Interview: Chris Morris from “Morris and the East Coast”
Interview by Charissa Lock (@charissalock) with Chris Morris (songwriter, frontman and guitarist)
CL: Charissa Lock
CM: Chris Morris
I guess there are some things we can thank for Facebook besides finding that our middle school bully put on 100 pounds, has three bratty kids, and looks miserable. One of them happens to be the band Morris and the East Coast, a local band (for me) from Pawtucket, Rhode Island. A friend with respectable taste in music posted a link to this band’s album on Facebook. Curious, I decided to head to the Bandcamp website for a quick listen. I honestly could not believe the quality of music that I heard, between the professionalism in production, smooth and clear vocals, great melodies, complete and catchy songs, I was very excited about the whole thing. Come to find out, my friend knows the lead singer and song-writer Chris Morris and I instantly knew that the next step would be for me to ask the this gentlemen some questions and add the album Wolf City to my list of reviews.
With an acoustic folk base, there are a few directions this album branches out to. Some songs are a bit more on the country side (“My Dignity”) while others are more upbeat and indie pop (“Four-Hundred and Ninety-Five”) and they even have this slow and dark sound (“Night and Gale”). Nothing strays too far to make you confused and questioning the sanity of the band, but just enough to break up any monotony. There are a handful of instruments, with Morris on the guitar and vocals, Ryan Crowley on bass, Dave Davignon on drums, and James Rutter also on guitar, you can also hear harmonica, piano, and violin.
Being able to get in touch with Chris Morris was an awesome experience. Especially with the band being smaller, I was having difficulties trying to find information on them, and I wanted to know how they formed as a group, what some of their influences were, etc. Morris was able to give me information that helped me form a really great image of who Morris and The East Coast is.
CL: Chris, your album has a very professional sound, at the age of 24 how are you able to acquire such a strong foundation as an artist and what has been your background in music previous to this release?
CM: Well thank you. I’ve been playing and recording music since I was in a rock band in high school. That band dissolved when I went to college and I decided I wanted to played quieter music. I continued writing and recording under the name Gustoph Christoph. When I got back from college my buddy Ryan Crowley asked me if I would like to play some of my songs with a full band. I played a show with Ryan, James, and Dave shortly after and it went so well that we decided to make it a permanent change. I christened the three boys, “The East Coast” shortly after.
Recording has always been my favorite part of the musical process. In the studio every minor imperfection is amplified ten-fold. You quickly realize that you aren’t nearly as good as you thought, but that in turn forces you to become a better musician.
CL: It’s very evident in your album that you’re mindful of the delicate nature of the production process. Can you tell me a little bit about your influences for the album before you began recording?
CM: Leonard Cohen poetry was a big influence on the songs. He’s has this incredible ability to paint a vivid picture with words, or making something ugly into something beautiful. I wanted to do that with these songs. Bright Eyes is also a big influence. They’re always awesome in everything they do.
CL: The idea of explaining moments in your life in a beautiful and descriptive way without using typical clichés is something that I really enjoyed about the album. I was surprised when I could not find any accounts on popular social networking websites for Morris and The East Coast. With social networking being such an important factor for bands and artists was this a conscious decision?
CM: Yes and No. We are on Facebook (facebook.com/morrisandtheeastcoast) and we have a regular site in the works right now, I don’t know if that totally counts though (haha). One time I thought about making a Twitter for the band, but to be honest I still don’t totally understand how it works.
CL: It’s easy enough and a great way for fans to keep updated on what your band is up to. Speaking of websites, Wolf City is not for sale on iTunes or other popular music downloading sites, instead it’s on a donation-based website called Bandcamp. Can you explain how this site works and why your band was interested in it?
CM: In bands past, I’ve posted music on iTunes/Amazon etc, but I decided not to do that this time. The big league distributors like iTunes are actually not all that kind to small bands. I chose Bandcamp to distribute the music because the cut they take from the music is fair. I also wanted people to be able to get the music for free if they didn’t have money (or) didn’t want to pay. Bandcamp also lets customers name their own price which I think is a really cool way to sell music.
CL: I thought it was a pretty unique and humble thing for a small band to do. Really enjoying what I heard, I donated to the site so that I could download your album and it was very simple and easy for the consumer to do. After listening to the first track I could tell that there was something special here. With folk music not being my number one genre, I was surprised at how much I fell in love with your album. Do you think your music is able to gain fans that may not necessarily be into folk music?
CM: (Yeah), I’d like to think so. I think it doesn’t matter what genre music you’re playing as long as it’s good honest songwriting. People pick up on that really quickly. If it’s honest people will like it. If there’s a theme to this record it’s that all the songs are real. Every (song) is about something I experienced. From feeling the weight of student loans to living in the woods, everything’s real.
CL: That is definitely something that crosses genres and I always love to hear that what I’m listening to is from something that someone has lived through. It makes the music more personal and easier to connect to. The first time I heard “Night and Gale,” I instantly recognized it at something I had heard before. After a quick “Google” search, I found that it had appeared in Disney’s Cinderalla (1950). What was your reason for using the melody and Chorus of “Sing Sweet Nightingale?”
CM: Yes! I’m glad you caught that. The chorus is from Cinderella. It’s an awesome melody. I’ve been humming that melody since I saw the movie when I was 5 or 6. The verses actually come from a lesser known Leonard Cohen song called “Nightingale.” He wrote it about friend who had passed away. I thought it was the perfect match up so we put it on the record!
CL: I was hoping there would be a story to it besides it being your Disney song. Music has a cool way of finding remnants of itself in places you would not expect. I have a few favorite tracks on this record, the upbeat opener “Four-Hundred and Ninety-Five,” as well as the sultry “Summer Sweat Blues.” What is your personal favorite on Wolf City?
CM: Probably, Hundred Mile House. Dave’s violin teacher, Rachel Panitch offered to play on the song in exchange for a homemade dinner. We set up a microphone in the middle of the room and she did her thing. She’s one of those musicians that speaks music as a first language. It was totally free form and it was awesome.
CL: That’s a pretty good swap and an even greater musical experience. Will you be promoting your album with live shows?
CM: Yes, that’s the plan. I’ve never been good at the business/booking shows part of music, but it’s something that we’re working on as we speak. We want to figure out a way to open for Deer Tick this Spring. If anyone knows how to make that happen let me know! So that, and record more music!
Morris and the East Coast is a band that I’m excited to see what their next album will possess. I hope the struggles of being in a small band does not crush the energetic and musically impressive spirit of the quartet. Wolf City is a good-time indie folk rock album that shares an honest representation of humanity in an elegant way with catchy melodies captured in a soothing and meditative atmosphere.
Morris and the East Coast Bandcamp <—Purchase their album “Wolf City” here.