Skip to content

Marian Hill: The Essence of Truth.

September 23, 2014

MarianHillOnline02Text by Chris Malo. Portraits by Michael Bucher. Show photos by Grace Dickinson and Jason Melcher.

In November, they appeared in the pages of NME magazine, on their Radar list of new bands to check out. In February of this year they played their first show at Boot & Saddle. Jon Caramanica wrote about them in The New York Times in March, around the time their first EP, Play, was released. Following that, they did a short tour through California. The five tracks on their Soundcloud have more than 1.5 million plays. Adding the three remixes, boosts the numbers by another 650,000 plays.

Not bad for a group that has only officially been together for less than two years and that you may not have heard of. Yet.

Marian Hill is a two-piece electro R&B/blues group, comprised of vocalist Samantha Gongol and producer Jeremy Lloyd. Both were raised in the Havertown, Pennsylvania area, becoming friends in school. Back then they both had their own musical talents and interests which would come to intersect in a place like a school play. Gongol had to kiss Lloyd during an 8th grade performance of “The Music Man.”

“The show went off without a hitch,” says Gongol with a laugh.

“I looked great,” adds Lloyd. “I was in a nice suit. I was looking sharp. I was an attractive kid back then.”

RBSSRJD2Today, the two 24-year-olds sit on the concourse lobby of the Kimmel Center, days away from their first festival performance at the XPoNential Music Festival. Lloyd is dressed in a soft blue T-shirt, shorts, brown shoes and messy brown hair, Gongol’s blonde lioness mane falls over her 5-foot-1-inch frame and a floral halter top, completed with a black skirt and heels.

Lloyd went on to Yale, where he graduated with a degree in theater and music, while Gongol received a music business degree from NYU. Lloyd was focused on making music while Gongol had her eyes set westward, wanting to pursue a career in top lining.

But during spring break in 2013, when they got together to share what each had been working on, it produced a different result, a different path.

Lloyd played Gongol the track that would eventually become their first single, “Whiskey.”

“I think a big thing we locked into with that track and that we have been working to embrace going forward is that a lot of that glossier music, the vocalist doesn’t matter that much,” explains Lloyd. “It’s the sound, the atmosphere of the song and the vocal fits into that. Where as with this we have this beat that’s big and taking up lots of space but it’s nowhere the vocal is so the vocal can totally exist on its own. It’s big for me that we never tune her vocals. We never double her vocals.”

When Lloyd sent “Whiskey” out to blogs, it garnered enough attention and interest that the two continued to work together, producing the tracks for what would become the Play EP.

“We were able to test with ‘Whiskey’ and be like, ‘Okay, this is something that people are connecting with that we love too,’” Lloyd explains. “And then we’re like, let’s dive into it. Let’s make more. And people have been really responsive.”

Lloyd and Gongol wanted to introduce the world to Marian Hill and to give hints at what they are capable of. “Play” is up-tempo, while “Breathe Into Me” slows things down. “Lovit” was to keep the “Whiskey” buzz going. As they were wrapping up the EP and the initial buzz was dying down, they released “One Time.”

One Time” would eventually get remixed by the likes of Marcè Reazon (whose production and engineering credits include Kanye West, John Legend, Wale, Kid Cudi and Troy Ave), Canadian producer Imanos and Philadelphia producer and DJ, Bear One.

“Once I heard them, I was instantly drawn to their music,” says Bear. “I’m a huge fan of the mixture of downtempo, chill and soul. Plus they’re from Philly!”

MarianHillOnline03For his remix of “One Time,” Bear says he wanted to add some raw drums and an 808 to add some punch to the original. He kept the original hook. Once Philadelphia-based rapper Sugar Tongue Slim added his vocals, it was a wrap.

“They got that vibe to their sound that puts you in a mood,” Slim says of Marian Hill.

What kind of mood?

“An I-just-want-to-clear-my-head type of mood,” Slim continues. “Which actually inspires me to get back to rapping cause I too want to make amazing music and master my craft as they have done.”

For live performances, Marian Hill is joined by Steve Davit, who plays bass  and saxophone.

“They both put so much soul and energy into the music, it makes it hard not to dance while I play,” says Davit. “Jeremy and I have always bounced our musical ideas off of each other, even though our tastes in music don’t always match. But when I first heard the demo of ‘Whiskey’ and how great Sam sounded on top of Jeremy’s new production style, I knew people were going to dig it.”

While the fans seem to get lost watching Gongol swoon on stage, Lloyd gets lost in recreating the music, triggering samples, playing keys and controlling filters. His body flails and spasms, appendages flying in all directions, but his eyes never leave the deck.

“I’m still amazed at how quickly Jeremy was able to create an instrument to play everything,” Davit says. “He has taken his love of performance and integrated it into an electronic medium.”

“It was important to me to be very active,” says Lloyd. “There was a point when I realized, ‘This is my instrument now.’”

“Translating what we do and what people hear online into this live act is something completely different,” Gongol adds. “It takes a while to let everything go. Let your preconceptions and your fears and just to let it out and let it out on stage.”

The previous night, Marian Hill had been up until 3 a.m., spending one hour on a single line of a song. The themes touched in the group’s music are subjects that may or may not be personal but they are certainly topics of intrigue for the duo.

“I think relationships are really beautiful and they can be messy and complicated,” says Gongol. “And I really like the idea of forbidden love.”

She references a book she is currently reading where a character has a relationship with her cousin.

“That’s so foreign and taboo and forbidden,” she adds. “I’m intrigued by really complicated relationships.”

“Dramatically rich,” adds Lloyd. “I definitely think of the both of us as being students of human behavior. Yes, our songs aren’t pages of our diaries, but there is certainly a sense for me in everyone that there is a really true feeling that we have observed in others or felt in ourselves. The way I have always written is that you find that true thing and then you’re writing a song that expresses that thing, and then you write that song. It’s not about the details being true, it’s about that essence being true.”

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: