Late last year after a string of tour dates, Walk Off The Earth’s Ryan Marshall left the popular band he helped create to embark on a solo career. Using the moniker Marshall, which he used for his first solo release Layers, Marshall is ready to steal the show with a new song and video that’s primed to be a huge hit across Canada. That song, This Is It, comes out in the middle of the month and sets the tone for an exciting new solo career.
We sat down with Marshall for a chat about life in isolation and releasing This Is It.
The pandemic has affected things in many different ways. I have a feeling that there’s going to be plenty of isolation and lonely songs coming out of people very soon.
No kidding. Right? Everyone’s going to be in the mood ready for a happy let’s-get-out-of inside-song, and everybody is going to be putting out lonely shit.
Have you written much during the past few weeks?
I write all the time, that’s just something that I’ve done since I was 20. It’s kind of an addiction. I get anxious when I’m not writing, and sometimes tour. When you’re touring for maybe a month or a month and a half, you have to figure out ways to take a break from that so that I can release that writing anxiety. I’m one of those types of people that I almost communicate better through my lyrics than I do in-person sometimes, if that makes any sense.
When did you write your first one?
When it comes to the singer songwriter world, in high school, all I played was a baritone, which is like a miniature tuba. I was in the concert band and the jazz band. I didn’t even pick up a guitar until I went to university, and I didn’t sing at the time. So I would have been at least 20, and being in a small town called Caledonia, I took the song Sweet Home Alabama, and I wrote a “Weird Al” Yankovic style version.
A parody, yeah.
I wrote a parody, Sweet Home Caledonia. That was the first time I’d ever written something. You had to start somewhere. I’d never done anything from scratch. And then the next following month I started figuring out how to write songs.
That’s funny. With the pandemic, everybody’s isolated, but for you, being on your own is something that’s much more wide range than just the pandemic. At the end of last year, you announced you were no longer with Walk Off the Earth. So you’re facing a future as a solo artist?
Mm-hmm. Like we’ve been talking about, as far as writing goes, I really want to be able to concentrate on writing music where I can express my creativity, and writing is a huge part of that for me. We got to a point in Walk Off the Earth where Johnny and I had been together since 2006. It’s a long time. I started the band, it was just a three piece, and it had a lot of different pieces.
And then when we lost Mike over a year ago, that was a big change too. A lot of those things that were all combining at the same time helped me realize that I needed to just follow my heart and follow my gut when it came to making sure that I was giving myself everything that I need personally when it comes to creativity and the type of music that I’m singing and people are hearing. I knew that I just needed to follow a different path for a minute. So whether that’s a solo artist, or whether that means I’m going to be doing more writing.
I really love having multiple things going at one time. But definitely a big part of that is my project, which we’ve just called Marshall, because especially the new music that’s coming out now, that’s going to be coming out this year and it really feels like early Walk Off the Earth to me. It has a little bit of that alternative edge, it’s very anthemic. That type of music really gets me energized. My first album called Layers under Marshall was more electronic. It was definitely something that Walk of the Earth wasn’t doing, and that allowed me to express that side of me as a writer and that side of me vocally.
One of the biggest things that I enjoy being a solo artist is allowing my voice to get into different ranges that people typically haven’t heard. Johnny and Sarah are both amazing vocalists, and so when the three of us were together in Walk Off the Earth, we each had our own spot on the spectrum. When you’re a solo artist, now you have to force yourself into those other areas. I’ve had a lot of fun with my voice, both recording it and playing live and experimenting and getting into areas that are a little less comfortable, and it’s been exciting.
Experimentation seems to be a big part of what you’ve been doing for many years. So that must be almost a fundamental part of it.
It really is. I’m sure you’re referring to a lot of it video wise of what we did with Walk Off the Earth. But I think with every musician and every artist, you need to experiment. As soon as you get comfortable, I think you’re letting people get ahead of you. I’m a very competitive type person, and there’s lots of room in the music industry for more music, but I feel like once you’re comfortable and if you sit in that comfort for too long, you’re doing a disservice to yourself. Because to be creative, you have to be experimental.
