Ski Lodge’s debut Big Heart opens with a jangle and a pout, a tumble of giddy guitars, a handclap drum track and frontman Andrew Marr sighing, “You don’t have to be like me/ You don’t have to make the same mistakes.” And while the go-to easy critical reference point for this Brooklyn band has been another band with a Marr in it, Big Heart is more than a mere Manchester mimeograph. Its songs sway and sashay, guitars wreathing the edges like fine lace on velvet shirt sleeves. But all that frilliness masks a bruised heart: Throughout Big Heart, Marr laments his inability to connect with lovers and friends and his frustrations with his own shortcomings.
Wondering Sound’s editor-in-chief met up with Marr at a New York coffee shop to talk about Florida, emotional alienation and the perils of teenage drug culture.
On the early influence of the Grateful Dead:
I was in a jam band in high school. We did a lot of Grateful Dead and Phish songs. I started to sing a little bit for the first time in that band. I still respect the Grateful Dead. I was obsessed with them for a while, then I went through a phase where I started listening to more indie music and thought, “Well, I can’t really like the Grateful Dead and Phish if I’m liking this other music.” I’m kind of getting over that now, and realizing that they were great songwriters, and that it doesn’t have to be one or the other. I think a lot of the distaste for those bands has to do with the type of people who like that music and not the music itself. I mean, have you ever been to a Phish show? It’s such a ridiculous scene.
On the downside of growing up in a wealthy community:
I grew up in Greenwich, Connecticut. It’s pretty suburban — it’s about 45 minutes from New York. It’s a pretty wealthy town — that’s usually why people have heard of it, though my family wasn’t super wealthy. It was a great place to grow up, but it’s kind of fucked up also. Kids there just have access to a lot of money. There are a lot of drugs, and that had a big impact on me. High school basically revolved around doing drugs and trying to do as little school work as possible. I was fully in it. I started by just experimenting [with drugs] with friends in middle school — a lot of my friends had older brothers, so it was just out of curiosity mainly. But then I just fell into that group of people, and that was just what we did. It got bad. I crashed a couple cars, so my parents kind of caught on after that. [Pause.] They were their cars.
On being exiled in Florida:
I went there for rehab — I think a lot of people end up there for the same reason — and then I just got stuck there. I started in Del Rey Beach and then moved a little north to the West Palm Beach area. I was there for four years. I didn’t really like anything about it, to be honest. I just kind of stuck around because I couldn’t really get my shit together. A year or two before I moved up here I finally got a band together and we played out a little bit down there. The scene there, there’s just not much going on. Touring bands don’t really visit there much. Miami has a pretty good venue, but it’s just way out of the way from where I was. I saw Radiohead while I was down there, but not really much else.
On his slow departure from the jam-band scene:
A friend of mine played [Death Cab for Cutie's] “I Will Follow You into the Dark” on guitar one time, and he was singing it, and I was like, “That’s an awesome song — who sings that?” And he told me. And I got really into Plans and Transatlanticism, and I listened to them a lot. That was the first band in that world. I got into the Shins right around that same time, too. So then when I was in Florida, I was writing a lot of Death Cab-inspired songs on the piano and just recording them into my laptop. At some point I was just like, “I want to start writing on the guitar — I’m kind of missing this whole other feel.” So I started messing around with it on my own and wrote songs based on my ability. As I’ve gotten better on the guitar, my songs have gotten a little more advanced than they were initially.
On songwriting as biography, and therapy:
None of the songs on Big Heart were narratives about other people. I’m more of a biographer. I get these little snippets of ideas and I try to piece them all together. “Anything to Hurt You” is just about being a bad influence on somebody else — looking at my mistakes, and saying to someone else that they don’t have to go through the same shit. And the title track is about a death, a figurative death. I’ve always had a hard time connecting with people — both knowing what other people are thinking and telling people what I’m thinking. Songwriting is a way for me to speculate on what relationships are really like, or what another person’s intentions were when I really have no idea. So the title track is a personal song about my inability to open up to people — in relationships, specifically. My girlfriend used to say I had no heart. And she was fucking around with me, but that’s what inspired me to think, “What does it feel like to not have a heart? And what does it feel like to open yourself up but then have your heart crushed?” That song for me is about the struggle between closing yourself off to everything versus opening yourself up and dealing with pain. I’ve gotten better — I’m going to therapy, and I’ve gotten better at telling people what’s going on in my life, but before that I was totally closed off. So I think songwriting is a useful tool for me. It’s part of my process.