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July 25, 2013 at 5:42 PM

Block Party countdown Q&A: Hey Marseilles’ Matt Bishop has never been to France

HeyMarseilles

Hey Marseilles, Matt Bishop, third from the right (courtesy Ally Eyes Media)

By Hannah Leone

What started in 2006 as two University of Washington students casually collaborating has grown to a six-man, eight-or-so-instrument indie ensemble with just shy of 15,000 likes on Facebook. One thing that hasn’t changed? They’re still struggling to pay the rent. Hey Marseilles frontman Matt Bishop, who went to his first Block Party ten years ago, talked to us about the Seattle band’s orchestral sound and inspirations.

Hey Marseilles plays the Capitol Hill Block Party main stage Sunday at 3:45 p.m.

Q: Ten years ago, did you ever imagine you would be one of the main-stage bands playing the block party?

A: Um, no. So it’s gone pretty well. Back then it was just literally like a small little block party and it didn’t have the size or the popularity that it does now, so it means that much more. We played the block party once before, three or four years ago, and we are really excited to be a part of it again.

Q: How do you think your sound is best described?

A: I like to say it is just orchestral folk-pop, but I don’t really know what that means necessarily.

Q: How did you guys arrive at that sound?

A: We tried to create a genre of music that sounded compelling, when really all it was in a lot of ways was things that have been done so many times before. But I think we just use that terminology because the thing that is cool about our songs is they are really straightforward pop tunes but we have some unique talents with cello and viola and trumpet and clarinet and instrumental arrangements that we use to stand apart from the crowd.

Q: Did you seek out all of those different instruments, or did you all just happen to come together?

A: We kind of just happened to come together. It was a pretty accidental in a lot of ways. We were just having a good time in college and writing songs together in the basement of the house we lived in, and we became friends with some string players and added them to the lineup. And we just kept adding instruments until we couldn’t fit anybody else on stage.

Q: What are some of your influences?

A: We are all pretty involved in the songwriting process and we all come from very different places musically, so Sam and Jacob and Phillip are more classically trained, and I really enjoy singer-songwriters like Nelly Furtado. I think we all appreciate bands that kind of blend those elements, like The National and Andrew Bird. I think what makes us is just being able to bring all those different inspirations and create something different in and of itself.

Q: Has that been a challenge at all, having members with such a variety of backgrounds?

A: Yeah, for sure. I mean the challenge is also a bit of a strength – the challenge is that we are not always on the same page, but if we were always on the same page, we would probably be making pretty boring music. So there definitely is a bit of tension there, but I think ultimately it benefits our music.

Q: What’s the story behind your band name?

A: You know, there really isn’t. Nick’s mom speaks French and we kind of wanted something that sounded mysterious and we like rhymes and so we thought, hey, that works. And ultimately we decided that actually kind of confuses things because people have a difficult time saying it and/or spelling it. But we are kind of stuck with it now.

Q: Have any of you actually been to Marseilles?

A: Nick has been there, but none of the rest of us have even been to France. So the name perhaps isn’t genuine, but all the more mysterious I guess!

Q: Do you plan to ever go there?

A: Yeah, for sure. We just started thinking about options for touring in Europe, potentially maybe next year, and we would love to stop there.

Q: Is there a story behind “Lines We Trace,” a theme or a goal you had in mind?

A: Not so explicitly necessarily, but I think relative to the first record. The first record was really thematically about going out and being somewhere else, and I think “Lines We Trace” is about dealing with life where you’re at, finding satisfaction and purpose in the circumstances you are in. So I think it in that way kind of respects imagination.

Q: What is your favorite song from “Lines We Trace?”

A: Oh, man, that’s like being asked to pick your favorite child…uhhh.

Q: You can have a few favorite children.

A: (Laughs) OK. OK then, Heartbeats is one I feel I spent a lot of time on and in different ways it is kind of personal, and it has a really cool video our friend made, so that’s probably the one I’d go for.

Q: Do you see the theme of your music changing even more?

A: Yeah. You know what I’d really like to do for the next record, which we are starting to write, is evolve our image and just the nature of our music. I was thinking songs that are targeted at a broader kind of musical audience, as well as some that maybe aren’t all about relationships ending.

Q: What are some of your other goals as a band?

A: I think the primary goal is really to be able to play music, and what that means is be able to support that lifestyle, which hasn’t been super lucrative but it is a lot of fun. For all of the members in our band it’s been just being able to pay the rent which is a huge goal that we haven’t quite been able to meet but hopefully we’ll get there sometime soon.

Q: How many of you live together?

A: About half of us live in a house in Columbia City, where we do practices and record a lot of music, but the other half are scattered around town.

Q: What is your favorite Seattle venue to play at?

A: We played Benaroya Hall with the Seattle Symphony and that was  probably the most enjoyable time we have had at a venue. And that’s not really fair to every other venue, because Benaroya Hall is made for acoustic instruments and we are a band that has plenty of those, so it is just kind of natural . It was really exciting for us to be a part of.

Hannah Leone: 206-464-2299 or hleone@seattletimes.com.

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