Marianas Trench is bringing the biggest show it can fit into clubs and theaters this winter.
“What we’re doing is we’re trying to bring an arena show into a club setting,” singer-guitarist Josh Ramsay said in an early November phone interview. “So it’s super-theatrical, and it is still very larger than life.”
More than that, Ramsay hopes this tour is a sign of things to come with Marianas Trench. The band will perform Jan. 13 at Ace of Spades.
“I remember years ago, I saw Lady Gaga in Vancouver when she was doing club shows, or theater shows,” Ramsay said. “Like you watched her show, and you thought to yourself, the next time she’s here, she’s going to be in the arena. She’s ready to be in the arena because she’s already doing that (type of) show. I wanted people to have our version of that experience coming to our shows in America.”
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Don’t bet against the group making that kind of leap. In its home country of Canada, Marianas Trench, which also includes guitarist Matt Webb, bassist Mike Ayley and drummer Ian Casselman, is already a bona fide arena headliner and one of the most popular groups in that country, having reached that level with its 2011 album, “Ever After.”
“Our band has basically had a very organic exponential growth since its inception,” Ramsay said. “The first time we were touring Canada, it was like two people would come to the show. Then, next time we were in that city it was four people. And it just kind of went all the way up to arenas. And we graduated to the arena stage with ‘Ever After.’ ”
Ramsay’s enthusiasm for the future has to please fans of the band, who waited four years for the arrival of the follow-up to “Ever After,” the newly released album “Astoria.”
The long gap between albums was a product of upheaval in Ramsay’s life that slowed his progress in writing songs for “Astoria,” despite the fact that early on he had already settled on a concept and musical direction for the album built around 1980s adventure movies.
“I thought there could be a lot of elements that we could pull from with that, like both with dressing and the stage show and also some (1980s) sonic qualities, different sounds and stuff,” he said. “I thought we could figure out a way to have an all-encompassing world.”
By early 2013, the band had landed a major label deal with Cherrytree/Interscope, giving it worldwide promotional support. Ramsay was also engaged and anticipating a new stage in his personal life.
He had gained notoriety and acclaim – not to mention considerable royalties – for co-writing and producing the Carly Rae Jepsen hit “Call Me Maybe.” The smash single earned him a Grammy nomination for song of the year. But that achievement, while a source of pride, also created unwanted pressures.
“You feel a certain amount of expectation on your future work,” Ramsay said. “That can be a difficult hurdle.”
Making matters worse, Ramsay’s mother was stricken with Lewy body dementia, an illness that acts like a combination of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases – two incurable, gradually debilitating conditions.
Ramsay didn’t react well to his challenges. He fell into a serious case of writer’s block; his frustrations took a toll on his relationship with his fiancée, leading to their breakup.
Ramsay finally hit bottom in 2014, when he was hospitalized for problems with his gallbladder and pancreas. During that stay, he did some soul-searching and realized he couldn’t fix his broken engagement or heal his mother. But he could control his music. Recognizing that music gave his life purpose, Ramsay tossed aside the issues that had plagued him and broke through his writer’s block.
The music that emerged on “Astoria” makes good on the initial concept of an album that tips its hat to ’80s rock and pop, while evoking the feeling of that era’s action adventure movies. The album opens and closes with two tracks – “Astoria” and “End of an Era” – that work like mini-suites, shifting from one distinct segment to another, while the other songs are more concise and energetic.
Several songs cleverly quote ’80s bands; the album as a whole weaves ’80s beats and tones into its sonic approach. Happily, the songs only touch on their influences before taking on their own character and delivering hook after hook.
One thing that changed from the original vision for “Astoria” was the lyrics. Ramsay’s songwriting, naturally enough, couldn’t help but reflect the difficulties he’d experienced. But he thinks “Astoria” is better for the darker dimensions that pepper some of his lyrics.
“It’s got a lot more emotional depth and range than stuff that we’ve done in the past,” Ramsay said. “I feel like conceptually, the sort of journey through the record ends up being a really emotional one. There are a lot of big emotions in that. And that really works to me with the movie theme idea, too, because big emotions are very cinematic.”