Track by Track: Marigold – ‘A Better Place’
Posted: by The Editor
On Friday Marigold dropped their third LP A Better Place. Breezy and sun-kissed, the record flits between alt-country and indie rock on a dime, incorporating influences from heartland rock icons like Petty and Springsteen; it’s perfect for a walk through the woods, an iced tea on the porch, or a drive to the beach. Vocalist/guitarist Benjamin Lieber was kind enough to dig into the writing of the record for The Alternative, illuminating the the various tumultuous events that led to the album’s conception, as well as to explicate the music videos he’s created to accompany a number of the tracks on A Better Place. Read that below, and be sure to give the record a listen as well.
“Waiting on Me”
“Waiting on Me” is about the moment you realize change is coming… the battle between self-preservation and a wild desire to accept newness. This song is introspective for me, as if I’m watching my life write itself from the confines of a frame. It opens the record with confidence in questioning. Musically, “Waiting on Me” is heavily inspired by Tom Petty. His songwriting has always had an impact on me, pushing me to refine, cut the fat, say it simpler; to let the song speak for itself.
This song showcases the incredible B3 Organ playing on our album the best, in my opinion. Everything keys was played by Erik Romero, who also engineered & produced the record. His organ playing brought this album to a level that we never would’ve imagined.
I am very proud of “Waiting on Me” – it makes me want to roll my windows down, turn it up, and drive.
Together, this song and its video are a product of my entering a new world, where I could exercise the creative toolkit I’ve mastered as a visual artist and director, but this time for no one else’s band but my own. It is a vast, limitless, and entrancing space to make art where no presumptive concepts can hold it back. This video is the first glimpse into what my creativity looks like when I don’t have those walls, and only a blank canvas to paint.
“ORANGEBLUE” opens the door to a lot of the themes of the record. Lyrically, my intention was for it to set the stage for the story you are about to go through. This song actually started as just a poem, with no music set to it – early days of the pandemic, I was trying to force myself to write a lot, and would just go up on my rooftop in Brooklyn, sit there, and stare at the sky until words came out, even if they weren’t “lyrics.” The words depict the weeks before my partner Kelsey and I decided to leave the city, when we were kept apart because we had different living situations, and it was too dangerous to our respective roommates for us to leave the house to see each other. We were in constant communication, often both on our own rooftops, staring at the same sky, wishing we could just be together during this tumultuous time. This was when sunsets became a refuge from the hellscape – knowing it will happen every night, knowing you can tune the world out for an hour and be with the earth.
Musically, this song debuts a guitar melody that became centerpiece to this whole record. I think that because this song started as just a poem, it motivated me to then find a guitar accompaniment that fit the flow of the words, which is totally backwards from how I normally write (guitar then words). Once I found this guitar melody, I knew I was on to something bigger – I saw how this could shape an entire album of music, and was bigger than just this one song. Therefore, allowing this song to serve as a concise introduction.
We did a lot of cool, weird stuff on this song’s recording – there is a sample of metal chains being dropped on a wood desk, there’s banjo, we ran a tiered-harmony vocal through a Leslie Organ – at the end outro jam section, we always called this the “Fleetwood Mac” section.
Looking at this song as an introduction to the album, I tried to take that mentality towards the video as well. This video is like a prologue – capturing my partner Kelsey and I’s trip out west to Lake Tahoe California, where we spent a week in early February of 2020, mere weeks before the entire world shut down. We took this trip as a leap of faith in our early budding relationship. It was magical, breathtaking, romantic, euphoric – Lake Tahoe holds a very special place in my heart; in all my travels, I have never found somewhere more beautiful. It’s wild to watch this footage, to see our bliss, realizing we had no idea what was to come for the world in short order. I’m so glad we captured this. It also encompasses another one of my passions: analog camera gear. This footage was shot entirely on Kodak Super 8 Ektachrome film. I love film, I especially love motion picture film; there is a tangibility and realness to shooting film that you will never achieve with digital. It is finite, you only have so much on the roll. You need to be intentional about what you choose to capture. It is manual, you hold it with your hands, and it has to be cared for or else it will be destroyed. In a lot of ways the restrictions of shooting this on film speak metaphorically to the situation Kelsey and I were about to experience in the pandemic.
