Catch up with Sabbatical Year's Nick Margiasso and see what the band has in store on their forthcoming remix EP, SYre, set to be released March 2016.
What brought you all together?
Nick Margiasso: Myself and Drew, who is the pianist and co-writer - me and him write all the songs - we were in a band probably three years ago now. It was this giant band - there were like ten people in the band - and we were just on the periphery; he played as a supportive role because there were a couple guitarists and we had three vocalists because it was some giant, Polyphonic Spree band - without the robes and the religious overtures. We got more involved and as we got more involved some people, stylistically, didn't agree on things with other people and some of us thought we should go in a certain direction and, slowly, the band lost a few people and we were like, 'well, what are we doing here?'. Drew and I had come into an existing band and he was looking to do one thing and I was looking to do another thing and once we met, we were like, 'I think we're doing something else,' and so we followed that.
It took awhile. If you hear our stuff, it's piano led and it's not ground breakingly different, but it doesn't really sound a lot like stuff other people are doing, and it's always been like that for us, so it's harder to get people on board with that. People are like, 'okay, when does the guitar come in?' and we're like, 'well, there is no guitar'. We asked all these questions when we were trying to get people in the band and they just didn't fit. It took a long time. We changed our name because everyone left the band - except for me and Drew - [laughs]; the band ended up being just the two of us out of ten people, and so we did it just the two of us for awhile and we met a couple other guys named Todd and Justin who were the rhythm section for awhile - we really lucked out with them and they both were on board, immediately. They were great but, eventually, both of those guys fell out. We're all about 30 years old so, for different reasons, careers, moving to different locations, marriage, whatever it might be, those guys dropped out and, luckily, Drew's brother, Devon, produced our first album and he's a drummer and once we made the switch from Todd, it made sense that Drew's brother would be in the band with us. And we just added a guy - we played a lot of shows with a band from Atlanta who had a ton of guitarists - and we sort of saw an opportunity to pilfer one of their members and so Tom plays guitar and bass with us now and, for us, guitar is very soundscape; it's not like Eddie Van Halen out there, it supports whatever the mood is.
So, it's been a long haul. Once we finished our SY2 slbum is when we replaced everybody, so currently, with this EP - and we're going to have another EP after this and then another album hopefully by the end of the year - hopefully, that will all be the current line-up: myself, Drew, his brother Devon, and Tom.
You said Drew was a co-writer and you're all musicians in your own right, how does that collaborative process work when you are working on these new albums?
I say this a lot, when you're writing songs you just try to come up with these examples for people to help people out, and it's like Lennon and McCartney - in no way am I trying to compare ourselves - but it's like me and Drew are very different people, we're from different backgrounds, we don't share a ton of things in common, just like Lennon and McCartney, but when they got in a room there was some sort of a bond between the two of them that was absolutely undeniable and it was just pouring out of them, and that's sort of how we are. We're not best friends in the world, we're very different people, but every time he comes up with something, you'd think we're like the fast food of songwriting: we can churn out a whole song in about five minutes it feels like. It really starts with us and then we've just got very talented guys. Tom plays some things on bass and guitar so he can come up with some ideas once we lay our ground work and then Devon is literally a prodigious kind of guy. He produces all of our stuff and he's super good at it, he's incredible; for a guy that only has a couple production credits to his name, he's really, really good. He built his own studio set-up and he just knocks it out. Those guys come in after me and Drew lay the groundwork, but it's just one of those things. There's a lot of reasons people play music and, one of them, you realize after you've playing for awhile, there's that bond you can share with somebody jamming or coming up with stuff, it's absolutely unparalleled. It just works or it doesn't and, for the two of us, it's just always been the magic touch; you put two of us in the room for 15 minutes and we'll have two song ideas that will eventually be singles on our album. I don't know what it is and I don't mess with it [laughs].
Which bands or artists have you been influenced by, individually or as a band?
