INTERVIEW: Marian Hill

If you ask us who’s underrated as fuck these days we will 100% say Marian Hill. Ever since the duo of Samantha Gongol and Jeremy Lloyd have produced electronic-pop that bends the norm, keeping things inventive as they run rings around their peers. After their debut album Act One it’s been an Apple ad that’s shot them to fame in the US, so it’s only a matter of time before the same quite rightfully happens over here too. After tracking them for a fair few years, we finally catch up with a twosome whose future seems brighter than ever…

Hiya Samantha and Jeremy. Where are you right now and what are you upto?
J: Writing to you from our green room in Boston, about to play our third show of the Down Tour. Just had an incredible breakfast sandwich and watched the most recent episode of American Gods which was crazy good. Going to work on a new remix after this if I have
the time!

S: Writing on two hours of sleep, currently in the van and en route to D.C. from Boston. Everyone else is sleeping but I can’t seem to settle in.

We have to be a bit self-aggrandising here and say we’ve been fans and covered you from day one. But how do you think you guys (and your sound) have changed since then?
J: Well first off want to take this moment to thank you guys for that support – we were so fortunate to have a lot of support from you and other blogs like you who took a chance on an unknown artist and gave us the confidence and the platform to really dig into
making music that we love. That was an incredible opportunity and we truly would not be where we are right now without you all.

I see the evolution of our sound in two distinct phases. When we first came out, and this encompasses pretty much everything up to the Sway EP, we were writing to figure out what our sound was. We knew Whisky was something special and unique, and it was the
best beat I’d ever made by a MASSIVE margin, so we had to figure out how to follow that up, and what the rest of the music made by the band that made Whisky sounded like. But then we reached a point where we were trying so hard to write songs that sounded like us that we started writing ourselves into a box and found that new songs were sounding like not-as-good versions of songs we’d already written. And fortunately at that moment we’d also been writing together so much and learned so much that when we stopped trying to write into that Marian Hill box and just started writing stuff that we both loved and responded to and got excited making, it sounded like Marian Hill because it was coming from us. And that was the process up to ACT ONE – seeing all the places our
sound could go and really pushing ourselves to make every song sound different from the next, and be its own unique world.

S: Unearthing the character of Marian Hill that largely defined both the Play and Sway EP was really fun. She is this dominant, fierce, confident woman who can wrap anyone and any situation around her finger. While that was a joy to develop, personally it was often challenging to perform and live up to certain expectations, and it became increasingly difficult to write for (as Jeremy mentioned).

I think with time, and in writing Act One, we allowed a little bit more of ourselves and our experiences to creep into the lyrics. Between Whisky and Act One we found love, lost it, (Jeremy found it again!) and toured all over the country. We felt what it was like to have buzz and also lose it, we played to 20 people and played to thousands. The more we performed, the more we experienced, and the more I feel like I tapped into the boldness of Marian Hill. I literally invoked WWMHD (what would Marian hill do) in a situation and I’m much better for it! I actually felt totally empowered and emboldened, and told myself I need to call on her more often! Deep was probably the start of it, but (and I’ll speak for myself here) I think we found it increasingly difficult to leave our experiences out of the Marian Hill narrative. They’re still not autobiographies, but influenced. We’re not defined by songs like I know why and same thing, but they certainly became necessary textures. So, we wrote them in on Act One.

It’s been out a while but we’d still like to talk about Act One (which we loved, obvs). What was the best and worst thing you’ve heard about it?
J: The best thing is hard to single out, but it’s all the tweets I’ve seen of people who said they love it front to back, they love spending time with it. We really made it with that in mind, and I in particular am an album person who loves to really spend time with a great album and go on a journey with an artist – so to know people got that experience from an album we made was really special for me. The worst thing was when I saw someone online somewhere saying that they thought every song on it sounded the same – which honestly baffled me. Because each song exists in such a different world and has such a distinct sound and…well I guess to each their own!

S: I do hear why people think that all of our songs sound the same though. We have a very distinct sound with lots of snaps! To say that they all sound the same though is a little unimaginative. Down, I Know Why, Same Thing, and Deep sound very different and are very different thematically from got it, lips and whisky for example.

Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently? Or anything you’ve learned that you’re taking forward to the next body of work?
J: I try not to think about going back in time and changing things and instead focus on your second question, what’s next. And I think for us ACT ONE was such a thesis statement, and very much a debut album this-is-what-we-can-do record, so I’m excited about finding a specific focus for the next project, whatever it may be, and really leaning into making something cohesive and exciting that doesn’t have the burden of needing to define us to the world.

Speaking of which: what’s in store for us? Another EP, an LP, neither of the above?
J: Figuring it out! We’ve been writing a lot and have a bunch of new songs kicking around (we’re playing two new ones on this tour!) but haven’t figured out what form the release will take yet. It’s really an open climate out there and you can really do anything so we’re trying to figure out what release format best fits what we’re writing… We hope to start rolling something out sooner than later.

How does it work with you guys in studio? As there’s just two of you, how do you solve any creative differences?
J: We have an old rule now that we call the Lovit Rule where if both of us don’t love something, it’s out. Sometimes it still gets tricky because one of us (often me!) wants to believe that we can still convince the other person that the idea is good enough, but ultimately if we’re both really excited about something, we keep at it, and if one of us isn’t feeling it, we’ll table it and move on to the next. I’m a big believer in needing to feel super excited about what you’re doing or why are you doing it?

