Driven by lyrics

songwriters: Band will sing own catchy ‘art pop’ songs plus reinvented covers on Saturday

Contributing writerAugust 3, 2012 

It makes sense that Portland’s The Bylines is making its Olympia debut at the State Theater. While not a show or a comedy troupe, The Bylines has a definite theatrical flair, with songs that tell stories (often of love), have a certain musical-theater quality and, most astounding of all, have completely understandable lyrics.

On the group’s eponymous debut album, released earlier this year, co-songwriter Marianna Thielen sings of the difficulty of drawing her beloved in “Crayola Doesn’t Make a Color for Your Eyes,” reminiscent of the childhood game “Miss Mary Mack,” and seductively pleads with her lover to turn up the heat in the delightfully old-school “Back Burner.”

The total effect fits perfectly the band’s chosen label of “art pop,” smooth, sophisticated and smartly arranged. It wouldn’t sound out of place on shuffle with Regina Spektor, the Carpenters and Pink Martini.

Each song on the album has a distinct style – jazzy, Latin, bluesy, Broadway and more. All but “Crayola” were written by Thielen and pianist Reece Marshburn.

“We love so many different styles of music,” said Marshburn, who was born in Olympia and graduated from Olympia High School in 1989.

“Each individual song is a different character,” he said. “If it’s a vampy blues number, we’re going to really try to go all the way into the blues, or if the song has a circus theme, we’ll try to use circus sounds.”

The album’s themes are not quite so varied: Love is a staple, although sometimes, it’s love gone wrong.

A possible reason: Marshburn and Thielen aren’t just songwriting partners, but life partners as well. “We were just married actually on July 14,” Thielen said. “We didn’t start working together until after were dating for a while. We were even against it, like, ‘We don’t want to be that couple. We don’t want it to interfere with our relationship.’

“It just unfolded that way.”

The duo worked together in Marianna and the Baby Vamps, a ’60s focused project launched in 2008. They sharpened their focus on songwriting last summer, when they were invited to attend the prestigious Johnny Mercer Songwriters Project.

With that new focus came a new name and the first album for the duo and their band. Marshburn and Thielen developed most of the material for “The Bylines” during their time at the project.

“We owned up to the fact that we are songwriters,” Thielen said. “Everything turned around for us.”

That said, Saturday’s show will include songs with other bylines.

“It will be a mix of originals and reinvented covers,” Marshburn said. “We’re doing a cover of a song called ‘Feeling Good,’ which has been done by Nina Simone and Michael Bublé. It’s from a musical called ‘The Smell of the Greasepaint, the Roar of the Crowd.’ We’re doing some Supremes and some Connie Francis.”

This will be Marshburn’s first show here since he left town to attend Western Washington University, where he studied jazz.

“The last time I played in Olympia was probably in 1998 when I was playing in a band called the Hot Set Swing Band,” he said.

The Bylines

What: The Portland art-pop band brings its carefully crafted and arranged story-songs to Olympia, hometown of pianist and co-songwriter Reece Marshburn.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: State Theater, 202 Fourth Ave. E., Olympia

Tickets: $20, $15 for students

More information: thebylines.com

Watch: See The Bylines perform “Back Burner” at youtube.com/watch?v=A07TG goyLCg.

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