“Alpenglow” is my firsthand experience of the first raw weeks of living in New York City as it became the epicenter of the Coronavirus pandemic. Watching this place I loved and had developed such a drive to be a part of, completely flip on its axis and turn into a dystopian empty world was the most jarring experience I’ve ever had. It was extremely confusing. You move to New York because you want to be a part of something bigger, to blend your identity with the massive pulse that never stops beating that is the city. This, for years, was my Better Place – I fell in love with New York and told myself I would never leave. In the blink of an eye, it bottomed out, and suddenly the only feelings I could find in the darkness were those of wanting to escape, which was confusing as hell. It was the most confusing feeling to love a place so much, but want nothing more than to leave it all behind.
“Alpenglow” is my best effort at encapsulating that paradox; I love it, I want to leave it, I feel guilty for that, what does this mean about who I’ve built myself to be?
Musically, this song was a total 180 in style and sound for us. We wanted to write a pop song that still felt acoustic and natural sounding. Sampled, but real. Inspirations came from Maggie Rogers, Colbie Callait, John Mayer. The acoustic guitar being front and present, all the drums sounding real but being played with the precision and repetitiveness of a sample. This song really showcases the incredible production work of our producer and engineer, Erik Romero. He found so many ways to achieve this mix of pop and acoustic, and to make this song drive and soar without making it synthetically massive. There is a sample we created of every single acoustic guitar we had in the studio layered and doubled, tripled, to create this mess of strings and notes. We took this sample and ran it through a tape machine, and then bent the tape in places so it would shift out of pitch in a cool way. We called it “The Herd,” and this song was referenced as “the Cowboy Song” because of its horse gallup feel. Matt’s bass playing is absolutely nuts on this song.
VIDEO QUOTE: This video was created by the talented @keziahulse and I – it depicts what transcended directly after this ultimatum, when my incredible partner Kelsey and I took a big leap and set out on the road to find A Better Place for our newfound relationship to have its fair chance. We met each other’s parents for the first time within months of dating by moving into their houses. From Brooklyn to Buffalo to Cape Cod to Beacon, this video is as true to life as it gets. I am proud of the trials Kelsey and I got through over the past two years, I could not imagine my life without her, and this video is an ode to that dedication.
“Mountainside” was actually the first song I wrote in this album’s batch. It was back in 2019, before the Tahoe trip, before any glimpse of a pandemic on the horizon. My partner and I had just started talking, expressing interest in each other; it was that new new phase of a budding relationship where neither of you want to fully admit how you feel, so you keep dancing, dropping hints, little pokes at something more. This song makes me picture sitting on a New York subway platform, waiting for the train to come, and seeing the one your heart is searching for on the opposite side across from you, amidst a sea of strangers. You hope for nothing more than for them to realize you are there too, and as soon as your eyes connect, the train flies between you, and you are off in opposite directions.
I wanted this song to be fourth in the album to serve as a moment of recollection, to pause and look back at a sliver of time before any of the pandemic reality was here.
Musically, this song was very inspired by Rayland Baxter. I’m pretty sure I stole this acoustic guitar riff from him. Rayland is a wonderful musician who has a really great way of achieving that pop-acoustic connection that I strive for so much. With the production, we were striving for sounds in the Ethan Gruska/Phoebe Bridgers realm, that kind of muddy, zero reverb drum sound. We actually tracked all the drums and cymbals separate, which gave the kit this weird, slightly unaligned feeling.
