Exclusive interview with Mike Ayley of Marianas Trench!

Image provided by Paul Orescan

Marianas Trench are preparing to embark on their third U.S. tour, featuring dates on the Journey’s Backyard BBQ Tour. I was given the opportunity to talk with their bassist, Mike Ayley about their new album, Ever After and this upcoming tour!

Ever After is a concept record with a fairytale twist. How did the idea for it come about?
Josh had that idea for a while. The first idea was to do this album with no breaks, kind of like one long track with multiple pieces of music, in this case twelve. And then the fairytale thing came literally like “What do we want the theme to be?” because we wanted to do an album that was more like a concept album but we wanted an idea where we could make lots of visuals and lots of imagery where we could incorporate a stage show. So we went with the toyland/fantasyland/fairytale theme.

Is there anything that was done differently on this album in the writing/recording process than what was done on Masterpiece Theater or Fix Me, other than the “one long song” idea?

Other than that, it was still really different. Josh produced the whole thing. On the first album, Dave Genn produced the whole thing. The second album we had five different producers. This one Josh just did and we were recording them, we would start, write and finish the song in a week or two. You write the song, record drums,  record everything, get the vocals down, and we would improve on the performances of our individual parts. We tracked them again but we were always sort of finishing a song, we’d start it and finish it instead of just writing an album, record all the drums for two weeks, record the bass for a week, record guitar for a month, just doing one at a time and it was way more inspiring because even if you’re doing it for a rest, it’s even better because you actually get an idea of what the album is actually going to sound like and the songs coming together rather than just having twelve songs of drums. So it was really different, but it’s a method we’re going to be using again in the future for sure.

Ever After was released during the first leg of the Get Your Heart On! Tour [with Simple Plan]. In your opinion, what was the crowd’s perception of the new material?

You know what? It was really crazy. It was like the day after the album came out and we were in Chicago, and I think we played “Haven’t Had Enough” and “Fallout” off of the album. Fallout wasn’t a single or anything and there were hundreds of people singing every single world. It was like “What the hell is going on here?” It was the weirdest thing we’ve ever seen, especially where we’ve never played before. We don’t have radio there, we just couldn’t figure out how people knew the songs. But it was a wicked experience and a total surprise.

What is your personal favorite song on the album?

It always changes as we go through album cycles, often it’s usually the one we play the least because it’s still fresh but right now it is still the opening track. Desperate Measures really has grown on me a lot especially as we’ve played it – it’s a lot of fun to play live and a lot of fun to listen to. But I still say the opening track Ever After is still the best, I get a lot of goosebumps with that song. Porcelain is one of my favorites to play live. I don’t do anything for the first half of the song and then it’s all whole notes – I hit my bass and stand there for about five seconds and hit it again and I just get to sit and enjoy it. [laughs]

You guys have done two tours of the States so far. What is your most memorable moment on either of those tours and is there anything you’re looking forward to on the upcoming tour?
The most memorable moment would have to be the Simple Plan tour, the first song we played in Chicago and we realized there were hundreds of people who knew our stuff. That’s probably the highlight if there was just one highlight. As for the upcoming tour, I would say it has to be playing more than five songs because both tours that we’ve done we’ve been the opening band and only had a 45 minute set and it’s a little bit limiting, we couldn’t really play around with that because you kind of have to play the singles. So this time we’ll get to play at least an hour, which means we’ll get to play 15 or 14 songs and we’ll get to play at least five or six or seven songs off the new record which should be fun because a lot of them we haven’t even done live yet. I like playing new material, it’s fresh, it’s fun and it’s challenging, too.

Is there a venue here in the States that you dream of playing?
Playing Madison Square Garden as a headliner would be pretty awesome. Any of those arenas, really. We just did an arena tour in Canada, nearly all of them were sold out. All the places that all the big sports teams play. But Carnegie Hall would be amazing too.The theater in Canada that’s kind of like Canada’s Carnegie Hall is called Massey Hall in Toronto, we played that on the last album cycle and it was such a nice, beautiful venue. I want to play Carnegie Hall because it’s just the name brand venue for at least that part of the states, maybe the whole country.

It’s very interesting to see the switch from playing these huge arenas in Canada to these small venues like the “Fix Me” days.

Yeah, it’s kind of like that! When I look at the ticket sales for these shows that we’re doing already it looks like most of these shows are going to sell out, which is a really good sign. But before we could do that, it was at the very end of the Fix Me album cycle and then we started the next album at the end of that and we were playing two to five thousand people a night. So hopefully this album in the States can end up where the second one did. But it’s neat to get to go back because I miss being able to play shows and going to be able to meet fans and sign autographs and take pictures and stuff like that and get to meet the people who are supporting you. In Canada there’s so many people that you can’t really do that anymore, it’s really just contest winners and it’s usually limited to 30-40 people and it’s so hard to organize. But in the States you can sit around and meet at least a hundred people a night so I’m excited.

Speaking of the fans, many fans say that Marianas Trench are their heroes and that your music saved their life. How do you feel when fans say that?
It’s really cool that the music can connect to someone on a level in which it effects the way their life plays out, but it does put a little bit of pressure on you. I love that the music inspires some people to be happier, or to find things in life that make it worthwhile. It’s a little pressuring if the music is what makes it worthwhile because we’re just normal guys. So we’re humans, sometimes we don’t always do the right thing even though we try. It’s cool that we can have that kind of effect and sometimes we take a little extra time to send a few emails out because that can make a difference. It’s a lot better than somebody saying, “I don’t give a shit about your music” [laughs].

On that same note, it’s been said that the song Toy Soldiers is about people that don’t exactly know their boundaries. So what I want to know is, what is the craziest thing a fan has ever done?