S: Oh, the Lovit Rule. I’m pretty sure that predates Act One – where basically we weren’t quite comfortable enough yet to really can something and hurt the others’ feelings (it really can be frustrating when you’re excited about something and the other person is like, “nah”!) – and we spent an entire day making this song only for me at the end to say “sorry, I’m just not into it.” I can still see the fire in his eyes! Rightfully so. But when you write with someone else, compromise must be had. Sometimes Jeremy won’t be feeling a lyric or melody I propose and vice versa. But if the other person really vibes with it (let’s say melody for example) we’ll say ok, keep it this way for the first verse, but then do what I (myself or Jeremy) want in the second verse.

“I’ve always thought that if only everyone could hear our music, the majority of them would like it… This commercial was like the BEST asset we could have ever asked for”

Obviously we’ve got to talk about Down and the Apple ad. How did that come about, and what sort of doors has it opened (besides the #1 of course!)?
J: It has just been so, so validating. I’ve always thought that if only everyone could hear our music, the majority of them would like it, but it just needed to get in front of people – and this commercial was like the BEST asset we could have ever asked for. It’s so in tune with our aesthetic, and it felt so good to see people loving it and Shazaming it and hearing it on pop radio around the world…it’s a dream come true, and for it to happen with a song like Down which feels so very us – we’ve got a lot to be thankful for this year.

S: It has certainly allowed us to be heard on pop radio which, as Jeremy said, is so insane that down of all songs, with its slinky little piano verses was the one to make it. We’ve gotten to meet new artists and producers and executives, and we’ve gotten to perform on Italian late night TV, and Jools Holland in the UK. It’s amazing what a massive Apple campaign and one song can do.

What do you say to those people who think aligning yourself to a big company is akin to ‘selling out’?
J: Thankfully I haven’t run into many of those people because these days I think a lot of people get it. But the fact is the way the music industry is now, with the paradigms constantly shifting and more music available to the average consumer than ever before,
I think you’ve gotta take every opportunity you can get to stand out from the pack (and to make money to support yourself and keep making music because the money also isn’t what it used to be) – I’m excited when artists I love get placements and hopefully
people were excited when they saw us get ours.

S: We actually haven’t heard too much dissent in that regard, or the haters have blissfully kept to themselves! But now honestly placements are coveted by almost everyone. Artists need them to pay the bills, and for increased exposure. I also get really excited when I hear a song I know from a band I love on TV.

We’ve been really lucky that our music has been used in many different outlets, and for wildly different things. We’ve soundtracked everything from sex scenes to tacos, often with the same song, and I love that, I love the versatility. Also in regards to the Apple campaign, that commercial was stunning, and we were genuinely so honored and excited to partner with Apple. Their commercials are iconic, and they continue to innovate and change our culture, and our world.

Happier topics now! How’s the post-album tour, and what should people expect from a Marian Hill show?
J: After all that happened it feels like a victory lap in a really great way – we’re super comfortable playing the songs from the album and we’ve mixed in a lot of the older songs into the set too as well as a couple new songs we’re premiering so it’s a little bit of everything. And the production is more involved than anything we’ve done before, we’re really theatricalizing the set in a way we haven’t before…although I should add the caveat that I’m not sure we’ll be able to bring all that theatricality to Europe on our budget!

Who are you guys listening to at the moment?
J: I am super super into the new Cashmere Cat album and that has been my main headphone companion since it came out. The new Kendrick is also amazing and my favourite record from him so far, the Sinjin Hawke album is super fascinating and ear-opening, and I’ve been loving the newest Golden Vessel song.

S: Kendrick. And deep jazz cuts with weird time signatures, thanks to Steve Davit. He’s trying to teach me how to discern songs in 5, 7, 9 and 10 and god knows what else. It’s really hard!

Finally, the question we ask everyone: favourite Beyonce song?
J: I think it’s Partition for me. I love love love the beat. Pray You Catch Me is a close runner up – love her performance on that one and the production and writing (shoutout Kevin Garrett).

S: How do you pick one?! I loved Diva when it came out, felt super fresh. Single Ladies is a classic and will forever be a fave, while Partition is my current jam. I love the new Beyonce. She does very little if any wrong. Lemonade as a whole is a masterpiece.

OK just a moment to reflect on Beyonce now that you got me started. You know what I love about her? In today’s music industry, she stands in a league completely her own. She is a performer, and she just about outperforms everyone. She is a throwback to the glamorous diva, and yet she innovates, both with her aesthetic and her sound. She is a triple threat, and exudes humility and grace. After a 20 year career she is better than ever. As another legend by the name of Nina Simone said, “an artist’s duty, as far as im concerned, is to reflect the times.” And she’s doing that, with stunning visuals, raw heartache and poetry. What more could you want from an artist honestly? There are many artists that I love, respect and admire for different reasons. But few are as deserving of “Queen” as Beyonce. She earned it, and continues to remind us how lucky we are to have her.

Act One by Marian Hill is out now and can be streamed here.

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INTERVIEW: Marian Hill
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