Having fronted the Britpop band The Bluetones, Mark Morriss is no stranger to success. The band achieved thirteen Top 40 singles and three Top 10 albums in the UK charts in a career spanning eighteen years.
Mark Morriss is now due to release his second solo album ‘A Flash of Darkness’, through Acid Jazz on February 24. The album follows his debut, ‘Memory Muscle’, released in 2008.
Gigslutz caught up with Mark to find out about the new album, his future plans and thoughts on spending time alone.
Hi Mark. How’s it going? What have you been up to this morning?
This morning I did the school run, went to the post office, and did some vacuuming and ironing. Very rock ‘n’ roll! I wanted to clear some space for doing interviews.
You are on the brink of releasing your second solo album. What do you enjoy most about working as a solo artist?
I think I like being in charge. The Bluetones were very much a democracy, which is why it worked so well and I stuck at it for so long. Now that I’m in charge, I think it’s much better being a despot. The hours are better. I like that sense of making all the decisions myself and not having to put them to anyone else for approval. But this can be the best and worst thing at the same time
What is the new album about? What inspired the new album?
The new album is not about one particular theme. That said there are four/ five songs on the album that were demoed. I started to think then I might be getting towards an album here. At the time I was writing songs for my portfolio and wanted to concentrate on just writing songs for others. With that in mind I wrote ‘Low Company’, ‘Guilty Again’, ‘A Flash Of Darkness’ and one other song. At this point I stood back after listening to them and thought these are all quite idiosyncratic songs and would anyone else want to hear them? Then I decided to work on the new album. This and the last album encapsulate the experience, with the end of The Bluetones, of suddenly being left on my own. There is a sense of isolation with many of the characters on the new album and of reflection. I’ve never really been able to say this album is going to be about this or that when I work on an album.
Your debut album has been described as having a folk sound to it and A Flash of Darkness is an acoustic, rock album. What affects the type of sound you go for when producing an album?
More with the first album then this one I wanted to have an over-riding sound. With this new album I was trying to create a summery sounding record, a bit like the sound of an English summer. The choice of instruments on there and song choices are very jaunty. I certainly wanted to make it dirtier then the first and make it a little bit rough around the edges, less polished and pondered over. Some of the songs sound like they have just been slapped down onto tape. Huge chunks of the album have been transposed from demos I’ve made. If I had pondered over them too long they would have lost their sense of care-freeness and abandon.
The new album seems to have many reflective, soul searching tracks on there. Has the production of the album been a good experience for you? What has it meant to you as an artist?
With this and the last album the production was a different experience that I wasn’t used to. With The Bluetones I wasn’t in the studio the whole time we were recording an album. You trust your band mates to get on with their parts and come to the studio when it’s finished and get that nice revelation. When you are creating songs and making demos you are very much in the moment of the song. You know what the song is about and its intention and then you record the vocals. It’s like you’re doing a sketch; you have to get it absolutely right so when you are painting it you know what to paint. You can’t be in the moment every second you are in the studio or you would be a wreck. You have to save those times for when you are recording key parts, vocals and then you get back in the moment. So, I didn’t have two and a half months of continually being in a reflective state. When you listen to the finished album it hits you again that experience of being in that moment.
The new album stands out with strong, textured melodies that amplify each track along with your distinctive vocals. What do you think makes a good track? What really draws you in when listening to music?
“I’ve always found there’s that particular moment when listening to music where you think I love this whole record. I have moments on records, where there are a couple of lines, usually a vocal line, lyrics or something about the way it is sung where I think ‘Oh here it comes. I love this bit’ and then I listen to it over and over to be in that moment again. There’s that song called ‘The Bucket’, by The Kings of Leon where he sings the ‘bang, bang, bang’ bit and I love that, the way he inflects when singing that part. Then there is Stephen Malkmus. His new record is amazing and full of moments like that where the songs make me love his work. If you have eleven moments like that on an album you have an unsinkable vessel!
What bands are you excited about out there at the moment?
There is a band called Temples.Their energy, brilliant ideas and great sounds really caught my ear. They have a track called ‘Keep In The Dark’, which I particularly liked. There’s some really exciting young people out there who feel just as excited about creating music as I was back when I started out too. It’s not just about style on its own. It’s everything; the package, voice and energy. There are new bands out there who think that they themselves have discovered psychedelic music for the first time and that’s great. I get a real buzz out of that. You know when The Strokes first came out people would compare them to Iggy Pop for example and say it’s not anything new. Whether The Strokes or a band in general has a sound that can be compared to another band that existed before them doesn’t matter. The Strokes sound great and that is what matters. I love them.
Are there any artists out there now that you’d like to work with in the future?
I’ve never thought about that. The more I love them the less likely I am to want to. I think it’s a confidence thing. There is a producer called Danger Mouse who I think would be the only person I’d want to collaborate with. He has worked with The Black Keys, Norah Jones and Gnarls Barkley and has a very distinctive way of working. There is a spine going through everything he does that says Danger Mouse. I’d love to get inside his brain.
You’ve got some upcoming tour dates in Europe in places like Berlin and Hamburg. What are you looking forward to doing for fun (apart from the tour) while you are on tour?
I’m going away with a friend. It will be the two of us driving through Europe together. It will be the first time I’ve done something like this after years of a cosseted existence, with a tour bus, crew and someone to hold my hand. I’m going to treat it as a road trip and document as much as I can. I’m also going to combine the trip with a bit of sightseeing and be a tourist. Obviously I’m a 42 year old man so I’m not going to be partying till 5am. I’m open to new experiences, meeting new characters and seeing how modern Europe is getting on. I’ll treat it as an adventure and enjoy it. At the same time I’ve got to take care of myself and can’t expect to be out drinking Schnapps and Jägermeisters with the locals. It will be a test of willpower though as I am good with a warm welcome. I’m a sucker for a warm welcome.
What are your future plans? Are there any fledgling projects in the pipeline that you can tell us about?
I’ve already started working on some songs for a new recording and expect to start the whole process for another album again at some point. Although I recorded the current album a year ago I feel it is now beginning life with a new audience. I want to be satisfied that I’ve put this album to bed and then concentrate on new ideas. I’ve been writing compositions for David Walliams children’s audio books published by HarperCollins which I really enjoy doing.
Thinking back to the days of The Bluetones what have you taken away from that whole experience of being part of a successful band from the Britpop era?
The Bluetones have given me everything I’ve got now. Four best friends a man could ask for and great friends beyond as well as a platform to express myself now and something to feel passionate about and enjoy. I can’t think of anything else I want to do.
The album cover and your website have some nice cartoon illustration. Who did the illustration?
The illustration on my new album and website was done by a lovely lady called Kim Onyskiw from Huddersfield. I love her work.
I’ve seen that the ‘This Is The Lie’ music video is filmed in a forest. Where was the forest? In the spirit of the track what do you think are the benefits of more alone time?
It was in Essex but I can’t remember the name of the woods. I met a guy outside a pub and he said ‘Follow me’ and he had a camera. So, I did all the things your mum tells you not to do. Well, I’ve always needed to have a lot of alone time, because I’m a songwriter and this requires doing things that motivate you and being solitary and having discipline. I can get things done when left alone. When I’m in company I like to enjoy it so I wouldn’t get anything done. There’s a freedom that comes with solitude. The choices you make for how to spend your time. I can do what I like and go where I like. I’ve got two children and I love doing things with my children but it’s also important to have time to do things for you. It’s very precious. You don’t just become a parent. You still retain your character to hand down to your children and keep that enthusiasm for life as its exhausting!
Thank you for the interview Mark and hope you enjoy the upcoming tour.