Interview: Kyle Morton

Kyle_Edgar_Van_Intv

EDGAR B. HERWICK III, INTERVIEWER:

Hey. I’m Edgar B. Herwick III from WGBH Music and we’re on the street, in a van, not down by the river, but we’re outside the Brighton Music Hall here in Allston, Massachusetts. I’m sitting here with Kyle Morton from Typhoon. How’s it going, man?

KYLE MORTON: Good, man. How are you? Nice to meet you.

HERWICK: Good. I’m doing well. Nice to meet you too. So, you go on in a couple of hours.

MORTON: Yeah, we’re on. I think it’s a later show tonight. Probably 10 or 11. I should probably get that straight.

HERWICK: Yeah. How’s the tour been so far?

MORTON: It’s been good. It’s been incredibly busy. The shows have been the best shows of any tour we’ve been on, and I appreciate that because it makes it worth it. People have been coming out and they’ve been very supportive and enthusiastic. The routing is a nightmare. We’ve been pinballing and going back and forth across the country to get out to the East coast.

HERWICK: Where have you been so far on this tour?

MORTON: This tour so far has taken us from Portland to Vancouver BC. Came back down to Seattle. Cut across through…we went to Mezzuola, then came back, went to Boise. Salt Lake City. Denver. Omaha. Then we cut back up, did St. Louis. Minneapolis. I’m just naming all the dates now…

HERWICK: You’re just saying cities you know. You’re just like [laughs] here are the cities that I know.

MORTON: Paris. Milan. New York. Tokyo. London’s a city. No, I wouldn’t [laughs].

HERWICK: I don’t know if you guys can see this, but the van that we’re in here is enormous. And the reason for that is you guys are an 11-piece band. Is that right?

MORTON: We’re an 11-piece band and we travel with 12. We have a sound engineer as well.

HERWICK: Can you name all of your band members?

MORTON: Not on the spot. [laughs]

HERWICK: Yeah.

MORTON: No. I can do all, I can do ‘em.

HERWICK: Let’s hear it.

MORTON: I do it in alphabetical order. Everyone’s first name

HERWICK: Here we go.

MORTON: Alex. Dave. Devin. Eric. Jen. Peter. Paul. He’s our engineer.

HERWICK: Mary. [laughter]

MORTON: We don’t have a Mary. Ah, you threw me off. So, where am I. Peter. Paul. Ryan. Shannon. Toby. Tyler. And myself.

HERWICK: And then all told. The next one.

MORTON: I think I missed one. Oh well. Sorry.

HERWICK: And a lot of you guys play multiple instruments. All told, how many instruments and pieces are we talking about?

MORTON: Um, all told it’s the 11 people, plus a couple of us play multiple instruments. So probably somewhere like, 20-25 instruments happening.

HERWICK: So again, how do, I mean, how do you even—

MORTON: It’s a hot mess.

HERWICK: How do you even do it? Not even from a live standpoint. Like when you’re writing music, how does it work?

MORTON: Those are two separate questions, but both are difficult. It is daunting writing for an 11-piece, mini poor man’s orchestra but this is kinda how I know to do it. It’s hard for me to write without envisioning a string part, or some horns, or you know, a big group vocal part. As far as live performances is concerned, it’s very much an exercise in, how to put it? It’s very much an exercise in developing as little personal space as you can. Like shrinking your personal bubble so that it actually is like smaller than your body.

HERWICK: Yeah. So you get practice being in the van together I assume?

MORTON: Yeah. Totally. Yeah.

HERWICK: So the new record. You guys have put a buncha records out. And actually one of my questions is, I mean, you’ve done split seven inches. You’ve done EPs. You’ve done full-length albums.

MORTON: Sure.

HERWICK: Was that by design, or is that just kind of how the music’s come out?

MORTON: The full lengths are kind of my pet projects. I take those very seriously. Then we had an EP called “New Kind of House.” The seven inches that we have done have been more kind of fun, promotional, one-off type things. If I was to consider what we have a body of work, I don’t know if would consider like the “Common Sentiments” seven inch or some of our older EPs in there. You can kind of tell just by the cover art alone. I had this idea to have a uniform set of covers like an anthology of books, like how they have similar binding or similar formatting. We always have one big image against a matte, solid color.

HERWICK: Who does the cover art?

