“It’s our own fault, kind of,” said lead singer, guitarist and lyricist Matt Bishop, of his band’s French fascination.To save you from being corrected by someone with a pretentious accent, their name is pronounced “Mar-Say” like the city in France: and their worldly influences put them light years beyond your standard pop band. With a cello, viola, accordion, piano, a couple of guitars, a bass, a trumpet, and a bass clarinet Hey Marseilles is a veritable folk-pop orchestra that can create both nostalgic instrumentals as well as catchy, full-flavored pop songs.
The septet formed in 2008 after Bishop, guitarist Nick Ward and piano player Philip Kobernik met at a party at the University of Washington. Three members weren’t nearly enough, so the band began snowballing their way around Seattle, picking up whatever musicians stuck.
“We just kept adding members until we couldn’t fit anybody else on stage,” said Bishop. “That was a strong indication of needing to focus on what we could do with the people we had.”
Bishop describes the band as a small army, which is somewhat fitting, given their numbers. Straddling the line between vintage and contemporary, the Seattle band could just as easily provide the soundtrack for a modern Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers waltz as they could stir up a foot-stompin’ folk-pop frenzy.
Hey Marseilles’ songs alternate between mainstream, pop-y sing-alongs (“Rio”) and sweeping instrumental compositions (“Goodbye Verseilles”). In their best moments, Hey Marseilles can combine the magic of both worlds with cinematic string lines and sincere and poetic lyrics.
After their only full-length release, a 2008 album entitled To Travels & Trunks, the band was twice featured on NPR and received praise from virtually every independent paper, music critic and alternative blog in Seattle that mattered.
Then, a release lull. Little was heard from the band until just last fall when they emerged from the recording studio with a two-track EP dubbed Elegy.
“We’re essentially done with our second full length record, but the Elegy EP was something we wanted to put out to show people that we’re still around and we’re still making new music,” said Bishop.
The product is worth the nearly four-year wait. A teaser for that second full-length album, tentatively titled The Lines We Trace, Hey Marseilles’ new songs have a commercial appeal with catchy vocals backed by the plucking of violins, the roar of horns and the hum of the accordion. Pile all of that awesomeness on top of the standard guitar, bass and drum instrumentation already in place, and you have an arrangement that rivals that of other indie-pop greats like Band of Horses, Foster the People and Blitzen Trapper.
Working with seven musicians means that the production of a Hey Marseilles song can take some time. According to Bishop, a few of their new recordings feature as many as 15 instruments and 80-100 recorded tracks. To complicate the process even more, many of the tracks are taped using a mobile recording studio.
“A lot of the strings were recorded in empty warehouses and in tunnels and parks and acoustically unique places,” explained Bishop. “It’s really just a product of our obsession with making cool sounds. We’re really trying to utilize all the instrumentation we have.”
As for their live shows, Bishop says that they are simply energetic interpretations of the songs on their albums. Recreating the mass of their recordings means that, often, the instruments on stage outnumber the players.
“Inherently, having seven people on stage is something that is interesting to folks,” said Bishop. “There aren’t a lot of cellos and accordions and violas and bass clarinets in rock bands, and I think that’s kind of our niche.”
While the small stage at McMenamins might be a squeeze for seven plucky musicians, they won’t have any trouble fitting on the main stage at Sasquatch on Memorial Day weekend, their next big gig. The band is playing Sunday alongside acts like Jack White, Beck and The Shins.
“I literally used to have dreams about playing The Gorge,” Bishop said. “I had a recurring dream where I was the bass player for the Dave Matthews Band, and I am so excited that I will be able to live that dream without having to be in the Dave Matthews Band.”
Free, all ages.
7pm, Wednesday, May 23
McMenamins, 700 NW Bond St.