OCT 17, 2014
Article from News Sentinel
Endless sunshine: Marina Orchestra searches for the right chords for happiness
It’s easy to tell where Marina Orchestra are practicing. You simply walk down a North Knoxville street and follow the party sounds and happy music down into a basement. The seven members of the Marina Orchestra stand in a circle surrounded by green concrete block walls, pole lamps and various musical instruments. The music has a Caribbean-sounding rhythm and high-pitched electric guitar picking that sounds a little like South African players.
When the song ends, lead singer-guitarist Justin Powers chooses a song from a list on a board behind a couch. Singers Rachel Gurley and Jayme Hogan confer on their vocal parts. Alex Stevens puts down his trombone and picks up his trumpet and, along with guitarist Josh Duncan, drummer Brad Duncan and bassist Tim Eisinger, the band launches into a surprising cover of Lesley Gore’s hit “It’s My Party.”
While most of the group’s music is original, Hogan suggested the song as a special number for the group’s upcoming “Birthday Bash” at Scruffy City Hall. It’s not the band’s birthday. It’s just a birthday party for everyone to celebrate.
The group members describe their sound as “Trop ‘n’ roll,” not to be confused with “Trop rock,” which is already associated with Jimmy Buffett.
"Although we do love sitting on a beach and drinking pina coladas," says Brad Duncan.
Marina Orchestra started when Powers had an epiphany while performing at the South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, with his former band I Need Sleep. Turned off by all the dour rock, Powers decided to play something totally different.
"I said, ‘I’m gonna start my own band and play light, happy stuff!’ " says Powers.
Initially, he thought the group would be something with banjos and a snare drum, but that didn’t last long.
"I’ve always had an affinity for Caribbean and music from Africa, especially South Africa," says Powers.
"When we first started the group the idea was to use the same rhythm track on every song," says Eisinger. "We’d just put a new melody on top of it."
Powers, Eisinger and Gurley remain from the original lineup, but a chronology of the band’s membership is too daunting to chronicle.
"You know how ‘The Lord of the Rings’ has an index of characters at end?" asks Stevens.
"If you counted all the people who have been in the band or come to a practice it would be more than 20," says Gurley.
"A lot more than 20!" says Eisinger.
For a while the band had 11 regular members, which included the group’s 2012 performance at Bonnaroo.
"Were you with us at Bonnaroo?" Gurley asks Stevens.
"I joined two weeks after Bonnaroo," says Stevens. "I didn’t graduate college in time."
"We played a show with 12 people on stage," says Josh Duncan. "That was the most."
The members agree that each new member has been more committed to the group than the last, but there have been no hard feelings at departed players. This is, after all, a party that is also a part-time, bordering on full-time, job.
The group members agree that they all take care of each other and get along well. They agree on just about everything except maybe where to eat on the road.
"I just don’t want to eat spicy Asian food in every city we play in!" says Stevens a little defensively.
"The good thing about being in a big band is you’re not with any one person all the time," says Eisinger.
He says the group members all handle criticism about their parts in the music with the knowledge that they’re all working for the good of the song.
And all agree on what they want the music to achieve.
"We just want people to dance and have a good time," says Brad Duncan.
"If you’re playing right, people start automatically moving and bobbing their heads to it," says Josh Duncan.
"Someone described us as the least cynical band they’ve ever heard," says Eisinger. "We take that as a compliment."
Powers says the idea for the band has never wavered.
"I guess the point of the band is happiness is fleeting, so let’s just have a good time."
With: Founding Fathers, Madre
When: 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 24
Where: Scruffy City Hall, 32 Market Square