published: 6 /
Fiona Hutchings speaks to former Bluetones front man Mark Morriss about his former band, whether they will ever reform and second solo album, 'A Flash of Darkness'
Mark Morriss is best known as the lead singer of the Bluetones, a band often filed away under the label of Britpop but who actually continued to perform together until their farewell tour in 2011.
Since 2006 Morriss has been forging a solo career with one EP and two solo albums released to date. He plays live regularly both on his own, and as a guitarist for the fabulously deep-voiced Matt Berry. After releasing his latest album, ‘A Flash of Darkness’ via direct-to-fan platform PledgeMusic earlier this year, Mark has just signed to Acid Jazz, and the album will be getting a wider release next year. He will also be touring with Shed Seven on their ‘Greatest Hits’ tour this December.
Back in March I described ‘A Flash of Darkness’ on my own blog as “a great album, it is unself-conscious, honest, unrushed and often funny”' not unlike the man himself. Regular Pennyblackmusic readers will also know I saw nominated Mark's 2012 gig in Sheffield as my personal ‘Gig of a Lifetime’.
I caught up with Mark recently to talk about his current album, influences and the depth of Matt Berry's voice.
PB: I understand you recently signed to Acid Jazz
MM: That's correct, this summer.
PB: And your current album ‘A Flash of Darkness’ will be getting a wider release now?
MM: That's right, in February of next year. There's going to be a single, ‘This is the Lie’ out in about three weeks time, and then in February 2014 another single and the album.
PB: You originally funded the album through PledgeMusic, and I wondered what that experience was like compared to doing it on a label.
MM: Well it was a completely different experience really. I mean I'm dealing with a budget, and then, aside from all the marketing and letting people know what's going on, seeing if people want to get involved and invest or purchase it. Aside from all that, once it is all done it's just a case of allocating where the money is spent in terms of the production of the record, the manufacturing and then delivering what people have paid for.
That in itself was quite a complicated process, something that a record company would normally deal with. It was enjoyable and empowering though in many ways because I could react directly to people, and meet their needs and deal with their questions
PB: I wondered if there is more pressure or a different kind of pressure to meet your fans’ expectations when they are much more involved from the outset, more so than if you were recording an album in private almost?
MM: I don't think there is. I don't think your mindset changes. Ultimately you are still making the record for the same ends as you normally would, which is an audience who like things you have already done and you hope that they'll like this too. That's about all you can really tailor it for. Well, it's all I can anyway!
PB: Well it seems to have worked so far. Everyone I know who has heard the album has really liked it.
MM: Yeah, it doesn't affect the way the album is written or recorded in any way. It's just a different way for me to be able to actually get the album recorded.
PB: Do you have a particular favourite track?
MM: Well it does change from time to time depending on my mood. I've always liked 'Space Cadet'. That was one of the earliest songs that was written for the record. That's always been a favourite, I've just always liked that melody. By and large it was good fun to record because it has a lot of synths on it, and that's not how I usually work. I wanted to make a song that sounded a bit more Human League than anything I'd done before.
PB: Yeah I think it achieves that pretty well actually.
MM: Oh, good! Thank you!
PB: So you are supporting Shed Seven?
MM: Yeah, that starts next month
PB: You seem to be permanently playing solo gigs as well. Is that a choice to be constantly touring or more of a necessity?
MM: It's a bit of both. It's how I make the bulk of my corn as it were, but it's also something I do enjoy. I don't feel like I have to be out there. I feel like I want to be out there. It's kind of impossible for me to tour constantly with a baking band because all the musicians I want to work with we are all of a certain age now, and it's difficult for us all to commit whole sections of a year to being away, and it's not always economically viable.
I'll be touring next year a couple of times with a band, but I'll continue to do my solo thing as well. I think one feeds the other. I am a better performer now within the band environment as a result of having done so much stuff on my own. It's given me a lot more confidence.
PB: When you have to stand up on your own night after night, it then feels easier when you are part of a band?
MM: Yeah, it really does.
PB: What is it like touring with Matt Berry? (The actor known for his roles in ‘The I.T. Crowd’ and ‘The Mighty Boosh’ among other things and an accomplished composer and musician FH)
MM: That's really good fun and it's kind of ironic that it's come full circle like this because a number of the songs on ‘A Flash of Darkness’, for example the title track and 'Space Cadet' I started writing those about three years ago when I was doing some gigs with Matt. We were doing a little musical project together called the Swedish Twins, and we wrote some songs, went out, played some of his old songs, some of my old songs and went out a did a few dates. It was at the end of 2010, and it was from those sessions that I started a couple of the songs that ended up being corner stones on this record.
So playing with him is quite satisfying, because at the time I remember saying to him if there is ever a gap for a rhythm guitarist in your band then give us a call because I'd love to do it, and lo and behold a couple of years later there was. It's such good fun because the spotlight's not on me, and that's a first because even when I am out with a band the spotlight is on me as the singer, but here I can slip more into the shadows and just enjoy being part of the band. That's just been really enjoyable.
