Best of What's Next: Mariage Blanc
Members: Matt Ceraso, Josh Dotson, Josh Kretzmer, Sam McUmber, Chris Williams
For Fans Of: The Shins, Beulah, Badly Drawn Boy
When Pittsburgh five-piece Mariage Blanc started working on their debut full-length, they had grand plans of recording the whole album to tape, inspired by some of their favorite ’60s records, along with newer bands like Wilco and Grizzly Bear. They converted an old warehouse into a studio, where they could take their time, but their ambitions turned into a comedy of errors.
After they recorded all the drum tracks and scratch tracks, they realized their tape stock was disintegrating. Every time they played it back, filaments would splinter off. They had to bake it in a food dehydrator and try to transfer it to digital. That’s when a blizzard hit Pittsburgh.
“So we kind of got snowed into the studio, and our drummer had to rerecord all the drum parts,” says one of the band’s two songwriters Josh Kretzmer. “And at that point the studio wasn’t heated, and it was so cold he’d have to go upstairs and soak his feet in hot water between takes so he could feel them again. Then after that, when we were working on the bass, we were playing back some takes and we realized that the tape-machine was actually now playing back at incorrect speeds. It was varying in the speeds it would play back—which, you know, could be pretty bad. So we had to scrap all the bass takes, we salvaged all the drums and transferred them to digital and worked on a computer from then on out. After that, it was kind of smooth sailing.”
Kretzmer was writing songs on his own when he met Matt Ceraso, the band’s other songwriter. “We decided we wanted to do a split EP with three of my songs and three of his,” says Ceraso. “The more that we worked on it, we realized that we had similar tastes and interested in doing the same kind of thing musically. So we just decided to just write together, and we eventually picked up the other guys.”
Those musical sensibilities—shimmery pop melodies that occasionally recall the sounds of Laurel Canyon—were quite different from the rest of the Pittsburgh scene. “There are a lot of indie folk bands,” says Ceraso. “There’s also a lot of Black Sabbath-y, post-punk kind of stuff.”
“Like a hard psych rock kind of scene,” adds Kretzmer. “There are a few Indie bands, but to some degree we’re kind of an odd man out.”
Still, though they’d like to quit their day jobs—Kretzmer is a software engineer for a robotics company and Ceraso is working for the University of Pittsburgh in their Student Records department—they have no plans to leave their hometown. “Pittsburgh is a shockingly vibrant city,” Ceraso says, “more so than people give it credit for, I think. You can live here and work a part-time job, have a nice apartment and spend all the rest of your time doing art. Because it’s so cheap, there’s a really great art community.”