Marian Hill | photo by Shervin Lainez | courtesy of the artist
Running Up that (Marian) Hill: Philly’s Jeremy Lloyd and Samantha Gongol make the “unusual” their usual
In the swinging Frank Sinatra hit “Something’s Gotta Give,” Old Blue Eyes sings of “an irresistible force” meeting “an immovable object” in a show of the shield and spear paradox. This too could describe the hook up of moodily minimalistic producer Jeremy Lloyd and woozily angelic vocalist Samantha Gongol, the songwriting duo of childhood friends who met at Haverford High School, and named their bluesy electronic duo after two characters from “The Music Man” (Marian Paroo and Harold Hill).
On the heels of releasing its newest album, Unusual, a year after its debut, Act One, it is important to note that a massive aspect of their success and brand-notoriety comes from the fact that most of us know Marian Hill and its early single “Down” as the soundtrack to the black-and-white television ad for the then-new Apple iPhone + AirPod.
Tease the duo about how their spare, soulful sound has outlasted the AirPod in fame and usefulness, and both come to the aid of the thin Apple product. “I still have and use mine,” said Gongol, focused on how such corporate salesmanship helped push her duo from bedroom recording ensemble who used to play open mic gigs at World Café Live (“we owe a lot to those Monday nights and WXPN’s support,” she said) to studio mavens on big label tour showcases.
“Gone are the days when allowing your music to be used in a commercial was a no-no,” noted Lloyd. “This is but one of the options in which musicians can earn money to experiment.” Mention electronic music giant Moby to Marian Hill as an example of how his sampladelic 1999 album, Play, eventually got plucked for countless marketing schemes and advertising campaigns, and Lloyd claims that there is a similar game plan at work for the duo. “We’re being pretty selective in whom we’re choosing to collaborate with and allow our music to represent… or represent us.”
Going forward for Marian Hill always meant recording new songs. Fact is, much of the aptly-titled Unusual was around when the first album was recorded, even if they each remember the initial sessions of its sophomore album differently. “I don’t think that’s where ‘Subtle Thing’ comes from?” quizzes Gongol when Lloyd mentions that its haunting new single was originally written around the time of Act One. Lloyd counters that with his own memory. “No it has been around for a minute.” It is this type of playful bickering that shows off the pair’s innocent camaraderie and the language of longtime friendship and travel memories, the latter of which is an unending part of who Marian Hill is at present.
Though the duo still gets tagged as a “Philadelphia band,” both Lloyd and Gongol have lived in New York City for the better part of the last three years. What ties them to this city is the duo’s un-official third member – saxophonist Steve Davit, a Drexel University comrade of Lloyd’s and a secret weapon when it comes to Unusual songs such as “All Night Long” and “Listening” – their respective families, and the all-around adventurousness they developed as young playful musicians. “The new album is titled that for a reason – we love experimenting, while staying melodic,” said Lloyd.
As they have throughout the interview, Gongol finishes his thought. “And between the open mics and the recording in our bedrooms, that couldn’t have happened anywhere else but Philadelphia.”
Marian Hill’s new album Unusual is out on Friday, May 11th, via Republic Records; the band’s next local appearance is at the 2018 Firefly Music Festival, more information can be found here.