PB: I was going to ask about that because the lead singer is usually the focal point. Is it good then to just play and not feel that pressure?
MM: Absolutely, and it's a different kind of enjoyment.
PB: Does Matt Berry talk in a voice that deep all the time?
MM: Not as deep as say he uses for his voice over stuff generally speaking, but he is blessed with a very deep voice.
PB: As I knew I was interviewing you, I got in touch with your number one fan, Helen Cairns. She gave me a couple of questions she really wanted answering, but said to warn you they are a bit geeky.
MM: Go on then (Laughs).
PB: There is a track on each of the first three Bluetones albums that have an extra R – ‘Carnt Be Trusted’, ‘Broken Starr’ and ‘Zorrro’. She's always wondered what was that about. Is it deliberate? Does it mean something?
MM: Yes! At first it was like a homage to Big Star because they used to misspell words deliberately in some of their song titles. They have a song called 'What's Going Ahn', so it was that sort of thing. It was 'Carnt Be Trusted' because it emphasises the fact it's got that Home Counties burr to it. Not “can't” be trusted. It’s “carrrrrnt”!
It just sort of stuck, so on the second album you've got 'Broken Starr', and so we stuck an extra ‘r’ on so it's like Ringo Starr. There's no real logic behind it. It was just to make titles more unique.
PB: Is that something you've carried on because on ‘A Flash of Darkness’ there's a couple of slightly strange album tracks?
MM: Oh yeah, there's 'Life Without F(r)iction’. Well the thing is, it's back to the r's as it were, but it's also a case of I didn't know what to call the song because when I was writing the lyrics I couldn't decide between friction and fiction. Both applied to what I was trying to say which around disagreements and white lies. So both words applied, and there's a double meaning with friction because friction is not only conflict, but it could also be construed as resolution. When you get together, and when you're in bed with someone, there is plenty of friction there. So it's both. So it is white lies and black lies and reconciliation. It's all those things. You can't have life without all those things. It's a silly bit of word play. I do too many crosswords!
PB: You've managed to keep the ‘r’ thing going!
MM: Yes, I am resurrecting it.
PB: Everyone will be looking out for that now.
MM: Thanks for helping me bring it to light again.
PB: That's all right.
PB: The other question from your number one fan was is it a conscious decision on your part to stay away in your writing from traditional love songs?
MM: Yes, it is really. I don't think I have much skill at it to be honest, not to do the straight down the line love songs. I don't think I have the confidence to do it. As a younger man, a lot of my stylistic tastes were shaped by writers who didn't do that either. I like songs that were darker hued, not twisted but double meanings that could be interpreted in many ways, and I try to incorporate that into my writing.
PB: So who would you say were your major influences then?
MM: Well I like the simplicity of someone like Neil Young. He's very direct and yet there is a vague quality to a lot of what he does. It's not always personal and specific. People like Scott Walker, and Jacques Brel who wrote songs that Scott Walker covered. There is a darkness and a humour in them and that's very appealing. In your own mind you always try to a line yourself with your heroes.
PB: Even though the Bluetones only did their farewell concert a couple of years ago, have there been any thoughts about coming back and doing a ‘Greatest Hits’ or anniversary tour?
MM: Anniversary? There isn't an anniversary!
PB: Isn't there?
MM: Oh wait, it's eleven years since ‘Luxembourg’. There you go! That'll do. We've talked about how much we miss each other’s company ,and every time we get together a couple of glasses of wine go down, and we start to open up a bit and we do miss each other. It's difficult because we've got families and other irons in the fire now. We only think back to the Bluetones days with good memories, and we did at the time. We didn't disband because we weren't enjoying it anymore. We disbanded because it seemed like a good opportunity for us to try other things before we got too old and were looking back thinking “I wish.”
PB: I imagine you were all pretty young when you started if the Bluetones started in 1993?
MM: Well, we've been active as a band with this line up since 1993 which was when Ed joined, but Adam, Scott and myself were in a band from 1990 or 1991 onwards, so it's knocking on for 25 years we've been hanging out. It wasn't a case of a reaction against one another. It was more we wanted to try other things.
PB: As it wasn't artistic differences, if the opportunity did present itself in the future would it be something you might consider?
MM: Oh, never say never! We have actually talked about playing again together but it would be out of the public eye, something we did as a one off gig, to maybe raise some money for a charity. We'd do it under a different name, but it would be a Bluetones gig. So we'd let the fan base know, but it wouldn't be advertised publically and it would just be a chance for us to rehearse and play a gig together again.
PB: That sounds great.
MM: Well, who knows? I am sure something will happen because we are just itching to get in a room together again. But I just don't think we are itching to reform the band.
PB: Thank you.