Mark Morton – Into the Ether

Sunday, 2nd February 2020

Certainly known among the metal circles for his work in Lamb of God, Mark Morton started up his own solo act to go alongside it with last year’s Anesthetic release. It was full of big names within metal and hard rock, and some tracks took some venturing away from what Lamb of God does in the scene. With his new EP, Ether, he moves even further away into his own space. A mostly acoustic and raw collection of tracks, there’s a lot of different and enjoyable vibes present that help to paint an even stronger picture of his solo work. We were able to speak with him on Ether’s release date, to dive into some details including his choices of cover tracks on the EP, the rewards of being able to put out his own solo material, and what’s going on this year for both himself and Lamb of God.

Dead Rhetoric: Looking back on the release, do you feel that you surprised some people with the direction of the tracks?

Mark Morton: Yeah, I’m not sure – it’s hard to know what people expect from me. Honestly, I kind of surprised myself with the whole project. It wasn’t really planned in a long term sense. I did some acoustic shows last spring and summer in support of Anesthetic. It was cool to arrange the songs in a different format, and it got my gears turning a little more. So there wasn’t really much of a strategy or plan, but I had a window of opportunity in my commitments and what Lamb of God has going on, and that’s where Ether came from.

Dead Rhetoric: Josh Wilber discussed adding some metal songs onto Anesthetic. Did you feel more at ease going in a completely different direction for this EP?

Morton: I think so, I think some of the work on Anesthetic laid the ground work for me feeling the freedom, creatively, to go where we went with Ether. There’s a few songs on Anesthetic, like “Axis” with Mark Lanegan, that were really not metal and were more chill. So having released those and making that statement, it felt like more of a clear path to the stuff you hear on Ether.

Dead Rhetoric: Was there any difference in how you wrote, given that much of the EP is acoustic-based?

Morton: Yeah, for one thing – all three of the original songs on Ether were written acoustically. I think really just “Axis” on Anesthetic was written acoustically. Really, the other big primary difference was just time. Anesthetic was written over the course of a few years or more. There was a lot of time to go back and rework/revise. Ether was more putting the project together, from a time/business perspective, was done so quickly, as was the writing. It wasn’t spontaneous, as the songs were really written and worked on, but it was just a lot faster. It was more ‘in the moment’ I think.

Dead Rhetoric: How do you go about getting other musicians involved for the vocals on different songs?

Morton: I just called some friends. I didn’t really plan it this way, but vocally, it was largely a reunion of the tour that we did last year. We did a North American tour with my solo band, Light the Torch, and Moon Tooth. The three singers on that tour were Mark Morales, Howard Jones, and John Carbone.

With Lzzy Hale, Halestorm and Lamb of God have ended up playing a lot of festivals together and they’ve shown up to see us/we’ve shown up to see them – that sort of thing. There was a bit of an acquaintance there, and certainly a lot of respect. Lzzy was a clear choice for me – she’s a phenomenal guitar player and singer. I thought she would be a great choice for that Black Crowes cover. I had wanted to cover that song for years, but I had envisioned it with a woman singing instead. I thought it would give it a different spin and perspective from the protagonist. I was really grateful that Lzzy was willing to get involved and work on that with me.

Dead Rhetoric: You worked with a ton of people on Anesthetic as well. Any bucket list people that you’d love to work with in the future?

Morton: For sure, that list is getting longer and longer now that I’ve done this a couple of times. I’m always kind of thinking about people that I’d like to do certain things with.

Dead Rhetoric: You mentioned The Black Crowes cover, any reasoning behind the Pearl Jam “Black” cover as well?

Morton: That’s my favorite Pearl Jam song off of that album; I think it’s a lot of people’s. I had heard Mark Morales sing that before. He just sang it so amazingly that I thought that if we were going to do some covers, it would be crazy not to include it since I heard how really powerful and passionately he sings it. It seemed like a no-brainer for me.

Dead Rhetoric: It feels like you are looking a lot at those early ‘90s when you are doing those covers.

Morton: I think there’s a real ‘90s vibe that runs through a lot of this solo stuff I have been doing. It was a real important period of music for me. It’s definitely influenced my songwriting and really my life in general. It was a special time for me, and I think that musically too. I had Steve Gorman from The Black Crowes play drums on a few songs on Anesthetic, I had Mike Inez from Alice in Chains play bass on more than half of it, Mark Lanegan from Screaming Trees and lots of other stuff after that sang a song. I had a lot of ‘90s influence and inspiration on both projects, really.

