Following the success of their EPs Play (2013) and Sway (2015), electro-pop duo Marian Hill released their debut, full-length album, Act One, earlier this year. The Philadelphia natives, Jeremy Lloyd (production) and Samantha Gongol (vocals), have a distinct approach to making music: the minimalist one.
Influenced by jazz and indie rock, the “One Time” creators have a sound that is unmistakable and instantly recognizable. We were able to catch up with Marian Hill following their performance on the main stage at Lollapalooza’s 25th anniversary.
JN: What were you doing prior to Marian Hill?
Jeremy: I was in college, acting a lot and writing musicals and scores for plays and films!
Samantha: I was planning a move to L.A. to pursue top-lining. Oh, how plans change! Three years later I’m still in New York…and everywhere else. [laughs]
JN: When did you decide that you wanted to have a career as a recording artist?
J: I always knew I wanted a career in music in one way or another. I spent some time as a singer and actor and a composer in college. When I graduated, I sent “Whisky” to 60 blogs and three of them wrote about us. All of a sudden, it looked like there might be a career in this; my wildest dream came true.
S: I was pretty young, but it wasn’t until high school that I seriously considered it. Marian Hill was the first time that I became excited about any music that I’d written for myself.
JN: Your fans know the inspiration behind the band’s name, but who decided on the name Marian Hill and why did you choose it?
J: We decided together. We wanted something that sounded cool, but also had an emotional significance to us. And it’s funny, it also wasn’t a big decision. We had no idea this was going to become our lives.
S: Everyone thinks that I am Marian Hill – which is totally understandable, as it is generally used as a girl’s name. In hindsight, we probably could have chosen something that was more suited to represent two people, but hindsight is 20/20.
JN: What made you decide on the electronic genre – why not jazz, which you’ve said heavily influences your music?
J: Fancy answer: I love the possibilities of electronic music and the control. You can truly do anything you can imagine! And there are so many ways to play with sound and craft unique worlds, in a time when I think music is all about distinguishing yourself with a unique sound. It gives you such room to play and build a unique sonic palette for each song.
Real answer: We made “Whisky” on a whim and making electronic music was just something I did on the side for fun. Then people really liked it, so we kept doing it!
JN: What do you think sets your music apart from other artists in the same genre?
J: You can always understand every word of our lyrics and the vocals are processed really minimally. I think the mix is very minimal, sparse, and focused in a way you don’t usually hear. And the songwriting is completely integrated; every element of the song – from the snare drum to the lyrics – are focused on the same idea.
S: On a very basic level, we just really don’t sound like anyone else, and Jeremy mentioned the mix and minimal production. I’ll be listening to music on Spotify and when one of our songs comes on, the difference is always so striking. Also, that beautiful golden instrument! People love the sax and have come to expect it from us. At Lolla, during a moment of technical difficulty, they actually demanded it! That’s hard to argue with.
JN: Speaking of the saxophone, can we expect more collaborations with Steve Davit?
J: Definitely! Steve is an essential part of our live show as a saxophonist and bassist. He has been one of my closest friends for the last decade plus, and he’s an incredible musician; we’re always working together.
S: I love Steve and he is a special human. I hope he stays and plays with us forever.
JN: What can we look forward to from Marian Hill?
J: An incredible fall tour! Our shows are pretty unique, I think – lots of bass, lots of sax, lots of fun.
S: Yes! Super excited for [our] fall tour. I like being on the road, performing and meeting fans.
JN: Did Lollapalooza treat you well?
J: Lolla was amazing! Definitely one of the biggest crowds we’ve ever played. It was a surreal experience being on such a big stage looking out at the Chicago skyline, and incredible catering.
S: Lolla is massive! Massive crowd, massive stage, and we got to meet with and see other people and artists we don’t often run into. And to top it all off, it was a beautiful day.