You mentioned Mike briefly earlier. The last tour was a little strange without Mike. It was a great show, but it just felt incomplete. Was Mike’s passing almost a trigger to say maybe it’s time for change?
No. I don’t think it was a trigger. Mike and I were really great friends outside of the camps. We were friends before he joined Walk Off the Earth. We became almost like brothers during Walk Off the Earth. Everybody that knows the music industry, when you’re touring that much with someone, you really become family. So we had a really close relationship. So losing him was like a family member to me. It wasn’t necessarily a trigger to say, okay, something needs to change, but he always did really support everything I did outside of Walk Off the Earth, both as a songwriter and as a solo musician.
I had started working on the Marshall stuff almost a year and a half before he passed. I would bounce songs off of him, and he loved hearing it and being a part of it. There’s definitely a thought that went through my mind thinking about what Mike would say, and he would have always been the type of person to say, “Hey, follow your heart, follow your music.” So no, I know it wasn’t a trigger, but I was definitely thinking about him during decisions that I’ve made over the past year and a half, he’s even involved in those decisions for sure.
You mentioned that, was it a year and a half of writing for the first Marshall release? I didn’t realize it took that long.
Layers almost became an album of B sides. It was a bunch of stuff that I had on my hard drive that I had given to Walk off and said, “Hey guys, what do you think? Do we like this?” To go back to that same word, it was just too experimental for what we were doing at that time. Sometimes Walk off is one of the best bands that take a song, whether it’s written by Miley Cyrus or anybody, and makes it their own. But just at that time, we didn’t feel these ones fit the puzzle. So there was a good seven or eight songs that I was able to go back and listen to on a hard drive and say, “You know what…’
At the time, I had a publishing deal with Cobalt in Los Angeles, and so we were looking for other artists to sing some of these songs or if we wanted to work with them. It became a talking point discussing who do we pitch this to? I just said, “You know what? I don’t know if I want to pitch to anybody. I really like how my voice did on this.” That became the start of the Layers album, it was just me accepting that these songs need to come out, people need to hear them, and I don’t want anybody else’s voice on them. They’re personal songs to me, they mean something to me, and people need to hear them.
And then once that thought process was in, I’d say four to five months, then we wrote Mr. Parachute. I had written Shadows two years before Letters came out. Four or five of them existed and then three or four ended up being on the album that were written probably five to six months before it came out.
The new single comes out in mid-May. Tell me about “This is It”.
Well, it really does have that anthemic little bit more alternative leaning feel. I don’t like comparing music, but it almost gives me that 30 Seconds to Mars type anthem feel when I listen to it. But it also makes you feel like it should be playing right before the Super Bowl. It’s got a lot of energy. The Layers album, I wrote most of it on my own, except for a couple of songs with Jocelyn Alison and a great producer named Kojak. I did all of that in Los Angeles.
Most of the new music, and specifically This is It, I wrote in Nashville. There’s a producer that I worked with on a lot of the early Walk Off stuff, his name’s Tawgs Salter, one of the best producers in the world, let alone the best Canadian producer. Whenever I work with him, we end up with this fantastic anthem-style song. I was also working with another writer, lyricist, and she’s an amazing writer, Lindsey Ray. So between the three of us, we had a concept, we had an idea, and the song came out perfect for what we wanted.
Every writing session you always go, “Wow, that’s a banger. That’s awesome.” And then you write a bunch more songs and then maybe it was or maybe it wasn’t. But fast forward four or five months after writing it and you listen back and you go, “Yep, this is the one, this is a smash.” Time to do a video. And then you go to the next steps.
The video you mentioned is hilarious and will be a fun moment when people see it the first time. It’s almost like an isolation video, and it’s just you and there’s no one else around.
