During the last year, most of us have been told that the most helpful thing we can do is stay home and out of the way, protecting others by doing as little as possible. For some, that rare respite has offered the chance to reflect on what is important and to reimagine what is possible. That has been the case for Andrew Marlin and Emily Frantz, the couple known for more than a decade now as Mandolin Orange. In 2020, they raised their toddler. They recorded their most audacious album yet. And they decided it was finally time to change their name—to Watchhouse, an identity that reflects their true intentions.
“Mandolin Orange was born out of my 21-year-old mind. The name isn’t what I strive for when I write, because it doesn’t match what I picture when I invite people into my songs, new or old,” admits Marlin. “We have long been burdened by the dichotomy between our band name and the music we strive to create—if you’ve heard the songs, you know they are personal. Now that we can see a future where music is a shared experience again, we’re defining the space we share.”
During Marlin’s difficult teenage years, a family of friends would take him on biannual trips to a tiny Chesapeake Bay hunting cabin, suspended by stilts above a tidal island and accessible only by boat. He would sit there, sans electricity and electronic devices, reveling in an admixture of silence and communion—thinking, looking, being. That was The Watch House, and that is the space Marlin, Frantz, and their sterling ensemble now aim to shape in Watchhouse. The last year afforded Marlin and Frantz a chance to reset and restart. Watchhouse is their vital first step.
“We’re different people than when we started this band,” says Marlin. “We’re setting new intentions, taking control of this thing again.”
With this step, Watchhouse are also presenting the song and video “Better Way,” a gently rapturous song about what we lose staring only at screens and what we gain through simple human interaction. With its compulsory hook suspended inside a beautifully spectral arrangement, all leading to an extended improvisational dénouement, it is unlike anything Marlin and Frantz have ever made, a fitting introduction to the new world of Watchhouse.