Thu Mar 21 2019
8:00 PM (Doors 7:00 PM)
1375 W. Lake St Chicago, IL 60607
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Mark Morton, Light the Torch, Moon Tooth
Spend time talking to Mark Morton about his creative process and two themes emerge. One, he loves to write. The Lamb of God guitarist says, “I’m a musician, I'm a songwriter, I'm a guitar player, and I'm a lyricist.” Two, Morton is inspired by a wide swath of musical genres.
For his new project Anesthetic, Morton didn’t sit down this year and say I want to write a solo album. Instead, he’s actually been writing some of this debut for years. “This album wasn’t a concerted effort to start something outside Lamb of God,” he explains. “Music is always in my head, and until I write and record it, it’s stuck there. But once I record it, it’s out. It’s a catharsis, more for my own sanity.”
Morton is always creating: even when he isn’t writing lyrics, he’s thinking about writing lyrics. He writes on tour and he writes at home. Whenever something hits him, he jots it down: the notes section on his phone is jammed with song ideas and lyrics. Every time he hears or reads a turn of phrase, he takes out his phone. And it would be a mistake to pigeonhole Morton’s music taste as strictly metal. He’s always been inspired by all kinds of music, but his biggest inspiration comes from music “with a groove and undeniable head bounce that elevates your heart rate and gets you excited.” That’s why Morton cites not just Slayer and Metallica but Biggie Smalls and Public Enemy as influences.
One of the biggest influences for this latest project, though, was longtime Lamb of God producer Josh Wilbur. He’s worked with the band since 2003, but since then he’s worked with everyone from Steve Earle to LCD Soundsystem. After Morton played Wilbur some of his demos, Wilbur encouraged him to record it for release.
When it was time to assemble musicians for Anesthetic, Morton had a choice: he could ask friends to play on it—people who knew his style and work ethic—or he could assemble a dream team, many of whom didn’t know Morton and some of whom had never even heard of Lamb of God. Morton did both. He cites two albums as reference points: Slash’s first solo album and Dave Grohl’s side project Probot, in which both men used artists they admired to play on their tracks. Morton’s project, too, is a collaboration of highly respected musicians.
The recording process for Anesthetic was all over the place. Literally. They recorded everywhere from the Los Angeles area to Baltimore to the Grand Cayman Islands. Some tracks were recorded in studio, others were recorded thousands of miles apart. In some cases, Morton wrote music and lyrics; in others, Morton wrote the music and the vocalist wrote the lyrics. He cast a wide net for all-star collaborators. And almost everyone said yes: Mark Lanegan (Screaming Trees), Josh Todd (Buckcherry), Steve Gorman and Marc Ford (Black Crowes), Mike Inez (Alice in Chains), Ray Luzier (Korn), Roy Mayorga (Stone Sour), Dave Ellefson (Megadeth), Chuck Billy (Testament), Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge), Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), Jacoby Shaddix (Papa Roach), Jean-Paul Gaster (Clutch), Jake Oni (ONI). Randy Blythe makes an appearance, and Morton even takes over vocal duties on one track.
Anesthetic is a diverse body of work under the rock umbrella. There’s alternative, metal, and thrash. Morton wrote most of the music, but all of the songs feature co-writes. The Josh Todd song “Back from the Dead” is a good example of how that process worked. With those songs, Morton says, “I wrote the music first knowing that I'm leaving space for the vocals. Once the song established itself, Josh (Wilbur) and I talked about what kind of song it was and who would sound good on it. What kind of voice is this song asking for?” Morton knew that Todd was the perfect match for this song. “It’s a high energy song, kind of cocky,” he explained. Morton sent Todd the music. Ten minutes later, Todd responded via text: I’m in.
The musicians on the album will all tell you how easy Morton was to work with. Much of this has to do with Morton’s creative philosophy in the studio: he wanted each song to play to the artists’ strengths. He never asked the artists to do anything too different from what they were familiar with. (That meant no double kick drum pedal for the Black Crowes’ Steve Gorman.)
