Ralph Marion Graceffa had to leave in order to come home. Once he got home, he found the musical family he’d been looking at a bar in Portland. Now they’re ready to take on the world.
That’s the extremely abridged story of Marion Grace, a new Portland four-piece band set to perform Saturday night at Roots & Tendrils in Belfast. The indie-rock group is built around Graceffa’s dusky, atmospheric songs, backing vocalist and guitarist Clarabelle Junken, drummer Aaron Cloutier and bass player Josh Prescott, and their debut album “Lying Down Looking Up” is one of the best Portland releases of 2010.
Graceffa is a Blue Hill native, who graduated from George Stevens Academy in the mid-’90s with a serious addiction to the guitar.
“I started playing guitar at 15, because I couldn’t play basketball,” said Graceffa, now 33. “Maybe I wanted to get a girlfriend. I don’t know. Either way, I fell in love with it. I studied English and music at college. I wanted to be a songwriter. I definitely wrote plenty of mediocre songs for a very long time. It takes a long time to be a good songwriter.”
After many years of practice and a few years of trying to hack it in both New York City and Boston as a musician, Graceffa decided to move back to Maine, to Portland. Shortly after that, he met the musicians that would come to form his new band, which would become Marion Grace. By 2008, the current lineup was settled.
“The songs I was writing were the songs I always wanted to be writing,” said Graceffa. “It just kind of caught fire with the people I was playing with. It really took off. It felt totally right.”
The band spent most of last year writing and recording, and “Lying Down Looking Up” was released last March. The album recalls the hyperintelligent jangle of R.E.M., the lonely country rock of Wilco, the emotionality of Bright Eyes and the spaghetti Western vibe of Calexico. The interlocking guitar work of “Tired” opens the album, followed by such highlights as the reverb-y “2 Car Garage” and “Heart Attack,” which highlights Graceffa’s excellent songwriting.
Graceffa hopes to take Marion Grace into his old stomping grounds in Boston and New York, to build a Northeastern following. He’s keenly aware of the strength and diversity of the Maine music scene, however, and knows he and other bands from all over the state have got a good thing going — it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the country notices.
“People always say, ‘Oh, you’re not on the way to Montreal’ and ‘Oh, you don’t have a big 30,000-person University to draw people in,’” said Graceffa. “To which I say, ‘So what?’ I could name you six bands right now that could play anywhere in the country and knock ‘em dead. I think it’s important for Maine bands to play the music they want to play, and not think about what would go over well in other cities. People respect you when you’re true to yourself.”
Marion Grace will play with Rural Electric, a Waldo County-based indie-rock band, starting at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 18, at Roots & Tendrils on Cross Street in downtown Belfast. Admission is $5. “Lying Down Looking Up” is available at Bull Moose Music stores.