“Waiting Around” brings in the point of the pandemic where anger, frustration, and confusion set in. In a literal sense, it was inspired by my personal frustrations with the absolute failure of the unemployment aid effort by our government. But as I was writing it, it stopped being about me and became something larger. I wanted to write a song that spoke for everyone, and most importantly, gave a voice to the people who really experienced the failure of this aid system who were voiceless in the world because of any number of socio-economic factors. Millions of people were displaced from their jobs, lost their homes, lost custody of their children, had many people in their families die from this virus – and it really felt like our government was putting a priority on helping the people in this country who don’t need help, ignoring the millions that do. This is the dark underbelly of this pandemic, it is the ugly truth. But nonetheless it is just as much a part of this story as is any of the lighter fare. I felt I needed to write a song that recognized that though my hardships, trials, experiences were valid, there were many more that were far worse, in their own ways, and deserved to be highlighted.
Lyrically, I was really inspired by the lyrical structure from “Housebroken” by The Hotelier. The whole song operates under this metaphor of the perspective of a dog, under submission to its owner. I have always loved that, and tried to take that into my own terms when writing this song.
Musically, we really went to a different place on this song. It has so many dark undertones. We needed to match the level of sincerity the lyrics were reaching for. We recorded with two different drum kits; the verses have a small, iso-booth kit with zero reverb, and they transition into a gigantic arena-rock kit in the live room for the choruses. Finding this balance was so cool, and figuring out how to merge them seamlessly was awesome. We also used a lot of weird sounds and pedals, specifically the Gamechanger Audio Plasma Fuzz pedal, which has this little diode that looks like it has a lightning bolt running through it, and quite literally runs your guitar signal through electrified plasma. It’s ridiculous.
“Ginger Chew” is my favorite song written on the album and potentially ever. I wanted to challenge myself to create an anagram of “ORANGEBLUE.” It is essentially the same riff, the same lyrics, the same structure, for the most part – taking the potential for those themes and bringing them into a more upbeat, happy, driven return. I pushed myself to search for lyrics that were weirdly specific but described an experience and feeling as a whole at the same time. For this song and album, I tried hanging up all the lyrics I had written so far on the wall, and looking at them all in the same view, rather than flipping through pages. Seeing it all laid out allowed me to find opportunities for the same lyrics/themes to return and mention each other, creating a universe and allowing familiarity to shine through. I am so proud of the balance this song has between grounded in reality and large-scale emotions and themes.
Musically, we achieved such a cool niche between rock and roll and indie twinkling. This song rocks in such a special way. The main guitar riff is one of my proudest accomplishments as a musician. It was really easy recording this song – every decision just made sense. Each time we laid a track or picked a sound, it was unanimous, that’s the sound this song requires. It was such a great feeling.
The video for “Ginger Chew” was quite a production. I am obsessed with everything old school – if “Waiting on Me” was all about perceiving you are a ’70s living room and then realizing you are in a film studio in 2020, then “Ginger Chew” was that in the ’20s. We had this idea to have the band on a TV set like you’d see in the old days of late night bandstand TV shows, and the narrative be cased around alluding to the 1920s influenza pandemic. Obviously decades get crossed, but that’s the point. We wanted to have the whole production feel like what someone would be watching on tv during a pandemic in the old times, where everyone was sheltered from each other but there was this source of entertainment attempting to provide some enlightenment to its audience in a time of strife. Then, just like “Waiting on Me,” the illusion of reality is ripped away, the dream is over, and we realize we are in the modern day. This whole record is about finding that Better Place for yourself, for your loved ones; even if that means you have to fabricate your reality for some time. In such a dark world, there is no shame in creating that safe place where you can feel at home.
“Roses on the Floor”
“Roses” is a very simple song. It went through the biggest transformation of all the album’s songs from the original demo to final version, both musically and lyrically. When I first wrote it, it was the end of 2019, around the same time I wrote “Mountainside,” and was very much about just wishing I could be with my newfound partner any second I wasn’t; that infatuation and craving for their presence all the time. But it never felt finished; it felt too basic and simple, like I was missing a level or originality I hadn’t yet found. I let it sit, and when we got to recording the album, we worked this song probably the most of all and changed it up completely. The lyrics morphed from a naive craving for your new love’s presence to a holy shit moment – look at everything that has changed in the past year, and wow we were so naive back then. It wouldn’t have been able to make that change if it weren’t for the original simplicity that had been laid months prior, though. Everything happens for a reason.
