring back to your own project. It’s fucking great. I love that.”