When Alexis Marshall decided to call a hiatus to Daughters in 2009, he thought his musical career was over for good. The band’s break came shortly before the release of their self-titled third studio album.
“At the time, I really thought I was done playing music. At least playing music at the level we were playing, you know, touring extensively and all that business,” said Marshall, who is the vocalist and lyricist for the Rhode Island based noise rock band.
“I didn’t think about it, I didn’t want to think about it, and I needed time to focus elsewhere in my life.”
The band had recently concluded a tour, and Marshall was forced to address a new adventure in his life: ending his use of alcohol and drugs.
“I get home, my girlfriend had just broken up with me because I was just doing dumb s**t, and I had a terrible job. Everything just felt really heavy,” said Marshall.
Marshall began to feel disconnected from his music, leading to personal disappointment in Daughters’ 2010 self-titled release.
“I didn’t feel connected to everybody, and I didn’t feel connected to the process, and I wasn’t particularly interested in writing lyrics for the record,” Marshall said. “I just didn’t care about it too much, and the performance is bad. So that was it telling me, I’m not here mentally, trying to get somewhere else physically to a good place.”
It was during that process that an argument emerged between Marshall and guitarist Nicholas Sadler. Marshall saw that as his opportunity to focus on his own rehabilitation, breaking up Daughters. While the rest of the band expected an eventual reunion of Daughters, Marshall was under the impression his time with the band was done indefinitely.
He came to the idea that he needed to get sober to fix prevailing issues he had been experiencing.
“I’m not fulfilled in my life right now, and I need to get out of my way, get out of my own way so that I can f*****g hopefully do something with myself and make sense of what’s happening to me,” Marshall recalls thinking to himself.
On tour, Marshall succumbed to a cultural norm in the music industry: artists partaking in recreational drugs.
“You can be someone like me, who has spent their entire life horrifically nervous, and uncomfortable in every situation, never popular or cool, suddenly is popular and cool, and people want to give you s**t,” Marshall said.
“This s**t is just accessible, and there’s debauchery. You’re out at night. It’s late night, it’s two a.m. and you’re in f***n’ St. Louis, MO. What else is there to do but take some pills and get all f****d up, right?” Marshall said. “So, it’s just, it’s just the nature of things.”
Marshall was already familiar with substance abuse. Members of his family dealt with various alcohol and drug addictions, and he was surrounded by similar lifestyles while on tour. Accessibility to alcohol and drugs while on tour is not only easy, but encouraged. While that lifestyle was fun, it didn’t produce anything meaningful for Marshall.
“I can’t hold something in my hand and say, ‘This is from the brilliant night that I took a lot of LSD and fell down stairs, here’s this wonderful thing I have to show [from that],” said Marshall.
Marshall still fails to understand the endearment others had for his actions.
“I don’t want my life to be a punchline, right?”
Marshall says he made decisions under the influence that he says could have easily killed or hurt him.
“My life, this is funny to everybody? I did this thing, and how did I escape without some sort of permanent injury? Everyone thinks this is charming in some way?”
That’s not to say he didn’t enjoy his time in the early years of Daughters.
“I miss the f**k out of it. That s**t is fun, being an irresponsible idiot. It’s a whole lot of fun,” he said. Marshall also admits that sobriety failed to solve all the problems in his life as he expected it to, and he still feels some effects of his recovery today.
“So, it wasn’t a cure-all. But, it had to be done, and I’m happy about it. I feel good about it,” he said. “It was a horrible experience, and I really haven’t slept well in ten years now, staying sober. It beats the alternative, I reckon I’d be dead at this point.”
Marshall attributes his training in jiu-jitsu and boxing as something that helped him in his journey through recovery, with a withdrawal period that lasted months.
“[I was] trying to take care of myself in a different way,” he says.
The connections he grew with those he trained with made the prospect of returning to Daughters even less inviting.
“Going on tour wasn’t particularly interesting to me at that time to leave everybody to go play with a bunch of people I was having trouble getting along with,” Marshall said.
Eventually, though, he returned to music, which has been his passion since he was a child.
Looking back, he doesn’t know where he got his interest in music from. He was never pushed to play in school band, or take piano lessons by his parents. His brother played music, but never played seriously. In school, he had trouble finding other students with the same musical interests as him.
“That kind of saved me and pulled me out of where I could potentially still be, in a small town hanging drywall with all these guys that really never did anything with their lives because I don’t think they ever had any interest in art in a sense that they didn’t see the beauty in it, so they didn’t travel.”
He eventually found Jon Syverson, who has been the drummer of Daughters since its inception.
“He had the same interests, and he knew some people that liked music, and we started playing. It was great to be able to eventually find other people that we could turn each other on to things,” said Marshall.
His friendship with Syverson went much deeper than a musical connection. At a point where Marshall was homeless and sleeping in a park, he found residency with Syverson in his parents’ basement.
Marshall was so confident in his friendship with Syverson, he knew even if he left Daughters, he would remain in contact with his childhood friend.
He credits his love for music for getting him away from New England, which he never left prior to his first tour.
“Music, without it, I’d be f*****g painting someone’s house or some s**t. Something awful, that did nothing for me in a spiritual or artistic way,” he said.
Still unready to revive Daughters, he found new side projects with very different styles than the noise-grindcore music the band was known for. Marshall collaborated with Mark Baker (Ministry) on his solo album, and even helped a friend lead the Assembly of Light Choir, a women’s choir based in Providence, Rhode Island.
Performing, Marshall felt uncomfortable at first, after going so long without playing music or shows. “I felt really detached from music, and I didn’t know how to perform. I was really uneasy and it didn’t feel as natural as it used to feel,” he said.
