The sounds of Copeland are no stranger to the Lakeland music scene. With the anticipated release of their sixth album, we sat down with lead singer Aaron Marsh to hear about the past, present, and future of one of Lakeland’s most famous hometown bands.

It was 2003, and I was 14 years old living in the Seattle area. I wore bootcut jeans, a black belt with silver studs, tight-fitted shirts from Goodwill, and owned multiple pairs of Pumas. This look can only be credited to the great influence of the early-2000s’ indie-rock persona.

During the same time, on the other side of the country, there was an amazing music scene coming out of Central Florida. Some of those bands included (but were definitely not limited to) Anberlin, Underoath, and Copeland.

Something about them sounded massive, cinematic, and deeply emotional.

One summer morning, my parents let me take a 7 a.m. commuter train into downtown Seattle unsupervised with my best friends. We had our backpacks packed for a full day of running around the city. That night we had a show to catch at a 1,000-person-capacity venue called Graceland.

Copeland was opening for a Tacoma-based band called Emery. I had never seen a Copeland show, and they had just released a record called Beneath Medicine Tree. In this hot, packed-to-capacity, cigarette-smoke-filled room, this show was captivating.

Their sound was something I hadn’t heard before and stood out from some of the heavier bands that played earlier in the night. Don’t get me wrong; Copeland was rock-and-roll, with guitars turned up so loud one could feel them reverberating in their chest. But lead singer, Aaron Marsh, also had this soft yet soaring voice coupled with these rich piano harmonics. Something about them sounded massive, cinematic, and deeply emotional. 

Fast forward eight years — I’m 22 years old and recently moved to Lakeland to start a new job in the area. Now one of my favorite bands, Copeland had recently called it quits and toured the country with a farewell tour. I had heard rumors that Aaron Marsh lived in the city I now called home and had just finished building a recording studio where he was producing music.

As a local worship pastor, I was looking for a place to record my praise and worship records. A mutual friend named Stephen Howell introduced us. I met Aaron in his studio, The Vanguard Room. The studio space is decked out in dark woods, mid-century furniture, vintage rugs, and lighting fixtures; also, filled with all the Gibson guitars and electric pianos I had watched him tour with over the years. Aaron was quiet, kind, and graciously helped me make music over the next few years in his studio. Through it all, we developed a great friendship.

Fast forward again six years later, to present day, when I got the chance to sit down with Aaron for The Lakelander in order to talk all things Copeland: where the band has been and where the recently reunited band is going.

“As a producer I’ve gotten great perspective on developing projects as a whole.”

Aaron Marsh

The Lakelander: For those who don’t know, tell us a little about the beginnings of Copeland and how the band came to be.

Aaron Marsh: Copeland grew out of the various bands I had in high school; it was sort of a rotating cast of various players. I eventually met Bryan Laurenson [lead guitarist for Copeland] on a message board about music. He was doing his solo music at the time and was planning on moving from Maryland to Orlando to attend Full Sail University. He ended up not going to school but still moved to the area. He would record some pretty awesome demos at his place in Orlando, so I asked him to record a few of my songs. They turned out, and I eventually asked him to join the band. For all intents and purposes, I would consider Bryan and myself to be the founding members of what Copeland is today.

TL: Where did the band initially draw its inspiration from? I’ve heard you mention before a local Lakeland band called Nora’s Breakfast club. Were they big inspirations for you guys?

AM: Yeah! The Lakeland music scene, in those days when we were first coming up, was pretty good. There were a few great, all-ages venues in the city. Local bands like Divine Child (AKA Denison Marrs), Pilots V Aeroplanes, and, yes, Nora’s Breakfast Club were the bands we all wanted to be like. I remember when Nora’s first got their CD in a little local record store. We were like, “They made it!”

TL: You had them open for you recently at an Orlando show while touring Ixora, correct?

AM: Yes, but I opened for them in Lakeland in 1995!

TL: What were some of Copeland’s biggest successes? When did you realize you weren’t making music with your high school friends in a garage?

AM: We signed to The Militia Group, a Southern California-based indie label. Honestly, the first record we ever put out, Beneath Medicine Tree, really caught fire quick in indie-rock circles. We played over 600 shows in two years with a day off here and there. We had an agent who booked anything that came our way. We would hear about tours while we were finishing a tour. Like once we’re done with this tour, we’re not going home. We’d drive straight to New Jersey to start another one.

