SoundCheck: The Margins in Three Songs
The Margins, a Springfield-based band scheduled to perform on KSMU's Studio Live July 12 at noon, is comprised of musicians Todd Balisle, Jody Bilyeu, Jonathan Keeney, Mike Rumsey and Jacob "Toad" Wyrick.
For our monthly series SoundCheck, the band members dissect three songs to give us a look at what inspires them and what they think makes a good rock ‘n’ roll song. The Margins also have strong opinions on candy. Their discussion on the subject is below in the bonus audio.
“Sequestered in Memphis” by the Hold Steady
“Lyrically, I like that it’s essentially a linear storyline, but he doesn’t really give you a ton of details. He gives you a lot of periphery of the story and kind of lets you fill in the gaps. You’re not really sure if the person that has been subpoenaed is the one that has acted out, created some mischief,” said Todd Balisle.
“Somebody’s dead in that song, right?” said Toad Wyrick.
“I think so,” said Balisle.
“Somebody’s most likely dead. Something bad’s happened,” said Jonathan Keeney.
“That’s the way I like to imagine it,” said Mike Rumsey.
“It’s somebody’s mind responding to what happened instead of telling us what happened. Here’s what it’s not – it’s not the Monster Mash. The Monster Mash gets real explicit about what happened,” said Jody Bilyeu.
“He doesn’t hold your hand. He assumes that you’ve been in enough bad situations that you have a pretty good idea of what’s going on,” said Balisle.
“That’s smart songwriting because you can have a wider audience, ‘cause you’re not going to get people that say, ‘Oh, I don’t like what that song’s about,’ because they’re making up what it’s about. It’s a good driving song, y’know. It’s got a good feel, got finesse in the drums, but still drives. I like it,” said Rumsey.
“I think Tad Kubler is the lead guitar player’s name for them at that time?” said Wyrick.
“Yeah, he shreds,” said Balisle.
“And he’s awesome. He plays rock ‘n’ roll guitar that doesn’t sound just totally worn out,” said Wyrick.
“It’s sort of elementally great rock ‘n’ roll sounds in that,” said Keeney.
“The Hold Steady, their whole catalog is pretty decidedly unhip, but it’s still cool. Like, it has its own swagger,” said Balisle.
“It’s a fine line,” said Rumsey.
“Do you feel like that relates to the Margins that way?” asked Jess Balisle.
“Absolutely. We are so unhip,” said Todd Balisle.
“Is She Really Going Out With Him” by Joe Jackson
“It’s such an interesting song. The first line is ‘pretty women.’ He’s not saying ‘able women’ or ‘clever women,’ so he’s obsessed with looks,” said Bilyeu.
“It’s very superficial,” said Keeney.
“The character in the song is obsessed with looks. He knows he doesn’t look good, but he doesn’t see why these pretty women that he wants are going out with gorillas. Why aren’t they going out with him? That’s not fair,” said Bilyeu.
“I think it’s just a funny song, though,” said Wyrick. “I don’t think he’s taking himself too seriously, either. Like, he’s definitely the problem, but I think it’s a hilarious song. The ‘where’ is a genius bit of songwriting, though. To just have the nerve to have people come in and say, ‘Look over there,’ ‘WHERE?’ I think that takes a lot of nerve to put on the radio.”
“Yeah, it’s kinda cornball,” said Balisle.
“And then there’s the bass hook,” said Bilyeu.
“There’s very little guitar mixed up in the song. The drums aren’t really all that present. It’s 90% vocals and bass and it’s a really, really nice thing. It’s carrying melody, it’s establishing most of the rhythm. It’s a really, really nice bass line,” said Keeney.
“The guitar playing is great in that song, though!” said Wyrick.
“It’s fabulous, but it’s not, it’s not…” said Keeney.
“That stuff’s good!” said Wyrick. “I like that stabby guitar stuff a lot. I try to do that a lot.”
“Joe Jackson,” said Rumsey.
“Yeah. It’s his name on the record. He’s pale and he’s pissed,” said Keeney.
“It sounds like more like, both of these songs, sounds like a dude talking instead of like, somebody saying, ‘Watch me sing! Listen to my range. Hear my lovely vibrato and my melisma,” said Bilyeu.
“Structurally, it’s a tight little pop song. There’s a lot of hooks. There’s a lot of stuff these guys [songwriters Balisle, Bilyeu and Wyrick] always put in their tunes,” said Keeney.
“Cul de Sac” by Van Morrison (Toad Wyrick’s favorite musician)
“I think our plan was just to let you riff on this a while,” said Keeney.
“Ok. So, these other two songs were fine, but that’s a great song right there,” said Wyrick. “One thing I like, the lyrics are pretty stupid in that song. Like, there’s nothing especially lyrically touching about that song or anything. But, Van doesn’t need to have fancy lyrics to get you in a song. He does it with his voice. And I think that’s a big distinction between songs and poetry. Feeling is more important than smart. Van can just sing a nonsense.”
“He’s literally grunting at one point,” said Keeney.
“It’s a pure expression in a song. He’s just trying to get you to feel something, because he is feeling something right then, he’s trying to do that with a song,” said Wyrick. “I think his go-to thing is yearning.”
“I feel like a lot of his songs are wistfulness giving way to some kind of bubbling anger under the surface,” said Keeney. “Also on a musical level there’s that – as a rhythm section person – there’s a flattering thing where somebody trusts you to have a song in place and keep things moving and keep things sounding nice while they go crazy.”
“I think that’s a perfect song,” said Wyrick.
“What is it, Toad, that’s keeping you? That’s holding you back?” asked Bilyeu.
“Talent. I mean…” said Wyrick.
“Maybe because your life is pretty good, you don’t have the yearning. But, his life is pretty good,” said Bilyeu.
“His life’s ok. He’s just talented. He’s a generational talent,” said Wyrick. “I think the ability to express yourself like that with your voice; it’s mostly the same thing that’s keeping me from the NBA. Like, I’m not nearly good enough to do that. Are we rehearsing after this? We are right?”
“Were we going to?” asked Keeney.
“That was the plan, right?” said Wyrick.
The Margins did not rehearse after the taping of this interview.
Note: Musician Todd Balisle is married to KSMU's Jessica Balisle, who produced this and other SoundCheck features.