Aaron Marsh

Interview: Aaron Marsh of Copeland

On December 2nd, 2014, I had the chance to sit down and talk with Aaron Marsh of Copeland about their new album Ixora, the band’s future, and what it was like to get back together.

Hey, Aaron, how’s your day going?

It’s going pretty good. Just got Stephen, the guitar player for Copeland, just got him from the airport. He’s flying down. Going to start rehearsals for a couple shows coming up too, hopefully we can remember how to play all our songs.

That’s pretty exciting. When was the last time you guys got together to play songs?

Well we hadn’t for a while, obviously, and we had to kinda fake that little video shoot for the announcement video. So, around that time we were like “oh let’s just play an old song” — it’d been four or five years since we played together — and we just were like okay let’s play a song, which lead to “wait, what song? What songs do we have again? Someone look at iTunes real quick and let us know what some of our songs are!” … but yeah that was pretty rough.

That’s awesome.

It’d especially be pretty hilarious if you heard the actual audio of what was happening in that video.

So, it’s almost time for more people to actually hear this album. How are you feeling now that you’re leading up to it? Are you excited, are you nervous? What’s the feeling?

Yeah, I’m excited. Yeah, I feel good about the record we made. It’s mostly a sense of relief of just having it out, you know? Being kind of wrapped up with that phase of the project.

Do you think there’s more or less pressure for this album? You know, when you were releasing albums at a more consistent clip, maybe there’s a little bit more pressure because you know how fans had responded to the last one? Then with this one it kind of came out of nowhere and nobody was expecting it, so was their more freedom because of that? Or does the “comeback album” have it’s own pressure?

It’s totally the same I think. I generally do a pretty good job of not giving too many shits about what people think ever since nobody liked Eat, Sleep, Repeat when it came out. So, after that I was like “okay well we definitely shook off a lot of the pop rock fans.” We did that record and we got a big fat taste of people not liking what we’re doing … and at this point, looking back, it’s one of my most proud moments. I love that we made the decision to not think about the label, not worry about the fans, not think about our manager or what radio stations may or may not like. That let us make a record just for us, you know what I mean? So that’s when I kind of grew up as an artist and since then I try and look at everything the same. I’m only let down if I let down myself, so and I just try not to think about other people if I’m honest.

Yeah, that totally makes sense.

And people talk about music being pretentious, but I really think that’s how it’s supposed to be. Art should be pretentious if you’re doing it right because it should be self-expression and if you’re thinking about other people too much you’re probably not doing it right. But, you’re probably making a lot more money than me too, so what do I know?

Is it different now that you’re older and you know that you can survive regardless of how the album sells? Do you feel a little more freedom knowing you’re able to pay your bills doing everything else that you do?

Yeah, sure there’s definitely a lot more stability. I have a house and you know a wife who works a corporate job and gets a steady paycheck and she’s very gracious and lets me pursue my creative interests to my full extent. So, yeah, it’s not contingent on how this album sells, you know, my house isn’t going to go into foreclosure if people don’t buy this record, so …

Yeah.

It’ll all be good. Yeah. I get to enjoy it a little more.

So, in hindsight, how do you feel about how you guys announced and launched this album and the whole crowdfunding sort of deal that you guys went through to put this together? How do you feel about it now and would you do it again?

Yeah. Yeah. Definitely. The only thing I probably wouldn’t have done was, you know, I would have thought through the timing of everything a little better. When we started this were were like once we’re finished with the record, we’re just going to like try to get it out as soon as we can ‘cause who wants to wait a long time for a record? You know what I mean?

Yeah

We took our time making the record, but pretty much everything post mixing has been done in complete haste and stress. Like trying to get all the artwork designed and vinyls printed and everything like that. For example, we go to get the record pressed, and we get the test press back, and it sounds like absolute garbage. So, we have to re-press it, obviously. We’re just like, what are we gonna do? And the whole time we’re aware people are already going to be waiting around for this record. So I’m like, well, we have to have it cut again. We can’t send this out. And yeah, that didn’t feel good and was extremely stressful. Rushing to get stuff out, you know. I mean I’m glad we took our time with the record, but the biggest bummer is having people pay 6 months ahead of time for a record. You know, it’s not done yet. And that part is really hard, making people wait.

