Seattle’s award-winning Marsalis, who wear their hearts on sleeves, are basically already mainstream
An Interview by Glenn Smith
The group’s latest album, Where I Am, is poppier and more mainstream than I typically enjoy, so it’s interesting that – in a city so entrenched with garage rock and dance beats – people are responding to Marsalis’ intensely emotional and instantly accessible sound. This four member group is already garnering attention with their debut, showing potential right out of the gate.
I sent the band questions and they each got back to me, save the drummer. We’ve got Dennis Zender on vocals and guitar, Adam Bishop on bass, and Theresa Cadondon on keys.
NadaMucho: Your sound is very accessible. Very appealing. Not trying to be abrasive or weird. And the messages in the lyrics have a “heart-on-sleeve” quality. What inspired this specific approach? Why go so positive? Is it a response to some kind of negativity happening in your lives or the world?
Dennis Zender: I love transparency in the lyrical approach. I never want to fool people in regards to what the songs are about. I have always had a positive message because – you are correct – there is enough negativity in the world and obstacles always have some sort of way of obstructing us.
NM: What are some specific parts of the new Marsalis album you’d like to direct people to hear, and for whatever reason? What parts of it speak to you the most? What is something unique or cool another band member did during the recording?
DZ: The last chorus and ending of “Feel Something” got us excited. The first mix was missing something and we didn’t know what. However, after it was re-mixed, it exploded and really set up the next record rather well. Another moment that really hit was the bridge/solo of “Where I Am.” Simplicity and space is something we focus on, especially with the songwriting. That part was just so clean and simple, but really spoke to all of us.
Theresa Cadondon: There were a ton of “Ah-Ha moments” in the studio, but I have to agree with Dennis on “Feel Something.” When he first presented the idea, he played the chords of the intro. Adam painted the picture, as he always does, and told me to imagine playing in a huge arena. Dennis then mimicked the sound of two bass drum explosions at the intro. That is when I got pretty excited about the whole idea of the song. I knew it was going to have impact and I still get goosebumps playing this song.
NM: Goddamit you guys, now I have that line, “I know that you’ll catch meeee!” stuck in my head. Why did you do that to me?
Adam Bishop: Love it! It’s one of those lines that you raise your index finger or fist up in the air at the live show and shout out when you are digging the music in the audience. We see it all the time.
TC: You have to watch out for that! Dennis is great at finding hooks that stick. Great…now I have the “whooooa’s” playing in my head on repeat too.
NM: So, Wynton Marsalis. He’s the shit, right?
AB: I actually had the pleasure of meeting him when I was a part of the Duke Ellington Festival in New York with my High School Jazz band – super cool. The name Marsalis just sounds nice, doesn’t it?
NM: It sure does. Dennis, in your interview with Bass Musician Magazine, you said that when you’re writing, with and without the band, that you want something positive, that you can have conviction in. It’s got to be truthful, and genuine. And I’ve gotta say, your delivery shows that. I mean I listen to your music and I’m thinking, “if nothing else, this guy means it.” The emotional delivery is there, in my opinion. It’s super emotional. What made you want to crank it up to 11 like that?
DZ: Music is the vehicle I use to express my most natural instincts and emotions, regardless of topic. It’s where I can truly be free and myself. Recorded music is forever, so never leave anything to chance or incomplete. My buddy Adam has pushed me to be a better songwriter and performer when it comes to perfecting my craft. I have really appreciated that.
TC: We create feeling in our songs. We want our listeners to feel nostalgia and emotion, and we want to invoke good memories. That’s what it’s all about. If we can get you to randomly hum our melodies then we have done our job.
NM: Adam, why you gotta pluck your strings so hard?
Adam Bishop: You are referring to the Bass Musician Magazine video interview? It’s lame, I know. It’s something I have struggled with and put a lot of effort into. I’m doing much better. It’s all about going from stand-up bass to electric. It’s a completely different animal. I once had someone telling me they are totally the same – they are soooo wrong. Even one stand-up bass to the next is VASTLY different compared to one electric bass to the next.
NM: Theresa, when you gonna throw some old school Motown sound in the mix? You think these white men could handle that?
TC: HAHA! I might be able to squeeze a bit of Motown somewhere. We’ll have to wait and see! I must say, these “white men” are pretty soulful. One thing we have in common is that we like and appreciate all kinds of music genres. I think I was more of a surprise to the guys when they heard that I like rock, punk, and alternative. My guilty pleasure is Limp Bizkit.
NM: What’s some cool music y’all are listening to lately? Anything from Seattle catching your ears? See any cool shows lately? What’s inspiring you these days? Is anyone in a musical funk? It’s totally understandable.
TC: I’ve been really into three albums lately. These are the ones I’ve been playing on repeat lately. A Seat At The Table by Solange, I Like It When You Sleep, For You Are So Beautiful Yet So Unaware of it by The 1975 and Joanne by Lady Gaga. As for the Seattle Scene, check out Joyfield and Greet the Sea. Those bands have great big sounds and put on good performances. The last show I saw was Sia at the Key Arena she was amazing. I’m into funk. If you are too check out our buddies Down North. They’re a high energy Seattle Funk band, definitely not ones to miss!
NM: What was the first cassette tape you owned (bonus points if you bought it with your own $)? For me it was Megadeth’s Countdown to Extinction. Still love that shit. Although I prefer Peace Sells and Rust in Peace.
TC: What’s a cassette tape? Ha! I believe I owned two Michael Jackson Thriller tapes, but my parents bought them for me when I was a toddler. I do remember the first CD I bought, which was Brandy’s first album, self-titled.
AB: I want to say it was Randy Travis. Either that or Sir Mix-a-lot.
DZ: I bought NWA Straight Outta Compton and my parents threw it out after hearing it, then I bought another copy. My favorite cassette was Nirvana’s Nevermind. It changed everything for me.
NM: Does anyone in the band worship Metallica?
AB: You know, I give them tons of respect for what they do – they really rock, but I wasn’t really a big fan. I did however like the live album they did with the San Francisco Symphony… now that was SUPER COOL.
TC: I don’t dislike Metallica, but I can’t say I own any of their music.
NM: Does anyone in the band worship any of the 13 arcane dark lords?
TC: I’m not familiar of what they are, but I’ll google them and get back to you! HAHA!
NM: What kind of approach are you taking on the new album? Anything different from your previous release? How’s the recording going? What phase are you in? Who’s producing, and where are you recording it?
DZ: The new record really finishes the whole picture for us. The first EP is more relaxed and the second EP wakes up a bit. The music has more energy, but we still focus on good melodies and hooks.
TC: You’ll definitely hear a more progressive sound in our upcoming EP. This time we’re working with our producer Evan Morgan from beginning to end. He’s a genius and has been a great help in tying our ideas together as a band. He’s involved in the song creations as well as the lyrics. Evan was an essential part of our last EP and we’re happy to work with him again. Right now we are finishing our demos and will start recording drums!
AB: We are laying down scratch tracks at this point… just to give us an idea of what things will sound like before we commit to laying tracks down. The “scratch” track is basically something you are highly confident you will be getting rid of later – but gives you a quick, rough idea of what things will sound like. With this album we are bringing a bit more energy, but trying to balance that with what people love about our 2016 album… a bridge of sorts to what’s to come down the road. A little old and a little new.