Mark Morris

Bluetonic Duster

Springing to the nation’s conscious back in 1995 were the effervescent quartet The Bluetones, who then set about assailing the UK charts with ten classic top 40 hits in the short space of five years. Their post 2000 work failed to quite emulate former glories, but the band still retained their spark and continue to put out classy music to this day. Now, their inimitable frontman, Mark Morriss, is releasing a solo album that’s up there with the best of them. I collared him about “Memory Muscle”, some ambiguous lyrics and crap birthday presents…

AD: What made you decide the time was ripe to venture out on your own?

MM: A combination of things really, good fortune being chief among them. I started to demo these songs four years ago, so I had them sitting in the bank, so to speak, and eventually word got round to the label Fruitcake that I’d been doing these acoustic shows of my new songs and it just grew from there. Fruitcake is a label created by two blokes called John, who took their lead from David Geffen’s old label Asylum Records, which focused primarily on solo singer/songwriters. That suited me perfectly, and after we came to the end of our tenure with Cooking Vinyl – amicably – and knowing we had a bit of a break in the Bluetones’ schedule, it came at the perfect time.
We’re aiming to put the next Bluetones album out ourselves though, and hopefully make a bit more money than we normally do!

AD: The album actually comes across as quite twisted in places, despite its deceptively bright and breezy exterior…

MM: Ha ha, yeah well that’s been one of my trademarks over the years. I’ve always liked to marry dark lyrics with sunny, upbeat melodies. Most of my influences came from Love’s “Forever Changes”, or Fleetwood Mac’s “Rumours” – I love that slightly Mariachi sound that was going on in “Forever Changes”, so I was aiming for something like that myself. “Memory Muscle” is meant to sound like a summer picnic album, but if you scratch below the surface, the songs will touch people on a more personal level. I think my misanthropic side comes across quite well!

AD: You did worry me a little by starting the album with a song called “How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back”, because I wondered…

MM: It’s not about the Thatch, no! My girlfriend’s called Maggie. It was a silly genesis for a song: for years and years she had this great big, curly hair, but then one day it suddenly went all straight. Then not so long ago, after she let her hair dry naturally, the curly hair came back, like a big explosion, and she came bounding out of the bathroom saying “I’ve got my bounce back!” so I thought “Hmmm…” and the song was borne out of that!

AD: What a great story for a song! Other alarming moments for me came in the song “Lemon & Lime”. I quote – “and if I’m spoiling for a fight, I think I’ve earned the right to take it into town, and take my feelings out on some civilians”. So, is that a routine night on the town for members of The Bluetones?

MM: Ha, not in Tunbridge Wells it’s not! That song’s all about the frustration we felt at the lack of perception people had. We were not happy with the place we found ourselves in – being lumped in with a lot of other old acts as part of a so-called certain “scene”…

AD: I think we all know what you’re referring to there! Is it different? Recording your solo stuff, I mean…

MM: Being in The Bluetones is very much a democracy, where everyone listens to each other and caters to one another’s needs. Doing my solo work is more autocratic and gives me the chance to really take charge. My name’s going to be above the title, so I didn’t want – or have – to hold back, to get things exactly how I wanted them. Plus it gave me the opportunity to collaborate with several outstanding people.

AD: David Arnold, no doubt being one of those you’re referring to. What appealed to you the most about working with him?

MM: Well the fact that he’s a flippin’ genius is quite high on the list!
I’d already got the bed tracks down, and I knew we had a budget to get strings on the record, so I rang him up on the off chance he’d be interested, and to my delight he said yes, after he’d finished work on the Bond film.

AD: Didn’t you meet him on the set of “Little Britain”?

MM: Yes I did. I’ve always had a keen interest in UK and US alternative comedy, and it’s always been a subject close to my friends’ hearts too, so we ended up meeting in the Prime Minister’s hotel room. Not Tony Blair, I mean the “Little Britain” PM.

AD: In the blurb I was reading about you, you say that you regard yourself as an underdog. What do you mean by that, exactly?