Do you think there’s a different level of responsibility going direct to your fans this way, versus using a record label to handle it all?

For us it’s a bad thing because we’re not the, you know, we’re not the band that is just 100% of the time on social media directly connecting with people. And we tend, just because I think of when we came up as a band — before the social media generation really — to not be nearly as engaged by default. It’s just not programmed into us like a lot of these younger bands who are just like super engaged with their fans, and recognize screen names and all that. A lot of the younger bands have come up with social media so entwined with their lives. And, I mean, Twitter wasn’t even really a thing when we were a band. MP3.com was how we networked then we were on MySpace when MySpace was actually MySpace. I don’t think we have the social media prowess that gives you the benefit of the artist/fan connection. I think we just sort of by default gravitate toward having a little bit of that wall up between the artist fan, you know? Because that’s how it was before and that’s what we know.

It seems especially hard in cases like, for example, when “Erase” went up on iTunes. All of a sudden some backers were on social media and it appeared they were very upset that they didn’t get to hear that song first because they were the ones that paid from the start, right?

Right, and that actually surprised me. I didn’t know it was going up. I knew that iTunes preorders were launching that day, but I didn’t know it was going to have a free download, and furthermore I didn‘t know it would be a song that no one had heard yet. So, then I’m sitting there and all of a sudden I see someone tweet, “oh Erase is awesome.” And I’m like Woah? People have heard “Erase”? So then immediately I’m going to Google and typing things like “Copeland and leaked” and searching around and super worried it had leaked. But, I couldn’t find it anywhere. So then I’m thinking, “this is, you know, this is weird.” And then, well, then we finally figured it out. Then we started seeing people upset about it. So we streamed the song the next day, and then everyone was fine. People who pre-ordered the album maybe they just take for granted the pre-order that they have? I mean, they’re getting the whole record ten days early, while people who ordered on iTunes, they’re just getting two songs … what … twenty days early? But, to be honest, this mess has been happening since the whole bonus content thing has become a thing. I remember having to have multiple versions of the record: there’s the Target only version that has these bonus tracks, then these stores that have these bonus tracks, and if you bought it from the label you got this EP. You then you’d have people say, “I got all your records.” And I’m thinking, “Wow. Thank you, but you shouldn’t have had to buy the record three times to get all the music.”

Did you feel like you got sort of backlash over deciding to go with the record label to put out the physical copy?

No. No backlash there.

That’s good. What was the decision behind that? Was it basically just helping with distribution, and you guys already had a great relationship with Tooth and Nail, and that path just seemed easier to make sure it got out there? What was your thought process there?

To be completely frank, there was some, what’s the word I’m looking for … there was grey wording in Copeland’s old record contract.

Haha, first time any band’s ever said that before.

So that’s how the conversation started. There was grey wording in the old contract that gave them sort of a leg to stand on, like, “Hey, I think we’re getting screwed over beccause I think we still have claims to your music.” It was not like, you know, they were telling us aggressively, it was kind of, is this okay with the contract? We had thought the contract was void for this reason or that. But that contract issue we actually never got to the point of actually resolving because they just went ahead and said, “Well, why don’t we do this: why don’t we let you keep your record, you can keep the masters, and we’ll just do a licensing deal, and we’ll just help you guys market it, and put it up online, and get some retail going.” They’ve always loved our band and supported us. So the contract issue got the conversation started, but it wasn’t the be-all, end-all, because we never even got to the point of really addressing it. No one lawyered up or anything like that. It was just like, “Hey, I think, you know, I think we have a claim.” And, if they did, we didn’t want to operate outside the contract. It was a kind of misunderstanding. Some times saying it outloud makes it sound worse than it was — it wasn’t like a confrontation of any kind.

Yeah, yeah.

Plus, they just wanted to be involved. They just loved the band, and Brendan always talks about how You Are My Sunshine was one of his favorite records that he put out, and he’s just always been a kind of a fan and a champion of the band. And our manager manages Anberlin, who obviously has, like, a long-time working relationship with them. So it was really a mutually beneficial thing, and we didn’t even have to get into the nitty-gritties of the contract, because it just seemed like a good move for both parties.