I think both of us have a ton of influences and I'm a big fan of Radiohead and bands like Blur and a lot of bands that came from the '90s. One of the most inspiring things to me creatively, by far, is jazz, and nothing we do sounds like jazz and it probably never will, but just something about the freedom and the way they can meander and explore all different avenues of music is something that inspires me. With our band, there's no boundaries, feel free to do anything, come up with anything, and I like the way that jazz musicians can just sit in a room and explore. Especially Miles Davis, he's come out with songs that are standard to things that are completely challenging; you can get him in a room and he just goes on a journey for a little awhile.
I think Drew is very inspired by unique and different sounds, like Muse and Radiohead, people who are mixing guitar and piano and synthesizer and drum machine; all the different kinds of ways bands can incorporate things, I think that's a pretty big influence for him. But, for myself, I just love jazz. I've always liked it, but now, going back to it, and somebody like Miles Davis, he just did very simple songs to groundbreaking jazz work and even beyond the boundaries of that; he never ran out of reasons to explore and he never got tired of it. That's how I feel for us; we started with a piano, bass, and drums, and now we've got synthesizers, guitars, all kinds of things. I think, as we go forward, it's almost like we're adding more of everything and just because we're adding more studio instruments doesn't at all mean we're not going to add more strings and acoustic instruments. It's an exciting time and I think the release of the EP as sort of boundary shift has started that. I think we're going to jump from a couple genres here for a little while and have a very interesting next full length album.
Which words would you use to describe your sound?
For me, emotion is a very big one. It's very emotional, melancholy in a way, and we're just an indie rock band, like so many other bands, we're just trying to do our thing and write the best songs we can. All of our songs very overtly wear their emotions on their sleeves and a lot of that has to do with myself being the singer and writing the lyrics, but also Drew, as a piano player, he's got big, sweeping, epic chords and lines and riffs he puts together and it's hard to get away from that sort of sound once you've got two people who are into that thing. Emotional music has turned to emo at some point, but that's not what we do, I almost feel like we might be a better description of that [laughs] but we're not crying or anything [laughs].
Where does your name, Sabbatical Year, come from?
You know, it's funny, it was really hard. I feel like naming your band is probably even harder than getting people to be in it [laughs]. We had a name before when we were in that giant band and then it got torn down to just the two of us and we were like, 'okay, we're kind of our own thing now,' and, honestly, I just started to go through dictionaries and thesaurus' [laughs] and just started to put phrases together and two words I like together and this and that. Going through the 'S' section and sabbatical year is, I think, Judaic in origin and the meaning is basically taking a year to do whatever it is that you need, spiritually, and it sounded good - Sabbatical Year - and it just sort of made sense to me. Our music is an escape, nothing about our music sounds like the rigmarole of the day to day. When you listen to it, it's like light in spaces and it can be positive or, like I said, melancholy, but it's big and it's grandiose and it's always a break. The band itself, the sound, it's like we're a break from the monotony of day to day life and that resonated, so that fits us very well, I think.
What was the inspiration behind your last single, "Dd"?
The last single is from the EP, which is SYre, which is funny because our first album was SY1, and then we were SY2, and this isn't quite SY3, but it's SYre, the remix. SY2 was a huge step for us and was a great album and we put everything we had into it and it got us a lot of fans and a lot of recognition and when we were starting out with SY1, our first album, it was just us trying to get going. We wanted to get on the road and play it for people, and so we quickly put seven or eight songs together that we had and tried to record them in a short amount of time, and what we found at the end of touring for SY2, is that a lot of people's favorite songs are off of our first album. If you're in a band, you want to share your music with as many people as possible if you're getting good reception and feedback, and I think SY1 was not introduced to enough people, so instead of re-releasing it, we wanted to go back and rebuild all of the music into something different. We're moving on in many ways as we're writing our new stuff from that album, and so it seemed like a good time to reintroduce ourselves and be like, 'we're still going to be writing good songs, but they're definitely going to come in a lot of different formats, as electronic, acoustic, and different things, to try to just see how far we can stretch the creative bounds of our songs'. We thought it would be cool to make a total departure and go to electronic first, it just seemed like a fun thing to do. When you record a full length, it's so much work and so it was fun to have a little bit of that and then play - like kids out for recess in a studio just playing around - and the new album is mostly Drew and Devon, because they're just in the studio and we would try to guide him, but Drew just started to play. It was like one kid that was really good playing with the ball and we sort of waited to get him off the bench and we got this really fun, modern, forward sounding album. This song, in particular, this is a fan favorite and we used to close our shows with this all the time - and we still do sometimes - but now it's in such a different form it's really fun and really interesting and it was like a blank palate using some old paint that you had in the cabinet [laughs].