Dead Rhetoric: What’s the most rewarding thing about being able to put music out on your own?

Morton: I think, creatively, it just allows me to branch out. I think it winds up helping my work with Lamb of God. I’ve always played like you hear on the solo stuff, I’ve always played rock and blues stuff and of course, the metal stuff that people know me for in Lamb of God. But there have been times where I have found myself a little frustrated, because I was trying to work something more conventionally rock-oriented into a Lamb of God song and it doesn’t work. I think having an outlet for those sort of ideas gives me a little more focus and clarity when it comes to my Lamb of God writing.

There’s a new Lamb of God album coming, and I feel like it’s some of our best work. I’d like to think, that at least for my part, having the ability to process some of this rock and blues stuff and clear my slate of that – it allows me to channel more of a pure focus to Lamb. Being able to do Lamb of God and the solo stuff, I’m in a pretty happy place musically, because I get to sort of explore a lot of different ideas. I’m really thrilled with all of it.

Dead Rhetoric: It seems nice to have that creative freedom to stretch a bit – the longer a band goes on, like Lamb of God has, it gets to the point where you can’t go too far away from what you’ve done since it alienates so many people. It seems that extra outlet gives people that fresh perspective to dive back into their other material with that focus you mentioned.

Morton: For sure. I think the discography/body of work that defines of Lamb of God is very established, but it’s very genuine. As a member of the band and a contributing songwriter, it’s important to honor that. Not to be limited by it, but respect it for its character and its personality. I feel pretty good about that.

Dead Rhetoric: You’ve been out on tour with your solo material, and will be with acoustic material. What are some of the challenges in such a stripped down setting compared to say, hitting the road with Lamb of God?

Morton: It’s really a different animal. I just got home a few days ago from a tour in the UK, doing the acoustic stuff. It was challenging, like I said, I dipped my toes in the water with the few festivals we did, but this was the first tour that we have done acoustically. It’s one thing to play acoustic in the studio, in a booth. It’s studio – its super encapsulated. So sonically, in a live setting there are some challenges. Fortunately, I had a great sound man to help me with that.

It’s a different kind of vibe for the show too. I’m still learning to be the guy talking between songs, that’s kind of a new look for me. So that basic kind of stuff, nothing is a tremendous mountain. I’ve been performing for decades, but it’s a new look and fresh approach. I think that’s part of the fun. To get out of the comfort zone and flip the script a little bit and keep it exciting.

Dead Rhetoric: Given your tenure in the heavy metal genre, what do you like about it still and what would you like to see change in the future?

Morton: What I like about heavy metal now are the things I’ve always liked about it – the energy, the music, the riffs, and the power of the drums. That visceral reaction that it invokes when it is done right. I think there’s a lot of different ways that heavy metal manifests itself – there’s a lot you can do in the context of “metal.” I think there’s always innovative, new young bands coming up and that’s exciting to me. I guess I don’t really have any direction – it’s out of my hands. There’s a generation under me that’s coming up that’s defining what it’s going to be, what’s going to be cool, and what boundaries are going to be pushed. I think that’s great. It’s not my place to do that anymore.

For me, I will be as creative as possible with the platform I have in the genre, which is Lamb of God. The only heavy metal band I want to be in. I think we still have a lot to say. We are very motivated and excited about our new material. But as I said, we also have a body of work that we are maintaining and curating, and I think that’s enough responsibility for us. It’s one that we really value. It’s exciting to see the up-and-comers and it’s exciting to still be a conversation.

Dead Rhetoric: As a guitarist, as you’ve grown with Lamb of God and are now doing your own thing alongside it, have you found more people that are citing you as an influence?

Morton: I don’t know, I certainly get people who tell me that they’ve been influenced by my guitar playing or I influence their lyric-writing as I write a lot of lyrics for both projects. That’s always flattering and always an honor. But it’s not something I calculate or quantify. It’s just great to know that the music that I am making touches people in whatever way that it does – be it a soundtrack for their life, helping them get through a challenging situation, bringing them joy, or helping them learn to play guitar. I get to be a part of that system, and it’s a monumental point of joy for me.

Dead Rhetoric: What else does 2020 have to offer for you, from a musical standpoint?

Morton: It’s looking like a pretty busy year! We are releasing Ether today and then there will be a new Lamb of God release coming fairly soon. I just finished a UK tour as a solo act, and I’ll be back in Europe in a few months with Lamb of God. There’s a whole lot of touring coming after that. It’s looking like I have plenty of work this year so that’s good.

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