From ’80s sci-fi-inspired adventures to a haunted house possessed by a former love, Canadian pop-rockers Marianas Trench aren’t just creating albums—they’re creating universes for their fans to engulf themselves in. With each new album era, they produce an exciting and immersive concept for fans to explore. But the creative process doesn’t end with the completion of each album. Known for their next-level and high-energy performances, Marianas Trench go above and beyond to bring these worlds to life with each show.
We sat down with bassist Mike Ayley to reveal the work that goes into bringing these worlds to life from album to stage and what fans can expect on the second U.S. Suspending Gravity tour run in support of their latest album, Phantoms.
You do a phenomenal job at creating these albums with specific themes and storylines. How do you come up with these concepts, or where do you draw inspiration from?
The Astoria one was random. At the end of the Ever After album cycle, Josh [Ramsay, frontman] was in his hotel room before playing the last show of the album cycle watching Super 8. We thought of it at that point like, “You know, there’s a certain genre of these movies like The Goonies, Super 8 and Monster Squad.” In the ’80s, it seemed to be a thing, so we thought that would be a really interesting setting for a movie because it gets a musical direction, artistic direction and styling and all that stuff.
For Phantoms, we were on one of the last United States tour dates on that cycle and had a day off in New Orleans. We weren’t even playing a show. We just stopped there for the day in between cities [and] started soaking up the vibe. It’s got that haunted sort of feel there. It’s really cool [and] oozing this feeling. You can feel these old cemeteries and spiritual, voodoo-ish sort of vibe. Josh gets back to the bus, and he thought the idea of mixing these two things—the haunted house feeling with this essence of the New Orleans kind of thing—would be an interesting idea. It worked out really well. The content, lyrically, is a good metaphor for a lot of the messages and stories in the songs. That one totally leads to the video content. With the styling, we went all over the place where we had some parts where we were quite extreme [with the] Victorian style, but we stopped it for a bit because it’s summertime, and it’s just too hot to wear these big coats and stuff. [Laughs.] It’s still fun to be able to get away with all of that.
Not only are you creating these new worlds with each album, but you’re bringing all these ideas to life during your live shows by giving fans this incredible, immersive performance. How important is it to provide that for fans?
It’s important with the styles for us to try different stuff we can do live so the shows feel fresh. Not just having new music, but even the feel. It definitely gives us direction with video content—not so much the stage as it could be. When we’re doing arenas, we have a little more leeway because we have more production. We still bring a truck full of production for the U.S. tours. The balance is trying to enhance the album theme in the show while still having production that accents the music and doesn’t make the other album singles look out of place. We always do our best to balance that. It’s really cool being able to create a world. It’s neat that anybody who comes to see a Marianas Trench show will see the show and know what album the music is from. They’re like, “Oh, I saw the Phantoms tour,” and you know it was the Phantoms tour because of not only the music but that exact world you’re coming to visit. It’s neat that each touring era isn’t just playing the exact same thing with a few extra songs. It’s an experience within itself different from any we’ve done before and will be different from the next time we put out music too.
When you’re creating these albums, are you thinking about how they’ll translate into live performances, or is that something that comes later on?
That stuff usually all comes part in part with the beginning. The nuts and bolts of the live show, that’s figured out much later, but the ideas start flowing all at once. Like, “We can do music that’s like this, and the show can be something like this and artwork like that.” It comes all as one rush, and eventually you compartmentalize it as you work on each task.
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You have live shows that are next level with lights, theme, video—the whole package. What kind of work goes into bringing these songs to life from album to stage?
Lots of work! [Laughs.] When we’re in the studio, you’re just like, “What does the song need?” and you do every single thing you think makes the song better. Then once it’s time to get it from the studio to a live performance, you’re like, “Now how the hell are we gonna do this live?” You just start practicing who’s gonna play what and who’s gonna sing which part. Now we have Royce Whittaker onstage with us who was a guitar tech in the past. He’s an incredibly talented musician and singer and tech. Now he’s like a fifth band member. He’s playing keyboard because there’s just so much stuff we need. Although he’s a super charming, handsome guy, he actually might be making us look worse now that I think about it. [Laughs.] We had to add the other guy so we could pull it off.
What do you feel is the hardest part about trying to translate the albums into live performances?
The hardest part for me, personally, [is] I can sing all the parts I have to sing. I can play all the parts I have to play. It’s just getting the singing and playing independence down. That’s usually the hardest part, making the playing still sound good and the singing still sound good while doing it at the same time. But that’s just a matter of repetition. We’re going out on this run here, and we only savaged just a few shows in the summer. So I’m now practicing every day again, even songs we’ve already done. “Wish You Were Here” is one we haven’t done in the show yet. Last one. So I imagine we’ll be getting that in there, so [we’re] running that a lot. That’s actually a pretty tough one just because of the feel of the singing—it’s different.
For me, it’s just a matter of making sure I get the reps of the songs in to sing confidently live and play confidently live. There are some parts that come really, really quick, and there are some that feel like they’re never going to come at all, but they do. I think that’s the hardest part of being in the band and probably a lot of bands for people.
Which era has been your favorite to perform live?
I really liked Ever After because that was the first time we really started bringing a lot of production to the show. We had the jack-in-the-box going out onto flying stuff. We had the big stages. It was the first time we were in arenas. That one has a pretty sentimental spot for me as this milestone and production and stuff. I really liked Astoria because it was basically wearing these tight jeans, and you looked like an ’80s rocker. This one is really cool because it’s moody. I like when I can wear these light, almost trench coat things onstage. All of them are fun because each one is different. It’s not like you’re doing an inferior version from a previous generation. It’s a new thing altogether.
For those who may not have attended yet, what can fans expect during a live performance on the Phantoms tour?
As usual, there will be lots of shenanigans and Josh’s tomfoolery. There will be, as usual, pushups before every show, so we’ll try to look our very best for you all. We’re squeezing as many songs into the setlist as we can so people who have heard and love Phantoms will hear most of the album, and people who have heard us from the past will still get to hear most of their favorite songs. We’re jamming the setlist with as many songs as we can fit in the time we’re allowed to play. Marianas Trench overload.
Marianas Trench embark on the Suspending Gravity tour later this month. Dates and tickets are available here.