Marsicans have always felt like a band poised to capture that indescribable feeling of youthful summer days running between your mates’ houses and the park, cheeky drinks and late-nights, and festival weekends where the last day arrives too soon. It comes easily because they were those teenagers, doing all of that and more. “I guess it’s what this is all about,” smiles frontman James Newbigging. “You want to be that band that you went to stand in front of years before. That feeds into everything you do.”
Recognised as a go-to band grafting away with shows and releases whenever possible, the fact it’s taken this long to release their debut album ‘Ursa Major’ is a sign of an unwavering determination to get this right. Of finding the right moment to make that opening full-body statement of intent. “To us, it feels so right at this moment,” confirms James. “We could have released our debut album a few years ago, but we didn’t want to. We didn’t want to rush into it. We wanted to release it on our terms. We’ve seen bands release debut albums way too early, we just had to wait for the right time.
“It’s interesting because quite a few of the bands who’ve been in our scene for the last few years have been releasing those debut albums, so it starts to alter your headspace a bit,” details guitarist Oli Jameson. “You go from not really thinking of yourself as an album-kinda band or being in that tier, to seeing your peer releasing their albums and then realising it’s our turn soon! It hypes you up a bit.”
That time now here, ‘Ursa Major’ takes all those expectations and turns them into joy. An album packed with storied turns and unexpected destinations, it’s the sound of a band showcasing to the world the skills and lessons learnt together – now in one place and ready to take that next step. “I think the best way to describe this album is like a party,” lays out James. “It starts off optimistic and upbeat, everyone’s having a good time, and then it gets to a certain point, and it’s downhill from there…” There’s a pause. “Not in a bad way, of course!!!” he cracks.
“It is like a big night out, actually! Then in the middle, you find yourself outside having a really deep, meaningful conversation, and then you get this second wave.”
‘Ursa Major’ is stacked with every emotion. The jubilance and freedom of heading outside as the wind blows against your face. The sombre moments of pause and reflection as life doesn’t go to plan. The unfaltering bond of friends there for one another. Like a scrapbook of tales spread across years of life, it’s a ride that never lets up – much like the days, months and years that have made up their own story.
“We had it the other week,” notes James. “We were looking through old photos and stuff for something we were working on, and we ended up just chatting through everything, thinking of all these times we’d been through. It’s nice because sometimes you can get stuck in what’s coming up – always wanting the next big thing and playing to more and more people – so you don’t look back on what got us here. Looking back and saying, hey – that was fun.”
Long nights travelling in an old Royal Mail van with a dodgy clutch became the norm for Marsicans. Willing to jump on every opportunity, in a lot of ways their story is one of doing things the ‘old school’ way. Gigging, supporting artists wherever they could, festival stages: they all fit hand in hand with a band who would wander the streets of Leeds with instruments in hand looking for another fun night playing. Getting tracks out there. “There was one early gig at The Cockpit where we played with a band who’d been on Britain’s Got Talent,” recalls Oli. “And because they had all these fans who were so passionate about them, after we’d played our opening set we had this huge queue of people at the merch desk just wanting to take a picture with us. We’d only brought like 20 t-shirts to sell. We were so unaware at the time.”
Growing up not only as a band but as people, every inch of life informs ‘Ursa Major’. The youthful exuberance of ‘Sunday’ bounces off of ready-made festival anthems such as ‘Sleep Start’, ‘Juliet’, ‘These Days’ and ‘Can I Stay Here Forever (pt II)’ – but in its tender moments, ‘Ursa Major’ takes on new meanings. ‘Someone Else’s Touch’ is a chilling and devastating ode to lost love and trying to continue on despite it all, while ‘Blood In My Eye’ breathes like a cinematic soundtrack to sunsets tinged with regret on what went wrong. Slow-burning’ Dr Jekyll’ turns into a ferocious beast of its own in the same way ‘Leave Me Outside’ keeps jumping back into life at every opportunity. Marsicans are delivering the sort of all-encompassing indie record that 2020 was looking for. “We go to places we’ve never gone before”, says James. “We’re just so happy that we took the time we needed to on it.”
Their unrelenting determination to play shows at any moment possible fed into the recording process, ensuring that when it came to album time, Marsicans had a wealth of material to delve into. “We would try and flesh out a song every week,” explains Oli, “and then after three weeks, we demo one of the songs no matter what. It was a great process for us because we had so much to choose from when it came to the album, and such a range of stuff too, and you end up stumbling upon happy accidents. Tracks that work so well.”
“We weirdly didn’t feel any pressure when it came to the album itself,” continues James. “The only pressure we put ourselves under was, like Oli says, to just write as much as we could. There are threads that run through the album, but we didn’t want to limit ourselves. Like, the whole process was just so much fun, it’s what you do this for. The first time we could put songs together on a full album and have it say something.”
Recorded in the famed Rockfield Studios (just the place where the likes of Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Maccabees and Coldplay recorded their own seminal albums), the time spent in refining and working through the countless tracks they already had written paid off. Done in just 10 days, the result is everything the band could have hoped for. “You just are reminded that there’s music on this debut album that will forever be known as our first stamp, y’know? Despite us putting out music for four years, this album will be the base of who we are as a band and who we will become,” states Oli.
‘Ursa Major’ gives Marsicans the ammunition to go anywhere, play to anyone and feel confident in themselves. “You have moments like… moments you remember,” says James, gazing off as one such night pops into his head. “My big one was playing with Foals last year. We were playing on stage that night, and I just turned to one side of it and saw Yannis [Philippakis] and then Jeremy [Pritchard] from Everything Everything standing there watching us and it was like… As an indie fanboy, I just thought – wow, look at me doing this right now! We got to hang out afterwards and just drink beers and champagne and chat so much. It’s like, okay this is really fun.
“One thing they said was, always remember the first time you do something because that moment never happens again. Opportunities get lost on you because you don’t take them in. That really stuck with me.”
It perfectly nails what Marsicans are all about – lifelong fans of the guitar bands now following in their footsteps. “We played Leeds Festival a couple of years ago, and we were playing on a stage that we went to two years before that to see another band and went crazy to it,” smiles James. “That’s what it’s all about. It’s that with the debut album too, I want people to listen to it and be like ‘woahhh’, and it helps change the way they view music. How important it can be.
“There’s nothing more fun than being in a band with your mates and writing music. There’s nothing more fun than that for us.”
Taken from the August issue of Dork. Marsicans’ debut album ‘Ursa Major’ is out 14th August.
Words: Jamie Muir