So let’s go back a little bit to when you finally decided to start recording the album, and then I want to talk a little bit about the album itself. Was there, like, a single moment that first made you decide, “Okay, we can do this, we can put together another Copeland album?”

Well, from the point where we decided to break up, basically, I wanted to do a farewell album. And really the rest of the band was more feeling a farewell tour. So, we did the farewell tour, and it makes sense because the reason they didn’t want to do a farewell album was because it would have set us up to have to tour on that too, you know? Like recording an album and then it’s just the natural progression from there to go out and tour it and like promote it … so we did a farewell tour instead of doing the farewell album and tour. But, I had always had in the back of my head that we only just had hit our stride on a recording stand point. Like we kind of changed our approach to recording on the third record. And we got more into it and became more interested in experimenting and getting more creative with our arrangements and you know kind of shying away from the pop rock stuff. I felt like we had barely scratched the surface with that and there’s still more that I had to say and more that I wanted to do. So, then they went off and did States and I settled down in my hometown, built a recording studio, started producing and all that. And so fast forward like five years or something and States is doing their second record and the Kickstarter for that record did really well. They surpassed their goal, kind of killed it, and from what I understand, it was kind of through that they realized there’s kind of an outpouring and a lot of demand for another Copeland album.

Haha, just a tad.

So, I think Jon the drummer first brought it up to me and I had kind of recently connected with Bryan — just you know sending dirty jokes back and forth on text. Really we kind of all hadn’t spoken that much, you know not that we were at odds or anything, but we didn’t connect that much for a few years. So all that kind of led us to talking about it and figured we didn’t have that many years longer until our fans kind of had families and you know once people start having families they sort of disconnect from like the music of the youth to some degree. At least I know I experienced that because I have wife and two boys at home. You know Bryan has a wife and a little girl and another little girl on the way.

It’s hard to spend all the time online looking for new bands and going out to shows and stuff …

Right, yeah, I listen to a lot more Sesame Street songs right now than I listen to cool bands. So we figured we didn’t have that much longer, so once we kind of cleared out some schedule issues, we knew we wanted to do it. I had my studio booked almost a year in advance so I put it on the calendar, and then we just started that process. I started just slowly writing stuff and then we kind of announced it and launched like a pre-order store on April 1st which got people all kinds of upset.

I still see people being like “if this is the longest April fools joke of all time and if next week comes and goes with no new album I’m gonna be so mad” — which would be pretty amazing, not gonna lie. So, let’s talk a little about the writing and recording process.

I did a pretty good job of holding off on doing too much — I didn’t excessively demo. I try to never demo any more than I need to for stuff. So I didn’t have a bunch of, you know, half finished songs when they got here. I really had mostly just ideas. I mean, some were more fleshed out than others but none of them were full songs except for “Ordinary.” “Ordinary” is the only one that I had a fully realized song done. And that’s because I had recorded it for a movie. I wrote the film score for my buddy’s movie and that song was in the movie. And so right when I found out we were doing this, I was like, “Sorry buddy, I’m using ‘Ordinary’ for the album and he was actually stoked.” But really everything else, I might have had a few sketched out ideas in a Logic session and then probably half the songs I had nothing more than a voice demo, you know, beat-box and vocal idea idea on my phone. So yeah, I tried to save every, all the creative stuff, all the kind of the song build out, I try to save that for when we were all together.

The big difference between this and the last two records was Stephen wasn’t involved in the last two records and he was pretty heavily involved in this one. So that was pretty cool, like a different dynamic — he’s sitting beside me right now so I won’t talk shit. So that was a different dynamic because he’s just like a slightly more strong willed Bryan, his brother, so yeah, it was cool having another personality in the mix. Because Bryan and I are, you know, we’re just like kind of perfect, we completely understand each other and communicate really well recording. We’ve really never had an argument other than track sequence, that’s the only argument that we ever have. So having Stephen and having another voice was kind of a cool little extra dynamic and he has his own guitar style that, you know, he kind of developed. All three of us have very different guitar styles, so it’s cool. There’s this one song on the record, the “Chiromancer” song, the chorus is almost like a sampler platter of the three guitar styles because Stephen has this kind of jagged angular riff that’s like the main riff in the chorus, then I have this tremolo pick, like ambient thing, that’s my signature move, and then Bryan has his pretty melodic guitar, we call them fairy riffs. He does the most intricate, melodic stuff so well, neither of us can do anything like that. So yeah, that songs just like, “Oh, we’re just going to make this like a little, it’s like a sampler platter that you’d get at Applebee’s or something, the trio, or something.”

