There’s one comment that Mickey and Jesse Pangburn, the Phoenix duo known as MRCH, tend to hear more often from their fans when they perform live: “This doesn’t sound like your recordings, and it’s a good surprise.”
“Across the board when we’re on tour, we get told, ‘You’re better live,’” says vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Mickey. So when the writing process for the upcoming EP began around six months ago, the comments remained fixed in the back of their minds.
MRCH’s newest single “Some Days,” released on March 6 and part of an upcoming five-song EP that will be released later in the spring, came as a natural progression of their sound after four years of experimentation.
With their first EP, 2016’s I Love You, But You Don’t Know What You’re Talking About, Mickey says it was not “acoustic by any stretch of imagination,” but there were many non-electronic sounds throughout the EP. “Jesse plays a full kit live on those recordings and we had less programmed drums, more guitar-focused songs,” Mickey says.
Over the years, Jesse has expanded and refined his approach to drumming, both in the studio and live, using tools such as drum triggers and MIDI drum pads to incorporate samples in their performances.
On tracks such as “Light” and “Drift,” melodies played on Mickey’s guitar combine effortlessly with the synths and samples throughout the recordings. Even on their most popular song of the EP, “Spin,” glimmering guitar notes open the track and a simple four-note pattern serves as the foundation that sustains the light and dancey mood.
On their 2017 debut album, Reactions, the duo fully embraced a more composed and electronic sound throughout the release. “We did full synth almost everything and really dialed back,” Mickey says. Jesse says there was very little live guitar and no live drums recorded for the album, and instead sequenced drums carefully composed in the studio were used to create their sound.
“It was all sequenced, and so we were like ‘You know what? We have now kind of gone to the extremes,’” Mickey says. “When we’re live, we tend to be somewhere in the middle, and so we wanted to write something a little bit truer to that,” Mickey says of their writing process behind the songs for the upcoming EP.
“We started just implementing all of the different things that we loved from both the previous releases and trying to mix the things that we hated from the previous releases and just started writing new songs,” Mickey says.
Between the crisp hi-hats, the warm guitar that punctuates the chorus, and the bright synth that builds and rises, “Some Days” showcases the instrumental talent between the two. The guitar is no longer absent and makes a triumphant return as it ends the track with a few heavily distorted notes.
But the choice to release “Some Days” as the first single was not only a practical one for the duo — it was one of the first completed songs from the LP — it also served as a statement for themselves.
“Life has kind of been a dumpster fire,” Mickey says of recent struggles with family illnesses and mental health issues. “I came to this place where I felt really guilty for pursuing music because sometimes it just doesn’t feel super noble and maybe not incredibly deep.
“So it’s like, ‘I need to write something that’s not so depressing,’ and that was the first happy song that came out,” Mickey says.
“A lot of singles were dark, so we tried to keep it upbeat and happy,” Jesse says of the previous singles that they’ve released.
“It’s dance-y and depressing all at once,” Mickey says. “The thought I had with this song is that it feels ethereal or effervescent to me, even though the lyrics are still kinda like, I wouldn’t say completely over the top happy, I think there’s a tinge of hope in them that maybe was missing from previous songs.”
For the Phoenix duo, despite all the struggles and doubts that may come in their journey of music, that hope is worth spreading and fighting for.
MRCH. 1 p.m. Saturday, April 13, at Stinkweeds, 12 West Camelback Road; mrchmusic.com. Free.
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