Isn’t it convenient how that played out. So most of my videos I do, I have two amazing friends that are in the TV and movie business, Chris Stacey , Bryan Trieb. They’ve worked with me on every single one of the Marshal videos. Chris Stacey is a director and producer and Brian’s a steady cam operator. I was at Chris’s place for a couple of nights, he was in San Clemente, and I said, “Okay we got to do a video, I’m heading back to Toronto tomorrow.” Oh, no, no. In two days. So we sat in his studio, we had no ideas. We knew Brian was coming down the next day to shoot it, but we just didn’t have a concept.
Chris was going through some old videos and we were just playing the song against some videos that were just on mute to try and see if we’d come up with ideas. He had this old video where, a similar type thing, you did a job for a real estate company and there was a guy walking through a house naked for a couple of seconds just as a joke. And then we just came up with this idea, what if I was a real estate agent or what if I was looking after somebody’s house and then it just morphed? We came up with that idea at 11 o’clock on a Wednesday night, and we started shooting at 11:00 AM the next Thursday morning, and we were done in four hours. We just had so much fun.
Obviously, it was just random. I had to wear women’s underwear, because you have to make sure you have the right skin color so that it’s easier to remove and post. Oh my God, it was an amazing day. Just something I did not see myself doing.
You must be pretty comfortable with your body in some ways.
Yeah, I am. I’m pretty comfortable. I don’t think I want to walk around naked the whole day, but I’m comfortable with it. It’s funny, there’s so many different ways to look at the video and the song. I’ve played the song for people without them seeing the video first, and it’s funny when you get a reaction like, “Wow, that’s a really cool song.” And then you show them the video and it almost changes the song for them. I just love that, because there’s a tenderhearted, joking foolishness that comes with the video and helps us get away from the seriousness of life. I just think the timing’s going to work out really great with what everybody’s going through right now, because there was no talk. We had no idea that this was going to be coming upon us when we shot that video, it was just pure joy and fun and let’s do something funny that people will want to watch more than once.
You’ve mentioned that there’s other songs. So is This is It part of an upcoming EP or album or is it just a one-off single?
It’s definitely part of something. I wouldn’t want to say it’s part of an EP, just because we haven’t really figured out the strategy yet for the next group of music. But it definitely is part of more music, and it’s not going to be the only song we release this year, there’s definitely going to be a couple. When I wrote Layers, or when I released Layers, the reason I called it Layers is because I knew there wouldn’t be another album like it as far as from me. It really was the first layer of me, and I called it that because as a writer and as an artist, I know that there’s just so many different layers on the type of person I am. That was the first, and I knew the second was going to be different. I didn’t know if it was going to be more acoustic, I didn’t know if it would be this, more anthemic.
This second album or EP or group of music or whatever we package it as, it will be another layer, and they’ll all be very similar and sound and feel and the direction, because I just wrote it from a different place this time. So, yeah, there’s more music ready to go, we’re just going to come up with that right plan to get it out for people to want to listen to.
You’ve also been hosting Marshall Mondays on social media. Tell us what that’s all about.
Well, my management team, who I love, is a huge part of my life. My manager said, “Hey look, you got to start doing something on social media, because there’s not going to be any shows anytime soon. So maybe just start doing some live sessions where you’re playing songs or record them and put them up.” I said, “That’s just not me.” I’m not really the type of person that is just going to put the phone in front of me and say, “Hey, here’s a song,” or go on Live and really respond to all the comments. It’s not exactly the type of person I am personally, but I knew that there was somewhere in there that we could find a way to make that part of something.
I’ve always loved variety shows. I think Jimmy Fallon is one of the most hilarious dudes and he’s just talented in so many ways. But I was a huge David Letterman fan. The idea of being able to be David Letterman as the host and as the interviewer, but then also be Paul Shaffer and Paul Shaffer’s band all at the same time within this little 15 minute skit that I get to do once a week is hilarious and super intriguing to me. So, bounced it off some friends and back and forth with Alisson and we just came up with this plan and just do Marshall Mondays and have a guest on and do a top five memes list, and like you said earlier, give people a moment of comedy to get away from the craziness and the chaos that could be around us in turn of the corner.
