It’s 5:30 p.m. in late November, and the window above my desk is pitch black. Will Marsh of Charlottesville-Richmond-based band Gold Connections joins the Zoom room. He’s just as hit by the early darkness as I am, so we joke about that a little. Even over Zoom, I’m daunted by Marsh. One of his songs joins every car ride I take, and I’m worried I’ll sound too enthusiastic — or worse, not enthusiastic enough.
Gold Connections makes these hard-hitting rock songs with lyrics that ring as deep as music’s great, past troubadours, yet preoccupied with all the anxieties of the 2020 dystopian freak show we’re living in. “Ammunition,” the title track of his November released EP, available through most streaming services, begins with a detail of a nicotine-accompanied walk. He’s honest and most of the time, leans a little dark. Except today, Marsh starts by telling me about the bad effect some doughnuts had on his afternoon, and soon I’m reminded of how wild it is that a person who writes the songs he writes — complete and absolute spectacles of the darkness in the human experience — feels sluggish after too much sugar too.
A&E: Tell me about your song “Slow Diving.”
Marsh: Yeah, I wrote that when I was in New York in my friend's room, and he didn't have any windows. I just remember writing in a windowless room and it was really hot that summer. I guess it's just another romantic song that I've written.
A&E: And the mention of Sundays?
Marsh: Well, there's the idea of “living in sin” that I was playing with. That there aren’t enough Sundays in the week for all the sin we've been living in. That idea that things are too far gone or something to maintain anything that's good. It's funny… looking back at that song, and, no shade whatsoever, but it wasn't about a big, important relationship I had or anything. And I still had all of these bigger ideas that were going through my head, like redemption and sin and the role of myself as an artist, like when I'm talking about being a clown in a shopping mall. That's me trying to figure out how it feels to be a songwriter. You know, all that kind of came out. Yeah. I guess that's how that kind of stuff works. You just project everything into a relationship.
A&E: What about “Bleed?” It just takes off.
Marsh: Yeah, I wrote that song in the summer of 2017, right after we got back from our first West Coast tour. I was recording new songs and working on demos and got excited about what I could do next. Then things fell apart right when I got back. We ended our relationship with Fat Possum, and it was Trump’s first year, so that kind of opened up a lot of rage that I had. A lot of us were thinking about fascism. I wrote a different song that's actually about that. But we don't need to go into Trump.
A&E: Yeah, let’s not.
Marsh: So “Bleed” started when my manager heard these demos that I'd been working on that I was really happy about, that were very folky. Then my manager, who was doing his job, said he missed songs with big choruses. He wanted to hear me scream more. And that’s so not the point. So I started writing the song as a joke, because I wanted to write a cliche grunge song. I started with the chorus and just a basic Nirvana-like progression. Then I started telling my own story and talking about stuff that I was holding on to. That sort of irony was a way for me to actually get into the song. And sort of be playful. Yeah, I kind of tricked myself into writing that song.
A&E: I remember the song “New Religion,” from your first EP, was a way for me to distinguish myself as some indie chick when I first came to U.Va., and I listened to it constantly. And it’s really a sad song, but also, it was uplifting for me to know that you were making this kind of music.
Marsh: In “New Religion” there’s a dark edge to it clearly, but it’s also about liberation. It’s about the spiritual violence of becoming your own person. It’s all part of this process of growing up I think, and maybe saying goodbye to my family is kind of acknowledging that risk of losing your family in becoming something else, or finding new religion.
A&E: What song of yours do you listen to the most?
Marsh: Probably “Stick Figures,” yeah. Stick Figures. It gets me hype. I don’t think I’ll get tired of hearing that song.
A&E: Do you ever wonder when other people listen to your music?
Marsh: Like what kinds of things they’re doing when they’re listening? I just hope they’re listening!
A&E: So what’s daily life like?
Marsh: I have a job. I worked in Charlottesville as a gardener and now I’m in Richmond doing construction. So I’m just doing the same old [stuff], just wearing a mask.
A&E: Can you give me a look at your dreams for music?
Marsh: I definitely want to keep recording music and writing music and then sharing it with people. My project is to have a long career of good music. And continuing to develop and reach a larger audience who resonate with the music.
A&E: So when did you start?
Marsh: When I was twelve I started recording on a tape recorder, and I’d record all the instruments and write songs. I sort of taught myself to play guitar and how to play drums, and I developed my own technique, but eventually I had to learn the chord names when I started playing with other people, but the other people in the band who know the chord names, they just figure it out. What I’m playing.
A&E: Have you listened to those songs you wrote when you were younger?
Marsh: I started recording songs digitally when I was 15, but I don’t have those old songs. All of my old songs are on this one old iPod that doesn’t work anymore, but I can plug it in a certain way and listen to them, but it’s not like I could ever retrieve them.
A&E: Is there a time of day where you write the most?
Marsh: I guess mostly evening right now. But I've written a lot of songs in the morning. That's a good time. I'm also a pretty serious prose writer. I'm kind of working on a novel right now. So that's another ambition of mine, which is to continue releasing songs, but also, maybe, get an MFA in writing and develop these two different writing forms that are really important to me. I feel like writing prose allows me to do things that I couldn't do with songs and vice versa.
A&E: What about the EP cover art?
Marsh: In March I was isolating in Richmond with Ale [Vansant], yeah, so I just needed something to do. And she had all these collage materials. I just started piecing the collage together over the course of a few days. Then she added the lettering and the little stars, and she helped me do the gluing. But the idea is that it's a western, barren landscape and very mysterious. I cut it so that there's this rupture, this split, and there’s this historical rift in reality, where the past and the present and where we're going is uncertain. I knew that here was this huge rupture of how time was happening. And we're in the middle of it.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.