An Interview with Singer/Songwriter J. Marsden
by Mike Huberty
Former WALL OF FUNK leader J. MARSDEN has consistently been one of Madison’s most underrated guitarists. With plenty of technical skill, a great sense of melody and most importantly, a surplus of heart, Joe’s first solo album, Gravity is a mix between ALICE IN CHAINS (Sap and Jar of Flies specifically), DAYS OF THE NEW (lower-register vocal melodies and hooks), and RADIOHEAD (expert guitar work ala The Bends).
“Such A Mess” kicks off the album with a doubled electric guitar melody and the bluesiest vocal on the record, while a falsetto lament finds its way into several songs like a banshee’s wail before the verses.
Always an impressive guitarist, Marsden has also found his footing as a vocalist on the record (sounding surprisingly like BETTER THAN EZRA’s Kevin Griffin), and the chorus harmonies are welcome and catchy. Marsden designed Gravity as a concept record to be listened to from start to finish and there’s some ambient spaces and soundcapes between the songs that unify the album into a cohesive whole. The reverb-y production certainly contributes to the ethereal and space-rock feel and each song seamlessly flows into the next. Maybe it’s the acoustic alt-rock and the retro–90s feel, but there’s a sense of loss and longing that permeates the record (“That Was Yesterday”). Listening to the whole thing in a sitting, there’s no question that J. MARSDEN’s Gravity is a clear statement of mood and genre.
The album release party takes place at The Frequency on Thursday August 24th with openers IMAGINARY WATERMELON, SADBOYES, and RANDOM LAMA and I talked with Joe Marsden for a little bit to get ready for the show!
MH: How’d you get into music?
JM: My dad had an old cheap classical guitar that I used to just mess around on, not really knowing what I was doing. However, I started getting into learning and playing music more because of band class in middle school. Around this time I specifically remember getting an ear worm from the track “The Background” off of THIRD EYE BLIND’S self titled CD (my first CD), and started plucking around on that raggedy old (probably out of tune) guitar until I figured out the intro riff by ear. It was game over after that and I’ve been learning/writing songs on guitar across many different genres ever since!
MH: Where are you from and what brought you to Madison?
JM: I’m from Cambridge, WI originally so I grew up just outside of Madison. I’ve always loved this city, and aside from living in Milwaukee for a few years after college, I’ve been nearby Madison for most of my life.
MH: What’s the thing that struck you the most about guitar? Why do you love playing it and what inspires you to keep getting better?
JM: That’s a good question… I always thought that playing the guitar was just plain cool. It spoke to me more than other instruments once I started really learning how to play in High School. I love just cranking the shit of my amp and letting a nice distorted power cord rip, or chug some palm muted riffs, or my favorite, letting a big bend wail and sustain out with some feed back in the middle of an epic solo. I feel like I’m really truly expressing myself when I play lead guitar especially, and that’s what keeps inspiring me to continue to get better. I love that I can express myself with more depth, emotion, and accuracy with practice and experience. It almost becomes meditative. I also really love when I come across a beautiful chord pattern or riff that I just can’t stop playing. The search for those sounds keeps me excited!
MH: What song off Gravity should people start with?
JM: “All I Wanted” definitely encapsulates a lot of the sounds used on the album. It’s also a peak part of the album structure so it gives the listener a good idea of the album’s story as a whole too. I’ve been playing this song out live since I started doing the solo thing 2 years ago, it’s been one of my most well received songs, and is also a personal favorite. This song was inspired 50/50 from a break up / reflecting on life, plus I was really getting into sci-fi at the time, so I used some space vocabulary for metaphors which then lead to the idea of creating the story of Gravity.
MH: So, what’s going to happen on August 24th at The Frequency?
JM: The release party is going to be one big celebration of all the hard work that was put into Gravity over the last two years. I have a special surprise during my set, so I can’t give too much away. All I can say is that it’s something I’ve never done before when performing live since starting my solo career.