Interview with Gary Griffith (Morgion)
CANTICLES OF DOOM -
"We are all time and then some..."
Morgion, quite possibly California's darkest musical export, are still remembered fondly by the discerning doomsters , years after the band was put to rest. With couple of new re-releases planned for them this year and a Maryland Death Fest gig scheduled for 2013, Morgion have proven once more that good music equals timelessness.
Dead Void Dreams' own doom devotee, Vladimir Petrov, inquired band's seasoned guitarist Gary Griffith for an interview. Gary's positive reply and his "I haven't given an interview in years, so I may be rusty :)" remark set the right tone immediately. End result? An epic-length interview ('novel' according to our awesome interviewee, ha-ha) covering pretty much every step in the journey of a splendidly epic band.
Dead Void Dreams: Greetings Gary! Would you briefly introduce yourself to the readers who might not be aware who you are and what bands (past and present) you've been associated with? While I've no intentions being the metal equivalent of the gossip press - could you share some personal information about yourself as well? From what I've gathered you are originally from Ohio, how did you end up living in California? You've also commented being a family person and that your beloved ones do have an important influence and being a great source of strength on your musical creativity - care to elaborate on this?
Gary Griffith: Greetings Vladimir! Well, I've done a few different bands and projects over the years (Dustflow, Before the Rain, Morgion, Nepenthe and some other oddities), but I'm most associated with my time in Morgion no matter what, ha. In the most current years, I've been doing Dustflow, joined the Portuguese band Before the Rain, and help out my good friend and filmmaker Creep Creepersin in his horror punk band Creepersin (Halloween fun all year 'round, ha). I do some session work here and there and music for film from my modest recording studio affectionally dubbed The Dustroom.
Yes, I'm originally from Ohio, but moved to California when I was very young. I've been tempted to move elsewhere over the years, even out of the country, but between my family, band situations and work, I've stayed here. I like California for the most part, but a quieter living might be a good thing to experience some day. Perhaps when I retire, ha. It's an expensive, tax-heavy state to live in. I've been a "family man" ever since I left high school, ha. I'm fortunate that my family supports what I do, and understand when I take off for tour or recording sessions for weeks on end, so yes, I am always thankful for that. Some people love to do music, but have to leave it behind in the same situation; I've been fortunate enough to not have to do that. I'll never be at a point where music can support things financially, so I have a graphic design day job and do post production on indie films on the side, so both work and play are always in the creative vein.
|Gary Griffith: Doomination|
Dead Void Dreams: What is the latest news from the Morgion camp? I'm not even sure about the band's status, what about your last 'proper' album dating back to 2004 and members (yourself included) being active in other bands since? This kind of slumber is certainly nothing new for those who remember the amount of time that had passed between 'Solinari' and 'Cloaked By Ages, Crowned In Earth' but I'm having the suspicion there's where the similarities end… Is Morgion still held in high regard from you and the rest of the guys as a creative outlet of yours or you've already moved to exploit different routes?
Gary Griffith: Well, Morgion was officially put to rest around November of 2004, though it actually ended somewhere around October of 2003 before the release of ‘Cloaked..’. The space between ‘Solinari’ and ‘Cloaked…’ was a slow-moving time of ups & downs, but we never officially split back then; that was a time where we felt a need to follow up with another album and carry on (well, perhaps not all at the same time, but we got there). But the split after 'Cloaked…’ was definitely a closing. Ending with a trilogy is kind of nice. We all wanted different things out of the band after the last album, so it was a good thing that we all moved on.
This MDF gig is something that came out of the blue, and after all this time, I think we all liked the idea of the ‘Solinari’ lineup playing (which is something I tried to assemble before for the Relapse re-releases years back). That was simply the longest running lineup in the band's history. A purely retrospective gig for sure, but that's what makes it fun. It's a little surreal with this lineup playing the old songs in the same room again, but it also reminds me of better times within that particular lineup. We all hold high regard for our time in Morgion, so there is always some amount of attachment, but we're all approaching MDF like any other gig; just go out, play your best and have fun.
Any band project I've involved myself in becomes my creative outlet. Morgion was my sole project for many years, but doing the different projects I've taken on since then have allowed me to pursue different interests and directions. I think that's true for all of us. But the MDF announcement has come with a few different perks we never got around to back in the day, such as making an official release of the early demo material (‘God of Death & Decay’) on Dark Descent Records, and oversee ‘Solinari’ on vinyl, et cetera. So we are, in a way, clearing out a few things we felt were undone from the past. I don't think any of this stuff would have happened without the invite from MDF to get the ball rolling, as you generally don't call up old bandmates to discuss new releases, ha.
Dead Void Dreams: Sadly the band has been forced to pull out of the planned gig at this year’s Maryland Death Fest and to reschedule for 2013. What were your expectations for this show, were there butterflies in your belly when you were offered the opportunity to play with your longest running band to the attenders of the biggest US underground festival? How's Jeremy Peto going after the surgery, any news on the rehabilitation process? Hopefully everything will be fine with him…
Gary Griffith: Jeremy's injury was an unexpected turn. It's not the sort of situation anyone can plan for, but the timing certainly sucked. Hopefully things will look up for him soon. We had three or four good rehearsals before he had to pull out, so I don't think we'll have any issues once he's back to playing form. I had to laugh to myself a little bit though, as it really felt like old times all over again...it just wouldn't be Morgion without some kind of obstacle. He hasn't had required the surgery yet; I don't quite know what's going on, but it sounds he's having fun in the slow-moving American healthcare system, such as it is. We aren't the kind of guys that hang out together like in the old days, we just connect on the phone or through e-mail for updates. But Rhett, Dwayne and I have gotten together a few times recently to run through the songs; we figured it's best to keep up on these epic tunes instead of having re-learning them again in a few months. But I'm not overly concerned; as of this writing the gig is ten months away. After a few rehearsals with the full lineup, all will be well. I just don't want those rehearsals to end up being the week before MDF, ha.
