Photos by Nick Fancher
Marriages emerged in Los Angeles in 2011 as a collaboration between members of instrumental post-rock group Red Sparowes and dreamy folk-pop band The Nocturnes. A 2012 EP, Kitsune, expanded on Red Sparowes sprawling flavors, with vocalist/guitarist Emma Ruth Rundle’s ethereal, often effects-soaked vocals gently flowing through intense peaks and valleys.
Rather than continue along those same musical threads, Marriages’ debut full-length, Salome (Sargent House, April 7), reveals a dramatic about-face. Named after the biblical character who famously requested (and received) the head of John the Baptist on a platter in reward for an exotic dance, a heavy, mysterious aura abounds throughout the album’s carefully-sculpted song structures and shifting moods. Perhaps most notably, Emma’s vocals have transformed from a largely textural element to an electrifying centrifugal force.
Noisey spoke with Emma, who also works as a video and visual artist, to find out more about Marriages’ newfound style and how she likes her newly-adopted home of Portland, Oregon.
Noisey: You wrote your 2014 solo record, Some Heavy Ocean, during a turbulent time in your personal life. How was it to come out of that and back into Marriages?
Emma Ruth Rundle: From a writing point of view, both things were happening parallel to one another… There wasn't really an evolution in the writing process that was related to me doing a solo record. There was, however, a shift in how we worked together as a group because we added drummer Andrew Clinco, who contributed quite a lot stylistically to the new stuff.
The vocals come out stronger on this record, where on the EP they follow the music in a softer, atmospheric way.
On Kitsune, the vocals were more of a texture and an instrument than a focal point. As we started focusing more on song-based music, it became clear that we wanted vocals to be more of a center weight in the music, something that you could really hear. On Kitsune, I was using a lot of vocal effects, a vocal shifter, a harmony generator. I don't use any of that stuff on Salome. Part of that came from touring on Kitsune. The way I was singing with those effects and the vocal range I was using, it simply was not able to translate live. Marriages is a pretty loud band, live. I wish we could turn down, but we've never really been able to. With the effects it was just a complete disaster. I miss the idea of treating vocals as more of a texture. Maybe there will be some room for that kind of singing in a project in the future.
Salome is a pretty loaded character and there are a lot of interpretations of who she is. Who is Salome to you, and what drew you to that imagery and persona for this record?
We have a song called "Salome," which I felt was the most emotionally-charged song on the record. I felt the content had represented a theme for me that worked for the whole record. She's a very strong character and calls to mind a lot of very strong imagery. I think of her as being an archetypal, scarlet woman, a Whore of Babylon figure. When we decided to call the record Salome, it was a combination of the song and deciding to focus on that imagery for the artwork.
Dreamy textures and experimentation come out in both your visual art and your music. What about these aesthetics inspire you to create?
There is something about dreamy textures, both visually and sonically that I feel can transport you outside of the everyday experience. It's an aesthetic I'm really drawn to, the dream state. The visual work, and especially the video work, creates a world I would like to escape into, though some of the visual stuff is quite the opposite. The video stuff would be something you'd gravitate to and the drawings would be a repelling force. With the music, people are usually talking about the use of reverb and the delay, which I've used really heavily on guitar and vocals.
Do your visual work and music inform each other? There is some religious imagery in your painting, and obviously Salome is a biblical character.
I don't come from a specifically religious background. I wasn't raised in the Catholic church. Quite the opposite. The art and the music are two separate venues for something that is similar in my world… I've made specific artwork to support musical statements, usually that would be the way it would go.
As far as everyday painting and music go, they aren’t necessarily informing one another, but if there is a certain subject coming up for me it will probably manifest itself in the music and whatever else I'm doing, whether it's doodling, or making a shitty experimental video. Then there are ideas that come that are completely singular, that you couldn't do in music. It's something you need to explore, a new art form to accomplish, which is exciting and keeps things interesting.
Are you still living in Los Angeles? How involved are you with the music and arts community there?
I recently moved to Portland. My sister lives here. I wanted to move here for years and I finally did it. It's beautiful and there are seasons. Everything is spring‑looking, out the window there are trees with flowers. I hadn't really been an active member in what I would call the "real" music scene in LA, probably for six years. When we were young [we were] playing a ton of shows in LA, putting on events, and all of this DIY, but I hadn't been a part of that conversation in a while. In Portland, there is a tangible community here. You can walk around and run into people you know. You don't need a car and for the most part everyone is friendly. It seems like everyone here is doing something creative. It’'s a good spot to be if you want to be immersed in the creative community.
There are stereotypes of the “Hollywood” mentality in Los Angeles, and of Portland being kind of an opposite. Has that come into play for you, having lived in both places?
I was born and raised in Los Angeles. There’s definitely a tangible air of what you described happening there. It’s a huge place, and there are so many different versions of the city. Even within one neighborhood there are so many different groups of people, different communities, different races, and different languages. There is a lot going on in one place, and certainly most of it does not have to do with the “Hollywood” kind of shit. Being in music, which I guess falls under the category of “entertainment,” you’re exposed to it, and you’re around it. It’s not my favorite thing in the world.
I like Portland because it doesn’t feel that way… Although, I could just be in a honeymoon phase. Being an outsider living in a city that I’m not from is maybe making it seem to be something I want it to be and not what it is, but it definitely isn’t Los Angeles.
MARRIAGES – ON TOUR
April 9 Tilburg, Netherlands @ Roadburn Festival
April 10 Nijmegen, Netherlands @ Doornroosje *
April 11 Leige, BE @ Le Hangar
April 12 Paris, France @ Le Tranbendo *
April 14 Tourcoing, FR @ Le Grand Mix*
April 15 Vevey, Switzerland @ Rocking Chair *
April 16 Aarau, Switzerland @ Kiff *
April 17 Schorndorf, Germany @ Club Manufaktur *
April 18 Leipzig, Germany @ UT Connewitz e.V. *
April 20 Brno, Czech Republic @ Fleda *
April 21 Linz, Austria @ Posthof *
April 22 Ljubljana, Slovenia @ Kino Siska *
April 24 Rijeka, Croatia @ Impulse Festival *
April 25 Belgrade, Serbia @ Dom Omladine *
April 26 Bucharest, Romania @ The Silver Church *
April 27 Sofia, Bulgaria @ Mixtape 5 *
April 29 Budapest, HU @ A38
August 21 or 22 Bristol, UK @ Arctangent Festival
* w/ Wovenhand
Salome pre-orders are now available on iTunes and HelloMerch.
Jamie Ludwig is on Twitter – @unlistenmusic