Photo & Copyright Thanira Rates
Every now and then a band comes in to view that sets the ear and imagination racing with sounds that inspire and intrigue whilst treating the senses to a deeply felt pleasuring. The Mariana Hollow is such a band, their sound a feisty distinct and unpredictable feast of alternative metal and vibrant rock that makes each song an experience and journey to immerse fully within as their excellent new album Velvet Black Sky more than impressively proves. Needing to know more about the band and release we had the pleasure of having three members of The Mariana Hollow sit down and answer our questions, the trio offering more insight into one of the most intriguing and rapidly rising bands in the UK.
Hi and many thanks for talking to us here at The RingMaster Review.
Well thanks for the interview (and for your interest in The Mariana Hollow!!)
Firstly would you please introduce the members of The Mariana Hollow?
Rebecca Spinks (Spinky) – vocals
Danny Russell – Lead Guitar
Richie Walden – Rhythm Guitar and backing vocals
Scott Chesworth – Bass
Adam Stanley – Drums and backing vocals
For this interview, you’ve got Spinky, Richie and Scott (the other two were busy hunting zombies).
When and how did the band begin?
Richie: I guess TMH really began when Danny joined my previous band ‘Paperplane’ as our lead guitarist. I’d written all the music for the band by myself up to that point, but as soon as we sat down to write together, something really clicked and we pretty much wrote the whole of Coma Heart sat in his bedroom in Brixton. The other guys in Paperplane weren’t really into the direction we were taking and decided that they would move on – at which point we started looking on the internet for more musicians! We managed to dodge the usual internet collection of total nutjobs and ended up with Adam and then Scott. We spent a few months getting the songs down tight and then from out of nowhere Spinky turned up to blow us all away!
I believe finding the right vocalist for the band which eventually was Rebecca was not easy?
Richie: It was a long and….definitely interesting search. Between TMH and Paperplane I probably auditioned 60/70 singers. It was very demoralizing at times, from people who were just excruciatingly bad to singers that were good, but just didn’t really blow us away. I think the honest truth is that we were looking for Spinky the whole time. I saw her ad on a website and she’d listed Human Waste Project (who I’d always quite liked) amongst her influences, so I immediately sent her a message. She sent us a demo and we were floored by what she could do musically and how incredible her lyrics were. I remember her sending over demos of ‘Enemy Lines’, ‘Come Undone’ and ‘Fires Go Out’ and the rest of us just hearing that she was exactly right for us, then we met her face to face and she was just the nicest, most humble person you could meet – despite the fact she looks pretty angry onstage!
The band name has a great gothic ring to it, was it a name you deliberated on or like many of the best names just jumped out on its own by chance?
Spinky: It took a long time to come up with the right name for the band, and we discussed many many options before deciding upon ‘the one’! We had quite a few brainstorming sessions, putting together various words that we felt suited us, but nothing was quite right. We had considered a ‘sea theme’ for the name from early on in the process, as we’d been told by some that our music reminded them of the ocean! I believe it was Richie who read an article on the ‘Mariana Trench’ (the deepest point of the ocean, near Japan) and then suggested ‘Mariana Hollow’ as it captured the vibe of the band. Danny suggested adding a ‘the’, and we pretty much unanimously agreed on it there and then. It just felt right!
Your music is a very flavoursome melodic metal with many elements that makes it wonderfully hard to pin down. How do you describe it to others?
Spinky: I usually describe it as alternative metal/rock, with a progressive edge! People often say, “Which other bands do you sound like?” and I find that particularly hard to answer! I just say that we’re a melodic band, who likes to write “songs” as opposed to making things as heavy as possible!
Scott: I often find words are ineffectual for describing music. Most people switch off by the time I’m 5 sub-genres deep and floundering around for a graceful way to stop talking. Perhaps I just don’t know enough words yet. I try to play a bit of a tune for them instead.
I noticed individually you all have very varied and diverse influence sand favourite bands to each other, do you think this is where the distinctive sound of your music mostly comes from?
Spinky: Definitely. I personally think it’s really important to all bring different influences to the table, as it keeps things fresh and exciting. It may not mean that we fit into any genre, and perhaps we may close opportunities to ourselves by not “fitting in”, but at least we’re happy doing what feels right and making music that really comes from the heart.
How do you write your songs, what is the process within the whole band?