MORTON: Rick Deluco. He’s an artist. He lives in Seattle now. I met him in Portland. He’s one of the most talented people I know. He’s done all of our album art and also he’s a gentleman. Hey, Rick. Good job.

HERWICK: It’s interesting that you brought up the cover art, because on the new album “White Lighter,” it’s a pretty striking image on there.

MORTON: Yeah, the moth.

HERWICK: Yeah. Meaningful?

MORTON: There’s a story behind it. Do you have time? It’s like maybe a two minute story.

HERWICK: Yeah.

MORTON: So when I had this idea for a record I was kind of pondering about this idea that moths evolve to camouflage themselves in the way of their surroundings, like tree bark or something. Or even the ones that have predatory owl eyes. And yet the way that humans are changing the topography of the environment, moths and other animals aren’t having time to catch up in an evolutionary sense. But if they did, what would it look like? And I told this to Rick as a prompt for him to draw it. But the thing was, I didn’t want to do anything very heavy handed. I didn’t want to put like, chain link fence moth or…I wanted to leave it pretty open to interpretation. So we threw around some ideas of incorporating, like a mirror image on there or something. And in the end we dropped it because it didn’t look as good. Then Rick put that splash on it and to me it looks like a Rorschach test. Like, “What does it look like to you?” I thought that was like the perfect solution to this. What does the moth look like? Well, it would change depending on the perspective.

HERWICK: How does it relate to the music on the album?

MORTON: Well the music in a kind of roundabout way, the moth metaphor is central and almost a cliche you know, the moth through the flame idea. But I became really interested with that. With light being an analogy to truth or really seeing something in the right light, but that in the presence of a flame or an artificial light, something that burns [so] incredibly bright you can’t see the other sources of light. You become sort of blind to those and you’re attracted to this thing that will ultimately destroy you. I found that kind of a powerful concept for this record, as I’ve felt that most of my life I’ve not always been drawn to the things that are healthy or good for me, as [for] most people. Like doctors being the highest smoking profession. So it’s just not me.

HERWICK: So a lot of critics, not just, I don’t think, just [for] this album—I mean just in general, one of the phrases that you see a lot when it comes to your music is “personal” right? This is a very personal album.

MORTON: Totally.

HERWICK: This is a very personal album. And you have this incredible personal backstory which is brought up in a lot of the write-ups on this album, that there’s a strong strain of this very serious medical situation that you have…

MORTON: Sure. And yeah, that comes up and I think that does two things. It’s interesting for people to hear that backstory and to know the romantic details of my battle with illness.

HERWICK: What are the basics of it?

MORTON: I was bitten by a bug that carried a bacteria and it sort of derailed my organs. But I honestly don’t try to dwell on that to much. It was more of a psychological shift that happened when I got sick. I see this perspective in a lot of people, even so-called ‘healthy people’. And that is you know, you start questioning ideas of health or even knowing, how do I empower myself to a sense of being alive and healthy? Because well, you know, life is filled with sorrow and pain and you can’t consider these things a sickness just because they hurt—[that] kind of thing.

HERWICK: How old were you when you got sick?

MORTON: Well, it was a long trajectory. I got bit when I was 12 or 13 so it kind of coupled with puberty to make for a very interesting life. Formative years. [laughs]

HERWICK: A very unique brew.

MORTON: Yeah. And now I have a transplant and I have to take a lot of drugs to keep that intact.

HERWICK: Is that hard on the road? I mean like, given the profession that you’ve chosen. Does that make it harder?

MORTON: The only real difficulty that I notice that’s different from just being at home is I’m on immunosuppressants for the transplant. And what happens is, it basically means I’m purposefully wiping out my immune system with these drugs so that it doesn’t reject the organ. I’ve had three different viruses on this trip. I think I’m getting another—watch out—I’m getting another one now. [laughs] Yeah, so that gets a little old, but it’s nothing I can’t handle. Health just goes up and down.

HERWICK: Is it something you’re careful about? Are the bandmates careful about or is it just, at this point—

MORTON: No. I should be, but I’ve got bigger fish to fry.

HERWICK: What fish are those?

MORTON: I don’t know, just playing, just doing this music thing, this fool’s errand that we call “tour.”

HERWICK: So you guys are from Portland, Oregon. I’m curious about the Portland, OR scene, obviously a really good music town. But I’m fascinated by it as somebody here on the East coast. There’s bands, you know, like Blitzen Trapper who I like.