I understand the stage and behind the scenes at MDF are run quite professionally, and as a performer, that's very important. They also put together an insanely good lineup every year, so I look forward to running around and catching plenty of sets! MDF just announced the first wave of bands playing (Morgion included) a few days ago, and it looks like it's going to be another exceptional festival. It would be expensive to do, but I'd like to see if Before the Rain can get on the fest someday; perhaps we can if this goes well.
Dead Void Dreams: Earlier in 2012 you've also announced couple of vinyl re-releases, respectively on Dark Descent and Parasitic Records. Do you have more info on releasing schedules and what the content of each one is going to be? Are these new mixes? What about the packaging of those? How much is the band involved with these projects both in terms of sound and presentation? I'm assuming you're the right guy who can delve deeper in those subjects, having in mind you've always had your input, both production and layout-wise in your time with Morgion.
Gary Griffith: The big vinyl release left will be ‘Solinari’. The other two albums were already limited runs licensed to Kreation Records. With Tim at Parasitic Records, his reputation for quality releases proceeds him, so really I look forward to this one. We were originally slated to have that complete in time for the MDF gig, but after we had to postpone, we decided the release isn't so much of a rush at this time. I don't know if that means we have pushed it to next year or not; most likely so. I believe ‘Solinari’ will be a gatefold release with inserts, and will include some bonus tracks that were previously released on the Relapse album re-release. I believe that's still the case; I'll have to double-check to be sure. The audio will be the 2008 remaster I did with Mathias Schneeburger (whom we recorded the album with back in 1998), which is actually a different mix than the original album. I don't think most people know that about the re-release CD; it is subtly different. Perhaps a different subject, but I'll keep it somewhat short… When we were approached to do the re-releases for Relapse, we found that the masters had vanished. We had two 2" Apex reels, a DAT tape of the final mix, and glass masters from Capital Records for the album and the ‘Oceans Without Shores’ EP. All of those have vanished. I have no idea what happened, nor does Relapse, but it really sucks. I have glass master duplicates of both the album and EP somewhere around here, but they weren't much help since Relapse wanted to remaster from the raw mix. Not that a remaster was needed, in my opinion. Mathias ended up finding about six DAT tapes in a box in his studio with "Morgion" written on it. I went through all those tapes, finding the recording in different states of completion, but not the final mix we released. But I did find what I believe to be the original mix that Mathias and Morgion did at Donner & Blitzen Studios. Mathias, that sly guy, secretly re-mixed that album on his own a couple days before we mastered at Capital Records. I don't know why, and he himself couldn't remember why he did it. While we were mastering at Capitol, Rhett and I found it odd that he kept asking "How does it sound? Does it sound good? You like it?". Only after we had the glass masters in our hands did he tell us what he did, ha. I could have killed him if it wasn't for the fact that the final sounded so good! The differences are very subtle; I don't think many outside the band will catch what is different. The one thing I can say for sure would regard the rain and thunder samples in-between "The Serpentine Scrolls" and "Descent to Arwan". We used a keyboard sample in the studio that sounded ridiculously terrible; I always described it as a firecracker and I hated it since day one. I forget who was operating the keyboard, either Mathias or Jeremy, but they kept hitting repeated high notes on the thunder sample. Crack! Crick! Crack crack! What kind of storm sounds like that? Ha. It's annoyed me for years, so I took great satisfaction in removing the most offending bits off the new master, ha. Yeah, it's the little details that get me.
As of this writing, the vinyl release of ‘God of Death & Decay’ (early recordings), is on hold. We intended to make the release on both CD and vinyl, but with the running time of all the material, it would have to be a double vinyl release. Both Dark Descent Records and the band are in agreement that the small demand may not justify the cost of an expensive double vinyl release, so we shall see. The CD version just came in to Dark Descent, and it looks like they came out nicely. Dark Descent has sent it back to the pressing plant though, as there was a quality concern and they didn't want to release it until the issue was resolved (there's that old Morgion fun again!). Kudos to them for the quality catch. The ‘Rabid Decay’ demo has never sounded better; a big thanks to Ryan Butler at Arcane Digital for the remastering. He also did a good job on rehearsal material as well, and the best he could on the ‘Travesty’ 7" (master tapes of that are long gone, so the source material we had wasn't the most ideal). There are a couple rough spots on the recordings (primarily tape masters), but considering this is truly an archival release, I don't think you can get any better than these versions (unless, in the case of ‘Travesty’, if you have the original 7"). I think fans of the old material with be quite pleased.
Dead Void Dreams: Still on the topic of vinyl - how do you feel about Kreation Records' releases of 'Among Majestic Ruin' and 'Cloaked By Ages, Crowned In Earth'? From what I've seen on the net the packaging seems to be rather minimalistic - was that a conscious decision on your part or was it a label's decision? How come they've licensed those two albums but not 'Solinari'? And how about 'Cloaked...' did end up not being a double vinyl, considering its running time of over an hour? Any sound issues with this version? You know the songs by heart...be honest :)
Gary Griffith: Ah, it's probably best to ask one of the other guys this one; I'm not into vinyl myself. But I've been asked nearly the same questions a few times… We really didn't have too much to do with those outside of submitting the artwork and making sure things went smoothly; and smoothly they did not. I honestly had a very tough time working with Kreation on those; particularly ‘Cloaked…’. I don't know what everyone else thinks, but I was expecting something a bit better for all the trouble, to be honest. It's nice that they have different colors and whatnot, but as you said, they are bare minimum. Neither release is targeted to audiophiles, for sure. But if you really want either album in your vinyl collection and don't mind the minimal packaging, it would be good to pick them up, as I don't see us re-licensing either of those albums on vinyl any time soon (both were quantity-limited licenses from Relapse and Dark Symphonies). The band isn't seeing any revenue from these, so I say all this sincerely, and again, it's just my opinion. I'm super critical of all our releases, defunct band or not. When something isn't up to snuff, it really bothers me.
|'Among Majestic Ruin' line up|
I'm not sure what happened with Kreation issuing ‘Solinari’ as they were originally supposed to, but Rhett contacted Relapse a few months ago about releasing the album with Parasitic Records, which they agreed to, so we're happy the album will get the quality an attention we think it deserves.