As one of Morton’s “favorite living drummers,” Gorman was at the top of Morton’s list. He sent Gorman the demos, and Gorman loved them. Admittedly, he had never heard of the band, and his first response was, “Are you sure I'm the guy you’re thinking of? But then I realized that if this guy is in a metal band, he must be doing something different.” Gorman says that working with Morton “couldn’t have been easier.” Morton made it clear that “we were there to do what we normally do, and to just do our thing. It really removed the pressure.” As for the sound? “The fact that I'm involved should dispel any possible sense that this sounds like what he normally does,” Gorman points out.
Josh Todd was impressed with Morton’s songwriting ability, in particular how Morton writes songs for a vocalist. “Mark knows how to write a great song with a structure that sets a singer up. He made it easy for me to write lyrics and melodies. In other cases, I've gotten songs that are in such disarray that I have to sift through it to get a structure in my head.” Morton’s, he said, were already well thought out. The lyrics, Todd said, practically wrote themselves.
Longtime friend Mike Inez needed no prodding when Morton reached out. “Mark called me when I was in the car in LA with my wife. He didn’t have to ask twice.” Morton originally asked him to play on one track, but Inez insisted on more, so you can hear him on half the album. Like Gorman, Inez appreciate the space that Morton gave his players. “This isn’t really Lamb of God stuff at all. Mark stretched out. It was a smart move to just tell us to be ourselves, rather than calling us in and telling us what to play.”
Looking back, though, perhaps Morton’s fondest memory of Anesthetic is the song “Cross Off,” his collaboration with the late Linkin Park vocalist Chester Bennington. The song features Bennington on vocals, Morton on guitar, Paulo Gregoletto on bass, and Alex Bent on drums (Gregoletto and Bent are the rhythm section of Trivium). “Chester was one of the world’s most amazing vocalists and an incredibly creative force. I just hope that ‘Cross Off’ celebrates that fact,” says Morton.
“Cross Off” was the first time Morton and Bennington had worked together. It was also the first time they had ever met, but you’d never know it from the immediate bond between the two. “We spent the first two hours in the studio talking about things not even related to the project, things like our kids, family, stuff like that. Making music is very personal, so there must be a degree of trust between the artists,” says Morton. The time the two spent together before recording “Cross Off” cemented that trust and made the process almost effortless. Honest feedback was easy—and surprisingly easy, stresses Morton, considering they had just met. They spent the studio time testing out new ideas on each other. “It was an open creative process. There were no bad ideas. That’s what I hold on to. There was no ego to Chester. And I know for a fact that he loved this song,” Morton remembers.
Morton is excited to see this project come to fruition. He says that even if this project never saw the light of day, it would’ve been worth it. But make no mistake, Lamb of God fans, because that band is still Morton’s first love. Says Morton, “I’m behind Lamb of God 100%, of course. That’s my job, and that’s my priority. But I had the opportunity to write and record with some of my friends and idols and to build new relationships with people like Josh and Myles. What musician wouldn’t want to do that?”
The winds of change most definitely fanned the flame for LIGHT THE TORCH. On their 2018 full-length debut »Revival« [Nuclear Blast], the Los Angeles, CA trio—Howard Jones [vocals], Francesco Artusato [guitar], and Ryan Wombacher [bass]—drew from five years together as DEVIL YOU KNOW only to forge a wholly distinct path. Amidst myriad struggles, they returned from the brink under a new banner.
“2016 was a really tough year for us as a band, both personally and professionally,” admits Howard. “While going through some lineup changes we were also battling some issues with the use of our band name. At the same time, I was trying to deal with the loss of my oldest brother which really hit me hard. During that time, we just bonded like never before. We all meshed because we faced war together. We survived. At the end, we realized we were a real band and decided to make an album representing that resilience. Honestly, we came out of the dark. The name literally signifies what we went through.”