Richie: I tend to write a lot of the initial riffs, then Danny and I sit down and cherry pick the best bits to knock into shape as songs. We get a structure down and send it out to the guys so we have something to work with – then it usually all changes when we jam it in rehearsal! Spinky tends to listen very carefully for a while whilst we’re hammering it out and then just come out with something completely unpredictable but amazing!
You have just released your second album Velvet Black Sky; emotions must be flying right now?
Spinky: Yes, it’s fantastic to have the album finally out there for people to hear, after such a long process of writing, recording and ‘perfecting’!! It’s been brilliant to get positive responses to the album, to know which songs are people’s favourites and to hear reviews – which have thankfully been fairly good on the whole!
What can people find on the album and how has the band and sound evolved from your 2009 debut Coma Heart to this?
Spinky: I think we’ve come quite a long way from Coma Heart, though obviously we’ve still a lot to learn. The band sound has evolved organically as we have got more comfortable as a 5-piece; both as musicians and friends. We’ve become braver, I think, in suggesting ideas and musically we’ve challenged ourselves further with Velvet Black Sky. We’re all excited to continue to write new music – and to hopefully keep improving with each album!
Did you learn anything from recording your debut that has had an impact this time around?
Scott: We recorded both albums in-house (our Danny assumes the production hot seat), and I’m a pedantic geek who probably drives him to distraction. We’re always learning how to get the best sound we can from the gear we’ve got and our meager budget, that won’t stop until the budget grows enough for us to hire in someone to shout at. As a consequence, by the time we sent ‘Velvet Black Sky’ over to Brett Caldas-Lima for him to start mixing, our vision for each song was pretty clear, and the recordings he worked from were in much better shape than what Chris Sheldon received when he mixed ‘Coma Heart’. Plus, by the time we started tracking VBS, we’d made a ton of subtle changes to the songs we were still playing off of CH at shows, so we came in to record with a better understanding of what we needed to bring to the table individually for the songs to work on the record as well as they do live this time around.
The new album seems to have a darker and more intense feel, is that fair to say?
Spinky: Yes, that’s definitely what we feel about it. There are a number of songs on VBS that are far heavier, and indeed longer, than those on Coma Heart and the lyrics mirror this also.
Scott: Danny dreamt up some awesome “guitar soundscape” ideas and big washy guitar atmospherics on this one – they do a lot to contribute to that darker sound you mentioned.
Where has this new or more defined tone to your music come from?
Spinky: I think the mood behind VBS reflected our general unrest and uncertainty with the state of the world, and also some fairly substantial life changes and struggles for various members of the band.
Scott: Ha, yeah, there’s nothing quite like your life being utterly shit to conjure up the vibe. Can’t wait to record Album III…
What influences your music lyrically?
Spinky: I generally write about negative experiences, which I think would be true of a lot of vocalists in this field. The lyrics on VBS centered on issues that I have been affected by emotionally in recent years, such as natural disasters, social and political unrest. The main theme of the album is my personal reflection on what has passed, and my frustration that we never seem to learn from our mistakes.
The lead single off the album is Your Halo, an emotive yet catchy song, what was its inspiration?
Spinky: The lyrics are inspired by when a friendship deteriorates into something sour, which I think is something everyone can relate to! It deals with the emotions that are felt when someone you thought you knew turns out to be something completely different, when all the trust you had in that person is lost as you realise they merely were hiding their true intentions. It’s about a Jekyll and Hyde character; when the person that everybody sees on the outside is not the real them.
Tell us about the excellent video that accompanies it?
Richie: Thank you! It was our first proper shot at a video (although there is also a video for our song ‘Come Undone’ using live footage) and we were really lucky with the location as Danny had access to a massive old pig barn in the middle of the countryside. We shot it over the course of an afternoon and night and finished up at 3am, totally exhausted and pushing the director’s car up a hill after it broke down – turns out that being in the middle of the countryside is slightly more problematic when you have no phone signal and a broken car! I remember how nervous we all were before we saw the first cut and then being like excited kids when it was sent out, ringing each other up to see who’d seen it! We were so pleased with how it came out and it’s been really exciting to have people get in touch after seeing it on Kerrang! and Scuzz. It was a really fun experience and we’re really looking forward to the next one!
