“Former Wall Of Funk leader J. Marsden has consistently been one of Madison's most underrated guitarists. With plenty of technical skill, a great sense of melody and most importantly, a surplus of heart, Joe's first solo album, Gravity, is a mix between Alice In Chains (Sap and Jar of Flies specifically), Days of the New (lower-register vocal melodies and hooks), and Radiohead (expert guitar work à la The Bends).
Such a Mess "kicks off the album with a double electric guitar melody and the bluesiest vocal on the record, while a falsetto lament finds its way into several songs like a banshee's wail before the verses.
Always an impressive guitarist, Marsden has also found his footing as a vocalist on the record (sounding surprisingly like Better Than Ezra's Kevin Griffin), and the chorus harmonies are welcome and catchy. Marsden designed Gravity as a concept record to be listened to from start to finish, and there's some ambient spaces and soundscapes between the songs that unify the album into a cohesive whole. The reverb-y production certainly contributes to the ethereal and space-rock feel as each song seamlessly flows into the next. Maybe it's the acoustic alt-rock and the retro-90s feel, but there's a sense of loss and longing that permeates the record ("That Was Yesterday"). Listening to the whole thing in a sitting, there's no question that J. Marsden's Gravity is a clear statement of mood and genre.
The album release party takes place at the frequency on Thursday, August 24 with openers Imaginary Watermelon, Sad Boys, and Random Llama, and I talked with Joe Marsden for a little bit to get ready for the show!
MH: How'd you get into music?
JM: My dad had an old cheap classical guitar that I used to just mess around on, not really knowing what I was doing. However, I started getting into learning and playing music more because of band class in middle school. Around this time I specifically remember getting an earworm from the track "The Background" off of Third Eye Blind's self titled CD (my first CD), and started plucking around on that raggedy old (probably out of tune) guitar until I figured out the intro riff by ear. It was game over after that and I've been learning/writing songs on guitar across many different genres ever since.
MH: Where are you from and what brought you to Madison?
JM: I'm from Cambridge, WI originally so I grew up just outside of Madison. I've always loved the city, and aside from living in Milwaukee for a few years after college, I been in nearby Madison for most of my life.
MH: What's the thing that struck you the most about guitar? Why do you love playing it and what inspires you to keep getting better?
JM: That's a good question… I always thought that playing guitar was just plain cool. It spoke to me more than other instruments once I started really learning how to play in high school. I love just cranking the shit out of my amp and letting a nice distorted power chord rip, or chug some palm muted riffs, or my favorite, letting a big bend wail and sustain out with some feedback in the middle of an epic solo. I feel like I'm really truly expressing myself when I play lead guitar especially, and that's what keeps inspiring me to continue to get better. I love that I can express myself with more depth, emotion, and accuracy with practice and experience. It almost becomes meditative. I also really love when I come across a beautiful chord pattern or riff that I just can't stop playing. The search for those sounds keeps me excited!
MH: What song off Gravity should people start with?
JM: "All I Wanted" definitely encapsulates a lot of the sounds used on the album. It's also a peak part of the album structure, so it gives the listener a good idea of the album story as a whole too. I've been playing this song out live since I started doing the solo thing two years ago, it's been one of my most well received songs, and is also a personal favorite. The song was inspired 50/50 from a break up/reflecting on life, plus I was really getting into sci-fi at the time, so I used some space vocabulary for metaphors which led to the idea of creating the story of Gravity.
MH: So what's going to happen on August 24 at the frequency?
JM: The release party is going to be one big celebration of all the hard work that was put into Gravity over the last two years. I have a special surprise during my set, so I can't give too much away. All I can say is that it's something I've never done before when performing live since starting my solo career.”
- Mike Huberty
J. (Joe) Marsden is a talented singer, songwriter and former member of ska/punk band 4 Aspirin Morning and funk/metal band Wall of Funk. As a solo artist he’s taken to acoustic guitar in performance and darkening his tone and delivery. Gravity, however, is far from an acoustic album.
Marsden’s music is for the thoughtful listener, has an artistic integrity and is expertly crafted, exploring existential topics that are laced with love, loss and uncertainty. He’s described the album as “a beautifully dark adventure away from Earth,” and “an emotional trip through the stars.”
Marsden recruited fellow MMI graduate/Full Compass Sales Associate Jared Norton to engineer and supply the drum tracks. Marsden supplies the rest of the instrumentation; guitars, bass, vocals, synths. The sound can be dense but with breathing space and is both dramatic and dynamic. “Space” is actually the key to Gravity’s concept, which is a futuristic tale about a central character, who leaves Earth with a group of similarly disillusioned people on a quest of self-discovery. They find themselves even more disenchanted, however, and decide to go back. On returning they find the planet desolated and in ruins and rededicate themselves to restoration. Though it’s a fantasy, Gravity can be interpreted metaphorically as an emotional journey from flight to fight: A love is lost, humanity seems lost. The tendency is to shut oneself off, go it alone, to drift away into the cosmos. Eventually the loneliness of utter isolation and the memories of what was lost take over and there is the urge to fight – to fix it. The realization that what once was is forever lost but there is strength to be found in revitalization; the rebuilding begins.
Marsden’s wide range of vocal style allows him to communicate all of these emotional states effectively, from disillusion to discovery and euphoria, to confusion and loneliness, and finally to utter strength. Often he stays in the baritone range, which allows for exposition but he can also belt it out when called for or rise to falsetto for the more mournful passages. While vocals are a strength he also has a knack for guitar styling, providing both power and nuance in the melodic lines and chord structures. There are also some explosive solos. It’s firmly nestled in 90s grunge but there are elements of Pink Floyd, Radiohead, and space rock. Song structures are full of twists and turns and do not entirely hold to conventional structures, many of the tracks connected by electronic interludes that resemble space travel.
