MARK MORTON (27/02/19)
Amazing guitarist from the metal band Lamb Of God, Mark Morton released his first solo album “Anesthetic”. With great kindness and humor, he took the time to talk with RockUrLife about the genesis of the album, Chester Bennington’s infamous collaboration and his daughter’s disenchantment with metal.
Mark, thank you for your time today.
Mark Morton: My pleasure.
You’ve been working on “Anesthetic” coming out on March the 1st. Was it different to work only with Josh Wilbur (he worked with you and Lamb Of God on several records), and not with the band?
Mark: What a great question. It was in some ways. Not so much because of what you asked, it was just me and Josh, one on one. I worked with him on projects outside Lamb Of God and even when we work on that, a lot of times when I am recording or doing my guitar part with the band it’s just me and Josh. So in terms of the way he and I communicate, work together in the studio, it’s very often one on one anyway. The difference was the type of music we were playing, writing and producing.
It was a little more rock than metal. Even more kind of songwriting oriented. Not that Lamb Of God is not about writing songs, because obviously we do, but with the type of music on this project it was more song oriented, focused on songs. It was not necessarily some acrobatic guitar part like a riff performance. It was more about the songs. And we wrote the songs together. I brought in a lot of the raw material, a lot of demos. Josh and I really brought all those down, brought together as a team. I think he is a co writer on just about every song if not all. Josh is pretty much the co writer on the majority of them. And in that sense, it was different. Josh was invested creatively, even more that he has been at times with Lamb Of God.
Do you think writing rock songs and not metal songs was pushing you out of your comfort zone?
Mark: On two degrees it was. It’s not like I said: “OK I’m going to make a record so now I am starting to write rock songs”. It was kind of like the opposite: I found myself writing rock songs, blues-oriented songs, kind of 90’s sound/grunge songs and I found that stuff was coming out of me, and I was collecting this bank of song ideas that did not really fit in Lamb Of God. Where I sort of became into new territory was when Josh and I really started breaking this down. It was a bit of a different process, making a rock album not like a traditional thrash metal record. In that sense it was a learning experience for me.
Also from collaborating with so many different people because it is a solo album, it has my name on it and Josh and I are the artistic directors of it all but really all of the musicians that participated in it brought something to the table artistically, creatively. Many of them wrote their own part, the singers did it in a lot of cases. It was refreshing, exciting and challenging.
What was it like to collaborate with these artists? Did they bring ideas?
Mark: In some cases yes, and in some cases, it was just a matter of the artist taking the existing part we had in the demo and interpreting it as their own. Mark Lanegan wrote all these lyrics and melody lines, Myles Kennedy did, Randy wrote his parts, Alissa wrote her parts. For some other collaborations, like Chester and I collaborated on the lyrics and the vocals on “Cross Off”. It just depended on the song.
We’re pretty sure you had this question several times already but how was it to collaborate with Chester?
Mark: Of course, that’s a fair question. We all miss Chester, we really do. It’s such a lost to music in general and to rock and hard rock for sure. Chester was a joy to work with, he was a joy to be around. I didn’t know him before we started working on music together. We presented the song to him and asked him to be a part of it. He loved the song, he was familiar of my work with Lamb Of God so he wanted to do it. And that was in itself a thrill. Then when we got together and started writing, it was really special because sometimes when you write music with someone or try to write music with someone you may not have a rhythm, you may not get into that back and forth creative mode because for whatever reason. It doesn’t mean you don’t get along with this person, it doesn’t mean you don’t like this person, you don’t like their work. Writing music is a personal thing, it can be kind of an intimate process but it can be very personal, very revealing and very vulnerable. You know when you’re talking about personal things and you writing about things that really matter to you.
For some reason, for whatever reason, Chester and I really didn’t have any walls between us. When we started talking about what the lyrics were about and he had a lot of lyrics in this song, I had some already and they seemed to be matching up and where we talked about where we were coming from, we just realized we came from very similar experiences, things we were talking about, we could relate to each other’s story in that sense. So we had a really great rhythm and a really great dynamic creatively. We both worked on the song and we both loved the way it turned out. Recording with him was just a blast because I got to sit on the other side of the glass, behind the control board, and Chester singing his ass off and it was just a great memory for me. The song took on a different kind of light because a few months later Chester passed so people read a lot into the lyrics. We laughed a lot and had a really good time recording and that’s just what I think about.
That’s good to just keep the good memory of everything.
