AU ABROAD

the AU interview: Ian Casselman of Marianas Trench (Canada) on "Pop 101" and his journey as the drummer.

Canadian pop rock band Marianas Trench are full of creativity and it's safe to say that their songs can be quite entertaining. But for a band who focus heavily on the lyrical aspect of their songs as well, they've achieved so much more as musicians. Having released three studio albums and bouncing between genres of punk rock and pop, they took their time to figure themselves out and this has opened many doors towards success. With their latest single, "Pop 101" being one of the catchiest songs you could ever come across, fans can anticipate their new album and what it will bring to the table.

Ian Casselman is a quirky individual and you could say this because of his groovy curly hair. With the band's first album Fix Me recently turning eight years old, Ian was open about what made this album so special to him.

"I guess your first album is always kinda special. I think at the time, you think it's better than it is. It was a decent first start but I think the most special thing for me about the first album was just the memories in making it. For a first album, you have high aspirations for it and there is definitely more importance placed on it. So I think I mostly enjoyed the recording and mixing aspect of it all."

When it comes to being in a band, you go through all these kind of pressures from everyone to sound accessible to the public, especially when you want to achieve some radio play. It was interesting to see Marianas Trench switch from Fix Me's heavy pop punk days into just focusing on making entertaining and meaningful pop music.

"I think our first album, Fix Me, you know, we ran into not necessarily problems but a lot of the rock stations thought it was too poppy. It wasn't just too poppy but it was more melodic and it kind of created a hype between The Beach Boys and the Foo Fighters. A lot of radios thought that it sounded weird. I guess the hard part was we kind of changed the guitars for the melodies and the vocals in the music. And then the pop stations were like "I like the melody and the harmonies but it's too heavy". So we were kinda too pop for rock and too rock for pop. So we had to kind of choose one way to go so we decided to go the poppier route. If you listen to the songwriting, it's still similar. We've kind of turned down the guitars for a little bit and turned up the keyboard."

I mentioned to Ian if switching between genres increased their radio play and he agreed to this statement. It's a struggle in itself to get your foot into the music industry and when it comes to making music, there's a fine line between compromise and working with your passions and sometimes, you need to work with both to be successful.

"Our radio play got better and better. When we released Masterpiece Theatre, we definitely got more radio play than Fix Me, and then again with Ever After, there was more radio play than our previous two albums."

You could say that the band have been quiet in terms of making new music and touring, but with We Day being around the corner, it made me curious to what this charity brought to the band and what process it took for them to get the opportunity.

"It's a really good charity that a couple of brothers started up in Canada. It's called Me To We. They try to inspire youth and they try to get them to devote their time helping improve lives in impoverished countries and they've done a fantastic job. They're slowly starting to get into the States. I think they're hoping to go worldwide to help other countries. These guys are very good in terms of keeping their costs down. Most of the donations go towards people that need it and we're honoured to be a part of that.

"What they do is they go around all the big cities in Canada. They'll do one in Vancouver, one in Montreal, that sort of thing and they hire bands and then they try and find big artists to help promote the charity. I think this one is being hosted by Selena Gomez, and they're trying to look for someone that the younger generation can look up to. I really like Macklemore and he's playing alongside with us so I'm very stoked to meet him."

Being the drummer of the band, Ian spoke highly about his mother that started this passion for the drums. As a child, your parents naturally want what's best for you and with Ian's mother, she knew this from an early age.

"I guess I've got my mum to thank for that. When I was a kid, I guess drums are pretty easy for kids to get mesmerised by because you could see it, you know. When I was a kid, I guess someone's playing the trumpet, guitar, bass - you could hear it but you can't see what's necessarily going on. But drums are so visual. You can see when it hits the cymbals, you could see what it sounds like, you could hear what it sounds like. So we were at a wedding, believe it or not, and I was totally mesmerised by the drummer and my mum took me over to him afterwards because she could tell I was into it. He let me play his drums in between sets and stuff and I guess he saw something and he was like "Make sure you give that kid some lessons when he's older." And she [mother] never forgot that. She put me into drumming and you know, when you're a kid and get pressured into stuff I was like "I hate this, I want to quit" and she was like "No way" and she made me stick with it and I'm very lucky because if you're able to make your living playing music, then you're very fortunate and I've got my mum to thank for that one."

You could say that "Pop 101" is a parody song filled with interesting mockeries of tracks that are well-known today because of the radio. Although when you hear the track, it's very refreshing as it stands out a lot compared to other pop songs you’ve heard today. Ian had a lot to say about the process of recording and the making of the track.

"It was very hard to record and to mix because you could tell that all the sections sound different from one another. I think mostly you listen to the second verse when it goes from Black Eyed Peas to Imogen Heap to a bit of a hip-hop thing and a Mumford and Sons type of feel. To get all those sounds up and to do that, it's not easy. It's a bit tongue and cheek. You're having fun with it but also you're trying to do a service and justice by making it sound good. You know, the parts you don't want it to sound bad. It’s a bit of a satire itself in terms of how the song sounds but we're definitely trying to do it in a respectful way. It was time-consuming to capture the right sound."

With their new album nearing release, I asked Ian if the catchiness of "Pop 101" would be similar to the other tracks off the new record. Nothing beats a catchy song but he also gave me insights on the songwriting for it too.