You got to aim a little bit higher than Applebee’s.

Haha, yeah, OK.

So when you were thinking about this album did you think about it as a whole or did you write songs as one-offs? I mean, you were talking about that you had “Ordinary” already. Did you build around that song? Did you write other songs and then build around them? Because to me, the album feels very cohesive, it definitely feels like a full actualized thought front to back, pretty much. I was curious whether or not that was intentional or it just happened, you know, by happenstance?

I think it just happens when you just write stuff in a certain period of time, you know, there’s no real other way to explain, it’s the same guys, same studio, same era, you know what I mean, and I think that’s what kind of gives it its cohesiveness. Really, the trick for me actually, is not making stuff sound cohesive but it’s making it sound varied because if I’m not careful, I’ll just make every song sound kind of the same. So it’s more difficult for me to push stuff in other directions. A lot of times when the same person writes a song or writes ten songs, a lot of them will be the same, or really similar. You kind of have your melodic tricks that you gravitate towards and everyone has their chord progressions and their keys that they feel comfortable writing in. So a lot of what I feel, as a producer, is just like trying to find ways to push songs apart to give the record interest. So, I mean, hopefully it’s interesting enough. So “Ordinary” was written before most of the record and then, actually, I guess in 2009 I had some of kind inclination that we were going to do a fifth record. I have no idea what I was thinking but I found a random folder on a drive that just said “LP 5” on it and I opened it up and there were two demos in there that I had completely forgotten about. So I guess at some point in 2009 I was thinking we were doing a record because I wrote two songs. So one of those didn’t make it and then one of those was the bonus that you have, “Like I Want You.” And then after we were back home from mixing, someone had asked me to get some file off a drive, so I plug in a different drive, and I found a different folder that said “LP 5” that had completely different demos in it. It had like three more demos in it. None of them were really all that great so it’s fine. Maybe we’ll use them for something else or rework them. I texted Bryan right when I found them, I was like, “You know, I found three more demos, too late to add some more songs?”

Between two folders you got almost an EP there.

I know, 2009 I was really thinking we were doing another record for some reason.

So I want to talk a little bit, really quickly, about the Twin release because that’s such a cool thing and that’s something that I haven’t really seen anybody do before. Can you explain a little bit about what that release is and kind of like how you see it? Is that something that you see people listening to separately, like, by themselves as a version of the album, or kind of what your vision is for that and how it plays into the project as a whole.

Sure, so this could be, honestly this could be its own interview, this is a crazy experience. This is like, I should do a different interview for ‘What The Fuck Am I Doing Magazine’ or something like that. So Twin is the bonus disc, so there will be a two disc set that’s kind of the deluxe edition, we’re calling it the Twin Edition, and so the bonus disc has all of the songs from the record in different versions, so some of them are acoustic, some of them are kind of remix, some of them, one of them is just kind of like a soundscape with, you know, soundscape plus some of the arrangement. Like 95% of it is new parts. I reused very little from the originals. You know, some remixes will keep the piano or to keep the guitar or keep the vocal and some other stuff. I reused very little so it’s pretty much just re-tracking the record and so the idea is that this would be its own stand alone album and then if you had, you know, two CD players, which I haven’t even tried, I’ve had them both on my computer, so I haven’t been able to test to see how hard it is, exactly, to sync them up. So if you have two, say if you had two CD players you could press play on both at the same time and, you know, because you have four speakers there would be kind of a quadrophonic surround sound version of the record. It’s kind of the third version of the record — their sums together, and so we had all sorts of different thoughts about what this would be and how we would do it. The hardest part is that if it gets off it actually sounds like it’s descending into hell. It sounds terrible. If you can imagine half of the band just being off from the other half of the band. Yeah, it sounds awful. So, I mean, maybe if people have some GarageBand skills, if you have multiple outputs on your studio interface, like a home recording interface, you could theoretically hook up four speakers and have it playing. That would be the ideal way to do it, if you can kind of line it up on GarageBand, or Logic, or Pro Tools, if you have that.

