Marianas Trench are one of the world’s most innovative and creative music acts. The band was formed in 1999 by lead vocalist and songwriter, Josh Ramsay as Ramsay Fiction, before reforming as Marianas Trench – named after the deepest, coldest, darkest spot in the ocean – when guitarist Matt Webb, drummer Ian Casselman and bassist Mike Ayley completed its current line-up.
Their creative genius dates back to their 2002 self-titled EP, which was later re-released with four additional songs as their 2006 debut album, Fix Me. The album generally received positive reviews and earned them a nomination for ‘Best New Group’ at the 2008 Canadian Radio Music Awards.
2009’s Masterpiece Theatre followed, debuting at #4 on the Canadian Albums Chart. The album contains more theatrical elements and accents of piano, strings, and harmonies, while still retaining the punk rock influence of its predecessor.
Ever After, released in 2011, is a concept album. In addition to the fact that there is no pause between the tracks, Ever After also has a storyline told through the songs as well as its booklet. The story tells of a fictionalised Josh Ramsay and his adventures in the fantasy kingdom of Toyland.
Similar to their previous two albums, 2015’s Astoria is also a concept album, with transition tracks bridging the individual songs. The album peaked at #56 on the ARIA Australian Albums chart and is inspired by 1980s fantasy and adventure films, like The Goonies (1985) in particular.
Their last studio album, Phantoms (2019) saw another new style for the band, going for a more haunted and ghostly-like sound as opposed to the more fantastical sound on their previous work.
The Canadian foursome is currently working on their sixth and most ambitious studio album yet. The theme, frontman Josh Ramsay is keeping close to his chest.
Ramsay says, “I can’t give you the theme, but I will say it’s a real exercise in storytelling for me. Considering what the theme is, I think it’s going to be the most narrative album we’ve done, like more narrative than Ever After was. I’m hoping to have a very cohesive storytelling adventure.”
He adds, “There’s definitely going to be some character work to it. Once you hear what the theme is, there has to be, but the songs are always going to still be personal to me. What I’m trying to do with this one, this is the first time I’m making sure that every song sort of has a double meaning, because there’ll be what it means to me personally and then what it could mean to the story that we’re telling. So, all the lyrics, like, can be interpreted sort of two ways.”
At the time of the interview, Marianas Trench have completed one full song and Ramsay is currently working on another five – including the album’s complex opening number.
“I have started working on the opening number, which is usually like a big number. I’m pretty early in the whole album process to already be working on the opening number, but I was just ready.”
You’d be mistaken to believe that Ramsay makes all the decisions for the band. While he is the main songwriter for Marianas Trench, all members are equally involved in the album’s creation.
“It’s actually a really important job that those guys do for me. My problem has never been not having enough ideas, if anything, my problem is having too many ideas. So, a lot of times the guys will help keep me focused,” he says. “We also have no ego with each other. So, if I come up with a song idea, that’s not very good, they’ll be honest.
“While we were working on the Phantoms record, I sent Matt a song and was like, ‘Hey, man, what do you think of this?’ He didn’t say anything other than ‘five out of 10’. But I wasn’t hurt at all about it. And he was right. I ended up like repurposing that song – it was an up-tempo song that ended up turning into a ballot, so I had been way off,” he laughs.
He admits his debut solo album, The Josh Ramsay Show, which he created throughout the COVID19 pandemic, has helped guide the band’s forthcoming release in unexpected ways.
“Normally, when we get off the Marianas Trench touring cycle, and we start to work on a new album, I’m super out of shape, creatively speaking, because I haven’t been writing songs. I’ve just been touring songs, and it’s, like, a different part of my brain. So, usually on an album, the first couple of songs come really slowly and I’m searching for inspiration and themes.
“In this case, I had finished doing this whole giant solo album thing and just went right into working on the Marianas Trench record. So, rather than feel out of shape – and I don’t mean this to sound arrogant – from a musical perspective, I feel like the most in shape I’ve ever been in my life right now. I’m really focused in on what I want to do and where we want to go with it. The guys are all on board with the idea. I feel like I didn’t have to shake off any dust, you know, I’m just like, still going.
