We chatted with frontman James Newbigging about Ursa Major, the process of putting it together, and why 2020 was the perfect time for the band to release it, despite the current global situation.
After six years, and what seems like an eternity of acclaimed EPs and singles, August 14th 2020 will finally see the release of Leeds indie outfit Marsicans‘ debut full length album Ursa Major. Marsicans are an act that have been biding their time, building a following and developing their sound before releasing that perception-molding debut album, aligning the stars for its emergence over six years of hard work and plugging away. While many other acts would have been tempted and anxious to get this milestone crossed soon as possible, Marsicans have taken a more measured and considered approach.
“I think that we’ve always just felt that some bands and our peers early on rushed albums out.” Marsicans enthusiastic and lively frontman James Newbigging states, sipping from a cup of tea. “We’ve always said that you only get one debut album and we wanted it to reach the max amount of people that it can. We just felt that this is the time now, we’ve worked out who we are as a band, we’ve worked out where we want to go sound-wise, we were just so ready. I can’t really explain it, we just know that now is the time.”
There have however, been more straight-forward times to send your first album out into the world. As the global pandemic continues, gigs are currently either being frantically cancelled, rescheduled or having to go ahead under compromised and less than ideal conditions. This has, of course, had a huge effect on the wider music world and provided unique challenges, but it has also brought with it a lot of extra time for reflection and thought.
“The album actually was supposed to be out in May, we delayed that it really hoping that we would be able to do some shows in August.” James admits. “At the time, nobody really knew how all this was going to pan out, how long this was going to last and how fucked we were all going to be. It has given us time though, to just sit with it and work out where we’re at personally and almost just help us prepare for the release. The album got delayed but I think that it was the right decision now, we have had a bit of a more of a measured run in. Early May was quite early on in lockdown so it would have been a proper head scramble.”
So while 2020 may not be the ideal time in a global sense to make this step, Marsicans are at a point now where they feel they are at the peak of their powers. They have come along way in the last six years and this is reflected in the work that they have been producing in more recent times. Marsicans are a bit more weathered and cynical, but are still, at their core, the same youthful lads from Leeds who love creating and making music. The band are more tuned in to who and what they are than ever, and these factors have collided to provide what the band see as the ideal time to release album number one.
“I don’t want to use the phrase “growing up” because that’s a bit obvious, but I think that if you listen to our early music, lyrically it’s probably a bit more optimistic. We’re at the stage now where we’re all going through that thing in our 20s where everyone is just fucking lost and you just feel a bit like you’re trying to find your place in the world almost. I think that that has probably crept in a bit on the album, just general anxieties of life.” James reflects.
“We always say that nobody really knows what they’re doing and everyone is just pretending in life. It’s almost about that, and just trying to come to terms with yourself. How we deal with things now is so much different to when I was a kid, you’d just kind of think “ah fuck it, whatever”. Between me and Rob who mainly write the lyrics, there’s definitely a shared sense of that kind of anxiety and trying to find your place and just work working out what’s going on around you.”
While Marsicans have often been characterised by their fun and uplifting brand of indie rock, there is this sense of anxiety that has crept into the sound which attests to the nuance and the extra emphasis that has been placed on the depth and more grounded nature that Marsicans have adopted as time has gone on. The band are as diverse and ambitious as they have ever been on Ursa Major, and a glance at the singles that have been released ahead of time reveals that. From the emotionally rich and rewarding journey of ‘Someone Else’s Touch’ to colourfully exuberant cuts like ‘Sunday’ and ‘Summery in Angus’, this has the feel of a band that know their sound inside and out, and know exactly how and where to push and pull the conventions of it, maintaining a fresh and vital feel. This has provided Marsicans the scope to take chances on their debut, with freedom and confidence in any left turns or risks that they take.
“There’s also a certain song called ‘Blood In My Eye’ which I don’t know if we would have ever recorded on an EP.” James says. “We had the music which is basically just phrase that pretty much loops for the whole song, we wanted to be this almost dream state where you just put it on and zone out. Me and Rob without realising both went away and wrote lyrics to it and we just thought right, The Beatles did it, we’ll try it, and just smashed the two together and it’s something that which we might not have done. If we were chasing for a single, it wouldn’t have been something we did. We knew that we had this ability to almost draw people in a bit more. Everything doesn’t have to be a hook or whatever; we experimented a lot with more sounds and textures on those kinds of songs.”
“There are also definitely lyrical themes which run throughout the album which capture that feeling of being a bit lost in yourself but we’ve also always liked to self-reference so within certain songs a lyric or phrase might be there that’s in a different song. Even back in the ‘Swimming’ days we tried to just put little subtle links that I don’t think anyone’s even really picked up on before. For us it just kind of ties it all together into a bigger thing and we will aim for the same thing with our artwork to build on what we’ve done so far.”
Another way that the band have scaled things up for the album is within its recording. Having recorded pretty much all of their previous work in the basement of a house in Leeds, the band relocated to Rockfield Studios in Wales, an experience that rallied the outfit to provide some of the best and most satisfying work to date, and provide some brand new experiences.
“We knew that we wanted to do the whole experience of living the album because one thing we’ve never done is just be where we’re recording.” James remembers. ”It was the first time we’ve not kind of gone home at the end of the night, so it was really nice to just literally live and breathe the recording of the music and be together at the same time. When we’re at home we all go off to our individual homes and suddenly you’re back taking the bins out or whatever, you kind of lose that feeling and slip back to normality.”
“When recording the album, we were just living for nine or ten days on the farm, we didn’t leave the farm once. We all lived together, having a few drinks on a night, chatting about what we’ve done what we wanted to try in the morning. Just constantly being in that head-space was just such a good experience”
“I think we already recorded some bits of the album in the basement but it was such an atmosphere at the studio which that we just re-recorded them.” James continues “I don’t know if it was just the Welsh air but me and Rob felt like we were singing better than just I think being aware of where we were like in such a infamous studio, I didn’t feel any pressure but it was almost like a privilege to be there singing, so I was like “right, bring your fucking A game.””
The album would have, in a perfect world, been complimented by a relentless touring schedule that saw Marsicans be able to take their first full body of work and perform it, promoting it to crowds up and down the country, reconnecting with their fans and turning the heads of others with their renowned, energetic live shows.
As mentioned earlier, Ursa Major was postponed in hopes that it could arrive alongside a tour in August. The band have since announced tour dates for April next year that you can find here and are itching to get back out in front of audiences when they can.
“Hopefully people coming to see Marsicans will forget about all the shit that’s going on around them. That’s what gigs are for. I don’t have anything against these socially distanced gigs, maybe our gigs in April will have to be socially distanced, I have no idea, but gigs are about the atmosphere to me, they’re not about the band on stage, it’s about the band and the fans together.” He concludes. “It’s about what that creates rather than just music. You can play music into an empty room and it’ll have a shit atmosphere. I hope we will provide enjoyment for people and help them forget about shit going on in their lives.”
Ursa Major looks set to become a landmark moment for a band that have spent countless years evolving, growing and working incredibly hard to put themselves in the best possible position to succeed. Marsicans have been bubbling for some time now, and this looks like the catalyst for an future that doesn’t have any kind of glass ceiling. Eventually things will go back to normal and James and the band will be able to get back in front of people doing what they love to do, but until then, we have the bands strongest collection of tracks yet to accompany us.
Ursa Major is available from August 14th via Killing Moon Records.