Originally this song was a driving rock song. It was way too basic. We knew it wasn’t cutting it and needed rethinking. With the help of our producer/engineer Erik Romero, we reworked the entire approach to the song, just like the lyrics. It went from a loud arena rock song to a slow, delicate ballad, taking full advantage of negative space, air, silence – this is one of my favorites on the album for this reason. We touched on new territory that we hadn’t yet and it really opened my eyes. I especially love the guitar solo – we played the solo on slide guitar, and then digitally reversed every guitar note in the pro tools file. It is super David Gilmour/Pink Floyd, which was a primary reference for this song – I love it. Joe also achieved some really incredible drum sounds and performances on this song.
“A Better Place”
“A Better Place”is the album song. It’s the summary, the one-liner, the end-all-be-all, it speaks for the trees. I just wanted to write an anthem. This was the last song written for the album, and it came out that way for sure. It ties everything in a bow and lights it on fire. I’m so proud of how much this song truly rocks. Lyrically, I took a very similar approach to that of “Ginger Chew” – putting every lyric I had for the album up on a wall, pulling and picking ones out to craft a new amalgamation of them for a new song. In a lot of ways, this is the finale of the album. It’s meant to close up the story, and “Apple Cheeks” following it is like the credits rolling. I start this song just like I do the first song on the album, “Waiting on Me”: “Dreaming of The Seventies.” This song brings you back to that questioning of your existence, of your reality, of your purpose – is the situation I am currently in fully serving me? Am I crafting my ideal existence or is it crafting me? Claiming that I will take a stand and make a change for myself, and fight for the life that I want and deserve to have.
Musically, we sent it on this one. I love this riff. It in some ways resembles “Ginger Chew’”s melody, in a more aggressive, “F you” intention. I always strive to make music “hummable.” Even if it means it’s simple, if it gets buried in your head to where you are humming the melody, that is the biggest goal for me. We took a lot of inspiration from Springsteen and Born to Run on the instrumental approach and playing on A Better Place. That telecaster tone that sounds driven but is very clean in reality, and only drives so well when played perfectly and in powerful conjunction with everyone else. It’s the sound of America. It’s that feeling you get when you are out on the open highway, end of summer, everything in full bloom, the sun kissing your skin – you are in control of your destiny.
The intent for this video was the same as the song – straight up, no frills rock and roll. Just a band doing it’s damn thing. We filmed “Waiting on Me,” “Ginger Chew,” and this video in the same weekend over the course of 2 days – so the “non-set” of this video was actually completely intentional. It allowed us to film this between break down and set up of the other two. Very simple in theory, just a rock band set up in a circle, heavy shadows/spotlighting, fog, and send it. I love the energy and character it has. We shot this on Kodak 500T 16mm film, which was my first time working with 16mil- calling back to my notes on the “ORANGEBLUE” video, there is a tangibility and realness to shooting film that you will never achieve with digital. It is finite, you only have so much on the roll. You need to be intentional about what you choose to capture. It is manual, you hold it with your hands, and it has to be cared for or else it will be destroyed. This really helped us capture the moment the most authentic way possible.
“Apple Cheeks” is like the credits to the movie. We’ve had our euphoric ending, now we ride off into the sunset with our love on our arm. I really love how simple this song is, its just simply saying I love you, thank you, and I value you to the person who gives you their whole heart.
Musically, it come from an amalgamation of chord progressions from both “Mountainside” and “Waiting Around.” I found a way to have them play into each other and create a recurring theme there again. We looked at this song as the reprise; it all comes back around. Full circle. A Better Place.
A Better Place is out now on Take This to Heart Records.
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
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