MORTON: Yeah. They seem to be following us around and vice versa on this tour. We keep seeing them. I think they played the same radio station today.

HERWICK: Yeah. That’s funny. But there’s also, it seems lik,e a diversity. I think of a band like Blouse, who I also really like, from the same town. They have a new record out. It’s really good. Talk to me about that Portland scene. I’m fascinated by the fact that it’s like, what, about three hours from Seattle?

MORTON: It’s about two and half, three hours from Seattle—depending on how fast you drive.

HERWICK: I’m fascinated by it ‘cause it seems to have like this distinct identity and yet it’s like three hours from Seattle. You wonder if it gets overshadowed, or why more bands don’t just scoot up there.

MORTON: There’s certainly a rivalry between Seattle and Portland in terms of music. It’s silly and it mostly is bred by familiarity and in ways that they’re similar rather than ways they’re different. But people try to play up that they’re different. I moved to Portland not for music, I went there for school. It was close to my hometown in Salem, Oregon. I guess I got lucky that I landed in such musically prolific city. Like you said, it has everything as far as genre’s concerned. It doesn’t seem to be catering to one kind of music, but there does seem to be something in the water where everyone wants to be in a band.

HERWICK: Yeah.

MORTON: In fact I try to ask people in Portland, “Are you in a band?” And I’ve found—

HERWICK: Half of Portland’s in your band.

MORTON: I know! We’re trying to, we’re just trying to reduce the number of bands by just doing like an on the bus approach. It’s like a commuter approach.

HERWICK: Yeah. What’re you listening to these days? Or do you not, when you’re touring and when you’re working and writing?

MORTON: I have been listening…let me rack my brains. We’ve been listening to a lot. One of the cool things about being in a band with so many people and having a stereo in your vehicle is I get to hear what everyone else wants to listen to as well. Dave and Eric played some metal earlier, I think we were listening to Kylessa and—what was the other one? I forget. Personally I just listened to the new Volcano Choir record, I thought that was really pretty. Sam Ammadon’s another guy I got into recently, he’s kinda from this neck of the woods, maybe a little more north. Does experimental versions of old folk songs. I caught him in Portland recently and was blown away.

HERWICK: So you guys are at the point where you have actual fans. Is it weird?

MORTON: It is weird, ‘cause they’re people that I don’t know listening to our music, yeah—

HERWICK: Have you guys ever been like stopped in the street by somebody? Has it gotten to that point yet?

MORTON: Not really, no, especially not outside of my hometown. And that’s good; I don’t really want that sort of nuisance. But I’m really tickled to come to a show and see all these strangers that like have a connection with our music.

HERWICK: You see them like singing along…it’s weird, like, what is happening?

MORTON: Yeah it’s a good feeling. Especially because most of my lyrics…I get people saying really like dark perverse things, like they’re singing with me, “Everybody knows this is the end.” I don’t actually want to talk about the lines, but I just look out and they’re like singing cheerfully these morbid, morbid lyrics. [laughs]

HERWICK: So you have a–you have a little bit of a dark side to humor about it then, huh?

MORTON: Yeah.

HERWICK: Have you noticed, what are the fans like? Like who’s listening to your music? Because ya know, you guys have, like you said, there’s this sort of dark dramatic thing that you have…right? But there’s the orchestral thing too. You’ve got horns, you’ve got violins. It’s big, it’s almost loud and aggressive.

MORTON: I think there’s like an irony there, where perhaps you want to hear something that’s cheerful and sounds optimistic and you can get into it through the music. But if you listen to the lyrics, it maybe will appeal to someone who has a darker sensibility…I’m happy to see for the most part that all of our fans are very polite. Our fans seem to be intelligent…I can’t really pinpoint an exact age-group or kind of person. It seems to be like we have some older folks at our show, [and] we have young kids. I feel like that’s doing something right.

HERWICK: Do you think part of that is because, kind of as you were alluding to before, first of all you’re an 11-piece band; second of all, you have people with diverse musical taste.

MORTON: Yeah. There’s a lot of influences and everything else. You don’t really have to love the music. There’s always something to watch. It’s just such a mess up there [laughs].

HERWICK: Excellent, well, I hope it’s a fun mess tonight.

MORTON: It will be, we’re really looking forward to playing.

HERWICK: Well, thanks man.

MORTON: Thank you so much again.