"In terms of the catchiness, yes. In terms of the songwriting, I wouldn't say that the songs are not necessarily gonna be like that [Pop 101]. They're gonna be melodic and maybe a little less dancey. There's a couple of songs that are dancey but they're definitely not like that [Pop 101]. From song to song we just try and keep the listener engaged and not have them be bored. If all the songs sound good, then they can stand on their own and then you've got an album that people are going to listen to from top to bottom and not skip parts of it."

Looking back at their previous release, Ever After, it was an interesting concept album and I asked Ian if creating music was like making artwork. He struggled to answer this question but in the end, he came up with an answer that could be seen as advice for other bands aspiring to make a concept album.

"The way we write is usually melody first and the lyrics are last so I guess for a painter to have a vision in mind, I guess it depends what type of painter they are. There’s so many different types; there’s ones that paint on a particular landscape and there’s ones that try and paint a portrait like a Van Gogh type of thing. It’s similar to painting in a way if you have an idea and you run with it. If you have something distant in mind, it’s kind of similar to a painter where they see a landscape and see something. Sometimes when a painter starts on an artwork, it changes into something that they totally did not expect and that kind of happens with songs where you think you’re writing a song and the verse is no longer a verse - it’s a chorus. It definitely can change sometimes too depending on what you originally envisaged.”

Following on Ian’s answer about creating music, I then asked him on where the inspiration came from when it came to writing the lyrics to songs.

“Josh is the main lyricist for sure. One of the good things is that he tries to write from personal experiences and his own life. The lyrics are kind of autobiographical so I think that sometimes this makes it easy for people to identify with because he’s not really a fluffy type of writer. There’s usually meaning behind it, that’s more of his approach.”

With Queen being a huge influence on the band’s music, I asked Ian if at any point in their music careers that they would create a song as amazing as “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

“I’d love to say it’s something we could aspire to but I don’t know if it’s possible. That song was a true work of genius. Especially because it’s such an amazing song and it’s cool when you think of how they wrote it and then the record labels were like “Whoa whoa, this is way too long. You can’t put this on the radio - like you gotta cut it down and cut it in half. Like, what the hell is this?!” And you know, the Queen guys were like “You know what? F you” and they leaked it to the radio and then radio loved it. We definitely don’t have the club to do that sort of thing right now but maybe someday, but right now, songs gotta be short and sweet because most people have a short attention span. I don’t know if it’s possible for a song like that to come about again. You really gotta have a wingdinger to be able to release a seven minute song that’ll get played on radio.”

Other musical influences such as The Beach Boys and the Foo Fighters have influenced the band also but when it comes to Marianas Trench, they strive to be a band that brings unique music to listeners, new and old.

“To tell you the truth, we’d like to consider ourselves open-minded. I definitely think everything out there you listen to is for what you like and don’t like. You try and pay attention to what’s going on.”

I then asked Ian if he thought creating Pop music was a challenge seeing as there were many musicians and bands that already sound similar to one another. He mentioned that due to the success of Foster The People, a track under the pop genre had to be really good to stand out.

“It’s a challenge to fit in and to be different enough. It’s tough. You gotta hopefully write something that stands out so it can sit on its own but you want to have it to be accessible.”

With their upcoming NZ/Australian tour, Ian thrived on the idea of experiencing new culture and this formed an interesting perspective for the drummer.

“When you have a bit of culture change - it’s fun. It just changes your mentality so when you’re touring in a different country, you could tell that there’s a different vibe because everybody’s different. To me, it makes me feel more relaxed. You kinda enjoy a bit of different culture; what people like and don’t like - just different experiences I guess. It’s still very similar, it’s not like we’re stepping out into the jungle or anything. When we first went last time [to Australia], our Live Nation rep who took us around invited us to a semi-final game [football] and it was really cool to watch because I’ve never seen anything like it.”

As a band going through a genre change as well as being drawn back from a couple of label promotions, Marianas Trench had the privilege of signing with 604 records which is a Canadian record company owned by Chad Kroeger of Nickelback and attorney, Jonathan Simkin. With Ian’s advice and his emphasis that fame isn’t everything, bands that aspire to get signed should take notes because Marianas Trench would not have gotten anywhere without persistence.

“It takes lots and lots of hard work. Persistence. If you really want to do it, you can’t give up. You really have to focus on songwriting because nothing will replace a good song. You could have image this, image that but if you don’t have the music that comes along with it, it’s all for nothing. And if you have a great image but no music, sometimes you can be taken advantage of. You could have a manager or a writer and you end up signing something you shouldn’t have signed because you’re going after stardom and with that, you have to be careful. If you’re in it for stardom or to chase fame, that’s very much the wrong motivation in terms of experience in my opinion. You gotta do it because you love music and I would really focus on songs and the craft of it because if you have the right songs, they’ll take off for sure.”

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Don't miss Marianas Trench as they tour Australia and New Zealand through November:

TUNING FORK, AUCKLAND
THURSDAY OCTOBER 30 (ALL AGES)

CORNER HOTEL, MELBOURNE
SATURDAY NOVEMBER 1 (OVER 18s)

CORNER HOTEL, MELBOURNE
SUNDAY NOVEMBER 2 (ALL AGES)

THE ZOO, BRISBANE
TUESDAY NOVEMBER 4 (OVER 18s)

METRO THEATRE, SYDNEY
WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 5 (ALL AGES)

ASTOR THEATRE, PERTH
THURSDAY NOVEMBER 6 (ALL AGES)

Tickets are on sale now from the usual outlets.