His new musical endeavors brought back a passion for music he lost with Daughters.
“I felt young, playing basement shows again, touring in a minivan, and sharing gear with people, all kinds of things like that. It was really fun and we hadn’t had fun in Daughters like that in several years, so it kind of rekindled something.”
This rediscovered love for music and performing is what ultimately led Marshall to agree to end Daughters’ hiatus, and play comfortably with the band after so many years.
“I kind of needed this on-the-side thing that I was doing. Otherwise, maybe I would have just been too turned off by the entire idea of it.”
Marshall and Sadler resumed communication following a plot by mutual friend Andy Low of Robotic Empire, the record label that released Daughters’ first LP Canada Songs.
“He was always a proponent of what we were doing, even when we were no longer with that label,” said Marshall.
Low told both Marshall and Sadler the other wanted to meet to reconcile despite neither member expressing any interest to Low that they wanted to see each other. It resulted in the two agreeing to meet over dinner.
“No one had an agenda. I didn’t sit down and say, ‘Hey, I really want to talk to you about this thing.’ I think we didn’t really know where to start,” said Marshall. “We picked up immediately and thought, ‘Alright. Let’s play music. We’ve lost some time. Let’s figure this out.’”
After years of being separated, members of the band drifted around the country. Samuel Moorehouse Walker (bass) and Sadler were still living in Rhode Island, Syverson was living in Texas, and Marshall had moved to Pennsylvania.
The group turned to a modern form of communication: text and email threads.
“We really kind of push ourselves to make sure that we are continuing to, to follow through because it’s easy to kind of lose track, just because we’re not in the same place.”
The band would look for times when members could meet in person, but the recording of YWGWYW was largely an individual yet collaborative effort.
“We had a Dropbox where we all we kept everything together. And then so people could go on to listen to a lot of different things and make suggestions,” Marshall said.
“Sometimes, something would sit there for a year, and somebody would find it, send a message, Hey, I listened to, I like Track X a lot, I think there’s something there.”
To Marshall, this process was sometimes more efficient than traditional band practice because it eliminated wasted time.
“[When] you’re going to practice space with people, you get so comfortable with everybody, you spend two hours just kind of f*****g around playing like dumb songs, talking about something,” he said.
He says that when the band would have an unproductive two-hour stretch at practice, they would make up for it with an hour of solid work, making the in-person practices more efficient than communicating and writing music through electronic communication. In contrast, while producing YWGWYW, there were month long periods where Marshall felt there was no progress.
As band members recorded their ideas, Sadler would arrange the home recordings into GarageBand projects. With most of the instrumentals already recorded and a clear vision of the album, the band had a short process compiling the Dropbox files and adding final touches to the project.
“I mean, there were songs that we had never played from front to back, all of us together at the same time, because they had been written pieces. So, we weren’t even sure how to play the songs until we ended up in rehearsal for tour.”
Marshall anticipates more Daughters records in the coming years, but written and recorded in person as opposed to the modern-electronic approach the band forced upon itself during the creation of YWGWYW.
“Maybe we need to find a better way to get that get results so that the process is a little more fulfilling,” Marshall said. “I think that now with the amount of time we’re spending touring and everything that’s coming up, that it’s probably time for us all considered moving to the same city again.”
The album was met with immediate critical acclaim, with Rolling Stones naming the album #2 Metal album of 2018 and YouTube music review Anthony Fantano (theneedledrop), a channel that amasses 1.7 million subscribers, awarding the album an extremely rare ten-out-of-ten, and his top album of the year.
While this critical support is not why he chooses to make music, it provides validation that makes the struggle of writing and touring worthwhile.
“The Rolling Stone review is just sort of validating, in a sense, where you can let your parents know, that I hadn’t been wasting my time,” he said. “All my in-laws said, ‘Oh my god, Rolling Stone, that’s such a big deal!’”
Marshall was already acquainted with Anthony Fantano following Fantano’s review of Daughters’ self titled album, which he gave an eight-out-of-ten.
Marshall finished a show in Baltimore to return to many messages on his phone about Fantano’s review. “I didn’t really understand quite to the to how big he [Fantano]’ became over time, or that how rare was that he would get tens,” he said. “That’s exciting. But I don’t think too much about it.”
Although the positive attention Daughters is currently receiving is fun, Marshall finds it important to remind himself that attention in the music business is almost always temporary.
“20 years ago The Strokes were the biggest band in rock music. I mean, no one talks about The Strokes anymore. I don’t give a s**t. Everything’s temporary,” he said. “Everyone moves on and you have to appreciate the attention and have fun and be thankful.”
“It goes away, it absolutely will as the ebb and flow of the tide. That that’s just, it’s going to happen. You just have to be okay with it.”
While many music reviewers have attempted to dissect the dark undertones and themes of YWGWYW, Marshall feels no obligation to share his own connection with his lyrics.
“I think that would be self congratulatory at the end, where I would think that here’s a song I wrote about this, I need you to feel a particular way about it, and understand it in that sense,” said Marshall. “I have no interest in telling anybody how they should feel.”
He hopes that various listeners can gather their own meaning from his music, a differentiation in interpretation that gives Marshall a personal admiration of poetry. His wife, an artist, reinforced this concept, teaching him how to view a painting in different lights.
“She always love to look at pictures very closely and across the canvas at an angle to try to understand the pressure that they put in certain places and wonder why they put that kind of pressure.”
“So I hope that people are doing that with what I’m writing,” he said. “I hope that people will find what they’re looking for and can internalize it, make it their own.”
Daughters kicks off their North American tour February 16 in Philadelphia, PA with a date in Atlanta on February 20.