There was a fan who made a doll of Josh and cut off their own hair and dyed it blue and used it as the hair on the doll. It was pretty creepy and a little voodoo-ish. It’s funny, I was thinking about this the other day, we were in Montreal doing a little iTunes in-store thing and we were going out the back alley and a fan jumped in front of the car and they wouldn’t move! We couldn’t get out and be like, “Okay, we’ll take a picture with you,” because everybody would crowd around and we needed to get to the venue. And y’know, it’s dangerous to jump in front of a moving car. So our tour manager ran out, moved her to the side of the road and then she jumped right back in front of the car. Her friends pulled her away and we started to drive away and she chases after the car and kept up with us for like six blocks! It started to freak me out, it reminded me of Terminator, actually [laughs]. I can’t help but wonder what she would do if she actually got a hold of us.

You guys are very well known for your crazy music videos. Which was the most fun to shoot?

My favorite ones are the ones that have a lot of different themes and costumes and embarrassing stuff. Say Anything was the first one we ever did and that one set the tone for us and that one was kind of like, everybody had to do something out of their comfort zone. Decided to Break It was really fun, Celebrity Status, Haven’t Had Enough. Celebrity Status was a riot, we actually did a lot of stuff in one day. There’s actually a bunch of stuff that didn’t even make it into the video that was wicked. So it’s cool to do stupid shit like that, keeps us entertained.

In my opinion, Marianas Trench are very unique with their music. What do you think sets you apart from other bands in your genre?
I think it’s that there’s lot of harmonies, we all sing. When you see us live you’ll see us all singing at once, some of us will do moments of lead vocals here and there. The singing is a thing that sets us apart. I think the songs are good and the fact that we just write complete records and full albums rather than just do a few singles and fill up the last seven songs to make it long enough. Every album has been a true, start-to-finish, complete type of thing with all good songs.

Marianas Trench will be touring the United States this Spring/Early Summer. Tour dates will posted in a separate post. Interested? Want more information on them? Here’s a biography, courtesy of their management, below the cut.

Image provided by Paul Orescan

Welcome to Ever After. A fairytale and a single, 54 minute track stitched from 12 discrete songs—the most audacious songs Marianas Trench has ever crafted. Ever After is constructed around a story written by Ramsay himself and then finessed into an accompanying booklet. It’s an actual physical experience; a warm throwback to the album era when your music was more than a bunch of orphaned songs sitting on an endless iPod playlist.

It’s also the project that captures Marianas Trench at a soaring artistic peak. After the breakthrough of Masterpiece Theatre in 2009 and a lot of ensuing months on the road, Ramsay and bandmates Ian Casselman, Mike Ayley, and Matt Webb were eager to start recording again. They finally settled into Ramsay’s studio to begin work on their next theatrical masterpiece by the end of 2010.

“All the songs live on their own as songs, but they also serve the purpose of telling the story throughout the record,” he explains. As for the seamless hour-long symphony he constructed, Ramsay adds, “I wanted to do that on the last record but as a writer I wasn’t ready. I had to step it up, which is also why I decided to produce Ever After on my own. If this is all gonna tie together, then you really need to see it through yourself.”

The tale itself concerns the heartless Queen Carolina, the exiled King, and the stolen heart of his daughter Porcelain. We’re lowered into this barren and heartless Toyland through the title track; a sweeping epic that makes good on Ramsay’s promise that “some things are really over on the top” on Ever After. “It sounds like a chase scene,” he says. “I was, like, ‘If we’re gonna do this, we’re gonna do
this right. We’re gonna need 50 string players.’ ”After that Michael Bay-sized opener, we get what you might call the basic working unit of Ever After. “Haven’t Had Enough” has a lean ‘80s funk edge to it, as do skin-tight tracks like “Desperate Measures”, “B Team”, and the amazing “Stutter”, but with Ramsay’s jones for the Beach Boys and Queen-calibre vocal arrangements crash into something with the dimensions of Thriller-era Michael Jackson.

Ramsay is also playing up the underused R&B side of his voice on Ever After, turning the epic power ballad “By Now” into an emotional workout, soaring over the krushed groove of “Fallout”, and generally manifesting his inner soul man all over the place. It’s acrobatic work, but he was keen to push himself. “I like to sing in that style,” he says, “it’s something I really enjoy, but it’s gonna be a challenge live, for sure.”

“Truth or Dare” makes an even bolder statement with its choppy flamenco parts and a hook that sounds like a Maori singing backwards, but nothing touches “No Place Like Home” for outlandishness and highflying ambition. On this climactic track, the band wraps up the third act of the story with a whirlwind battle and epilogue, piling stacked vocals on top of multiple switch-ups and fake-outs, making an end run through Brian May guitar and a touch of the Who’s “Baba O’Riley” before hitting a blockbuster-sized finish and a final, sweet coda played on a harp and a child’s music box.

It’s insane. And brilliant. And it puts the cherry on top of Marianas Trench’s mad, multi-media vision. What Marianas Trench has done with Ever After is create the story and soundtrack to a dark Tim Burton rock opera that hasn’t been made yet. Hollywood, are you listening?


About Karissa Vassallo

Karissa has been a music lover for as long as she can remember - from NSYNC to No Doubt, from Avril Lavigne to Avenged Sevenfold, she has always had a wide variety in her music tastes. After attending NYU's Future Music Moguls program, she started Read Between the Grooves to jumpstart her career in the music industry, as well as showcase her writing and her photography. She currently studies Entertainment and Arts Management at Drexel University.
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2 Responses to Exclusive interview with Mike Ayley of Marianas Trench!

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