The musicians quietly struck the match for LIGHT THE TORCH during 2017. Without so much as telling either the label or management, they wrote the 12 anthems comprising »Revival« and recorded them in Los Angeles with the help of WOVENWAR and AS I LAY DYING bassist and producer Josh Gilbert [BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE, SUICIDE SILENCE] behind the board. Joined by EXTINCTION A.D. drummer Mike “Scuzz” Sciulara behind the kit, the guys put their heads down and really focused on making an album as a whole, placing more emphasis on the songs flowing cohesively from one to the next.
“It was time for a change,” the frontman continues. “It was time for us to try and stretch our wings. We were really going for songs. The structuring made more sense. I was focused on melody and harmony. I really cut loose. All in all, it was the perfect storm. We had so much fun making this, because there were really no restrictions other than creating a heavy and catchy body of work.”
The boys introduce the record with the first single and opener ‘Die Alone’. Powered by airtight riffing and a hummable lead, the verses immediately engage before the vocalist croons the anthemic refrain: “There’s nothing in the shadows, and you will be the one to die alone.”
“It was one of the first demos Fran showed me,” he recalls. “I listened to it while cruising around the UK on tour. It just worked. Lyrically, that song was like a letter to myself that I had jotted down from all of the stuff I’d been through.”
Elsewhere, ‘Calm Before The Storm’ builds from a thick guitar groove into an expansive chant. “It’s about trying to be there for those who need you,” Howard explains. “Everybody knows someone who needs a hand getting through tough times. While some may be beyond help, you never know when you can be the hand that makes a difference.”
Whether on the robust balladry of ‘The Great Divide’ or the pensive vulnerability of ‘The Safety of Disbelief’, melody takes center stage, driving one anthem after another.
“I write sappy songs,” he laughs. “There was enough that we had gone through that I had a whole wealth of emotions and stories. Some are fiction. Some are non-fiction. Some may apply to me. Some may not. If you listen closely, I promise you can hear where we’ve been and where we’re going.”
As far as “where they’ve been” goes, LIGHT THE TORCH maintains one of the most esteemed pedigrees in modern heavy music. From Howard’s decade at the helm of GRAMMY® Award-nominated and gold-selling titans KILLSWITCH ENGAGE and Francesco’s much-lauded stint in ALL SHALL PERISH and status as a shred virtuoso to Ryan’s tenure in BLEEDING THROUGH, there’s no shortage of experience. Still, »Revival« marks an important moment for all three men.
“It was a long road to get here,” reveals the singer. “We reworked everything. Once we started this, things snowballed. It was like, ‘Wow, we can breathe again.’ »Revival« felt like the appropriate name.”
Ultimately, LIGHT THE TORCH ignites the future for not only its members but metal at large.
“Everyone’s got a path,” Howard leaves off. “There will always be strange and unexpected twists and turns. More important than the struggle is how you handle it and come out of it. I don’t know what sparked it, but for us it translated into the music. This album is what we were supposed to make.”
Between the release of their first full length 'Chromaparagon' in February 2016 and it's first anniversary in February 2017 Moon Tooth has done over 130 shows with some highly notable acts. The band is currently in the studio recording its follow up to 'Chromaparagon'.
Moon Tooth supported Intronaut & Entheos on a full US tour in July & August 2016. They supported Toothgrinder & Auras on a US tour in October 2016. They were direct support to Thank You Scientist on a tour of the US & Canada in December 2016. They co-headlined a tour with Astronoid in February 2017 in the US & Canada and supported Fit For An Autopsy & Tombs on another full US run in June & July of 2017. They closed out the busy year with their own full-US headliner in November of 2017 bringing Brooklyn's Husbandry as support.
They have also shared stages with Killswitch Engage, The Dillinger Escape Plan, Gwar, Mutoid Man, Candiria, Weedeater, Veil of Maya, Cancer Bats, KEN Mode, & He Is Legend, King Parrot and have played festivals such as SXSW, CMJ, Texas Revolution Fest, and South By So What Fest.
Mark Morton, Light the Torch, Moon Tooth
Thu Mar 21 2019 8:00 PM
(Doors 7:00 PM)