You raise a good point about the ‘Cloaked…’ release running time; I've been asked many times and I still don't have the answer, I'm afraid. I got the runaround from Kreation when I inquired how all the music was going to fit on a single slab, to the point that they didn't want the tracks on the A/B side labels. Kreation "mastered" the album for vinyl on their own from a ripped CD. I don't know if the tracking is right or if something was left off, but I haven't heard of any problems (if anyone has a concern or answer, please e-mail me through morgion.com). I don't own a copy to check myself, but I should probably buy one to check. I will be even more disappointed if something is wrong.
Dead Void Dreams: All different formats aside, it's Morgion's music that's of paramount importance here. You've probably heard this question countless times by now, but what's your opinion on the band's evolution over the years? The term itself is often looked down upon in the metal circles, yet in Morgion's case nothing better springs to mind - for me there's a logical progression from the early death metal days to the crushing death/doom of 'Among...'-era songs, to 'Solinari' bleak doom brilliance and the melancholic and epic tone that 'Cloaked..' calls its own. You seem to be one of those rare cases in which the change follows naturally, with the band being able to express its newly founded maturity, without abandoning its roots and style. 'Live and learn'...does the saying apply?
Gary Griffith: Well, "live and learn" may not be the right term. I think people say that when they made a mistake, ha. While there have been a couple riffs or ideas on past albums I wouldn't repeat today, I don't see them as mistakes. For every one of those instances, there are probably three things we went out on a limb for and those worked out great, becoming a part of the sound. Albums are snapshots in time; never try to guess if you're going to like a particular song or part in ten years, you just do what sounds right at the time. Sometimes musical risks pay off, and sometimes they don't. But as adventurous as we thought we were being at times, we were pretty good about staying a natural course and not getting too wacky.
I think the band has always stretched itself and tried to improve, whereas a lot of other bands mistake "different' for "evolve". The notion you have to go off and do something completely alien just to "evolve" isn't always correct, but at the same time, it can be. It's all subjective, you see. A bad approach is how you end up with Celtic Frost's ‘Cold Lake’ or [insert random terrible album here, ha (I can easily think of few, yet your example makes them seem not-so-bad in comparison. Congrats on raising the bar to impossible lows, ha-ha – ED)]. If you follow a trend, I think you betray yourself a bit. For a natural course, I always thought that you can make some conscious decisions on where you want to go and what new things you'd like to try or incorporate, but don't forget your longstanding, built-in influences that help form the fabric of the music you naturally write. If you change direction simply to modernize or specifically reach a different audience, you've done yourself a great disservice. All you have to do is strive to make a better song and a better album. When we set out to do the ‘Cloaked…’ album, we did give ourselves a restriction: don't make ‘Solinari II’. We didn't do that to force ourselves away from our style; we did it so we wouldn't comfortably rehash the same songs. It would have been too easy to just re-write "Nightfall Infernal" six times and call it a day. The band always approached music in that way. In the early days, Morgion came from and [was] Entombed/Autopsy/et cetera-influenced band, and evolved into a doom soundtrack, I suppose. A doom soundtrack with the old school, traditional Swedish death metal guitar tone, ha. Even in the last album, you can hear where we came from in the music. I say all this like we actually sat there and analyzed what we were doing in the writing process of each album, but no, ha. The simplest thing you can do is think less, write more. Ignore what everyone else is doing and concentrate on what you're doing as a band instead. The rest of it can simply be attributed to each of us progressing on our own instruments, which allows you to get the music out of your head and on to tape much easier.
Dead Void Dreams: You've joined the band after the recordings of 'Among...', what were your thoughts then on Morgion's music, were you a fan already? There was quite a lengthy delay in getting this album released, do you remember what was the atmosphere within the band regarding the situation? Probably that has also played its part in the decision of some of the members to quit the band and you joining in, any truth in that?
Gary Griffith: Morgion was always a good band to me. They started right off with a different sound than everyone else. I was gigging around at the same time in the early 90s with my own band, and frequently saw Morgion at backyard parties, then local gigs, then to proper venues opening for bigger bands. That was the ‘Rabid Decay’ and ‘Travesty’ days. There was a period where I didn't see them for a long time; they kind of disappeared for a bit while they were juggling between different guitarists. I finally caught up with them opening for Entombed and Amorphis at a gig, and they had new lineup (with Bob Thomas on guitar; an old friend of mine from Junior High, funny enough) and a keyboardist (Ed Parker). I was a little surprised at the keyboards, but then they started playing all this new material, I was floored. Musically, what I was hearing was exactly the band I had been trying to put together myself. It wasn't but a few months before that I was dropping off flyers in local records shop looking for members to start a new band that said "I want to do a band that's a cross between Entombed and My Dying Bride", ha! When their set was done, I kicked myself a bit, as I passed up a chance earlier to try out for the band when Mike Davis (the original guitarist) left. I had my own (terrible, terrible) band at the time, and I remember our vocalist telling me at a Morgion gig that their guitarist was leaving (Mike Davis at the time); and perhaps we could snatch him up for our band. He immediately followed that remark with "hey…don't even think about it"; he must have caught on that I was thinking something different, ha. I didn't pass up the chance a couple years later to join up after Ed left, even if it meant just playing keyboards.
|Contamination tour 1999|
That came about rather nicely though. ‘Among…’ was recorded at Jim Barnes Studio, a little while after by band Nepenthe recorded our ‘Ex-Nihilo Cathedra’ demo there. Nepenthe has been described as a cross between Candlemass, Coroner and King Crimson, so we certainly had a different sound for our area. That was Chris Alexander on drums (whom I played with for many years) and Donovan Spencely on guitar/guitar synth (Downlord). We were a three piece, employing a guitar synth to our sound. It was a good time. Jim Barnes played our demo to the Morgion guys while they were recording Among…’ ; I think Rhett and Jeremy liked it at the time and were surprised it was me on there, ha. I ran into Jeremy at some gig a while time later. He said he heard the Nepenthe demo and wondered if I knew anyone who played keyboards, as Ed had left the band. In hindsight, he was probably thinking I played keyboards on the demo, not knowing it was a guitar synth, ha. I came down to their rehearsal space on day to try out, and it's basically history from there.
