INTERVIEW: Marian Hill looks to free its sound further on forthcoming third LP

Marian Hill, Jeremy Lloyd, Samantha Gongol

Marian Hill

Fans of alt-pop and R&B duo Marian Hill can expect to hear new music by the time producer Jeremy Lloyd and vocalist Samantha Gongol take the stage at BottleRock next week.

BottleRock Napa Valley
May 24 to 26
Napa Valley Expo
Tickets: General admission $160-$360.

Marian Hill 
9 p.m., May 24
Popscene at Rickshaw Stop (BottleRock night show)
Tickets: $30 (Sold out).

The two spent parts of six months in the studio from last fall to this spring, starting with songwriting trips to Los Angeles and then spending a solid two months recording their blend of jazz- and blues-tinged pop songs with soulful vocals in New York.

“It was just the two of us, which has been really nice, because we didn’t really have the time for [2018 album] Unusual,” Lloyd said in a recent phone call. “It was all a very exciting rush of a process … and then we were writing again, and still had gigs happening. To be able to really hunker down and write together for an extended period of time has been really rewarding and exciting. And we’ve got a lot of music that we’re sitting on right now that we’ll hopefully be putting out in the near future.”

The singles are written, and the duo is raring to go.

In the year since releasing Unusual, Marian Hill has toured the world, including its first shows in China, Japan and South Korea, where the duo was astonished to see fans singing their lyrics back toward the stage. On an early summer U.S. headlining tour, Gongol said she felt the most comfortable she’s ever felt on stage.

While the two first broke out with 2016 single “Down,” from debut LP Act One, which got an added Apple boost with an iPhone commercial the following year, Lloyd said he was most proud of the way Unusual song “Sideways” has found a home in Marian Hill’s set last year, creating a new texture for the duo.

“It’s really unlike any other song we have, and it became a really nice, cool moment that we can have in a set that it needs to be able to—just long bits of keys and pianos with me and Sam that feel really good and fresh every night,” he said.

Q&A: Unusual included a visual component to each song. How important is that and are you going to be trying to do that again?
Jeremy Lloyd: “The thing we’ve learned in the past is that there will need to be [visual components] no matter what. At some point you’re going to be posting Instagram teasers for whatever is happening. … With the episodes, we were really trying to push in a weird direction to get people excited about our visuals in an unusual way. We’ll probably try to figure out another way to do that this time around. But I imagine it’ll be a different tactic. We’re just starting to figure out what that is.”

For a band known for its smooth, silky and sensual songs, Gongol and Lloyd are taking their free-flowing grooves up another gear on their next collection of songs. Lloyd describes the new songs as even “less restrained” than what they have written before.

He talks about this direction as a kind of force from which listeners hopefully won’t be able to look away.

“We’re sort of in this moment of unprecedented freedom, which is really nice,” Gongol said. “I think we’re leaning into the jazziness. I find that we’re going back to our roots a little bit and also exploring new sounds, too. Jeremy’s heavily influenced by hip-hop so there are definitely hip-hop elements to the new stuff.”

She said the two are also taking more risks lyrically. The songs Marian Hill has written so far again avoid the autobiographical, instead drawing from the lives of the people close to the duo. Many of them are about the nuance and dynamics of interpersonal relationships, which hasn’t changed.

Marian Hill

Marian Hill performs at BFD at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View on June 10, 2017. Photo: Alessio Neri.

But the perspectives don’t always remain the same. Lloyd wrote one new song from the view of his girlfriend, for example.

“We’re always responding to the energy of whatever music we’re making,” he said. “There is a certain type of just sexy song that we love to make. It’s fun for us to continually find ways to keep that fresh and exciting. That lends to some of our most fun and bold lyrical moments. We’re also always expanding and trying to push ourselves to find stuff that’s exciting to write about, and we love words.

“The way a word sounds in a musical texture will often be a starting point,” he said.

Gongol and Lloyd—who grew up in musical theater in Philadelphia, first met at a school production and even named their band after characters in “The Music Man”—are also pulling from the world of art around them. The two said they’re finding inspiration in even the unlikeliest places, such as an eight-hour-long production called “Gatz” in New York, which is a complete live reading of “The Great Gatsby” and how it changes the reality of the man reading it.

Q&A: What else do the two of you share besides a love of music and performing arts?
Jeremy Lloyd: “A lot of our friendship has always been music. When we were younger, that was how we connected; talking about music and songwriting. That has been the main thing we overlap on.”
Samantha Gongol: “I feel like we both love food. Jeremy loves baking, right? Is that accurate? Pie, specifically.”
Lloyd: “I love baking pies. I’ve got my apple pretty perfected. So that’s what I’ve been on lately. It’s my favorite.”

“That’s been a book that has always been inspiring to us in terms of the incredible language,” Lloyd said. “It was a really cool, collective experience to share with all those people and just be totally immersed; work with literature like that for a day. … I definitely think that it renews my focus in terms of just like thinking about the stories we’re telling in our songs.”

Added Gongol: “It was so interesting seeing which moments they chose to act or chose to accentuate. … Çarrying that into the live show is kind of like choosing what moments to really drive home, what moments you want to tweak, or what you want to make special and really leave the audience with. I think that could also be applied for a live show.”

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