Hey Marseilles: Urban Dance Squad

by Rodney Lotter

Hype is a tough thing for any band to deal with: there is the constant pressure of living up to expectations, both personally and the media’s – especially so when a band’s first album is praised all over the place. This is the situation Seattle’s Hey Marseilles had found themselves in.
The band released their first album, To Travels & Trunks, in 2008. The album was ranked as one of the 25 Best Northwest Albums that year by the music blog Sound On The Sound, and received praise from Seattle music blog Three Imaginary Girls, NPR and the Seattle Times, among other media outlets.
It took four long years for Hey Marseilles to put out their latest record, Lines We Trace, released in March of 2013.
Lead vocalist Matt Bishop formed the band in 2006 as a duo with Nick Ward while attending the University of Washington. Since then, the band has expanded to include seven members who play a variety of instruments (all acoustic and arrangements constantly changing from song-to-song), toured around the country, and played multiple major music festivals. They wooed the folks at NPR, where their song “Rio” was featured as NPR Music’s Song of the Day and a performance on NPR’s “Tiny Desk Concert” podcast.
Bishop said the band’s musical career has been a slow-burn, and it took them a lot of work to get where they are today.
“We’ve had a lot to learn, and fortunately had the time and commitment to learn it. And we’ve still got more to learn and accomplish,” Bishop said. “I wouldn’t say we expected the success we’ve had so much as we’ve just all been on the same page with regard to wanting to push ourselves to the next goal.”
That next goal being to make music their full-time profession. “We’ve been fortunate to have the resources, time, motivation, and supportive people around us to do it. Music isn’t quite a full-time gig for all of us yet, and that’s one of the goals we’re still pushing toward, but it’s been a primary focus I’d say,” he said. “And it’s been a lot of fun getting to that point. Not a lot of people in bands get to say they’re able to make music their primary focus.”
The four years in between, have seen the folk-rock band come full-circle. Their first album contained songs mostly about living on the road, searching for something else; the new album sees the band appreciating where they are and embracing the destination, rather than the journey to get there.
Bishop said that they are a “Seattle band” and he believes they wouldn’t be the band they are in any other city.
“We started relatively casually and were really only able to find success because of the strength of the music community here,” he said. “It’s a pretty inspiring place to live. One of my new goals is to not write about the ocean, mountains or grayness in any new songs because of how frequently those images have shown up in my lyrics.”
Lyrically, and aesthetically, the band falls into the same category as Seattle folk bands like the Head and the Heart and Fleet Foxes, as well as internationally notable names like Of Monsters and Men and Mumford & Sons. While that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, it doesn’t bother Bishop to be lumped into that category of music.
“I think it’s as accurate as any genre label can be. The categorization makes sense, particularly  when I think about the perspective of the listener or music writer,” he said. “Just naturally has a tone comparable to a lot of those singers. If it broadens our audience or allows us to get in front of more people, we will gratefully accept the comparison. But we’re not using those bands or that sound as a reference point for determining who we are. We want to push ourselves to be better and write interesting pop music.”