INTERVIEW WITH MARK MORTON BY KELLEY SIMMS
Lamb of God guitarist Mark Morton steps outside of his day job with his second solo effort Ether. Known for his extreme metal style of playing with Lamb of God, Morton strips the music down with five acoustic songs, including covers of The Black Crowe’s “She Talks to Angels” and Pearl Jam’s “Black.”
Released just 10 months after his first solo album Anesthetic, Ether incorporates a totally different vibe. It’s this musical diversity and creativity to collaborate with other musicians that Morton enjoys the most. His love of blues influenced/classic rock and 90s grunge/alternative influences really shines on this album. Morton explained to us how his solo material came about, his various musical influences, and the status of the new Lamb of God album.
Now on your second solo album, had you been planning on doing one for a while?
I had long aspired to do things that were outside of Lamb of God. I was messing around with different ideas that were more rock or more blues based. I’ve always played stuff that wasn’t metal, that wasn’t thrash metal oriented. And I’ve always yearned to have a destination for that sort of stuff. I didn’t know necessarily that it would take on the form of writing for other people, some of which I’ve done on these, or if it would take a form of another band. It just so happens that it took on the form of the Anesthetic record, which was a solo release. That was the first one, and here we are again. I just branched out a little bit more. I think it’s something that I’ve always been inspired to do, based on the fact that I’ve always played stuff outside of metal. I’ve just been known for the thrash metal stuff, and the other stuff really didn’t have a place to exist publicly.
“I THINK IT’S SOMETHING THAT I’VE ALWAYS BEEN INSPIRED TO DO, BASED ON THE FACT THAT I’VE ALWAYS PLAYED STUFF OUTSIDE OF METAL.”
Is this another creative outlet to add to your diversity as a musician?
Honestly, I really don’t listen to a lot of heavy metal. And I think sometimes when I say that, people take it the wrong way as if I don’t like or appreciate metal, and that’s not true. I get so much of that through the process of Lamb of God and how much time I spend doing Lamb of God, that recreationally or for enjoyment, I tend to listen to other things. So, I think what the solo stuff has done is it has given me an outlet for the more rock side of things, the more blues influenced, classic rock side of things. There’s definitely a 90s grunge/alternative component to the solo stuff, too. So, it’s given me a place where I could get that out and clean that slate, so that when I shift gears writing for Lamb of God, I have a little more clarity and focus, and I can stay true to the legacy of the body of work that Lamb of God has.
Is your solo material done on the downtime from Lamb of God? Was it a structured writing process or something that was done by piecemeal?
It was definitely not structured, and frankly, there was very little downtime from Lamb. So, that’s really why Anesthetic took about three years to finish, from start to finish. Because I was working in the windows of opportunity on the little breaks from Lamb. If I got six or eight weeks off, I would head out to LA for a week or two and work on the solo thing. I booked one of the other musicians or one of the other singers studio time with them, because I had to work around everyone else’s schedule, too. So, it really took a long time to see it all the way through. By contrast, Ether happened really, really fast. It was the same story, but it played out in a different way. I had a small open window in my commitments with Lamb of God. So, if I was going to do it, I had to do it quick. Ether was really realized very quickly. There’s that kind of contrast between the two projects where Anesthetic took several years and Ether happened very quick, just in the course of a couple months from start to finish.
Compared to your first solo album, was the material on Ether consciously done to show your more melodic, acoustic side?
Yeah, it was definitely the idea that the approach all along was acoustic. I did work from Anesthetic last year and had the opportunity to do a couple showcase gigs that were acoustic. I did one at the Sonic Temple Festival in Ohio, and then I did one at the Download Festival in England. I did a full US tour with a live electric band as well, but these particular festival spots were just acoustic, and it got the gears turning. It was a cool vibe. It was really fun to rework the songs into an acoustic arrangement. It just had a cool different vibe to the whole thing. So, that’s what really sparked the idea. And so from there, this past month I had the Ether release ready and I did a little weeklong tour of the UK as acoustic with another guitar player and my singer. So, that all kind of came from those first couple of shows.
“IT WAS DEFINITELY THE IDEA THAT THE APPROACH ALL ALONG WAS ACOUSTIC.”
Did these solo shows strengthen the camaraderie and chemistry between the band members?
Yeah, that’s where that band exists, because in the studio and on record, I’m using different players and I don’t really have a consistent band for the studio. I bring in different singers and different positions. So, I don’t have the same group of guys working on the whole album type of thing. Live, that’s what we are. It was a really cool vibe. Mark [Morales] has been a constant and has been pretty consistent with the solo touring with me, and him and I have been working together really well. He sang one song on Anesthetic, he sang two on Ether, and I never considered not using him. I definitely always want to work with Mark, and he’s just a phenomenal talent. He’s become a good friend.