But yes, that was the same time Among…’ was struggling to get released. The band basically couldn't agree on a record contract with Relapse after a couple proposals, and eventually agreed to do a licensing agreement instead, which is a very different arrangement. ‘Among…’ was just a demo, it was recorded with the intent of getting a record deal, not initially intended to be a record itself. But Relapse liked it and wanted to put it out. Amongst all the delays, the biggest issue was a new merger between Relapse and Nuclear Blast falling through. That was a huge setback; I want to say it was a couple years since initial contact with Relapse to ‘Among…’ actually coming out. I remember some reviews stating that it was great, but would have been better if it was released a few years before, not knowing it was indeed an old recording at that point. But these things happen. I don't think the situation was the cause for anyone to leave; Ed was long gone and Bob just stopped showing up to rehearsals at some point, ha.
Dead Void Dreams: 'Solinari', is still widely regarded as a classic album, and rightly so. What are your memories of that particular era, there seems to be a real good chemistry between the band members and the album introduced new elements and influences to the sound. How much of that could be applied to your writing style? While listening to this album one can but draw on the impression that the band gave its best in those compositions and that there's certain 'freshness' in the sound that later on turned out be a blueprint for those acts who later on followed a similar musical route. The atmosphere you've succeeded to achieve on 'Solinari' is unparalleled in my opinion, how did this happen?
|Gary Griffith ('Solinari' photo session)|
Gary Griffith: I think when you add a new person to the fold and things work out, it fires everyone up a bit. We played as a five piece for quite a while (with Bob on guitar and myself on keyboards). When Bob left the band, I switched to guitar (with much glee, I admit). Well, a split between guitars and keyboards; we could never be without the keyboards. I would just switch back and forth between the two, depending on the parts of the song(s). We always intended to add a dedicated keyboard player, but I can count on one hand how many gigs that's actually happened, ha. No one really worked out for an extended amount of time. Anyway, what I didn't know at the time was that my newfound position(s) in the band were, at that point, the primary songwriters. ‘Among…’ was largely Bob and Ed writing the music, and I just replaced them both, ha. Everyone had their bits in the writing, of course, but the bulk of it was coming from those two, with everyone arranging the songs and Rhett writing the lyrics. That's just the way the band was arranged. So whatever input I had, good or bad, was going to be a big impact to the sound by default. I guess I could be a bit different in my writing given that I seldom looked to other doom bands for inspiration. There are always the tried and true greats, of course - Candlemass, Thergothon, My Dying Bride, Anathema, et cetera - but my writing influences didn't really come "from" them so much as my different influences "through" the style, if that makes sense. Here I was with Pink Floyd, early Genesis, old prog and goth influences, belting them out through a heavy Swedish BOSS HM-2 wall of sound, ha. But by that point, I had been playing in the band for long enough that the band itself was an influence, and I think it all worked out and developed a subtle enough difference in sound. ‘Solinari’ came out nicely because we all worked together, and we all tried to advance the sound the band was built on. We worked particularly on both dynamics and atmosphere, which is very important to me, and probably the biggest difference overall from ‘Among…’. It was a good time, and recording that album was the most fun I've ever had in the recording studio.
I remember listening to audio samples of the new My Dying Bride and Anathema albums online at the time we were recording that album (‘34.788…Complete’ and ‘Alternative 4’, respectfully), and thinking "damn, everyone is going off into a different track. How will 'Solinari' be looked upon?" Not that I really considered us in the same league with either band; both were and still are much more popular. But with ten second samples of a few songs, both albums seemed like they were going to be weird. Of course they both ended up being milestones to a degree, and I still consider each of them to be brilliant to this day. I'm a little surprised that ‘Solinari' has held up so well over the years, since I was involved I can hear all sorts of little goofs and whatnot that bug me. But that album really doesn't have an apparent time stamp or any fashionable trends of the day; it could have been recorded last year and it still would have turned out the same, so I suppose that's attributed to its longevity.
Dead Void Dreams: There's always an 'what if..' when speaking of Morgion and generally doom metal goes well hand in hand with retrospection... What are your thoughts now on the various problems the band has faced after the release of 'Solinari', both with Relapse Records and founding members leaving the group? Any particular reasons for the latter? Shortly after, Rhett Davis has returned to the fold, unlike Jeremy Peto, why was that? What about Relapse and you nowadays? After all they've released 'Among...' and 'Solinari' as 'The Relapse Collection' in 2008, so everything should be solved by now, yet I can recall interviews with you in which you did stae the label being non-supportive to the band back in the early 2000's…
Gary Griffith: Very tough question(s). I know my answers, but they could be completely different and equally true from the other guys as well, if that makes sense. Morgion was always a battle to keep going since inception; many people have come and gone and there isn't a single album release with the same lineup. But after ‘Solinari’, the general time frame of decline was probably sometime after the 1999 Contamination Tour. Nothing specific really. As much as we all got along musically in those days, we didn't always get along personally, there was a lot of strain between us back then. Personal relationships degraded over time, and that kind of stuff starts to affect musical relationships. But that tour was really tough and a lot of hard work. On the other hand, it was incredible fun. We were kids back then, which seems like a silly thing to say when we're only talking 15 years ago or so, but it's true, ha. We all had financial issues, life, work, personality clashes, disagreements, typical stuff. But we've also had out of the ordinary circumstances and obstacles, all the way up to a death in the band [Brandon Livingston, keyboards - ED]. But we stuck with each other through it all; Morgion was our creative outlet and we lived for it every day. So when someone finally reached the point that they decided to leave, as I did around ‘Cloaked…’, I know from experience it was a difficult decision given all the crap we had been through and all the hard work we put into it. Each person left for a different reason, but in all cases, they also came back for the same reason, to make music. But even more difficult than deciding to leave yourself was deciding someone else had to go, and I'm sure I don't have to go into that from the days of Cloaked…’,. As I've said years before, there really aren't too many people in our area who are into doing the kind of music we did. There still aren't; we live in the state of purely fashionable, marketable music, and we were anything but. We've gotten lucky and found a person here or there when we needed help on keyboards for a gig or something, but no one ever lasted. We're stuck with each other in a morbid way, ha. But in a more positive example, Dwayne and I have been working together in different projects since 1995 (Morgion, Dustflow and Creepersin), and I really don't want to play with another guitarist myself. We work well together to this day. I just find it odd that he hasn't gotten sick of me yet, ha. Hopefully that sort of answers the question appropriately; the only other way would be that aforementioned book deal that the others can sue me for, ha.
