Far from being the soggy offspring of an aging seafarer, U.K. seven-piece The Mariner’s Children presents a deliciously and decidedly earth-bound proposal to its listeners. Banjos, guitars, violins and creaking, guttural harmonies converge in a great maelstrom of building, driving songs, which careen from moments of delicate beauty to those of furious abandon.
The Brighton outfit’s new EP, Sycamore, was released in February to widespread acclaim, charming listeners from Q and NME with the band’s soaring vocals, complex lyrics and fiery, folk-tempered zeal. The Guardian dubbed them “purveyors of lovingly crafted music, with anthemic uplift and widescreen ambition,” with the release’s excellent reception leading them to be personally chosen by American bluester Willy Mason as support at his KOKO London show earlier this year. Current plans promise a full-length album by this coming fall and the rumblings of a U.S. tour.
THE BOMBER JACKET caught up with Benedict Rubinstein (who delivers vocals, strums guitar and picks a banjo) and Marcus Hamblett (bass-master, guitars, banjos and sometimes producer) to find out more about where they’ve come from, where they’re going and what they think about large sea-dwelling mammals.
As a nice surprise, the boys let us have exclusive access to a live video of “In My Bed,” a foot-stomping bluster of a track that stirs the heart and sounds, at times, a little bit like “Are You Gonna Go My Way” remapped for the banjo.
TBJ: Can you describe your music in three words?
BEN: Really. Fucking. Good.
MARCUS: No! Just. Listen.
The Mariner’s Children started making a name for itself in Brighton in the U.K. How did you find the music scene there?
B: Marcus is still there, so he can probably answer more accurately, but I’d say it is a lot more nurturing than London. People are much more friendly and enthusiastic and I found it much easier to feel like part of a community there than I’ve ever felt in London.
M: I’m still here. It’s great! It’s a small city where every musician knows every other musician and we all play in each other’s bands. Also, the Great Escape Festival kicks off today, so the whole music world has invaded our streets. It’s always an exciting weekend and I’m looking forward to seeing lots of friends and new music.
Which other acts did you particularly admire at the time?
M: There are a lot of well-known great bands from Brighton, so I’d like to shine a light on a couple of the more obscure ones: Hamilton Yarns is one of my all-time favorite bands. Robert Stillman is an incredible composer who lived here until quite recently and has put out several phenomenal albums exploring different styles. Also, Animal Magic Tricks is one of the best songwriters I’ve ever met but likes to completely bury her perfect pop songs in horrible noise and then never get round to finishing them anyway. I’d appreciate it if the readers of TBJ could start a petition to make her record the classic album that we all know is waiting to come out of her. I’m rambling a bit but also check out Steve Aston, Woodpecker Wooliams, Mary Hampton, my other band Sons of Noel and Adrian and, of course, Mariner’s vocalist Emma Gatrill‘s solo work.
What were your formative gigs in Brighton? How does it compare to stretching out to London and beyond?
B: I can’t remember many. I think most of our formative gigs actually happened in London. Brighton gigs were early, so all about figuring out how the hell to feel comfortable onstage. I remember one when I was trying out sitting down whilst performing and I fell off the stage (whilst sat in a chair). That was pretty formative.
Speaking of “the beyond,” TBJ hears that you’re off to America on a tour in the near future. Where are you most excited to be heard?
B: I’m really excited about New York because it’s New York. But I’m excited about everywhere. Most of my favorite bands are from the U.S. so it’s a bit like a pilgrimage.
M: A lot of my favorite musicians are from Chicago–Tortoise, Brokeback and all their side projects, Matana Roberts, Fred Anderson, Roscoe Mitchell and the Art Ensemble of Chicago, Steve Albini and Shellac. I’m not sure how many of these have had a direct influence on The Mariner’s Children, but I figure there must be something in the water there so I’m looking forward to having a sip. I’d also love to get back to Portland, a very magical city, and to Atlanta, Georgia to see the chipmunks in the parks and the pandas in the zoo.
Who is your favorite Mariner – The Ancient, Soccer referree Andre, or Captain Ahab?
B: Don’t know Andre, so he’s out. Probably Ahab. He definitely had charisma even if his ethics were a bit skewed. I’ve only recently read “Moby Dick.” It takes a lot of patience but it’s pretty magical. It’s more a history book than a novel.
M: I’d like to nominate marine mammals such as the dugong:
You’ve been favorably compared to Arcade Fire, Grizzly Bear, and Iron & Wine. Who do you draw the most inspiration from? Who would you most like to share a stage with?
B: In terms of inspiration, all those you mentioned. I’m a big fan of Young God Records, too, and draw a lot from Angels of Light, Akron/Family, and Larkin Grimm. On a completely different note, I love the fuck out of Fleetwood Mac. My favorite album of the last while is probably Halfway Home by Angel Olsen, though. In terms of sharing a stage, I think I’d be pretty equally honored and shit scared to share a stage with any of them. They all loom pretty large for me.
M: I’m a bit of a grumpy old man and I irrationally avoid music until it’s about ten years old for some reason. I wouldn’t recommend it. I have no idea what any of my friends are talking about most of the time. For me personally, biggest musical touchstones are the aforementioned Tortoise and some of the big guns like Captain Beefheart and Ornette Coleman. But in terms of directly affecting my Mariner’s input, I suppose it’d be more people like Low, Willy Mason and, increasingly, Ennio Morricone.
I’ve no wish to die, I’ve no wish to leave your side, but if I go before you then heed these words of mine –
Let my flesh feed the sycamore tree,
In its arms you can climb if you ever feel you’re missing me.
Your lyrics are charged with a dark, fantastical edge. Do you find it preferable to draw from the less bright parts of life?
M: I don’t know about the lyrics, I just play the bass. My bass guitar is quite a dark color.
B: I suppose I do like the intensity of darker themes. I have felt more comfortable and able to express darker stuff but I’m slowly moving toward the light and finding it easier to say nicer things! A lot of new songs are, maybe not happy, but much warmer.
How are plans for your upcoming album forming? Will you be expanding your already extensive ensemble of instrumentalists or moving in an unexpected direction?
B: Well, it’s all recorded, we just need to mix it. There aren’t necessarily more instruments but we have recorded more parts than we can at the moment perform live, so there are definitely big moments on it. I’m not entirely sure what is and isn’t expected from us at the moment. I guess it’s a natural progression from what you’ve heard on the EPs, though I reckon there are a few moments that do take a bit of a left turn from anything we’ve done before. With a bit of luck it’ll be out by autumn/fall (depending on your vernacular).