kelly gonsalves gets in the trench …
He is comfortable, uncomfortable, completely out of his element, and smack dab in the gold of his periodic table – all at the same time.
On one end, he is Matthew Webb. He is the lead guitarist for the Juno-winning, multiplatinum-selling pop rock act from Vancouver known as Marianas Trench. Nationally renowned in Canada, Marianas Trench singles are staple parts of popular radio stations’ song rotations — in some parts of the country, you can’t go more than two hours without hearing “Desperate Measures” or “Fallout” on the radio at least once or twice. And it’s not difficult to see what the fuss is all about. The quartet has a style of music is pretty far from the norm—it is marked by their four-part harmonies, interesting song composition of punk rock instrumentation against young pop melodies against full-scale string orchestras, and lead singer Josh Ramsay’s impressive vocal range and signature soaring falsetto.
Having just completed two full-length, almost fully sold-out arena tours in Canada, the band is now headlining a cross-country U.S. tour hosted by Journeys called The Noise Tour. They did have enough time, however, to stop back in Toronto for a weekend to win “Pop Video of the Year” and “Your Fave Video of the Year” at the 2013 MuchMusic Video Awards, one of the largest music award shows in the country, for which they have had the highest number of nominations for the last two years (seven nominations last year and six this year). They also scored a Juno Award, an even larger music award, for “Group of the Year” in April. To say the least, Marianas Trench is definitely riding high this year.
So to say you are the lead guitarist for a band that sells out arena shows, wins some of the nation’s biggest music awards, and gets airplay as often as Katy Perry, fun., and other mainstream radio artists—it’s kind of a big deal.
That’s only on one side of the story, however. On the other end, we are currently standing in a parking lot outside of a rock club in New Jersey, and more importantly, in the United States. That is, a country where Juno Awards and MMVAs and “Desperate Measures” mean little to nothing to the majority of young radio listeners on this side of the border.
Webb is fully aware of this. It shows in the way he eagerly waited for me outside his tour bus when I called to say I was on my way and in the way he smiles, shakes my hand, and introduces himself — not just for semantics, but because he seems honestly unsure as to whether or not I know who he is. At the same time, he carries himself like an experienced celebrity, one who is fully aware of the level of fame he has achieved, even if he still has to introduce himself to some lowly, still in college journalist on the Jersey Shore. He is Paul McCartney in a world that never knew The Beatles.
Such is the journey of a highly successful band wandering into a wholly new market, he admits almost immediately.
“I don’t know, we came out and we weren’t sure how the sales would be and how many people would be coming to shows, and it’s been ridiculous,” Webb says. “All the shows have been packed, and the fans have been really enthusiastic and happy to see us, and it just makes me wanna travel and tour down here more and more.”
And Webb and the U.S. “trenchers,” as Marianas Trench fans are called, are in luck. This past April, the band signed with Cherrytree Records and Interscope Records, two related U.S. record labels under the Universal Music Group — a strong sign that the States are ready and willing to accept Marianas Trench with open arms.
“In Canada, we’re playing in arenas up there, so that’s obviously like bigger crowds and stuff, but I don’t think we’re gonna be that far away from it down here. It’s growing like a wildfire down here,” Webb says matter-of-factly.
He is not boasting, and he is not overconfident; he is stating facts that he’s learned from experience. When it comes down to it, Webb is a natural-born rock star. His experiences with fame and success have taught him that hard work pays off. The dream is possible, reachable, and even imminent. Even in a country that can’t identify him from the average shmuck down the street, Webb is still 100% celebrity rock star status.
In fact, when I ask him if he thinks his job is “worth it,” he doesn’t even seem to comprehend the question. He cocks his eyebrows, asks me to repeat and clarify, and tries to find something in his endless internal reservoir of standard, scripted interview answers to use as a response. Finally, I readjust my question.
Has it been what you expected — the journey?
His first reaction is to start off on one of his tired ol’ internal interview scripts. Somewhere in the midst of it, however, he stops. He considers and then finally tells me this story:
“I always as a kid dreamed of doing music for a living, and I’m so fortunate to be able to get together with a group of great guys and go out and play music every night. It’s such a wonderful job. The journey – it’s been insane.
Just like anything, there’s been lots of ups and downs and so much hard work. It’s never been an overnight thing for Marianas Trench – we’ve always just grinded and grinded and grinded, and we’ll just keep continuing to do that. And along the way we’ve made so many good friends and fans, and people who supported us on our first record are still coming out to the shows now, and that’s such a nice thing to see. The fan base just keeps getting stronger and stronger.
I think maybe I could’ve gone a couple of different routes, but I was always a musician, and I always loved doing it. That was sort of my dream, but it seemed like something that was so unrealistic. But for whatever reason, I’ve just been really lucky and it worked out the way it did. I can’t tell you why.
Is it what I expected? I don’t know. It’s totally uncharted territory. I didn’t really know what to expect. Yeah, that’s a good question … I guess probably not. When you’re a kid and you think about this stuff, you’re just like, ‘I’m gonna be a sweet, rich rock star driving around in a Lamborghini and stuff,’ and that’s it. But you don’t realize all the work that goes into it. But I think that we all enjoy it, and that’s why we’re still around. If I had just expected to be a big superstar and that’s it and not do anything to deserve that, then I don’t know that we would ever hit that, and if we did, we certainly wouldn’t stick around long enough to enjoy it. I think the growth of our band has been really organic, and due to that it allows you to appreciate all those little moments of achievements and just roll with the punches.”
His big eyes are opened wide, staring off at some indistinct point on the floor of the bus as he recounts his journey. I think he senses the kind of story I am looking for – one that highlights how he has overcome the downsides of being famous, one that shows something deeply introspective and unknown about him, one that is told by the Matt Webb behind all the scripted interview responses – and as a rock star accustomed to the prodding of journalists like myself, he strives to give me the answer I am looking for. But it isn’t easy for him, I find as he mulls over things. It is a struggle for him, I believe, to make his journey sound like a struggle.
That’s the thing — for Matt Webb, being a musician is not difficult in the same way it is for many others. He does not question his career the way some other men in his shoes do, even other members of his own band. The way he talks about his job reminds me of a little kid’s never-ending fascination with arcade games. It’s nearly intrinsic. Pure.
“Music to me is just in my blood. I just love listening to music, I love the away that it makes you feel, and the way that it can displace you from reality. It’s just such a wonderful outlet. We get to express ourselves and be creative. It’s so cool to be able to do that and actually do that as a job. Most people are working in an office or wearing a suit, and we just get to play music and express ourselves for a living,” he says.
It was never a question. It’s in his blood.
Webb carries that confidence in his career even here on the side of the border that threatens to give little to no shits about all the success his band has in Canada. In fact, he looks with excitement at the prospect of starting over again in the U.S.
“We’re redoing everything. In Canada, we started from nothing and went from being zero to being fairly successful out there. In the States, it’s cool because we’ve been through that already before. We know how to do it and what works and what paths to take. I’m really excited about our growth in America because we can see it happening now,” he explains.
He’s smiling now with an incredibly boyish smile as he continues staring off in the distance, thinking more than speaking. I get the feeling he’s remembering something, or maybe imagining something to come.
Finally he looks at me and shrugs.
“At the end of the day, I got the coolest job in the world.”
Natural-born rock star, this kid.
all photos courtesy of marianastrench.net, the band’s official website