So far as things with Relapse these days, all is well. I worked on ‘The Relapse Collection’ and the ‘Among…’ vinyl release with them a few years ago, but that's all we've been involved since parting ways. I don't know, both the band and label made mistakes in our history together, but all water under the bridge. They had their priorities as a business and we had our priorities as a band; things just didn't work out. I didn't agree when they decided they weren't going to fund the ‘Cloaked…’ album; I still think that was a huge mistake. Maybe they realized that later on, but I think both the band and label were better off apart anyway. We weren't the sort of band that sells in high numbers, and they were more known for their more extreme bands, which probably didn't help us either. It all ended well, because making the move to Dark Symphonies a short time later was one of the best decisions Morgion could have made.
Dead Void Dreams: The Doomination Tour 2003 is legendary, do you still get chills thinking of it? Europe has been pretty good to Morgion, right? Any wild stories that you'd want to share of those times?
Gary Griffith: The 2003 European tour was very fun. It was basically organized and booked through the doom-metal.com forums, with various people setting up different gigs and lodging in Ireland, England, Spain, Belgium, et cetera. Heiko from the forums signed on as our tour manager and did a great job. So it was more of an online community effort versus the typical promoter route. We made good bonds with our tour mates Mourning Beloveth and The Prophecy, plus some of the other bands along the way like Ataraxie and Autumnal. It was a completely self-funded tour for everyone. We played venues, a couple bars; you really didn't know what you were in for until you got there, so some gigs were more planned out than others. The whole time seemed to be a wild, two-week blur. The Rotterdam gig was probably the most memorable for me. Any particular stories are hard to remember; it's just jumbled memories… Drunken chair racing in London with the My Dying Bride guys looking on like "what the hell?" and one really pissed off bartender. Playing a bar with no PA and running the vocals through a guitar amp. Playing the most insane gig ever in an old underground wine cellar in Paris; there was no room for me to play on stage, so I was standing in the crowd in the middle of mosh pit of bodies and broken glass, ha. Bill (Carcass) Steer showed up to that gig. A couple of the My Dying Bride guys showing up to a couple gigs; they said we looked bored on stage in London, and probably rightly so; it was the second gig of the tour, and we were still working out some bugs and getting comfortable playing live again after so many years. We didn't exactly impress, ha. Discussing with Andrew Craighan the ‘34.788%...Complete’ album; "rubbish" he says, "brilliant" I say, ha [What does he know,ha-ha! – ED]. Hanging out with Duncan and Jamie from Anathema in Ireland, who were recording the new Antimatter album at the time a few blocks away (I talked to Jamie for about ten minutes thinking he was Vincent; I must have confused the hell out of him, but he never let on…who knew about the twin thing? ha). Just little things like that come to mind. I had a little Mini DV camera running most of the time, but I've never watched the tapes other than some of the gig footage. It might be fun to dig those out someday, should I ever need some blackmail material, ha.
|'Touring, touring is never boring'|
The bands all got along really well, and I think we all influenced each other here and there coming out of it. "Cairn" off Cloaked…’’ has a bit of that Mourning Beloveth dual singing/growling idea. The Prophecy had a song in progress that they dubbed "The Morgion Tune". I don't know what Mourning Beloveth took away from it all, but it was probably related to beer, ha. Brian from Mourning Beloveth ended up buying the Les Paul I took on that tour (I switched to 6 strings for most of the last album), and I believe he used it on the next couple MB recordings. That was pretty cool.
All in all a great time, but so far as a business decision for the band, a very poor choice. We went with the thought that we may grab the attention of some European labels while we were out there, but that didn't happen. Touring without a new album (‘Solinari’ was five years old by then) and the fact that we played mostly new material; again not a great plan. The mistake I regret the most was not being able to have Adrian [Leroux, vocals] on the album when we got back. When he joined up with us for 'Cloaked…' he made it clear that he could only help out for a little while. He was in the middle of switching jobs, buying a house, all sorts of fun things. But because we did the tour instead of focusing on the album recording, we ran out of time with him.
Dead Void Dreams: Next up in band's history is 'Cloaked...' - do you feel this is the band's crowing achievement? Once again you've surpassed all boundaries and succeeded to write and record songs that more than have stood the test of time. A dreamy trance-like atmosphere, an excellent balance between heaviness and melancholy - could it get any better? I say no… but feel free to correct me if you dare, ha. Sharing any memories and thoughts on this masterpiece (writing, recording, shopping it around to labels) will be much appreciated…let your mind flow, Mr. Griffith :). [Now watch out, ha - ED]
Gary Griffith: Well, you said to let my mind flow, but I didn't quite plan on writing the mini-novel I just did! Feel free to cut this down drastically to make it readable if you wish, ha. I will say that this is all from my memory and my perspective; the other guys could remember things differently and it would all be equal and correct for the most part.