Because it’s definitely like, if it gets off it’s pretty rough. Yeah, so the ideal scenario for people to listen is first and foremost, we want you to spend time with Ixora, the proper album — that’s the absolute priority for us. We made that as its own stand alone thing. The other one, it’s a twin record, I think it’s best as a stand alone thing too, and then the sum is just, I think it’s especially cool if you’re familiar with both. There’s a lot of parts that kind of play off each other and if you’re used to hearing them in one version or the other and then you hear how they play off each other it’s especially cool. So if I were advising someone on what to listen to first I would say listen to Ixora first, by itself, and become familiar with it, then listen to Twin by itself and become familiar with that. And then, like, I would be very familiar with both of them before you sum them because it’s just a lot of information and you only have two ears and I feel like if you’re familiar with both records it will be a more enjoyable experience. We kind of wrote that in the liner notes for Twin, just kind of recommend that you familiarize yourself with both, before you try to sum them.

That makes sense.

But, yeah, some of them are acoustic. And, to be honest, I did this in just an insanely small amount of time. And the Twin disc has been the hardest music I’ve ever had to make. There’s really no formula for what we were doing but there are so many rules for kind of what it had to be, just because it had to sync up with this other thing. I would do a guitar part and be like, “Oh, that doesn’t work with the drums on Ixora,” so let’s nix that and then figure out something else to do. Yeah, there were so many rules. It had to sound like an indie rock record, you know, because we wanted them to be stand alone things first. So it had to sound like an indie rock record, it had to sound like Copeland, and kind of not vary too far from that. We had the chord progression and the melody kind of set, and the structure kind of set, so now I have to think of ideas within all of those parameters and have them complement another record. In a lot of ways it turned my creative process into a problem solving process … so it was a really, really surprisingly difficult thing to do.

I can’t even imagine.

And especially in such a short amount of time. First off, we tracked it in order. Stephen was here for the first half of it and so he was helping me with that but then he had to go. So I was just kind of on my own for the back half and you can kind of, I think you can kind of hear my mental state just kind of breaking down as each track goes on just because stuff started to get weirder and weirder as I go. I just did them in order. I was like, “Alright, track one, let’s do it,” and just went through them and then I had to take some days off and clear my head and stuff because it was pretty tricky. A lot it worked or failed with the vocals. That was probably the most tricky part. I had to watch myself and try and match exactly what the guitar did so it didn’t become a total cluster.

Yeah

Or I had to do something complementary or something completely contrasting just to stay out of the way. Or nothing at all. So it was a learning experience. I mean if I had it to do all over again there are definitely some things that I would do different on it. To make my life a little easier on Twin. I definitely don’t think I would ever do this again for a Copeland record, but I feel like I might try it again on, you know in some other context. Because in some ways, it was really interesting and kind of fun, you know, like making a record is in some ways like painting a picture, this is like doing a Rubik’s cube. Or like, painting a Rubik’s cube and then trying to like …

… solve it while painting it?

… like taking the end of the Rubik’s cube and then messing it up and trying to put it back together.

That’s amazing. Okay, so last question here is just kind of like, what do you see the future of Copeland now? Like what, what’s next?

We’ll probably try to keep doing some of the little stuff. None of us are really in a place to just like hit the road full time. With our grownup lives and stuff. So I don’t think we’ll be doing much in the way of big tours. Unless just, unless something awesome comes along and we can’t turn down and then you know we’ll just kind of take those one by one. But I think we’re all pretty much down to keep making records if the demand is still there. We had a lot of fun making the record and you know, we’ve already, we’ve already talked about like “oh, if it does well and there’s a demand there we’ll do it again.” So I don’t think there’s any reason not to. But yeah, I mean the, the touring thing we’re gonna try to do as much as we can without, you know, becoming a full time band again. Jon, our full time drummer, his days are probably numbered. I don’t know how much touring he’ll wind up being able to do. We might have to pick up somebody else to do some of that because he has a furniture business he spends so much of his time on. He builds these like handcrafted furniture pieces that are really cool. It’s all this like industrial modern furniture. And his business is growing a whole lot recently, he has a full time employee, a big warehouse, and a pretty big shop. It doesn’t seem like he’ll really be available for any of the bigger stuff. Or even little stuff. I think it’s gonna be probably too much for him. So after these first few things he’ll probably end up clocking out. We’ll just have to see. I don’t think any of us would have a problem with him still playing on the records and stuff like that if he wanted to. But, but yeah we’ll probably end up picking up someone else to play drums for the shows. If the shows keep pickin’ up like they have been.

