A couple of years ago, while home on winter break from the College of William & Mary, Will Marsh found himself feeling overwhelmed by thoughts that drift, and often race, through young minds. Marsh was studying English, playing in a few bands on campus and worried about choosing a path—the right path—then facing the consequences of his choice.
He knew he wasn’t alone in this, but he couldn’t find solace in any of the music in his collection, so he picked up his guitar. “It’s cool when you listen to a song and it totally feels like how you’re feeling in that moment,” he says. “But oftentimes there aren’t those songs, so I write my own songs for my own moments.”
The result was “Icarus,” the latest single from Marsh’s music project, Gold Connections.
“I didn’t mean to fall apart / to break my own heart to crumble. / But look at me, take a look at me. / And I didn’t mean to let it all go / To let it all fall down like Icarus / We’ll take a look and see,” Marsh begins, singing over chunky, strummed chords. As he considers his future, he can’t help but think of Icarus, the mythical figure who flew too close to the sun on wax-and-feather wings and fell to his death.
“Icarus” is about taking a risk, Marsh says. It’s about his choice to pursue music and the lifestyle that comes with it. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if your wings are made of feather, bone and sinew or wax and worry; it’s hard to know how close the sun is.
This outward profession of anxiety is the root of what Marsh believes is a new moment in indie music, a moment defined by a feeling of emotional realism. “It’s not authentic in that back-to-nature-having-a-beard authentic” way, he says. “We’re talking about how it feels to live in 2016, actually talking about it in our songs.”
“Get back to rock ’n’ roll,” he sings in refrain at “Icarus’” end, a mantra reminding himself to get back to basics, do what he wants to do. Get back to rock ’n’ roll, and everything will be okay.
Marsh graduated from William & Mary in spring 2015 and came to Charlottesville, the place where some of his favorite bands, including Pavement, Silver Jews and Sparklehorse, lived, wrote and played music more than 20 years ago. “There’s a music tradition in Charlottesville that I resonate with,” Marsh says. These guys represent “a different way,” a more alternative tradition not just for Charlottesville music, but for music in general.
Back in January, Marsh worked with Daniel Levi Goans of Lowland Hum on the full-length Gold Connections record, Popular Fiction, that ultimately put him on the fast track to success.
Marsh sent the record to Mark Keefe, general manager and program director at local radio station WNRN, who says he listens to around 50 new full albums each month and always makes an effort to listen to local music. Keefe was stunned when he heard the record and immediately gave it to the station’s music director to put it on-air.
“It struck me,” says Keefe. “It hit a nerve. I remember the first time I heard Pavement.” It was an indescribable feeling, but a distinct feeling, he says. Gold Connections struck him in the same way. “Whatever that sound is, he’s got it down,” Keefe says of Marsh.
Keefe played the record for former WNRN colleague and independent music promoter Ronda Chollock, who sent it to a few indie labels. One well-established label (to be officially announced soon) jumped to sign Gold Connections.
“It does not happen like this,” Keefe says. “There are people out there who make really good music for years and don’t make a break like this.”
In early 2017, the label will release a basement tapes-type EP of the Gold Connections’ songs that Marsh wrote in his William & Mary days. Car Seat Headrest’s Will Toledo, Marsh’s good friend, former classmate and former bandmate (the two Wills played in each other’s bands), produced the sessions years ago and is currently mixing the tracks.
Sometime after the EP release, they’ll release the full album—the disc that got the band signed in the first place—which was originally scheduled to drop this month.
Marsh and his touring bandmates, bassist Noah Rosner and drummer Patrick Haggerty, are currently playing big venues like the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and opening for Car Seat Headrest, rising indie-music megastars, at The National in Richmond. Technically, those venues, with their big sound systems and stage crews, are a dream. But Marsh really wants to play house shows and DIY venues.
“House shows are, in my opinion, the best way to start an immediate relationship with people, because you’re right there in a small room,” he says. “They’re pretty uplifting to use as performers, too, because of the house show ethos,” where Marsh sings just an arm’s length away from a crowd of people that likely shares his anxieties about growing up, making major decisions and figuring themselves out.
“I came back home to sweat it out / To let it all go but you were right there / Like a phantom in the memory / Staring back at me,” Marsh sings in “Icarus.” The big difference now that he’s gotten back to rock ’n’ roll is he’s staring his fears straight in the eye—and looking ahead to the future.
Contact Erin O’Hare at firstname.lastname@example.org.