‘Cloaked…’ is a good album and I'm still quite proud of it. It has a lot of atmosphere, it's very moody, and there really isn't too much I'd do different with those songs today. What kills the album for me is everything that happened to make it; the struggle between all of us back then, the obstacles just to get it done, the lackluster production…those are the first things that come to mind when someone mentions 'Cloaked…’. So while I wish I could consider it the crowning album, I don't. I don't see any of the albums winning the crown; that would be the album that never came, or even the album after that, I don't know. We always wanted to improve and build, and ‘Cloaked…’ could be improved upon just as much as ‘Solinari’ could be improved upon (even if others don't agree, ha). But I think the band left on a high note and left a solid a trilogy.
We really tried to not lazily re-write ‘Solinari’. Some of the newer elements to Morgion’s sound, such as acoustics and more clean vocals, were something we all wanted to explore more. "We" being, at the beginning, the ‘Solinari’ lineup. But for as long as it took to get us all working together again, things quickly fell apart (yes, a six month span for a doom band is "quickly" ha). That whole situation is already public knowledge and whatnot, the short of it being that we ended up doing the album without Jeremy and without Relapse. In filling bassist/vocalist gap, we brought in Justin Christian (later in Keen of the Crow and Dustflow) and Adrian Leroux (Mindrot) on vocals. Justin is a phenomenal bass player, but obviously more "busy" than we had before. For vocals, Adrian is an old friend and was a good addition to our sound; he had a great midrange Carl McCoy-esque quality to his voice. Since Mindrot had broken up some time before, he was sort of retired from music when we approached him about doing the album, so we were glad that he came down. They both brought something new, and that had an affect on the writing. Given all the aggression and battles behind the scenes, I wasn't in a heavy mood musically by the time they arrived; things were coming out more moody and sombre instead. The track order for ‘Cloaked…’ is nearly the same order as they were written, picking up where ‘Solinari’ left off to where we found ourselves at the end.
During the final stages of writing, the rift with Relapse grew. For whatever reason, which is still unknown to me, they didn't want to fund another album; but they wouldn't let us out of our contract either. We were trapped; "stalemate" as they say. We decided to kick things into gear ourselves, and booked time at Donner & Blitzen with Mathias Schneeberger (‘Solinari’). We paid for these sessions ourselves. We had a limited time to record the album, as Mathias had lost the lease on his studio location and was forced to close shop and work out of various studios until he could afford a new place. We spent a couple days tracking to 2" tape, laying down bass and scratch guitars. But issues quickly arose, and arguments began. We couldn't all play live and track, as we did on ‘Solinari’. Some of us weren't happy with all the drum takes, but Rhett did not want to do the song(s) again. In his defense, the songs were too long to keep multiple takes on the reel (and the money clock was ticking), so re-doing a song like "Ebb Tide" was an all or nothing affair. The channel on Mathias' console used to track the bass had a crackle in it. He couldn't hear it, but I could. Dwayne's guitar, for whatever reason, refused to stay in tune. No breaks! We quickly ran out of money (the studio time was not cheap), so we dropped everything into Pro Tools from there with the intention of finishing the album when Relapse finally came around to help out. Of course, that never happened, and we negotiated our way off the label a short time thereafter.
Sometime later, our rehearsal building in Pomona caught on fire. (Is this reading like Spinal Tap yet? [You said it – ED]) Fortunately, there was no damage to our equipment. We relocated to a studio in Vernon and embarked on the European tour, which I went into above.
When we returned, our time with Adrian had run out, and we were without a vocalist again. We discussed a few people to try out, but ultimately decided to handle it amongst ourselves. Bringing in someone new would mean another dynamic change and a setback for months relearning the songs. We eventually decided to handle it amongst ourselves with Dwayne on the heavy growls and I on the cleans, but that was after everyone gave it a go; I still have demos of "Cairn" with Justin and Rhett both belting out vocals…no one was leaving the rehearsal room that day until everyone tried and we knew what we had to work with between us, ha. Adrian had already worked out much of the phrasing and melodies for the songs we had finished, and we tried to do him justice by keeping them; no need to change them anyway. I think he was happy about that. In the end, with no planning or experience, I think Dwayne and I did okay between the two of us for the album. Not the most confident sounding vocals, I agree, because we were anything but.
Returning from Europe, we were broke as hell and Donner & Blitzen was closed, so we tried to keep busy on the album. But re-evaluating the recording after being away for a while gave us a new insight to it; it wasn't up to snuff. Technical issues, performance, it just wasn't what we were going for. We ditched the whole album, keeping a few of the better tracks as a new demo to shop to labels. We simply needed a label with funding to make the album properly.
We sent the demo to a very short list of prospectives, but the most amusing response came in an email from "Metal" Mike Welsh at Dark Symphonies. It was short, something along the lines of "why do the vocals stop in 'Crowned in Earth', it could have been the greatest doom song EVER!". And that was it. I didn't know if it was a good or bad response at first, but it was damn funny. Of course, that was the start of the best label experience we've ever had, and a great partnership.
With a new label and recording session funding in place, we set out to do the album again. We still wanted to work with Mathias, so we went with him to a couple different studios while he was building his new one. What we didn't plan on was the fact that we were recording entirely digital in Pro Tools this time; no analog. We weren't too pleased, but made a plan to track in Pro Tools, write everything to 2" tape and mix analog, but that never happened. We also didn't plan on the process to take seven months to finish (‘Solinari’ was recorded, mixed and mastered in 12 non-consecutive days). Not that we were working that whole time, mind you. With Mathias' touring schedule with The Twilight Singers and our own schedules, months went by without working on it, waiting for a window of an hour or two to eek in some vocals, acoustic tracks, whatever. Dwayne did all his vocals in an hour one evening. Weeks later, I did all my vocals in a couple hours (that's all the time we had). No stops, no punches, just two complete takes for each song and selecting the best take. That's how the whole recording was done. Out of money and time, I was tracking clean guitars, solos and whatnot at home. By the time we came to mixing, the new Donner & Blitzen Studio was finally complete and we were able to set up a couple proper days to lay down the last little bits, mix and master before Mathias had to leave for Europe again later that week. I was physically sick from stress, I remember sleeping in the studio one night because I couldn't drive myself home. I was tracking magically missing guitar tracks sitting at the mixing desk on the last day, mainly a melody line in "A Slow Succumbing" and the end heavy guitar on "She, The Master Covets", using whatever guitar and amp that was within reach. As the last chord rang out, I yelled "okay, I'm done… let me out!" into the guitar pickup. I think it's on the album, ha. That pretty much summed up things for me at that point. I had made my mind up months before that I was leaving, I was just finishing up what we promised to do. I don't think I said much to that effect at the time, but I think everyone knew it. We were all exhausted, tired from the process and tired of each other.