Mark: Absolutely yeah. The Chester I knew was incredibly humble, no ego, no attitude, down to earth, super creative, very devoted husband and father and just a fun guy to be around.
What were the biggest influences you had for this album?
Mark: It’s really all over the place. I think on this album there is definitely an influence from 90’s hard rock, there’s definitely a kind of grunge/alterative sort of thread around most of the songs on this album. I think you can see that represented in some of the people I chose to work with: Mark Lanegan, Mike Inez from Alice In Chains plays the bass on about half of the album, Steve Gorman from The Black Crowes plays drums on a couple of songs, he’s one of my favorite drummers. There is that component of it and I think there is a kind of a commercial hard rock, a sort of melodic hard rock element with Chester, Myles Kennedy, Jacoby Shaddix from Papa Roach. It’s more of a straight forward, conventional hard rock sound which again is me focusing more on the song writing than necessarily dazzle in acrobatic riff guitars that I can maybe pull of, maybe not play. It’s more about writing and try to compose good songs, listenable songs that are more conventionally rock. I’m a big fan of classic rock, I like old Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin was once my favorite band, the Rolling Stones. Like I said I’m a huge Black Crowes fan. I think there’s a classic rock element influence and there is some metal on here too. The songs “The Never”, “The Truth Is Dead” are both kind of a more traditional thrash metal, what people expect from me based on what I do with Lamb Of God.
To us the album is completely different from what you do and create with Lamb Of God.
Mark: Yeah, I’m glad you think so. It did turn out different and it should be. I’m not trying to recreate Lamb Of God because I don’t need to, I’m lucky enough to be the guitar player for them so it is really cool too. If the solo thing is not working, I can go back to my day job right? (laughs)
Yeah that’s good! (laughs) This solo record, was it something you had at the back of your mind for a long time or that you were thinking about?
Mark : I guess. I’ve always, for quite some time, had the aspiration of doing something outside of metal. Like the song “Reveal” for example, that’s a group of people I play with on a regular basis, that I write music with. We are all in different projects. Jean-Paul Gaster is the drummer for Clutch, Chris Brooks is the keyboard player for Lionize, Naeemah has her own solo record so everybody is busy doing their thing but we do periodically come together and write and record music. That’s something I’ve been doing for several years. So to go back to the question, for a long time I aspired to do things that aren’t metal because as a player and as a song writer I do lots of different styles of music and that is the great thing about this album in general: it gave me a place to engage in this stuff, it gave me a reason to develop this types of songs.
It actually gave you more freedom on what you wanted to do outside of Lamb Of God and metal music.
Mark: It is yes, a little bit off the leash and unrestrained which isn’t to say that I feel restricted by Lamb Of God, it’s just a very specific thing. Actually 8 albums into our career. It’s a very established sound that we have. To do something drastically different, I mean, Lamb Of God does explore different ideas and concepts and techniques and we do move around the lane we are in. But a song like “Reveal” or “Axis” wouldn’t be on a Lamb Of God record. It just doesn’t sit right in it. This gave me the opportunity to, creatively as an artist, explore some of different stuff.
We were quite surprised to listen to the song “Reveal”. It is completely different.
Mark: Yeah. Did you like it?
Oh yeah! Naeemah is amazing.
Mark: Thanks. Naeemah is phenomenal. I’m so excited for the world to hear her.
We were blown away because we did not expect that from you and on the record. To us it’s one of the best on the record.
Mark: I do think so. I love that song too and Naeemah is fantastic. I’m really excited about this project because we have a lot more material. It felt appropriate for me to include that on this record because it is something I’ve been working on for quite some time so I definitely was excited for my fans, and people who might be interested in this album to hear a sample of that.
For all the artists you collaborated with on this album, did you, like picked up the phone and said: “Hey I want to write something with you”? How was the process?
Mark: In some cases I did. Randy is my best friend so I sent him a text. (laughs)
Mark: That was the easiest one. Someone asked me yesterday: “Who’s the easiest to get?” and I was like: “Randy, I sent him a text.” He replied to me: “Yeah sure». (laughs)
Mark has been my friend for years but I also saw Alice In Chains play and Mike Inez. Shortly after I caught up with Mike I told him about what I was doing: “Hey I’m just recording a solo thing and I want you to play bass on a song.” He was like: “Man, I want to play on more than one!” So that is why he is on about half of the album. I was like: “Come on man” and he was like: “I want to play on more than one!” I said: “As many as you want!”.
