When it comes to defining success, Rob Marshall has a simple answer: ‘’creating a piece of music that you’re f*****g proud of.’’
Marshall is a real stalwart of the Yorkshire music scene, performing in bands like Exit Calm, Blind Shore and Lyca Sleep for over a decade. Rob made name for himself in the North as a forward thinker, but his immense talent never seemed to get the appraisal it truly deserved.
That was until 2016 however, when Marshall began writing and producing for Mark Lanegan, the iconic lyricist of Queens of the Stone Age and Screaming Trees fame. The two released their first collaboration in 2017 through Heavenly Records, Gargoyle. The project pushed Marshall truly into the limelight for the first time, with his exuberant guitar riffs being a particular highlight.
Marshall is an excellent example of the variety of the term ‘success’. He’s been touring up and down the country with his bands, and now he’s at the forefront in one of the most exciting collaborative rock projects in the last decade, and he says success is all subjective: ‘’It’s just how you measure your success. In Exit Calm for example, we didn’t really make any money out of it, but we got ourselves into a position where we knew we could sell a number of records, and when we played places like London we knew we could sell out a 300 capacity venue, and that’s f*****g success.’’
With such a long career in the industry, there are bound to be plenty of highs and lows, and Rob is brutally honest about the low points, and how music brought him back up to where he is now: ‘’In a way it’s almost like counselling. It’s got me out of dark places, it’s helped me, it’s pulled me up when I’ve been feeling down. So now, I’m trying to make music that almost heals me in a way, I need to write and create music that I want to listen to. And when I get it to a place where I feel inspired, that’s the biggest reward.’’
Marshall’s latest project is his most ambitious to date: Humanist. Humanist is a ground-breaking collaborative project, featuring vocal performances from some of the most legendary names in music: Lanegan, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan, Jim Jones and UNKLE’s Joel Cadbury just to name a few.
Despite the scale of such a unique musical vision, Rob insists he isn’t overthinking anything at the moment: ‘’What I’ve tried not to do is think about it too much. I’ve tried to allow it to have this organic flow, you know? I haven’t tried to control it so much, it’s an evolving thing. Maybe a record might be with one person, or maybe it’ll be with lots of different people like this debut is.’’
When you’ve been a part of the scene as long as Rob has, evolution as an artist is not only natural, but necessary in order to remain relevant in an ever-changing musical landscape. With Humanist, Rob believes this new direction is another part of that evolution: ‘’Within the two previous bands I’ve been in, I was a guitar player, and in my head my role was to make this big guitar sound, and I kind of felt like I’d done that as well as I could. Towards the end I felt that role was starting to restrict me a little, it was almost like we were trapped in this scenario where, if I tried to do something slightly different, it isn’t sounding big enough.’’
‘’Starting with Humanist, I didn’t really want to do anything that was a big guitar record, I wanted to try and push forward and do something that I hadn’t done before, because that’s the whole point isn’t it? You’ve got to really challenge yourself.’’
With the shackles of being just a guitarist now firmly off, it has allowed Rob to truly explore the creative process that has led him to create such a unique project: ‘’With Humanist, I just let it happen. I didn’t question it. Previously I’ve been guilty of going ‘yeah is that right or should I do this?’, whereas with Humanist I just allowed it to come out, so the creative role was very real. It ended up being as pure as it can be, really.’’
Humanist’s self-titled debut is out now, and if you’re looking for one of the freshest and most infectious sounds in the rock scene today, you’d be wise to give it a listen.