Definitely. It seems in a lot of ways that’s kind of what the future for bands of a certain size is probably going to entail. It feels like it at least. You know, like when they’re capable of doing shows they will, but they might focus more on putting out albums when they can and having other work to support themselves. And then they’re able to put it out on their own timetable without the pressure of every two years we have to go back into the album cycle and you know ramp up the machine again and do all this stuff.

Right, right.

Which is kind of cool. Like it’s kind of exciting and I think that this album at least shows that it can work. You know in my opinion I think that this has some of the most creative stuff you guys have done. Maybe because there wasn’t a whole bunch of pressure on it or anything. You know, obviously I love your guys’ whole catalog, but there’s some stuff here that just, I don’t think you guys would have done otherwise. Like if you would have immediately gone back into the studio to follow up the last album. I don’t think that this is what would have come out of it.

Probably. I think we also got the benefit that none of us stopped making music after that album. You know, I probably produced 20 records since then. And I’m super hands-on. I’m a pretty heavy-handed producer. I play on a lot of the records. I record like a lot of singer-songwriters and stuff that maybe doesn’t have a full band, so I wind up doing a lot of the instrumentation. Doing string arrangements and such. So, yeah, I think we, a big part of it was that this wasn’tthe next thing after ‘You Are My Sunshine.’ We’ve all been doing music since then so I feel like we got like the benefit of a lot of experience that not many bands get. You know most bands when they make their fourth record, then tour, and then they make their fifth record. You know what I mean?

Yeah.

Like for this we made the fourth record, then we toured, and then we made a bunch other records apart. And now we’re making a fifth record with kind of the benefit of all that experience and growth. So yeah, I mean it would make sense that this would be, you know, a little bit more advanced than you would normally see you know from a band going just from one record to the next.

That totally makes sense.

Yeah and also we have drastically different lives than we had back then. You known now I have a wife and two kids. And you know … no young people drama in my life. And you know, my perspective is really different. So that changed the way I looked at pretty much everything. It changed the way I wrote my lyrics. You know I feel like these lyrics are just so much more heartfelt. I mean, my lyrics have always been probably too heartfelt, but you know, there’s a lot of my new dad sensibility in there. And the sentiment there is just a lot more poignant to me than just an album full of songs about girls. So, yeah, that was kind of cool. I got to write some more substantial lyrics. I’ve always put a lot of pressure on myself lyrically, so I felt like I had a lot of really good inspiration on this record.

Awesome. All right man. Well that’s, that seems perfect for me.

Right on. I appreciate yall’s support. Man, you guys are always, you’re always so good to us. Appreciate it. You and, you and Kagan and… Keegan, Keegan or Kagan?

I, I always say Keegan, that’s the problem with online — you only read it and then all of sudden it’s like “oh shit, how do I actually pronounce this if I have to say it out loud?” I have no idea.

I’ve seen him like say sarcastically online that people always mispronounce his name and that freaks me out cause it’s like, whoa I don’t know how I pronounce it. But he didn’t like, he didn’t correct anyone, he just said, “People always mispronounce my name.” And like I’m like, uh, so how do you pronounce it then?

Crap. We need a little phonetic guide here.

It was like I’m never talking to him in person now. I’d be nervous to say his name. But yeah. You guys are always super good to us, so we appreciate it.

Thank you very much. Well hope you have a great rest of your night.

Jason Tate
Jason Tate Jason Tate is the founder and editor-in-chief of chorus.fm. He can also be found at @jason_tate on Twitter and on Facebook.