We finally had a master of the album about a week before the last possible deadline Dark Symphonies could push (we had already blow a couple hard dates at that point). If we didn't make it, the release date would be pushed from April 2004 to October 2004, and their advertising campaign would be all for naught. But we weren't getting off that easily, ha. Listening at home, I could hear cracks and pops throughout the album master on my headphones. I checked the safety copy and the raw audio bounces and they were the same. It was a Pro Tools glitch while bouncing down; you couldn't hear it on simple playback, and we all missed it. Fucked by digital again. I love the flexibility it provides, but fuck me if it isn't maddening when things go wrong. I'm getting all worked up just remembering! I spent three days straight fixing every edit on every track and re-bouncing. Of course, I didn't have any of the spiffy expensive plugins Mathias was running, nor the experience of mastering, so the whole album (obviously) changed sonically. The album you hear is what I did at home on headphones; far from ideal. People frequently commend the production on ‘Cloaked…’, and I know Dark Symphonies was happy, but no one has truly heard that album like we have. The differences from the tracking session and even the rough mixes to the final released product are astounding, I think. Would it have been better to release the better mix/mastered version with the clicks? That could be. I still have all the sessions, and as maddening as it sounds to dive into that album and time period again, I will properly remix it some day, and perhaps include some of the original demos with Adrian on vocals. I bought the album from Dark Symphonies after they closed their doors a few years ago, so I can see licensing it to a label for a proper re-release in the future. It's on the bucket list anyway. Fixing the production would redeem the album for me in many ways.
|"My love, my art, my knowledge...covered by the arms of the sea"|
But I can't end a ‘Cloaked…’ chapter (looking back, it seems like that's what I just typed) without something about "Metal" Mike, Ted Tringo and Dark Symphonies. I love those guys. They believed in us, they got us through the bad times, complete and honest transparency all the way through. They worked their asses off on the release, and as a result, ‘Cloaked…’ was Morgion's best selling album because of them. "Metal" Mike in particular; I still miss the weekly scheduled phone meetings we had back then, ha. We really bonded with our love of early prog, love for what we were doing as a band and label together. I really regret not doing another album for them. Not an album for the sake of Morgion per say, but the fact that they poured so much into ‘Cloaked…’ and still wanted to do another; I felt like they deserved it. I didn't tell them I left the band when I did. We went through with interviews to support the album (if you find any, I'm sure I'm quite cryptic when asked about the "next" album, which was usually the second or third question, ha). We did a few gigs to support it, but we weren't a band at that point and it showed. Towards the end of 2004, I got an email from Mike with a recap of all we had accomplished together with ‘Cloaked…’ , and he thought it was time to start discussing the next album (‘Cloaked…’ was a one-album deal). Bigger budget, bigger everything. Grandiose. It killed me to break the news to him. Sadly, they closed their doors about a year later. If Dark Symphonies were still around, I would gladly do another album for them. Dustflow or even Morgion, but know I can say that safely, as they aren't coming back, ha.
Dead Void Dreams: How come that 'Cloaked...' is the last Morgion album to date? What were the reasons for not keeping on with the band? Doom metal, in all its various forms, seems to be in quite a good health for some time now, don't you think a well respected and influential band such as Morgion has its place in the revival of the style?
Gary Griffith: I don't know how influential Morgion is or was, but it's flattering to hear that. We were really just writing the kind of music we wanted to hear ourselves; I think that's what any musician or band does. But respected or influential doesn't mean anything if you aren't happy. The reasons we stopped are all above and more; we simply had no desire to carry on like that. The musical side of the band was never a negative factor. But for myself, no amount of planned hiatus seemed like enough for to rejuvenate, and if it took another five years to produce an album in that setting we probably would have killed each other, ha. I think we would all agree on that, even if the reasons are a bit different for each person. Leaving was a difficult decision, but I don't regret it. I took some time off, and when I was ready, dove right back into working again. But I'm proud of all that we did, we all are.
Dead Void Dreams: Dustflow ....hardly anything, except for the name, is known about this band - could you shed some light on this subject? You also seem to be getting recognition with Before the Rain, how did you end up joining a Portuguese band in the first place? How's the working process with them, is it all done through the Internet or you're visiting good old Europa every now and then? What are the reactions on 'Frail' and what's next planned for the band? You've been gigging with Before the Rain, is that correct? How's the audience reactions been? I'm also interested to know your opinion on Rhett's malicious sounding Gravehill, as this band is the direct opposite to what Morgion was all about :)
Gary Griffith: Ah yes, we've kept Dustflow under wraps and rather quiet over the years, but probably a little too long, as Dustflow is no longer active. Dustflow was myself, Dwayne Boardman (Morgion), Justin Christian (Keen of the Crow, Morgion) and Etay Levy (Gallows of Sedition, Of the Dead). Peter Surowski, who used to help out Morgion on keyboards off and on was on drums for a while in the beginning. It was a very conceptual project; good songs, musically diverse… I think we developed a very moody, atmospheric sound with it. Although our goal was to separate ourselves from Morgion a bit, I guess you could describe it as taking off from the last half of ‘Cloaked…’; just drench it in even more mood and atmosphere. Imagine if Fields of the Nephilim (real original lineup, mind you) started doing Pink Floyd covers; I dunno! We decided to not move forward after Justin moved out of state about a year ago. His playing style was a big part of the sound and the songs, and we couldn't see pulling off the material in the same way without him, and certainly not with a different bass player. We began recording sessions for a full length album and an EP before Justin had to leave, so it's not lost. Dwayne and I just need to finish the recordings; we've just been so busy with different projects it's been hard to find the time to focus on it. But we think it deserves the time needed to make it right, and we will eventually release it. We were quite productive hidden away in our studio; we literally had enough material to make three albums if we wanted to. So far as the conceptual and theatrical elements, I may keep those for a future project. They were a lot of fun, but also quite an investment, so I'd prefer to not let all those elements gather dust on a shelf (no pun intended!).