I want to chat about Jocelyn Alice for a second. You guys really hit it off well.
We did. She opened for Walk Off the Earth, which would have been four years ago, in Windsor at the casino. I was a huge fan. We were with the agency group at the time and Ralph James, our booking agent, and he asked us if we had any idea who we wanted to open for us at that show, and he had a list and one of them was Jocelyn Alice. Boom, right away, let’s get her to open for us, I love her. Jackpot was one of my favorite songs at the time. But I never met her.
So she came and opened the show, and then we were chatting backstage, and we ended up going down to the casino and playing roulette for a couple hours afterwards. I mentioned to her that I had moved down to Los Angeles and I was doing a lot of writing and she was moving down to Los Angeles in the next six to eight months and said, “Hey, we should get together and write.” So sure enough, she moved down and we started writing. There’s only a handful that I’ve come across that as soon as you start writing with them, you feel comfortable enough that you can be honest and you feel safe. When you get that, you’re always going to get the best music, because you’re not keeping those walls up and you’re not hiding things that will help you get the best song.
The best songs come from the heart, no matter if they’re happy or sad or whatever it is. That’s just a reality, people gravitate to music that they can relate to. You can relate to shit when it’s real. So her and I just happened. It was a good relationship from the start. She feels like a sister to me, and we’ve been great friends since.
You mentioned the casino. Is the roulette table somewhere we’d see you and find you at?
Yeah, that’s where I’ll be. Look, I’m not a casino goer, but when you tour a lot, you end up in casinos now and then, because it’s an easy spot for people to come and see you. So I’ve been to a few casinos for work purposes over the last eight years. If I’m in the casino, you’ll find me out the roulette table. I don’t really play anything else.
A lot of those gigs were in Windsor. You’ve played Windsor quite a bit.There must be some special memories of Windsor other than the roulette table.
Well, the venues are fantastic. Anytime you have a stage big enough that you can toss a guitar 40 feet in the air and, call it, 30 feet wide, you have a pretty fun stage to play on. I don’t remember what the capacity is, I think it’s maybe 4,000, somewhere around there. It’s just a great spot for us. We have a really huge fan base… sorry, I shouldn’t say we. But Walk Off had a very big fan base in Detroit and let’s call it the GTW. It’s not the GTW, but the greater Windsor area.
Last question. I always like looking back at a specific album or milestone, and this summer marks the 10th anniversary of My Rock. So what do you remember about that? Walk Off The Earth was a trio.
Wow, 10th anniversary of My Rock. That’s wild. It’s funny when I try to look back at Walk Off as a three piece, because it just feels like a different band almost. Those are the days of us doing work tour, traveling in a shitty little RV, driving across America and different parts of Canada. You just feel like a circus when you’re doing a warp tour and playing punk and ska shows with bands like Keeping Sex and Stale Fish and all these really cool underground Ontario bands. There was a huge cult following, and people never really got to see the potential of all these really cool three and four piece bands.
As far as the music goes, obviously, that album was heavily ska, reggae influenced. Johnny sang a couple songs, but it was very vocal dominant for me. We weren’t working with outside writers at that time. I was writing most of the songs and Johnny was the producer and Pete was almost like our manager. We each had our own little job inside that band.
My Rock was probably the first feeling of, “Okay, this music and what we’re doing right now could actually turn into something.” We had put out Smooth Like Stone on a Beach, that was our first album. By the time we put out My Rock, we had got our shit together and we had done a couple of work tours and we felt like, “Okay, yeah, maybe there’s potential. We should probably work our asses off on this.” It ended up working out pretty well. The band made some changes and we went a little bit different direction sonically.