TL: Did you like that time of life? Was that fun for you?

AM: It was really exciting, yeah. I was 22, you know? No bills. I don’t know if I had a cell phone yet. We just left. No one had laptops. We would check our email at an internet café. [laughs]

TL: Do you feel like touring that hard and playing that many shows was part of building your success? Is it still important for a band who wants to be successful to tour that hard today?

AM: I don’t know if to be successful you have to tour that hard, but it definitely makes you a better musician. It develops you as a performer. Today, in our internet streaming era, a band or a song could be successful and that person could have never played a show. In the days we were getting started, however, there was no substitute for hitting the road.

TL: Fast-forward to 2010; the band breaks up. How many records had Copeland recorded before that?

AM: We had recorded four LPs. John Bucklew joined our band for the second album. He was with us for eight years after that. John really helped shape our sound with his playing style. He was in Denison Marrs, a Lakeland band I had always liked.

TL: Could you tell us what led to you guys breaking up as a band in 2010?

AM: We had kind of plateaued. We had accomplished a lot, and the goals that we had left kind of felt unattainable. We got to tour internationally, play in Indonesia for 5,000 people, play in Japan a few times. We got to do a lot of things, but we eventually started playing the same venues over and over. We started to feel discouraged, so it was time to do something else.

TL: Were you losing interest personally?

AM: Sure. The guys were thinking about getting married and buying houses. We decided to do a farewell tour and end on a high note. We didn’t want to just fizzle out.

TL: After a six-year hiatus, Copeland returned in 2014 with the record Ixora. Why did you decide to come back then?

AM: I think our personal dynamics in the band — we were back in a place where we were talking more. Bryan [Laurenson] and Stephen [Laurenson] had a band called States after Copeland; they were reaching a pausing point for that band. I had built the recording studio. The timing just made sense, and I think we all wanted to do it. I had a folder on my computer called “LP5” with song ideas we never got to make, along with some new ideas. We’re really happy with how Ixora turned out.

TL: Were you happy with how the tour went for Ixora?

AM: We really loved touring it. It was a great season, especially because we were just planning on doing a CD release show. Then we got offered to play with Anberlin at one of their last shows. So we thought we would only do those two shows. Then we got offered five shows playing with Motion City Soundtrack. So we thought we’d have seven shows. Then we got offered to do a national tour with Paramore. So I guess before we knew it, we were fully back touring — back as a band.

TL: Between all of this, you’re running and producing at your studio when in Lakeland. How has producing others’ music helped you as an artist?

AM: As a producer I’ve gotten great perspective on developing projects as a whole. Usually with bands, the guitar wants his part louder in the mix, the drummer wants to be turned up, the vocalist wants to shine, etc. I think it’s helped to think about the project as a whole instead of the individual parts. Also, producing has taught me about songwriting in general. A great song is a great song. A recording doesn’t need to be super Hi-Fi and polished if the song is great. A bad performance of a good song is still a good song. I always think of Bob Dylan in that way. His voice wasn’t amazing, but his songwriting impacted the world.

TL: Back as a band again, what are your goals?

AM: That fire I was talking about earlier, I think we finally have that back again. Like those “We could play on TV” type dreams. I don’t know, I‘ve always wanted to play on The Late Show [laughs] … it’s always been one of my goals. We want to do another tour in Southeast Asia. We always love our time there. Indonesia, in particular.

TL: In this season of your life, why base your music out of Lakeland?

AM: In this season, the answer is family. My two boys. My parents, my brother and sister and their kids are all here. I’m happiest here. I love the town. I’ve always thought that it’s better to create opportunities than to go where someone else has created the opportunities.

TL: So, a new Copeland record is in the mix?

AM: We started working on a new record about two years ago. Nothing I’m ready to share publicly about it yet. Actually, I’m not sure if I like it yet [laughs]. I’ve lost perspective. I know I liked it six months ago. Want to see the album art? Let me show you a couple songs.

Aaron and I ended our interview time listening to a couple songs from his new record expected to release before the end of 2018. I wish I could tell you more. But I can tell you this: their album title, art, and songs are seriously all so beautiful and hard hitting. As a fan, I really believe Copeland’s best days are ahead of them.

So, can we start this now?: #PutCopelandOnLateShow