The rebirth of Hey Marseilles

Seattle indie band seeks a bigger audience with sleek new album

For better or worse, Seattle’s music scene is known as an epicenter of slacker culture, where a casual attitude is commonplace, and plainspoken pursuit of success is viewed with suspicion.

Hey Marseilles, however, refuses to treat “ambition” as a dirty word. The indie-folk pop band has been kicking around the Northwest for years, playing effusive shows and releasing two albums that tapped into a charming Decemberists vibe, with string sections, instrumental interludes, and odd time signatures alongside irresistible melodies.

Although Matt Bishop and Nick Ward started Hey Marseilles a decade ago, and have fostered an ever-growing fanbase, 2016 feels like a rebirth for the band, with new creative direction and aspirations fueling a new self-titled album released Feb. 5 via Shanachie Entertainment. “It definitely feels like now or never,” Bishop says. “It kind of feels that way every record, but this one in particular, just because we’re definitely trying to expand our audience and that’s super exciting, and also a little bit terrifying.”

As the group prepared to make the album, Bishop and his bandmates spent long hours talking about the kind of music they wanted to make, the value of taking on an artistic challenge, and how doing so might benefit their careers. “We’ve always just been a band that had too many instruments and 14 different verses and a couple of instrumentals on each record,” he says. “We were like, ‘You know, the challenge for us right now is to cut the fat and to focus on the strength of our songs.’ And in so doing, if we can appeal to a broader audience, that’s great, too.”

To meet that challenge, Hey Marseilles worked with producer Anthony Kilhoffer, known mostly for working with hip-hop/R&B stars such as Kanye West and John Legend. Kilhoffer not only infused the band’s songs with electronic beats, he pushed Hey Marseilles to zero in on each tune’s best hook, get to it quickly, and return to it often.

The results are striking: Hey Marseilles is catchy, concise, and dramatic, blending melodies with a sense of grandeur in songs such as “Eyes on You,” “West Coast,” and “North and South” striking a balance between the band’s past and its future.

If anyone wants to chide the band for pursuing success, Bishop is ready to push back against anyone else’s push-back. “These songs stay true to who we’ve been as a band enough that our current fans and our old fans will still really like them, but they also really push us in directions that we’ve been wanting to go,” he says. “Instead of accordion instrumentals, there’s a bit more of an opportunity for people in the audience to dance to electronic beats, and that’s something that is a lot more interesting to us where we’re at now.”

For the members of Hey Marseilles, it’s not so much about where they’ve been, but where they’re going.