Will Marsh and Gold Connections to play Winston-Salem
Uncertainty, loss, longing, the rush of motion, the sanctuary of rock ‘n’ roll, the necessary deceptions of love, the search for the real, and the black hole of death — they all work their way through the songs of Will Marsh, frontman, guitarist and songwriter of the Virginia band Gold Connections.
“When I’m lying in my bed I dream of rock ‘n’ roll and motorcycles/And what a funny thing it is to die, to have ever been alive,” sings Marsh on “Plague 8,” off Popular Fiction, the band’s very good full-length debut, which was recorded at Mitch Easter’s Fidelitorium Studios in Kernersville, and was released in May. Gold Connections will play at The Ramkat in Winston-Salem on June 30 along with Victoria Victoria and Cactus Black.
Gold Connections have a sound that balances crisp clarity with just the right suggestion of sonic haze, raw energy and ruminative poetry. The band brings to mind a lot of other artists — Modest Mouse, Polvo, Pavement, Jad Fair, Big Star, Kevin Morby, Them, Kurt Vile, White Fence, Woods, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and more. Older figures loom over this music, throwing shadows and giving a scent to the air but not dominating the soundscape. The guitar sounds are clean and almost brittle, with the rhythm section providing unobtrusive minimalist backing. Some of the riffs, such as they are, sound like they’re the products of harp-like plucking and thrumming, with bell-like patterns emerging over which Marsh sings, alternating between slightly aloof and on-edge. And then sometimes hazy and raw solos bubble up to scuff the surface.
Marsh is 25 and, when asked, he says he listens more to older recordings than to what’s coming out at the moment.
“I don’t try to keep up with new music,” Marsh said last week by phone from his Charlottesville home. “We tour with bands and I listen to those bands. But mostly I’m kind of still discovering old music. I’ve just started listening to Let It Bleed and Exile On Main St. That’s where my head is at.”
(Listen to the slinky “Bad Intentions” to hear how that Stones influence plays out in impressively wiry fashion.)
The idea that taking inspiration from styles, forms, and models from the past is somehow a form of creative recycling that doesn’t build anything new isn’t something that Marsh is dwelling on.
“I guess there’s always been this concern that culture isn’t going anywhere,” he said. “I try not to think about it too much.”
Other bits of oldness slide into the songs of Gold Connections, such as the occasional reference to the literature of antiquity. The first song on the album is called “Icarus,” a reference to that mythical figure who flew too close to the sun and had has man-made wings melted by the heat. Another song, “New Religion,” has a line about a serpent creeping into the garden of one’s mind. And there’s another, “Salt,” that tells a version of the story of Lot’s wife, from the Book of Genesis. Admittedly, as Marsh has pointed out, these stories permeate our culture and one could just as easily pick them up from a movie or a heavy metal song as from the bible or Ovid.
Music is its own oasis, foundational text, or homeland in Marsh’s songs, many of which were written while he was in college. “Get back, get back, get back to rock ‘n’ roll,” goes the ecstatic closing refrain on “Icarus,” a song that Marsh said, if people are only ever going to hear one of his songs, that’s the one he wants it to be.
Marsh comes by his academic air naturally. His father is a professor who specializes in historical theology and the religious underpinnings of political resistance movements. In college, Marsh majored in English and minored in philosophy, writing a thesis project on existentialism and post-war American literature.
One doesn’t necessarily look for poetry in rock lyrics, but Marsh writes some good ones that withstand scrutiny.
“I remember I used to feel the sting/ I could feel the pain running right through from me to you/ Now I got this Novocain soul,” he sings on “Plague 8.”
An idea that shows up in Marsh’s songs is that feeling and sensation can be hard to endure, even if they’re pointing toward pleasure or transcendence. “You gotta tremble if you wanna love,” goes the last line on “Desert Land,” the hypnotic, acoustic album closer.
Every thrill comes with its own corresponding danger. Marsh and his bandmates build the music with that in mind. He said that certain songs require “a good amount of catharsis,” and the loose jammy sections or raw and ecstatic instrumental surges are all part of trying to structure the songs so that they have the right arc and balance.
“Songwriting for me is like a puzzle,” Marsh said, “or almost like a mathematical problem.”
John Adamian lives in Winston-Salem, and his writing has appeared in Wired, The Believer, Relix, Arthur, Modern Farmer, the Hartford Courant and numerous other publications.
See Gold Connections, with Victoria Victoria and Cactus Black at The Ramkat, 170 West 9th St., Winston-Salem, on Saturday, June 30 at 8 p.m. $10 and up. 336-754-9714, theramkat.com.