“We feel like this is the record we’ve been trying to make for a decade.”
Pittsburgh bands often follow a similar trajectory. A band forms and generates some buzz at its shows. The members release a recording which creates more interest, proving the project to be, if not the next big thing, something that perhaps deserves wider recognition. Sometimes they repeat the last step one or two more times. Then they drift apart. It usually has nothing to do with cliched musical breakups. More likely outside responsibilities (family, work, relocation) take precedence. Or sometimes, the band feels like it’s done all it can and wants to end on a high note. Some members go on to form new bands with people going through the same transitions, and the process begins again.
Mariage Blanc stands as an exception, on a few different levels. Ten years after its first live performances, the band shows no signs of fatigue. If a bandmate moves to West Coast, some might consider either replacing him or calling it a day. But Mariage Blanc did neither when guitarist Josh Kretzmer moved to San Francisco in 2014. The group simply took things at a more casual pace.
MARIAGE BLANC ALBUM RELEASE SHOW with DELICIOUS PASTRIES, ANDRE COSTELLO & THE COOL MINORS. 9 p.m. Friday, Oct. 12. Brillobox, 4104 Penn Ave., Bloomfield. $8. 412-621-4900
Through Kretzmer’s regular return visits, the group created its fifth recording at its own studio, sculpting elaborate arrangements for nine lush pop songs. After mixing it at Tiny Telephone, the reputable San Francisco studio where Kretzmer has worked, Mirror Phrase reveals a band that has only developed over time. “We feel like this is the record we’ve been trying to make for a decade,” says guitarist/vocalist Matt Ceraso. “We finally made it, and every aspect of it just turned out exactly the way we wanted to turn out. So we’re all really excited about this one.”
Ceraso and Kretzmer sent song ideas back and forth to one another, fleshing them out in person and developing arrangements with the full band. While previous albums featured more electronic elements, they wanted the new album to balance more organic instruments with distinctive guitar and keyboard effects. Songs like “Ghostwriter” get a boost from 12-string guitar interludes between choruses, adding dramatic impact to Ceraso’s heartfelt vocals and a particularly strong set of harmonies in the bridge. The vintage, faux-strings sound of a mellotron sets up the dreamy quality of “Losing Touch.”
Ceraso says the band was careful not to get carried away with the vintage equipment. “The 12-strings guitars, synthesizers like the Mini Moog and mellotron, they’re all in the same camp,” he says. “They’re wonderful instruments but they’re very specific tools so you don’t want to overuse them. But when they’re in that one spot, it’s magical.”
Mirror Phrase’s lyrics might be hard to decipher, but Ceraso prefers to keep things on the ambiguous side. “We used to write in a very linear fashion, like every song had to be about something,” he says. “The older we’ve gotten, the more we’ve gotten into more impressionistic almost abstract lyrics. I’m more interested in writing something that, when people hear it, is emotionally resonant or evocative.”
With all the production work, the band won’t be able to completely reproduce the new album onstage. Kretzmer will use some foot pedals to trigger keyboard parts via a laptop. Nevertheless, the band sees recordings and performances are separate entities anyway. “There’s never a point when we’re making the record and we say, ‘How are we going to reproduce this?’ That’s the whole point of making a record,” he says. “We think that playing live and what you do on a record are two entirely different forms of art.”
The band doesn’t see this as the final chapter in Mariage Blanc’s existence either. Distance has done nothing to slow their enthusiasm. “We feel like we’re making valid art, so we said we don’t have to stop,” Ceraso says. “We just have to commit to doing it. It’s not as hard as people make it seem.”
Mike Shanley is a Pittsburgh Current Music Writer. Contact him at email@example.com