Since you co-headlined the North American tour with Light the Torch, is that how you got Howard Jones [ex-Killswitch Engage] to sing on “Love My Enemy?”
Yeah, that turned out great. Howard has been a friend of mine for some time. We were laughing about it in the studio. We were laughing about the fact that I think we played our first show together in 2000 or 2001. It might’ve even been before that. I was trying to figure out if we were Burn the Priest or Lamb of God, and he was in a band called Blood Has Been Shed. We obviously toured together a bunch with Killswitch, and now I did the solo tour with him. He and I have been friends for years and years, and even back on Anesthetic, Howard was on my list of people of singers that I really wanted to work with. I didn’t hear a song particularly in that batch of songs that I thought was 100 percent right for Howard. But this time I did. It came when it was ready, and he was definitely someone I still wanted to work with on Ether. We had a blast doing it. We were both together in the studio out in LA and spent a couple of days together, hung out outside of work. It’s always great to be around Howard.
“THAT ERA, THE EARLY AND MID 90S, WAS SUCH AN IMPORTANT TIME IN ROCK MUSIC FOR ME, SO INFLUENTIAL.”
What made you want to cover “She Talks to Angels?” Was Lzzy Hale on your list for guest singers as well? Because she just owns this song.
She sang the shit out of this song! I feel like for me there’s a pretty heavy 90s sound running through all of my solo stuff. That era, the early and mid 90s, was such an important time in rock music for me, so influential. And I still listen to a lot of that stuff on a pretty regular basis. I’ve long been loud and proud about my love for all things Black Crowes, and I had Mark Morales and people play on Anesthetic. I had the idea of the acoustic EP, and “She Talks to Angels” popped into my mind, being an acoustic song by one of my favorite bands. But I wanted to do something different with it, so I had this idea of having a woman sing it, and I thought that would change the viewpoint of the protagonist in a cool way. Lzzy was just an obvious choice for me. The Lamb of God and Halestorm camp have been friendly. We’ve played a bunch of festivals together, particularly in Europe. They’ll come see us play, we’ll go see them play. So, it was pretty natural for me to feel like I could reach out to Lzzy. I thought she would do a great job, and she sure as hell did.
The first single, “All I Had to Lose,” is such a great emotive and heartfelt song. What was your inspiration for it?
It’s just a really personal story. I wrote the lyrics for that one, and like most of my lyric writing, honestly even in Lamb of God when I write lyrics and on the solo stuff as well, it’s usually coming from a really personal place and from a life experience. That particular song is about a change in your life, that it gets better, overcoming your demons, and one day at a time. Just a day-to-day process, striving to get better and learn how to live correctly.
Ether was produced and mixed by Josh Wilbur, who has worked with Lamb of God, and it has such a warm, robust sound, especially for an acoustic album. What were you going for sound-wise on this one?
I just wanted it to sound real. It’s an acoustic instrument, so you don’t want to put a whole lot of stuff on it. By definition of acoustic, it should sound natural and organic. Josh is just amazing, a Grammy award winning entertainer and a phenomenal producer as well. I trusted his judgment, and he’s a very close friend of mine outside of all the work that we do. We’re friends in real life, but when it comes to working on music, we have a real deep rooted trust for each other creatively. We work well together and have a lot of respect for each other. So, when it comes to engineering and the setting of sound, I have some ideas. But more often than not, I diverted to his judgment because that’s definitely his expertise.
“WE HAVE A LASER OF A NEW LAMB OF GOD ALBUM COMING OUT THIS YEAR. I’M REALLY EXCITED ABOUT IT”
What’s the rundown of your upcoming plans? Is there anything else in the works that you want to accomplish?
Yeah, there’s lots of things I want to do. Most immediately, I’m really excited to have Ether released. It seems to be getting a great response so far. I’m excited for people to be hearing that, and I’m hoping to book some more shows in support of it. But that’s going to have to be in between my work with Lamb of God, which is going to be extensive this year. We have a laser of a new Lamb of God album coming out this year. I’m really excited about it because I think it’s really going to make some noise. It’s a really special group of songs, and we’ve got a lot of touring scheduled around that as well. It’s going to be a busy year touring on all this music that I’ve worked on the late part of last year. I look forward to getting out all over of the world and getting all this music in front of people. In the future, I would definitely look to keep exploring the solo work. There’s a lot of people in my mind who I’d like to collaborate with, and that’s really one of the greatest things about the solo stuff for me is that I get to work with people, or different combinations of people together, that don’t normally happen and see the results of that creativity. That’s been the biggest joy for me. So, I look forward to hopefully getting the opportunity to do some more of that.