Marian Hill are a jazzy synthpop duo from Philly who introduced themselves to the world with their debut single “Whiskey” in 2013, leading up to the release of their excellent Sway EP earlier this year. Touring, writing, and recording all along the way, the band are picking up steam and readying their full-length for early 2016.
I sat down with Jeremy and Samantha after their 12:00pm set on Sunday at ACL Weekend 2 in the Austin summer heat (shaded area, thankfully) and talked about pros and cons of big festivals, their roots as a band, and how far they’ve come in such a short time.
Michelle King: Thanks for taking the time to talk; I know you guys probably have a busy schedule this weekend. I also know you weren’t here last weekend, but did you come straight in from Philly?
Jeremy Lloyd: We’re in the middle of a tour, so we played Dallas last night and we’re playing Phoenix in a couple days with ACL right in the middle.
Samantha Gongol: We had to drive straight here, so we only got like two hours of sleep.
MK: And then a daytime show after that, that’s gotta be tough for you guys.
JL: Yeah it’s been a crazy day.
MK: Have you gotten to see anything since you finished your set?
JL: No, haha. We went straight to a radio set and then to eat some lunch, and now we’re here.
MK: So staying busy then!
MK: Are you planning on seeing anything else while you’re here?
JL: Yeah, I’m very excited for a few bands later today. We’re going to try and catch Chance the Rapper, alt-j, The Decemberists.
SG: I’d like to catch Halsey.
MK: So you’re on tour right now; have there been any stand out shows?
JL: I mean the stand out for me on tour is just that every show has been such big, excited crowds.
SG: We’re playing to bigger rooms.
JL: We’re selling merch for the first time, and we’re just having a lot more fan interaction than we’re used to. Every show we’re out there for an hour after meeting people, taking pictures, signing autographs.
MK: That’s awesome! So the reaction has been significantly better than it was last time you toured?
JL: Yeah, it’s been another level. It’s really had an escalation from the last tour which is really cool.
MK: And you just put out your first EP this year; what were you doing before that? When did you start touring as a band?
JL: We put out our first song ‘Whiskey” in July 2013, and at that point it was the only song we had written together. And then people got excited about it on the internet, and were like “great, so what else are you guys working with?” and then we were sort of building everything else up. We played our first live show in February 2014, we put out a little independent EP around the same time, and since then we’ve been playing one-offs and writing more and more and we signed and put out the official EP, the Sway EP. We’ve been touring and writing our album since, and now the album’s ready to go and we’re just waiting on the release and everything.
MK: About your first song “Whiskey,” I read that the way you introduced it to the world was emailing cold-emailing 60 blogs… what did that email say?
JL: Haha! Ohhh, I was actually pretty careful about it. I got the blogs because I went on Hype Machine and looked at songs like ours and looked at blogs that posted them and found the contact info and made a big spreadsheet. And then in each email I found a song that each blog had posted that I liked, and personalized the email saying “I found this artist through you guys, so I wanted to share this song with you” and then there’s a little blurb about Marian Hill and the track.
MK: That’s smart, you should be a publicist!
JL: Noooo, but it worked! We got picked up by three amazing blogs and the rest is history.
MK: Have you guys played Austin before?
SG: We did SXSW.
MK: How do you feel that ACL compares to SXSW? I know they’re completely different animals, but…
SG: I’d have to say, I mean SXSW has a lot of shows, a lot of smaller shows. You know, it’s a city festival and this feels very much like Firefly, you know, just bigger stages. It’s great.
MK: What are some of the best things about playing a bigger festival like this?
JL: I think the opportunity to see other bands, because as a band we’re always playing shows, we never get to go to shows. It’s really cool to be like “oh wow, Chance the Rapper is playing today, I’ve been wanting to see him, let’s just go!”
SG: And also for a band like us that are still sort of up-and-coming, the stages are bigger, the crowds are bigger.
JL: You get a lot of walk-ups, you get a lot of people that haven’t heard of you and we were the only band playing at noon so we have a lot of people walking over as they hear it, and those are new fans.
MK: Great exposure, yeah. What are some challenges of playing the bigger shows?
SG: The heat.
JL: Playing in the daytime is always freaking gross, not only because we have very night-time vibes but because my controller uses a lot of light and if there’s sun shining on it I can’t read it, so we have to construct shade so that I can see what’s going on. Festivals, book us at night!
MK: I heard that you met in middle school doing a play together. How did you reconnect after all that time?
JL: I mean we were always kind of connected, we were always in the same friend group, and we both started writing songs on our own around the same time and we were kind of aware of each other and sharing stuff and trading tips and stuff like that. When we would catch up over breaks, as you would do with old friends, and in college we would write stuff, and that’s how “Whiskey” came around.
MK: And how do you guys share songwriting duties?
SG: Jeremy handles production, and we write melody and lyrics together.
MK: What would you say inspires your music?
SG: I’d say relationships are a big thing.
JL: I mean definitely other artists, and music in general. I always think that I’m making the music I want to hear, and I’ll get into the slumps where “I don’t like anything!” and that’s a lot of where the impulses are coming from. I also love Drake, and he’s a huge inspiration.
SG: And I grew up on jazz so…
MK: Yeah I can definitely hear a lot of that in your music. And you have a live sax on stage!
JL: I grew up on hip-hop and she grew up on pop and you kind of bring the two together.
MK: So you pull a whole lot of elements into your music.
JL: Yeah, a lot of it’s about bringing old and new together. Making electronic music still feel live and human and exciting. Because it’s easy now that everything’s so electronic to make stuff that’s just completely canned.
SG: And the nice thing about “Whiskey” is just that sort of organic, really simple evolution. We didn’t have any designs, we didn’t set out to make the song in a particular style.
JL: We aren’t trying to be anyone else. So when “Whiskey” worked, we were just like “Woah, what is this? Let’s be like this.”
MK: And you said you’re putting together a full-length now?
JL: Yeah, it’s together! I’ve got it on my phone!
MK: How would you say it compares to Sway?
JL: I think it’s a greater expansion. It’s like Sway we were defining our sound and on the new album we’re totally fleshing it out. It’s a lot broader, we explored the different places we can go emotionally, musically, sonically.
MK: When’s it coming out?
JL: Early next year.
SG: Early 2016!
MK: And you guys are just going to keep touring and hustling in the meantime?
SG: Yes! We finish at the end of October, and then we’ll have a couple one-off dates. And from there we’ll see! During the holidays things kind of shut down and then after the new year we’re back!
MK: Looking forward to it! Is there anything else you guys want to add?
SG: First time at ACL and we loved it!
MK: Well we’re glad you’re here, it was an awesome show!
Michelle King is the executive manager and director of publicity at Noisy Ghost PR, based out of the Graveface Records headquarters in Savannah, GA. You can also find her blogging at She Turns the Tables, contributing music content at Posture Magazine, and obsessively streaming music on Spotify.