The show is billed as “Gonzalez vs. Gonzales,” but it’s a contrived controversy: Drive-By Truckers’ Jay Gonzalez and Andy Gonzales of Marshmallow Coast stress to Flagpole that they they admire each other’s work. Friday night, the local pop mainstays will each celebrate the release of a new record by co-headlining the 40 Watt Club.
After opening for the Truckers during the band’s annual homecoming in February and a stretch of shows where he performed his new, ‘70s-AM-radio-inspired EP, The Bitter Suite, in its entirety, Jay Gonzalez is primed to celebrate the collection’s release. Gonzalez says being so active with the Truckers the past few years delayed the new record’s completion.
“Because [DBT] is on a schedule, and because it’s an on-off thing, when I’m home, I can focus,” he says. Still, he adds, the music that would end up on the recording was penned a while back: “I wrote most of The Bitter Suite four or five years ago in hotel rooms.”
For the show, Gonzalez has assembled an all-star cast—Chris Grehan, Joe Rowe, Peter Alvanos and Kevin Lane—to give The Bitter Suite a proper treatment. The group will also play other songs from Gonzalez’s solo catalog.
Gonzalez says he feels fortunate to have his friends accompany him on stage, even if coordinating so many schedules is a task. “I don’t feel obliged to do it as a full band, but I really do enjoy it that way,” he says. “I feel like it’s the only way to get the whole thing across.”
Gonzalez confesses that while live shows are always a thrill, he also views them as opportunities to rehearse for upcoming recording sessions, typically scheduled whenever everyone can get together. While technology makes it easy for Gonzalez to communicate and exchange sounds and ideas with Grehan, who lives outside of Athens, he says he still cherishes any opportunity for the group to record together.
Also Friday, Andy Gonzales will celebrate his band’s return after a long break. And in fact, Marshmallow Coast’s Vangelis Rides Again is a near-perfect counterpart to The Bitter Suite. While the latter album was recorded in a professional studio, Vangelis is thoroughly a bedroom production, with Gonzales going so far as to build his own microphones, amplifiers and compressors.
Gonzales says the record’s trim, nine-song tracklist is a product of “the new era of… Internet short-attention-span promotion,” which he views as a positive. “I listen to some albums—even albums I love—and think, ‘This could have been five songs shorter, and I would have paid the same amount and not had to delete these songs from iTunes,’” Gonzales says.
With Vangelis, Gonzales says he has reached a new point in his trajectory as a songwriter which has forced him to try new methods. “I’ve gotten so into electronics in the past five years that it has eaten away at my songwriting time and cycle of focus,” he explains.
The real “epiphany,” Gonzales adds, has come from his attempts at building “song structures that move around just a few chords, like ‘Hills Are Alive’ [from Vangelis].” Gonzales says the inspiration for these sparse arrangements came from classical composers he has long admired.
While the recent uptick in Elephant 6-related activity, including Neutral Milk Hotel’s return, has garnered quite a bit of national attention for the Athens-based collective, of which Marshmallow Coast is an affiliate, Gonzales says it hasn’t impacted him or his band all that much.
“I honestly try to never think about the music business, or buzz, or trends, or anything that can spur [that] nauseating roller coaster ride of emotions,” he says.
With that caveat, Gonzales hopes to take Marshmallow Coast on the road for some East Coast dates in the future. After recent stints touring with other groups, Gonzales hopes to schedule a string of shows for his own band—“if they can be planned well and scaled so that they are fun and not in big, empty bars.”
Although Gonzales admits he prefers solo performances, where he builds songs using loop pedals and other effects, he promises “full-fledged stage musicianship” for his release show, which will feature Gregory Sanders, Emily Growden, Sarah Kirkpatrick and Derek Almstead. Gonzales will switch between guitar and piano to round out the band’s live sound. He also promises “a mild amount of theatrics… to expand the performance.”
Though both artists’ music differs in terms of approach, they share a definite affinity for ’70s-inspired pop music, so Friday’s show will seem less like a contest and more like a carefully curated, only-in-Athens event.