MM: I felt that The Bluetones, in many ways, were disregarded and undervalued. We were unfortunate to come along at the same time as that quite insular scene – and possibly the connotations of our name didn’t help us in that respect – so it gave us something to prove.

AD: You did go through a period that I would reluctantly call your “wilderness years”, after initially being lumped in with that Britpop (there, I said it) crowd and seeing the vast majority of those acts falling by the wayside, but you do seem to have come through it relatively unscathed. How do you think you’ve shaken off that tag, and managed to avoid being pigeonholed?

MM: I put it down to good fortune. Things like that are completely out of your own control. A lot of the big name music magazines are happy to just dismiss us – I haven’t read the NME or Q in years – but luckily we have an audience that DOES get what we do.

AD: How can they NOT get it? After all, “Memory Muscle” must be the only album in history to mention Tippex Thinner amongst its lyrics. I actually BOUGHT a bottle of Tippex Thinner for my mum for Mothers Day once. She was not very happy, but I was blissfully unaware of any of its narcotic values at the time and she was a typist, so I thought it would be useful. What’s the worst present YOU’VE ever been given?

MM: Oh, that one still burns fresh in my memory. For my 21st birthday, my mum bought me…a toilet brush! I mean, I’m sure it was a very NICE toilet brush and all that, but, y’know…

AD: I actually feel vindicated now, after that! Anyway, how does your time now compare with those heady days of number one albums and being pipped to the top of the singles chart by Babylon Zoo?

MM: Well, we were all very young back then, with an average age of 23, and we were in the eye of a storm. It was brilliant fun at the time, but I wouldn’t want to be there now. We’ve all got other responsibilities now; I’m going to be a father for the first time in a few months time, I don’t have one eye on the charts and I don’t care what’s hip anymore. At the same time, it’s not like I’m going to go off and start making avant-garde lift music either!

AD: The funny thing is, it seems to be a lot of the older artists who are releasing the most interesting work at the moment – you, Neil Young, Bauhaus, Supergrass, the list goes on…

MM: Oh, Supergrass will NEVER lose it though, will they? They’re the prime example that if you give an artist time to grow, their work will just get better and better. How many times do you hear about acts being dropped by their label and not given enough time? We’ll be around for a while yet; we’re not going to give it all up and become postmen if we get dropped.

AD: Glad to hear it! Now, going back to some of these lyrics, on “Bienvenido”, you sing “You were standing there with Jesus and J-Lo”, which made me laugh out loud but I haven’t got a bleedin’ clue what you’re going on about…

MM: That was about a particular time in my life when I was a regular DJ at a club in Oxford Street. At first it was a real buzz inflicting my own record collection on people, but it lost its novelty when I realised I was drinking too much, hanging around with people I didn’t really want to be with and watching this endless stream of people who either looked like Jesus, J-Lo or Ghandi!

AD: Ghandi?!! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone at a club who looks like Ghandi.

MM: You clearly haven’t been to an Oxford Street club then!

AD: Well, quite. So what’s stood out for you and made everything worthwhile throughout your career?

MM: My strongest memories are from when we went to Japan for the first time, surrounded by best friends and crew. We were thinking “fucking hell, this is really happening” and not only was it very exciting, it was quite emotional as well. Funnily enough, when I went to cut the new album, full of songs I wrote four years ago, it left me feeling really weird and, again, emotional. So I’d say now was one of the best times too. The press will probably rip the album apart and ruin it for me now though!

Well, I don’t think that’s very likely. “Memory Muscle” is a thoroughly gorgeous album and I’ve played it so much I’ve nearly worn it out already. A footnote here, by the way – Dave Grohl has long been tagged the “nicest man in music”. Now I’m sure Dave’s a jovial chap, but that’s utter bollocks, because Mark Morriss is.

“Memory Muscle” is out at the beginning of June and is just beautiful, really.

Our review for Mark's debut solo album 'Memory Muscle' - click here



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