But post-Dustflow, Dwayne and I will be launching a new project quite soon; we have so much material we've written over the last few years that we already have a big head start on what's to come. But once again, finding like-minded musicians in the area hasn't been easy, so I don't have any info to put out there just yet.
Before the Rain has been great fun, and an honor to do. Valter [Cunha, guitars/keys - ED] and I go far back; we used to converse on the internet talking about music and gear, et cetera, and we met up in person back in 2003 when Morgion went to Europe. I was, and still am, very impressed with the ‘One Day Less’ album when it was released sometime later.
|Before the Rain|
Valter surprised me with an email one day, stating Before the Rain was in the middle of recording a new album, but as things sometimes happen, they were without a vocalist. Originally lookin g to fill vocals with guest appearances, Valter initially asked if I would be interested in singing on a song (a mutual friend and a dedicated Morgion fan José Couto suggested me for a track; thanks José!). Valter sent a few tracks over he felt I would be suited for to pick from. I hadn't sung in many years, and didn't consider myself a vocalist (I still don't, but they just won't believe me), but I was happy to give it a go. I didn't do heavy, growling vocals - never tried, never could - all I could hope to do was some light singing, ha. Carlos D'Agua's vocals were (and are still) massive; no one is going to be able to follow that anyway, ha. Valter said that would be perfect, as the musical direction had advanced since ‘One Day Less’, and they didn't feel they would need any. I think I put down demo vocals on two or three of the tracks he sent (with early drafts of Pedro's wonderful lyrics) to see what he felt fit best. They really liked the tracks, and I was asked if I could do the whole album. It was a lot of work, I'm not afraid to say, but rewarding and different for me. Somewhere I found the growl; I felt it needed to be there in certain songs to work. We actually ended up using some of those original vocal demo tracks on a few songs; most of "Breaking the Waves" and "A Glimpse Towards the Sun", I believe. I don't mind rough edges or slightly off notes, I don't mind being human while I learn my way through. During the recording process, Valter asked If I would join full time. It didn't take too much thinking to say yes; we had an arrangement that could clearly work and we all enjoyed what we were doing; I also figured if Candlemass could do a similar arrangement (never mind the fact that just dissolved a couple weeks ago), why not? They don't plan big touring schedules, instead opting to make shows more like an event, so it has worked out nicely so far. It's been a lot of fun, and again, I'm honored. I've been out a couple times for gigs, first for two very fun gigs opening for Katatonia in Portugal, and again for the Dutch Doom Days fest and a few others before and afterwards. Live performance is a little tricky, after all I'm not out there rehearsing with the guys every week, and playing along to a CD in my studio is not the same as jamming with the guys. I did run into a hitch on our second outing last year so far as acclimating my throat to the climate; I fumbled through a couple gigs vocally. But all in all, a learning experience from which I'll have to act more like a singer and take care of my voice a bit better (which means I have since added a portable humidifier and in-ear monitors to my gear, ha).
|Gary Griffith (Before the Rain era)|
‘Frail’ has done really well, and the feedback has have been very favorable. We are all very happy with the album. Many flattering reviews, and of course a few that lament for a repeat of ‘One Day Less’ instead, which is expected. Again, I love ‘One Day Less’ as well, but I appreciate their evolution as well. The credit truly goes to Valter, Pedro, Carlos and Joaquim, who slaved and perfected the album long before I heard a demo. These guys poured all their hard work and finances into it, and really strived to make the best album possible, from tracking with Nuno Rocha at Fábrica de Som, mixing in London at Chapel Studios with Ewan Davies, to mastering by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street in Sweden. But as much as I love ‘Frail’, the next album is shaping up to be very special indeed; I can't stop listening to these new demo tracks.
And Gravehill; malicious indeed! Those guys know I like my music a bit slower and more sombre (I'm an old soul), ha. So it's not quite what I listen to these days, but a good harkening to the days of Infernal Majesty, Sodom, et cetera. I caught their set at a local gig a couple months ago and people go nuts, so they're doing quite well. I may help out a bit behind the desk on their new album if I can handle their sheer brutality, volume and body odor.
|Rhett Davis, practising....Yeah, right.|
Dead Void Dreams: Time to wrap up, Gary - thanks for making this interview possible! Hope to meet you one day - I feel I owe you a bottle or two of fine wine for THOSE answers,ha-ha! Any closing comments, or possibly a small list of bands that have kicked your ass lately? The space is yours... Cheers!
Gary Griffith: Well, I didn't plan on writing a novel, but here it is. It was good to look back; this interview was cathartic in a way (but that may or may not translate to a good read, ha). With the Morgion MDF gig still quite a while away, I guess I'm going to have to look back for a bit longer anyway. I'm also very happy to spread the word about Before the Rain wherever possible, and give Dustflow a bit of postmortem light. Come to think of it, I've been more active musically in the last few years than ever before, so that's good! All I want to do is play, explore new music and have a good time doing it; minus the five years between albums habit.
Bands that have kicked my ass lately? Ah, that's hard. It's been a long time since I've experienced a life changing album; it just doesn't happen anymore. Sticking near the genre, Cathedral "Forest Of Equilibrium", Paradise Lost ‘Gothic’, Anathema ‘The Silent Enigma’, Entombed ‘Clandestine’… Those releases truly changed my musical life, but the non-metal list would fill a page. But not much new has really hit me in the same way, but I instead tend to find old, obscure progressive bands and albums that get me just as good. I suppose I'm looking for what I missed rather than what's next.