Could you sum up SYre in one sentence?
Sabbatical Year goes to space [laughs].
We've always been very much into piano and bass and this and that and this is we're going to go from that to jumping through a wormhole in the universe, just a lot of synthesizers and all kinds of stuff. It seems like it's a mile away from where we were and it's like space exploration [laughs]. You've got a guy who is an astronaut and at home he's comfortable mowing the yard and having some beers with his friends, but you put him in a spaceship and send him to the moon and he's still this certain kind of person, but he's interplanetary. Now, he's seen new things and experienced new things that he's never seen before, but he's still the same guy. That's sort of what we are, our band in a NASA rocket going to the moon.
What do you hope your fans and listeners are able to take from this music?
I think they're really going to like it. Between us playing live and the different things we've written about and different kinds of songs, I think people have been very happy to accept different things from our band. I think they know, even though we don't bend people's minds with some avante garde music, if you come see us live, there are different parts and different jams and I'm changing lyrics and adding people's names into the songs and we're just trying to have fun and this is a new way to do it. It's a very modern sound; it's like a 35 year old woman was listening to our music and it was bringing back old memories and it was something she could settle into and have a glass of wine and be this very mellow and introspective experience, well, now her 16 year old boy or daughter can dance to our music now, too. It's still us, but it's like we've eaten a whole bag of Skittles [laughs], so it's very modern and musical forward. We're messing around with different things electronically that we hadn't heard before; we're mixing very solemn vocals with these very hardcore beats and electronics and synthesizers which is not always happening, so it's a fun new thing for us.
Is there anything you'd like to add?
After this album, we're going to go in the complete opposite direction. It looks like we're going to release an EP that's going to be all acoustic, so it's going to be nothing like what you hear on this album [laughs]. On the next one, it's going to be all acoustic, completely stripped down, ukuleles and mandolins, so that will be also fun. That will be the regular guy I mentioned mowing the lawn and drinking beer with his friends, well now he's going to go churn butter in Amish country [laughs]. Unplugging everything and going back to just strings only, recording it in a live room, nothing plugged in, so that's going to be our next thing.
2016, for us, is just going to be a lot about new experiences. If you go to our website - we're not touring because we want to do something different and we played Atlanta Braves' stadium, tiny places, breweries, festivals, and we wanted to see if we could do something different - we have something going on right now called Sing Out for Sabbatical Year is the name of our tour and, basically, it's fans submitting, like, 'hey, come play in our town'. If we get enough submissions, we're going to start our next tour just because a bunch of people wanted to hear us in their town and we're probably going to go to their Dairy Queen or something and play a show [laughs] and that's going to be the start of our tour. We tried living room shows and that's fun too, but I think this is just keeping it very simple. Instead of trying to get the specifics nailed down, we just want people to say, 'hey, man, we love you and there are ten people at my college that really like you, too,' and they'll send us stuff and so we'll go to Boise. I think that's the idea for our next tour, which is going to be really cool because I guarantee it's going to end us up somewhere like Boise or New Zealand - as a modern band, music is universal now, so we will get stuff from Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal; I would love to hear what people think about Sabbatical Year playing at 4:30 in a Portugese bar [laughs]. There are no boundaries and everyone who participates and sends stuff in to our site, we're going to send them some stuff to thank them for reaching out to us and the winner is going to end up having us playing outside their Walmart or something [laughs].