David Ellefson plays on two songs, he’s been a friend for a while. Jacoby Shaddix is a friend of mine, he was a phone call away. Some of that stuff was easy. Other people were just people I was a fan of the work. Maybe I didn’t even expect they’d say yes but I just asked anyway. I continue to remind this myself: if you don’t ask you never know. If you don’t try it will never happen. If you don’t even try then it’s definitely not going to work. It has already failed because you did not try. When we had the idea of approaching Chester for the song “Cross Off” I didn’t even expect to get a reply because I didn’t know Chester. We didn’t have any kind of history together. I didn’t really even know if he was aware of my work with Lamb Of God. But we reached out and it turned out he was a fan of some of my stuff and he was interested in hearing the song. And once he heard the song, he was in.
Same with Mark Lanegan. He’s one of my favorite singers. I’m a fan of pretty much everything he has ever done but never metal before. I just figured out I would try to send him a song and to my surprise he said: “Yes, let’s hear it”. And now he is on the album.
How was it to work with the artists? Did you have to send the music, they would send the lyrics back?
Mark: Everyone got sent the demo. We had pretty much demo versions of all the songs. Some of them were instrumental, some of them had vocals ideas already on. Everyone got sent the songs in advance but whenever possible they had to come in and record with me and Josh in the same studio. Because it was best for the process to be in the same room. Sometimes it was impossible so there were some cases that were recorded with the artist having the engineer he worked with. Alissa did her tracks in Toronto, Mark Lanegan did his stuff with a guy he works with. When Jacoby recorded, he came to Josh’s studio but I was on tour with Lamb Of God so I couldn’t be there but Jacoby was there with Josh so they were sending me tracks pretty much as soon as they were doing them for me to check them out. As much as possible we tried to get in the same room.
It eases the process and you guys could talk about all your ideas.
Mark: Yes, in real time and listen to it back at the same time.
Did you get any refusal from artists you asked to work with?
Mark: I did. I hate it when people ask it because I feel like I’m throwing people under the bus. I thought it would be a cool idea because I had David from Megadeth playing on one of the song so I thought it could be cool to have Jason Newsted from Metallica so I did reach out to him and send him a song and he very politely declined. He said he loved the stuff and he wished me well but he had other stuff going on and he didn’t have the time and schedule to do it. He was very polite about shutting me down. (laughs) I’m being sarcastic, he is great.
Are there any other artists you would like to collaborate with?
Mark: I haven’t given it too much thought but a few people have asked me that and Corey Taylor keeps coming to mind. Corey is such a great singer and I know him. We worked together, we have the same management. I love Corey, he’s a great guy, super talented and he comes to mind for projects like this because his ability, the diversity he can sing but he also is an incredible metal screamer. He has a lot of ability and flexibility with what he is able to do so. Who knows, maybe one day we’ll have the chance to work together. I love Corey Taylor.
You collaborated with artists coming mainly from the metal background. Why not trying to collaborate with artists coming from other backgrounds or other countries?
Mark: I’ve been reminded this week that my album is incredibly American which haven’t really occurred to me honestly. There were a few people from Europe that I would like to work with. I’ve had conversations about bringing them in but logistically it was tricky too because it is further away. I would love to work with Mario from Gojira, I think he is such a phenomenal drummer. He is one of my favorite drummers. I’d love to do something with Anders from In Flames, I think he is great. There’s a number of people from outside the US that jumped on my mind. I did work with some metal people, I thought a lot of guys I picked are more from rock background like Myles, Jacoby and Chester. They aren’t traditionally metal guys. In that sense I feel like I was stretching out a little bit and working with some more melodic hard rock singers. Mark Lanegan was definitely from a different style, a different kind of lane of music. The more I get into this, the more I would love to stretch out even more, explore and see who else would be willing to jump in the studio and see what we can come up with.
It could be interesting to have people for other backgrounds.
Mark: I’d love to do more of them. The results with this one and the process have been great, so who knows?
Would you like to do another record like that?
Mark : I think so, at some point if I get a chance to. It depends a lot on how well this one is received but so far so good, the three songs we put out seem to be getting really good feedback. We get ready to do a tour for it at the end of the month of March and we’ll do an American tour. We put together a live band and Mark Morales who sings the song “Blur” on the album is going to be my live singer, he will be interpreting his take on all of his songs and we’re going to have when we can, what would make sense for the people on the album, different guests come out and perform their parts and vocals. That will be fun to do.
Guess it must be a pain in the ass to organize a tour with so many guests coming.
