When life kicked him in the teeth, Marianas Trench front-man Josh Ramsay got his game back by focusing on what he does best — making music.
That’s the story behind Marianas Trench’s latest album Astoria. It’s upbeat pop sounds, influenced by over-the-top 1980s rock and movies such as The Goonies, were born out of an emotionally turbulent few years for Ramsay.
Shortly after experiencing the euphoria of a 2013 Grammy nomination (for Carly Ray Jepsen’s mega-hit Call Me Maybe that he helped write), Ramsay was told his mother — one of his biggest influences and a vocal coach to the band — has Lewy’s body dementia. It’s a progressive condition that causes a rapid loss of motor and brain functions.
While still reeling from this shock, Ramsay also had to deal with a deteriorating relationship with his fiancee, who eventually called off their wedding.
“A couple of years ago, I felt on top of the world,” the singer stated in a release.
Then mounting tensions in his personal life put him into a tailspin. “I wasn’t coping well and became incredibly difficult to be around,” admitted Ramsay, who was briefly hospitalized with stress early in 2015.
“It was the lowest of my low moments,” he recalled.
“But then something shifted. I thought, I can’t make my mom better or fix my mistakes. The only thing in my power was to write Astoria, follow every artistic impulse I have and see where it goes.”
The album, released in October, was conceived in Ramsay’s Richmond, B.C. studio, which he decorated with 1980s movie posters and album jackets.
Among the fantasy-adventure films the singer/songwriter was watching for escapism was, The Goonies (1985) a coming-of-age tale about young boys who set out to rescue their town by going on a treasure hunt.
Mike Ayley, the group’s bassist, recalled that once Ramsay decided the 1980s were going to be the album’s influence, he decided the whole band should live that era.
Group members, including guitarist Matt Webb and drummer Ian Casselman, went out and bought themselves some tight jeans, leather pants, flowy shirts, scarves and snakeskin cowboy boots.
“Think Van Halen or Motley Crue … where the top half of your clothing is optional,” said Ayley, with a chuckle.
When Marianas Trench performs on Wednesday at Red Deer’s Centrium along with Walk Off the Earth, and Kieran Mercer, he promised a fun and energetic show that would be unlike the pared-down concerts people have come to expect in these leaner times.
“We’ll really be pushing the production aspect like we’ve never done before,” he added.
Although Ayley didn’t want to reveal what surprises are in store, he believes fans will be transported to a “different world,” not seen — well, since the 198os.
“It’ll be about making it feel like it’s an action adventure, like those coming-of-age movies.”
Astoria, named after the fictional Oregon town in The Goonies, is an epic theme album like the group’s last two efforts, Masterpiece Theatre and Ever After.
The album has 17 tracks, including several “cinematic” instrumentals that were written to bridge mood changes between songs.
Among the most personal tunes are One Love and Forget me Not.
The first was spurred by Ramsay’s broken engagement, and asks the question: Does each of us only get one great passion in life, and does messing it up with that person mean we’ve missed the boat on love? The second tune, Forget Me Not, is the most poignant on the album, about a loved one with a fading memory.
Despite deeper themes, Astoria, with its fantasy film inspiration, has many bouncy pop tunes such as Shut Up ‘N’ Kiss Me.
The newest single from the CD, This Means War, is about how arguing with an ex-lover is preferable to making nice with them — because rising emotions at least show the person still cares, said Ayley.
While he and other band mates had been concerned about the “tough stuff” Ramsay was dealing with, they are happy to see him get back on track. “The work is helping, although all that stuff still hurts a bit,” said Ayley, who feels the four are “working our asses off right now” in preparation for the Western leg of their Canadian tour.
Performing in ’80s rock gear will certainly add something to his own concert experience: “You feel a lot cooler doing it in really tight jeans and cowboy boots!”
Tickets to the 7 p.m. show are $35-$80 from Ticketmaster.