We see you as a metal band with a female singer rather than a female fronted band, meaning you are a band where the music leads the band as a unit rather than a band writing around and playing on the female voice, would you agree with that?
Spinky: I would absolutely agree with that! I never want to be singled out as the focus of the band. That would always feel totally alien and wrong to me, as we all contribute equally, and at the end of the day it’s not about me – it’s about the band.
Scott: That’s an epic complement in my book. Thank you!
Do you find the band is tagged automatically as a certain type of band because of Rebecca sand if so is this a problem?
Scott: Sometimes it goes in our favour (in that it makes it more likely that people who’re really in to female fronted bands will check us out), other times it goes against us (in that people can assume we sound like a particular trend in female fronted bands that they’re not keen on). On balance, I’d say it isn’t a big problem, because the people in the latter camp who end up hearing us from their safe retreat of the bar at shows or at some other point down the line seem to realise that they missed a trick. Inevitably there’s going to be people who have shrugged us off that we won’t cross paths with again, and people who just don’t dig what we do once they’ve given it a listen. It’s a shame, but ya can’t win ‘em all!
Coming from London where there are seemingly new bands appearing daily how hard is it to stay above the sea of bands to stand out? Is your great music enough?
Scott: I don’t subscribe to online availability being anything short of the best thing since sliced bread for a band on our level. Ask me again when our fifth album has just been leaked a month early with a barely legal sextape included and I’ll give you a rant on how badly torrents have fucked up our career, but right now, the internet has sold Coma Heart and Velvet Black Sky to a ton of countries and far flung places that we might never have reached without it. Within London itself, you’re right that there are a hell of a lot of bands trying to drum up interest. You’d think that’d be a positive thing (healthy competition, raising the bar etc), and you’d be right if it weren’t for a lazy breed of promoter who cashes in by booking bands whose songs do nothing to complement each other, putting way too many acts on each night, then completely relying on the musicians they’ve booked to bring the paying punters in instead of promoting the shows themselves. At the moment, that’s what I rant about. Luckily, London does still have some fair people working decent venues. We know a few of them, and in time hopefully we’ll stumble upon the rest.
April sees you on a short tour with a band we love, Breed 77. Exciting stuff, how did that come about?
Richie: We were actually placed on an acoustic bill with Breed77 last year, but we had to pull out at the last minute due to various reasons beyond our control. Breed77 were really supportive and cool about it though, but even then I couldn’t believe it when I got the call to offer us the tour! I’ve known a couple of the guys in the band for a few years now and they’re really, really nice people so it’s doubly exciting to be touring with a band that I not only respect for their achievements but also one that are already making us feel very welcome – it should be a lot of fun!! I also think we’ll learn a lot from them as they have been doing this for so long and their live shows are always really good – Paul is a great frontman, definitely.
Will this be your biggest gigs to date?
Spinky: It will certainly be some of the highest profile gigs we’ve done – it’s an absolute honour to play with the mighty Breed! We’ve also never done a tour before, so we’re really excited! We have only really played other big gigs in London venues thus far, so it’s good for us to do bigger shows out of the capital.
Quite a few bands now seem to explore the reaction at their live shows to decide if new songs make the grade rather than record them before revealing them publicly, is this something you have tried?
Scott: Yep, it’s a great way of gauging audience reaction, and it can even bring on “AHA” moments within the band. ‘Knife to the Throat’, ‘Weight of the World’ and ‘Dead Reckoning’ were all given an airing before we started recording.
After these dates what is next for The Mariana Hollow and what are your aims for the rest of the year musically?
Spinky: We’re hoping desperately to get on some festival line-ups for later in the year, both in UK and abroad – so we’ll just have to keep you posted on those! We also hope that the tour with Breed 77 may bring us a few new fans over the UK so it will be great to go back to places such as Manchester/York to play there again.
Scott: I’m all fired up about the idea of recording some acoustic stuff and a live EP at the moment. Nothing firm yet, but hopefully we’ll find time to do at least one of those this year.
A big thank you for taking time out to talk with us and good luck with Velvet Black Sky and the April dates.
Spinky: Thank you very much!!
Would you like to end with a thought for the day from The Mariana Hollow?
Richie: If you like a band enough to listen to their music, please buy it – don’t steal it!
For more info on the album, band and their live shows go to http://www.themarianahollow.com/
RingMaster Review 05/04/2012
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