“One big takeaway for me from doing a record like that, where, you know, every song was a different genre, more or less, I think that sort of carefree spirit of like, ‘Who gives a fuck what genre this is, let’s just focus on good songs,’ there’s a bit of a spirit that I want to bring back to the new Marianas record. Like not really caring so much about radio formats anymore.
“I think if you only write songs for other people’s expectations, you’re probably never going to please them anyway. Honestly, I just follow my instincts and trust the instincts of the people around me. And so far, that has yielded good results. I think we’re very fortunate that, after this many years into our career, that this many people are listening to us now. I feel incredibly grateful.”
The 18-track album, released in April 2022, saw Ramsay team with other Canadian artists like Dallas Smith, Chad Kroeger, DJ Sharkpocalypse, Fefe Dobson, Fionn and more from across the musical spectrum. The album is a love letter to music as a whole, never sticking to the same genre twice – covering grunge, soul, country, jazz, hard rock, EDM, swing, cinematic instrumentals and more.
“The biggest challenge was figuring out what the order the songs should go in. Because it’s like, it’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere. So, how each song would flow, that was quite a big challenge.”
He continues, “There’s always so much learning when you’re writing an album. And, I think, on the solo record, there was even more so for me because that was working in a lot of genres that I hadn’t worked in before that required more preparation and investigation into different genres and production tricks. Those are all things I can bring back to Marianas Trench now.”
Two artists who Ramsay approached for his debut album were Sting and Bryan Adams. Both were unavailable due to working on their own solo albums at the time, so Ramsay ended up singing the song he first envisioned as a duet with Sting alone and repurposed the Adams song, Can’t Give It Up, as a collaboration with singer and actor Tyler Shaw.
“Hearing Tyler’s voice on that song was a lovely surprise, because I’d always been picturing a different voice. Hearing his amazing rendition and a totally different singer’s interpretation was very exciting,” Ramsay concedes. “I had written another song to send to Tyler, which I didn’t think was good enough, so I hadn’t sent one to him. Last minute I was like, ‘Hey, Tyler, you want to check this one out? Like I wrote this other song that I wasn’t happy with, but I, you know, never sent it to you, but I would love for us to work together. Would you be interested in doing this?’”
Ramsay toured the album across Canada in May and June with special guests Shaw and DJ George Thoms. He says more solo dates are planned, including possible shows in Australia.
“I can’t say for sure,” he admits. “But yes, there are talks about that.”
Ramsay has previously worked with artists like 5 Seconds Of Summer, Simple Plan, Emily Osment, Nickelback, Faber Drive, Danny Fernandes, Belly and Carly Rae Jepsen as either a producer or songwriter. He also co-wrote Jepsen’s worldwide smash hit, Call Me Maybe, which earned him a prestigious ‘Song of the Year’ Grammy nomination in 2013.
A regular staple in Mariana Trench’s songs are the hidden references to other albums, songs, popular culture, and general ‘trencher’-related fandom. Ramsay says there will be references to The Josh Ramsay Show in the new Marianas Trench record.
He says, “I really like the idea that at the end of my career, I want all of the albums to tie together at least a little bit. My biggest fear in life is one day, what if there’s no ideas? That’s actually for real my biggest fear! It hasn’t happened yet, knock on wood.”
Prior to their recent run of shows in Australia this month, Marianas Trench last toured Australia in 2014 with their That’s Not A Knife Tour taking them to Brisbane, Sydney, Perth and two shows in Melbourne. It was their second only Australian tour following 2012’s Face The Music headline tour in Newcastle, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney.
Ramsay says, “Whenever we go to a country for the first time, it’s always very exciting. We’ve only ever been officially marketed in one country, which is Canada, and yet somehow, when we go to other countries people just seem to show up, which we’re very grateful for. The first time we came to Australia, it was really just a test to see if people would come or wouldn’t come. They did, thankfully, and we’ve done our best to be able to come back ever since.”
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