A Conversation with Gold Connections’ Will Marsh
by Chris Wolford
Christopher Wolford: Popular Fiction is out there in the world now so how’s it feel?
Will Marsh: I feel relieved! It was hard keeping all that music on my chest. I started writing it in high school... And grateful that I have the chance to get it out there and that people want to listen.
CW: Of the ten tracks, which one(s) have you been carrying around the longest? Which one(s) have gone through the most changes, musically and/or lyrically, since their inception?
WM: “Isabel” has gone through the most technical change. I wrote the first half sophomore year of college. It took a year of playing with a band to take that chance on the ‘jammy’ section, which closes out the song. We reinvented it again (from the EP) for this studio record. The Popular Fiction recording channels the more sensitive and psychedelic nature of “Isabel.” But “Plague 8” has probably weighed on me the most. I wrote that one freshman year and it just came out yesterday! And it’s a very personal song.
CW: I never like asking artists to break down every song on an album (listeners are more than capable of doing that themselves) but am always interested in how albums are sequenced. I'd love to hear more about that process. For example, why'd you choose to bookend the album with "Icarus" and "Desert Land?"
WM: A lot of thought went into the placement of "Icarus." I was awfully tempted to put it last as a grand finale. But the bottom line was that I wanted people to listen to that song, to not miss it, because it's a key to the record. I wanted "Icarus" to color their experience of the entire album. Placing it first kind of forces people into that position. "Desert Land" echoes the first track––as a recognition of the cost of experience––but with both steadier hands and less confidence in the way out. Besides, I always love a nice acoustic cut at the end of raucous album.
CW: Taking a step away from the songs themselves, the cover art for the album was created by Lauren Goans, who's half of the husband-wife duo Lowland Hums. Tell me about how that artistic collaboration came about.
WM: I grew up in the Charlottesville music scene. By the time I came back home from college, this folk duo called Lowland Hum had moved in from North Carolina and blown up. That got my attention. I'd also heard that Daniel, the other half of the band, was doing some great production work––for instance, on Locust Avenue by Nettles. My immediate post-grad goal was to make a studio album with the material I'd written at William and Mary. My mom's coworker gave me Daniel's email (it's a small town) and I sent him some demos, some of which were remixed and mastered for our EP...He liked what I sent him and we met on the pretext of getting coffee and talking about the passion At the end of our hangout I surprised Daniel by asking him straight up to produce my record. We started preproduction for Popular Fiction that day in 2015...Unsurprisingly, Lauren Goans is a talented individual as well, not only a perfect vocalist but also trained in visual art. So I went for the total Lowland Hum production package.
CW: And it definitely paid off. The album balances the shifting sounds well, seamlessly transitioning from soft and clean to loud and chaotic and back again. That was one of the first aspects that really jumped out at me, along with the artwork. What has it been like adapting these songs to a live setting? Any ones in particular that've been more difficult than others?
WM: Thanks! As you pointed out, we really took advantage of the studio. Fidelitorium is an incredible space and we had no reservations when it came to using all the instruments and technology available to us. So while I was thrilled about the music that came out of the studio, I was also intimated by the immediate question: how the hell do we pull this off on stage? Our response was to sculpt a different sound on tour as on organic process rather than attempt to replicate something we'd already created. Bands like the Rolling Stones and Neil Young and Crazy Horse set a good example. The Stones weren't out there recreating Beggars Banquet––even they couldn't pull that off––they were out there doing their thing, moving people in a grungy kind of way that we identify with. It's about getting yer ya-yas out. Every song on Popular Fiction has presented a unique challenge, and with every show we're trying to evolve as a band and keep these songs alive and breathing.
CW: It's always interesting to hear how bands change their songs when they play them live. You play a song a thousand times without every switching things up it's bound to get boring. Dylan is one who has really altered songs over the course of his career. I know he's been a big influence on you too. We could wax nostalgic about him forever I'm sure but I'm more curious about what's been your most recent revelation or insight while listening to his music?
WM: My most recent revelation is that Desire is a tight album! I'd always skipped that one, probably because of the unrelenting fiddle and my own wariness towards Dylan's mid-70's meltdown (Blood On The Tracks aside). But I got a used copy on vinyl in town and spent some time with it. Desire really hit home for personal reasons. This is a contentious claim, but it struck me as his only "pop" record. As a response to Zeppelin and all that. Of course he had to do it his own way. Hence the unrelenting fiddle.
CW: I love that one! It climbs further up my list of favorite Dylan albums with each listen. You're exactly right though, that fiddle never gives up. I had similar mixed feelings initially about his "gospel" albums. You certainly don't shy away from addressing religious concepts on the album ("New Religion” “Salt"), what about that subject do you find most interesting from a songwriter's perspective?
WM: Dylan used religious imagery and messaging all throughout his early work, and then in his gospel period dealt with faith in a less literary, more head on way. I go both ways but on the same record. "Salt" is a love song framed by an Old Testament story. God turns Lot's wife into a pillar of salt because she expressed doubt. Lot leaves. In "Salt" I stick around. Among other things, "New Religion" is a confrontation with nothingness. It's about an earnest existential moment, and the only literary reference (ubiquitous Eden imagery aside) is to "Venus In Furs" by VU. To answer your question––I can't really say what interests me about religion because it so permeates my life and our culture that it's impossible to avoid. Interesting or not, it's going to enter my music.
CW: Are there any topics or themes you've tried to tackle in songs but haven't quite found the right words yet?
WM: Writing about being happy and in a good relationship is pretty tough. “I Believe In You” is the outlier, but even that song has a dark edge.
Support the artist, buy the album. Thanks for reading!
Will Marsh, recording under the name Gold Connections, has firmly planted his foot in the world of indie music with the release of his fantastic debut album Popular Fiction, out now via Egghunt Records. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Will about how the songs changed over the course of nearly a decade, the Charlottesville music scene, and the bottomless well of inspiration that is Bob Dylan.