Mark: Yes, that is why we put together just one band because we would need about 5 tour bus to bring the all album out (laughs). We’d lose way too much money.
Let’s get back to the record: what was your favorite song on this record, to make or to interpret?
Mark: That’s tough. I worked just as hard on all of them. But some of them stood out special. Of course, “Cross Off” is special, Chester gives such a passionate, incredibly energized performance. That song is undeniably a stand out.
“Axis” for me is a personal favorite because Mark Lanegan is one of my favorite singers and the group of people I was able to assemble for that song… Marc Ford from the Black Crowes does the lead guitar, he is the only lead guitarist on the album because he is one of my favorite guitarists. I play all the other guitars on the album but Marc brought out that solo which he did masterfully. Mike Inez from Alice In Chains and Steve Gorman from The Black Crowes on the rhythm section. It was kind of a dream band for me. Myles Kennedy does the background vocals on that song so it is a very completive group of people.
“Reveal” is a big favorite of mine because I just think Naeemah is brilliant on it and the band sounds really good, and it has a unique kind of vibe. If you listen to it again you can hear the rhythm section was recorded live. Some of this is done in the studio, one piece at a time and we put it together but “Reveal” was done in a big room with mics open so it gives a kind of a different pulse.
“Blur” is a big favorite of mine. It sounds great and it has a kind of 90’s feel to it to me, I love that era of rock.
From what you learn doing this record by yourself, will you get this experience into the recording or creation of a new Lamb Of God album?
Mark: I don’t know. I think the process that Lamb Of God follows, the way we make records, is very collaborative so we kind of have a rhythm that I don’t want to disrupt. I’m a member of the band, I’m bringing a lot of music, a lot of creative ideas, a lot of lyrics but at the end of the day I’m one of five members of the band. I like just being one of the band members. I probably appreciate it now that I did before I made this album. I don’t think I will disrupt that process too much. I don’t see me elbowing my way to get in front of the picture or anything like that.
On this album you had to do it by yourself. As you said, your name is on it.
Mark: It’s my name on it so I had to be the creative director. That’s one thing I learned. I thought, this long into my career, with many albums I’ve made with Lamb Of God, I know how we make an album, I know how this done, I’m a professional. No. I know what it’s like to be a member of a band, just making an album being one of five. With this one there were so many decisions I had to make on my own and I could ask Josh for direction or I could ask someone I was collaborating with for their opinion. But at the end of the day it’s my name on it so I have to make the final call and there is a lot of pressure that comes with it. It’s a different kind of responsibility and commitment. I definitely have a new appreciation of what it takes to do a project of this size.
Do you think you would have done this record without Josh?
Mark: It may have happened but it wouldn’t have been the same record. Josh was a major part of this record. I can’t say enough how important Josh was to this process and even to Lamb Of God. Josh is a big part of the process in the way Lamb Of God has been making records. He’s an amazing producer.
What music are you listening to at the moment? Is there anything that could influence Lamb Of God for the next record?
Mark: On the plane I was listening to Jason Isbell. He is a country singer. He is a great song writer. I’ve been listening to the new Badflower album. I like a lot of it. I’ve been listening to a lot of hip hop which a kind of a constant for me. I’ve been listening to “Exile On Main Street” again, I always come back to that. Made in France. Proudly! (laughs) I’ve been listening to some Tom Petty. This is what comes to mind lately. Will that stuff influence Lamb Of God? No. Well maybe. I kind of draw inspiration from a little bit everywhere. I always listen to the new Gojira, I think it’s fantastic. I like Deafheaven.
You’ve been listening to hip hop so why not having hip hop singers on another record?
Mark: I don’t know. Sometimes you just want to be a fan of something. I’m just a fan of hip hop, I don’t need to make it. I’m a fan of American football too but I’m not going try to join a team. (laughs)
Last question: as our website is called “RockUrLife”, so what rocks your life Mark?
Mark: What rocks my life? My daughter. She’s a hurricane. She’s a living breathing storm. She’s great. She loves music, she loves dance. She is very vocal telling me she does not like rock music, she does not like heavy metal.
She’s probably too young.
Mark: She’s eight years old, she can like rock music. She used to love Nirvana and whenever we are doing a new Lamb Of God record, I’m always checking mixes and new demos and that kind of things so by the time the album comes out she knows all the songs. But now she is very anti rock so. My daughter rocks my entire life. She likes pop music and music she can dance to. She’s a lot of fun. It’s not a rock and roll answer but it’s what came to mind.