“Such a Mess” opens the album with a cool riff, emoting power; the guitar tones are impressive, there is a melodic solo and the angst-ridden lyrics setting the stage for the storyline. The final verse explodes into layered vocals and guitars laced with feedback. “Far Beyond” follows, a melodic tune with an extended outro, a powerful wall of guitars and synths.
“Infinity” is the album’s best track and here is where the story pivots, taking a mournful turn. Marsden really leans into it vocally on the second chorus. “Out on the edge / I can catch my breath / And I thought that I’d be in love with it…/ What did I expect to find / Some kind of omniscient existence?”
“Waste Away” employs an e-bow on the guitar; a slow-build to another rousing ending. The final song, “Sunshine,” breaks away from the rest of the album; a cool, spacey sound with well-placed percussion and a sea of treated guitars.
Gravity is best experienced in its entirety as are most concept projects, in order to appreciate the storyline. At a running time of forty minutes over seven tracks, this is not overly demanding. Each song stands solidly on its own but as a collection the album could have benefitted from deviations in tempo and key toreleive some monotony. Perhaps a fiery instrumental passage to break up the heaviness and sense of dread. It’s lonely in space and that mood is effectively portrayed.”
- Rick Tvedt
You might recognize Joe Marsden from Madison bands like Wall of Funk and 4 Aspirin Morning. For his new solo project, the guitarist takes a break from punk and ska and taps into ‘90s rock nostalgia. His debut album, Gravity, is a soulful, introspective, country-tinged exploration of love and loss. With Imaginary Watermelon, SADBOYES and Random Lama.
Life, in itself, is a mentally documented catalogue of memories, stored so uniquely by each individual. Artists, poets, and musicians alike spend their lives trying to describe the words written by the fate of uncertainty.
The album "Gravity" is one of the most heartfelt and poignant attempts to capture the heartbreak and attempted escape we all feel from within, both of individual events that shape us, as well as our experience of life as a whole. Not only do the lyrics tell a story, they ask questions of whether fate is real, love and hate are one in the same, and what a life worth living truly is.
J. Marsden's beautiful story across the intergalactic nature of space itself, as well as the journey of time through our own heads, is met with guitar work that is so crushingly beautiful it reminded me of the first time I heard the solo for "Comfortably Numb". Now I've heard Joe play ska, and make that artistic, so I shouldn't have been surprised that he could create guitar tapestries that are intricate, but also simultaneously utilize the efficiency of notes, bends, and even dissonance to convey the emotions behind them so perfectly.
His voice is equally as much crooning and cutting, as it is lamenting and sorrowful, filling out an overall sound that is, well, spacey and secluded, dark and reckless, Bonnie and Clyde, wait. I derailed. I'm sure that you can make that work if you think enough.
To top it off, all the musicianship fueling this immersive mindtrip is done to perfection, complimenting and highlighting what's important. It's a concept album (which I chose not to describe it as earlier due to those that turn the page when they read that like a fly landed on it) that you can listen to at face value, or relate to your own story. I recommend listening to it twice, through his, and your own paradigms. I'm proud to have been chosen to review this album, as it is not short of torture to pour your soul into a work knowing that others will know you better than they ever did.
Out on the edge I can't catch my breath / And I thought that I'd be in love with it
Written by: Riley Heninger”
- Istmus/Riley Heninger
Working Draft Beer Company, 1129 E. Wilson St., Madison, WI
Marsden will be playing 2 sets of originals and 90's alt/grunge acoustic rock. This will be the last show for J. Marsden for the year before he dives into writing/recording his next album, so you won't want to miss this opportunity! Come chill, enjoy some great beer, and still be home before bedtime!!
High Noon Saloon, 701A E. Washington Ave., Madison, WI
Happy Hour 4-7pm
J. Marsden will be playing a full set of your favorite 90's grunge and alt rock classics along with a set of originals. Come enjoy a beer on High Noon's brand new patio!Combining influences of Neil Young, John Frusciante, Alice in Chains, and Pink Floyd, guitarist/singer/songwriter, J. Marsden creates his own take on 90’s acoustic alt./grunge rock.
$8 - All Ages - Doors at 7:30pm - Show starts at 8pm
Join songwriters J. Marsden, Xander Anim, and Skylar Nahn at Communication for an intimate evening of uninterrupted performances. Communication is a cozy diy venue with available seating, cool art, and an attentive audience for an extra special connection with the musicians. All of the songwriters will be on stage at the same time which allows for some great banter, complimentary stories, and even some back up instrumentation. The artists will also rotate every song for plenty of variety!J. Marsden - www.jmarsdenmusic.comCombining influences of Neil Young, John Frusciante, Alice in Chains, and Pink Floyd, guitarist/singer/songwriter, J. Marsden creates his own take on 90’s acoustic alt./grunge rock. Xander Anim is an acoustic singer songwriter who combines R&B, Soul, and Hip-hop influences to create stories. Be prepared to dance, swoon, and reflect as you engage with each song. Listen to Only When The Rain Comes By Xander Anim by Xander Anim on #SoundCloudhttps://soundcloud.com/xanderanim/only-when-the-rain-comes-by-xander-animSkylar Nahn - Skylarnahn.bandcamp.comSkylar is a very talented singer/songwriter. You can tell he loves his craft by the way he performs.