The Sweet Sounds of the Marshmallows, a Twee-Pop Band Making Noise With Sticky MelodiesBy Jack Silbert • Jul 17th, 2012 • Category: Arts, Featured
Taking the PATH train home late at night or on the weekends, most Jersey City residents dread the words “via Hoboken.” But Kelly of local band the Marshmallows, ever the optimist, got a song out of the all-too-familiar layover.
“Those extra five minutes are another five minutes I can hold your hand,” she sings on the 40-second slice of perfect pop, “Hoboken.”
The three members of the Marshmallows spend a fair amount of time on public transportation, as they are spread out across the metropolitan area. Kelly, the drummer, makes her home in Jersey City. Crystal, on guitar, is a Brooklyn resident. Bass player Jen, meanwhile, lives in Queens. (All three sing and share songwriting duties, and in true punk-rock spirit, prefer to go by first names only.) Their hard work—and SmartLink fares—at rehearsals, gigs and recording sessions are paying off, as the band is beginning to get recognition from twee-pop fans nationwide.
For those unfamiliar with the musical genre known as twee: Think sweet melodies, basic instrumentation and innocent lyrics about secret picnic spots, bike rides with best friends and unrequited love. The style originally thrived in the late 1980s and early 1990s, first in the United Kingdom and then in the U.S., aided by independent record labels and college radio.
Kelly may have been a bit young for that first wave of twee pop, but she still gravitated toward music at a very early age. It didn’t hurt that her dad was a part-time rock drummer as she grew up in St. Louis. Kelly sang in bands in high school and college, and met musicians from the vibrant New Brunswick/New York punk-pop scenes of the early 2000s when those groups would tour the Midwest. Kelly had always dreamed of moving to New York and these bands were further motivation. After graduating, she packed up the car and headed east.
A friend of a friend told Kelly about an available apartment in Downtown Jersey City. “It seemed perfect,” Kelly recalls. “Not far from the city, and in a really nice neighborhood. I’ve been there since 2006.”
Hoping to get involved in area bands, Kelly had a realization. “Plenty of people can sing their own songs,” she says. “But I noticed that everybody needs a drummer.” So Kelly found a practice space near her apartment and taught herself to play the drums.
Soon, a friend introduced her to Rutgers student Ali Koehler, who needed a drummer for a new band. But just as False Friends were getting off the ground, Ali left for indie prominence as a member of the bands Vivian Girls and Best Coast.
Kelly now had more time to devote to a new musical project she’d started with her friend Crystal. The two had bonded over shared Midwestern roots (Crystal is a Kansas City native) and a mutual love of classic twee. “We were literally listening to [mid-’90s group] Go Sailor one day and lamenting that there were no bands like that now,” Crystal says. “Then we were all, ‘We could be a band like that.’”
With their friend Danny on bass, the Marshmallows were born. Danny was a veteran of several area bands, and his experience really helped Kelly and Crystal navigate the music scene in the Marshmallows’ early days. After much practice and songwriting, they began to play shows and issued the 4-song Make a Record EP. “We kind of surprised ourselves, like, wow, we really can write this music,” Kelly recalls.
Danny left to pursue other projects, so the Marshmallows needed a new bass player. Enter Crystal’s coworker Jen, a classically trained violinist originally from Boston. (For their “day jobs,” Crystal and Jen are both in TV production, while Kelly works at an art school.)
“Crystal introduced me to Kelly at a Thai restaurant in Williamsburg to see if we would get along,” Jen says. She passed the camaraderie audition and quickly mastered the bass. Her vast musical knowledge has added another dimension to the band’s songwriting process.
“We all have our strengths,” Kelly says. “It’s very much a group effort.” Jen offers, “It’s just really fun to play with sounds and rhythms and see what works and what we can do.”
Through word of mouth and release of their recordings, the Marshmallows’ reputation began to spread. They’ve twice been asked to play at Insubordination Fest, a major annual punk-rock/power-pop gathering in Baltimore. And this year is proving to be the band’s biggest yet.
First came an invitation to kick off the prestigious NYC Popfest in May. The sixth annual event, part of a loose network of like-minded festivals worldwide, gathered 27 of the top indie-pop acts from around the globe. This year’s New York edition featured bands from the United Kingdom, Sweden, Finland, Spain, Canada, the Philippines and the U.S. The Popfests are a mix of current favorite bands, reunited groups from the classic era (such as Go Sailor), and up-and-coming acts. The opportunity proved to be an extremely positive experience for the Marshmallows.
“That was huge,” says Kelly. “We met a lot of cool people. We’d pretty much been playing with all our friends’ bands, not really knowing who else to reach out to for shows and stuff. So that did us a great service.”
The Marshmallows should reach even more new fans via a planned 7-inch single that they’ll share with noted pop-punk veterans the Potatomen. Recording for this release will be completed next month in California, where the band is going for a week-long tour.
“I’m super pumped to go on tour!” says Jen. Kelly mentions a key bit of travel prep for any indie band: “I just got permission to take the week off from work from my boss.” The scheduled shows will take the trio from the Bay Area down to Los Angeles.
The Marshmallows seem to be going big places. Even if they have to pass through Hoboken to get there.
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Jack Silbert is a writer, editor, internet-radio DJ and occasional emcee. He is the author of several books and his writing has appeared in The New York Times, New York Press, New Jersey Monthly, Weird NJ, and other publications. Jack’s humorous ramblings can be found at Salt In Wound.
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