The Wynntown Marshals‘ second full length album The Long Haul, review here finally gets its official unveiling on the weekend of 12-13 July with back to back launch gigs in Glasgow and then Edinburgh. Coming almost three years after its predecessor Westerner it subtly shifts the band’s sound from, for want of a better term, country guitar centric, to a broader canvas with the guitars more embedded in the sound and keyboard embellishment adding scope and colour. The result is still recognisably The Marshals with Keith Benzie’s signature voice still well to the fore while their admiration for their particular rock influences such as Neil Young and The Jayhawks remains apparent in the writing and delivery.
Westerner was an accomplished debut and was released to almost universal acclaim with AmericanaUK, No Depression, Maverick magazine and Dutch mag Heaven all praising it. In addition the band recorded sessions for the legendary Bob Harris and Radio Scotland’s Another Country with Ricky Ross championing them. However this was the prelude to a rocky two years that saw major line up changes that might have felled a lesser crew. It’s a tribute to the determination of the band that they have not only recorded a follow up album but one that marks a progression as noted by Scotland On Sunday who said “the sound is fuller, more imaginative and richly vocally harmonised.”
Blabber’n’Smoke had the opportunity to meet up with singer/guitarist Keith Benzie and guitar wizard Iain Sloan to chew over the album and enjoy a few drinks in Glasgow’s Merchant City. What followed was a freewheelin’ rap through our respective record collections, favourite musicians and why Americana was so popular in Holland (The Marshals are big in the Benelux countries). We did manage however to discuss the past few years and the genesis of The Long Haul and we started off by asking them about the departures of drummer Keith Jones and guitarist Ian Barbour.
Keith: Keith (Jones) and I formed the Sundowns and Keith in those days was very much the driving force, a role he carried on with when we started The Marshals. But latterly he was less keen on the songs I was bringing in. Eventually he decided to leave but as it was just before we were to tour Holland to promote the release of Westerner he helped us out with that. With Iain Barbour it was a different thing. Iain’s a teacher and he knew there would be times when he couldn’t commit to gigs, tours and such so he very nobly said he didn’t want to get to a time when he would let us down so he bowed out and allowed us to move on.
We got Owen Nicholson in from Southpaw. There’s not many folk around who can play country guitar as well as Ian but Owen was able to step in for a time. But when it came time to record the album, Owen lives a good bit away from the rest of us, he’s got another band so he couldn’t get to many sessions where we were developing the songs so when it came time to record it was easier for Iain(Sloan) to record the guitar parts.
And Murdoch McLeod came in on bass shortly after Westerner?
Keith Murdoch was in a band called The Cateran (1980’s Scots hard core grunge band who toured with Nirvana). He was the guitar player then he formed his own band the Joyriders, he’s really a lead singer, guitarist and songwriter.
So both of you and Murdoch were really the heart of the band over the past two years.
Keith Iain and I knew each other before Iain joined the Marshals. He was in a band called Slow Jet and my previous band The Sundowns had played some shows with them but it was only after Iain joined the Marshals that we talked about our record collections and realised we had so many similarities, quite obscure bands that not that many people are into but we both absolutely loved, people like Jim Bryson and The Weakerthans. They did an album with Jim Bryson, Falcon Road Incident and it’s a really nice album. A band like the Weakerthans, they’ve never played Scotland, if they did it would probably be to a crowd of about 50 people.
The album sounds as if it’s more of a collaborative effort than Westerner was
Keith For me it was great to have other people contribute, I don’t feel precious about someone saying “I’ve got this song.” On Westerner Thunder In the Valley was a real collaborative effect while Curtain Call (on the new album) was written by the two us (Keith and Iain) round about the same time. On Westerner we took a lot of songs into the studio and said “this is what we’re doing” to the band. This time Murdoch was around so something like Tide and The Submariner came into the mix. There was less of an Americana or Nashville sound going on and that was where the lead guitar, the bends, the telecaster stuff had come in before. I don’t think we’ve made an album that’s sweepingly contemporary, it’s still a country rock album but fairly early on in the process we decided that the more country aspect was not what we envisaged.
Iain Certainly, in terms of songwriting input and song development, Murdoch, Keith and I worked in a very collaborative manner from the period when Keith Jones left. And we developed a load of the The Long Haul tunes as a three piece with drum loops until we brought Kenny (McCabe, drums) onboard and began the recording process properly. Keith and Murdoch were bringing fairly well developed material into the room but the song structures, arrangements, vocal harmonies and instrumentation was a real collaborative effort and allowed us to go in a different direction from Westerner. Some of the mid sections like the ones on Low Country Comedown or Change of Heart take the songs to places that they never would have on Westerner. And a lot of it was to do with Andrew Taylor, the producer. I mean a lot of it was recorded on a thing the size of a book, it’s not even cutting edge stuff, just a portastudio but he knows what he’s doing with it.
Murdoch’s song, Tide has the makings of an epic
Iain Murdoch wrote that song back around 2000 with just a wee drum machine, it was quite trippy and we worked it up, The plan was to take it and go for that Neil Young/Crazy Horse vibe!
And why the title, The Long Haul
Keith We had a discussion about what the album should be called and I picked this little snippet out of Change of Heart which was “Life’s a journey and this is the long haul.”
Iain And maybe some folk might think that a long haul is a negative thing, suggesting it’s a drag but for us a long haul is a sense of commitment, there’s some kind of reward at the end of it
Keith Well, take the song Canada, That songs not particularly about Canada. It’s about place and family, the themes I think that are central to the long haul. Relationships, journey, travel, finding but I always get told to trim my songs down. Usually I’ve got about 16 verses and I have to cut them down to 4 or 5
Iain Otherwise it would be the Overlong Haul!
Keith I liken it to me bringing along a block of wood to the rehearsal and the band, the carpenters, hew it into something beautiful………..
Iain Oh that’s pretentious as fuck, ha ha ha ha ha
So the Wynntown Marshals in the long haul are pretty much like The Carpenters
Iain Oh we love the Carpenters, there’s some really good pedal steel on some of their songs……………………………………..
Bolstered by the addition of Richie Noble on keyboards the revamped Marshals previewed some of the songs from The Long Haul when they supported Chuck Prophet at Oran Mor back in April. A tantalisingly short set then but you can catch them in their full glory when they oficially launch the album with shows at Glasgow’s Broadcast on Friday 12th July and then Edinburgh’s Voodoo Rooms the following night. In addition and prior to the Edinburgh show they play a free in store slot at the capital’s best record store, Coda Music at 2 pm.
If you can’t manage the shows or Coda is too stuffed to get to the counter you can buy the album here