Hey Marseilles Streamlines Its Sound and Looks on the Bright Side

A decade in, the Seattle orchestral indie outfit has gone pop. Lead singer Matt Bishop tells us why.

Hey Marseilles. Photo by Charlie Schuck

Since forming in 2006, Hey Marseilles has built its reputation on folky, earnest chamber pop. With sincere lyrics about love lost and wanderlust layered over ornate, baroque compositions, it’s the kind of easygoing music you could easily imagine accompanying a car commercial or playing in a Starbucks (in fact, the band landed a spot on a Starbucks compilation in 2010).

But for its recently released self-titled third album, the Seattle band craved something different—a “kind of a pivot,” says 32­-year-­old front man Matt Bishop, from the “sleepier, more mellow” feel of the band’s 2013 release Lines We Trace.

So they hired a hip-hop producer.

Anthony Kilhoffer—a three­-time Grammy Award­-winning producer and mixing engineer who has worked with artists like Kanye West, Rick Ross, and Rihanna—is perhaps the last choice you’d expect from an indie-pop outfit known for its sweeping orchestral sound. Yet it was Kilhoffer who helped the band craft music with an eye to commercial appeal. Bishop makes no bones about the fact that the band aspires to make mainstream pop. As a songwriter, he appreciates the challenge that pop music presents: “Because it’s so simple, it makes it that much more difficult to write something that stands out.”

With five members and an ever-­growing assemblage of instruments (including mandolin, cello, accordion, viola, and electric bass), Hey Marseilles has sometimes struggled to streamline its music. In pursuit of a more cohesive sound for its third album, the band refined its songwriting approach, writing songs individually instead of trying to force collaboration. They also spent time in Los Angeles with Kilhoffer and a team of songwriters to help focus and curate their abundance of material, a process Bishop found liberating.

“One of the challenges that my band has always faced is that with the amount of cooks we have in the kitchen and the different skill­ sets we bring to the table, we overthink things,” he says. “And for all of us to go down to L.A. and realize that accessibility oftentimes means simplifying song structure or simplifying instrumental arrangements, focusing the song as opposed to allowing so many elements to be part of a song … that was super-transformational for all of us as a band.”

The self-titled album also reveals a slight but important shift in perspective. Though Bishop is still singing love songs, the new songs explore it from a more optimistic perspective—one that Bishop hopes will help them reach a wider audience.

“If you’re writing an album, you want to write a song that people could play at their wedding,” he says with a knowing smile. “That’s a real big career-maker.” The Showbox, 1426 First Ave., 888-929-7849, showboxpresents.com. $17. All ages. 9 p.m.

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