Getting ‘Down’ with Marian Hill
Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol first met at Haverford High School just outside of Philadelphia. Although both were already making music at the time, and HHS happens to run the oldest FM broadcast high school radio station in the U.S., the pair never collaborated.
That is, until they came back home on college breaks - Lloyd from Yale and Gongol from NYU.
With Lloyd handling production duties and Gongol on vocals, the duo started writing together and decided to call themselves Marian Hill, a mash-up of names from Broadway musical The Music Man’s two main characters.
Marian Hill released a pair of EPs, 2013’s “Play” and 2015’s “Sway,” before getting their first big break.
It came in the form of a 2017 AirPods commercial that used the song “Down” from the band’s 2016 debut LP, “Act One.”
Since then, Lloyd and Gongol have spent their time on the road, catching up with the almost instant popularity that commercial brought them, and deciding where Marian Hill is headed next.
PACIFIC recently spoke with the pair about it all from their adopted home base of Brooklyn.
PACIFIC: You guys tired yet? Seems like this is an extensive tour.
JEREMY LLOYD: Our last tour was actually longer. We were out for five weeks.
SAMANTHA GONGOL: And this one is not sustained. We’re only out for about three-and-a-half weeks and then we have a bunch of festivals. After that, it’s off to Europe in October.
It has to be nice to get both - big festivals filled with those who might only know “Down” and stop to watch the set. And then you also get club dates with real fans there just to see you.
Lloyd: Absolutely. And that’s a good breakdown of it. They are two completely different things. There are those hometown crowds and then there are festivals, where you’re strutting your stuff for the world at large and hoping to bring in some new people. My favorite thing about festivals is watching the crowd grow over the course of a set. It’s very rewarding.
Good to build the best flytrap that you can.
Lloyd: (laughs) When I sit down to make music, I don’t necessarily think about making a flytrap. I love the metaphor, though. Funny.
Your paths went in literal different directions after high school. But, sometimes, things just have a way of working out.
Lloyd: Yes. Definitely. Recently, I remembered this process I had when I must’ve been in early high school starting to think about making my own music - what that would be; how cool it would to be in a band. And, at the time, the bands I was interested in all met early on; when they were in high school. So, I was thinking, “Damn, if this is going to happen for me, it’s going to happen here.” But Sam and I were parallels at that time. We were both working, but not collaborating. It wasn’t until I was in college and heard AlunaGeorge and starting thinking, “Oh, s**t, do I have any singer friends that I could do something like that with?” I’d known Sam forever and knew she had an incredible voice. We first started talking about writing songs and then collaborated more and more. It really just all fell into place.
Marian Hill with Opia
When: 8 p.m. June 16
Where: Observatory North Park, 2891 University Ave, North Park
You also had logistics working for you. Yale and NYU are a lot closer than say, UCLA and NYU.
Lloyd: Totally. I spent a lot of time working at Sam’s apartment when I was in New York. And we always worked when we were back home on Thanksgiving or spring break or over the summer.
Cool that the music ultimately reconnected you.
Lloyd: I think we have the Internet age to thank for that - and the specific age that we’re in right now. I feel like it’s almost past, and I don’t want to get too into it, but there was a time when you could just look at the blogs writing about music on Hype Machine, email your music to the blogs on that list that play music like yours, and tell with one song as a Litmus test, if you should devote more time to it. We didn’t have to grind that much and play all kinds of shows to find out if people liked our music beyond our town. We knew. We made one song and record labels were asking us to hear more. That was a huge impetus in making us commit to it at an early stage.
Gongol: I was actually going to move to L.A. to write pop music. We were really fortunate early on and that’s what prompted me to stay and really pursue Marian Hill.
Do people take the band name literally and call you Marian?
Gongol: Yeah. It happens a lot. But with the success of “Down,” people know more about the band and it’s starting to happen a lot less. It’s quite fascinating.
Do you guys have a set way that you create?
Gongol: Jeremy and I write the melody and lyrics together. But I rarely come up with something before Jeremy has some skeleton of the beat. I always try to hang something on it because, often times, his track inspires the direction or mood of the song. Not ruling it out, but it’s rare when we write before the beat comes.
Lloyd: Yeah, we like to let the music drive.
You both were music people long before you worked together. Have you found that the success of the band is changing the way you consume it?
Gongol: I still consume a lot of music. But with the success of the band, I have found it hard to consume things that sound similar (to us), or music from our peers. I find myself comparing, contrasting, and getting competitive. (laughs) So lately, my music diet has been very different.
Lloyd: For me, I definitely listen to as much, if not more. But I consider it my job to continue to let music be the inspiration. People say that to be a great writer, it’s best to read a lot and I think the same is true about music. If you want to write music, the best way to continue to improve is to keep consuming music, new and old, things you haven’t heard before, and, in general, to stuff that excites you. That said, it’s been interesting to find that the better I get as a producer, and the more I learn how to produce, the harder it is for me to find music that really excites me. The more you know about how someone does something takes the surprise away. But it’s made me appreciate things in a different way.
Does Marian Hill expand its sound now that it has a platform?
Lloyd: We’re definitely thinking a lot about what’s coming next. We spent the last month or so writing new music. And on this tour, we’ll be playing two new songs - each one a different direction that we’ve been exploring. It’ll be exciting to test them out. But now that “Down” has given us a platform, it’s about finding out what’s next and what our progression will be. And that’s an exciting place to be. But it’s also daunting. It’s harder to think in terms of broad strokes instead of just concentrating on a single song, but we’ve definitely been trying to push ourselves in new directions.
Lloyd: It’s one of the biggest conversations we’ll be having on this tour. We’re definitely the kind of creatives where it’s best to write when you’re not exactly sure what it’s going to be for. It’s best when we let it be just about what excites us and not about bigger pictures or pressures. But I think we’re at the point where we’ve written enough and it’s time to figure out what shape it’s going to take - what that next entry in the Marian Hill story is going to be.
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