A little charm can go a long way, which is certainly the case with MARK MORRISS, front man of UK Indie stalwarts, The Bluetones. Between touring with the band, Mark Morriss has released his new solo album ‘Memory Muscle’, which he will be promoting over the summer.
Aside from launching his solo career, Morriss is facing imminent fatherhood, and a renewed national interest in The Bluetones. It’s all go. Fortunately, he was able to spare a moment to chat with us about all things music.
W&H: THE BLUETONES HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR AGES, HOW DOES IT FEEL TO GO SOLO?
"It happened by accident really, over a period of a few years. I started writing a lot of these songs and I just kept them in the bank, as it were. We were never going to use them for the Bluetones, because we always collaborate on Bluetones records. These songs were so fully formed that they would always have been ‘my songs’.
But the rest of the band have always been really supportive of it. It’s not going to cause any schism between us. The Bluetones is always my first love, you know, it’s my family. There’s never been any problems with ego or leadership issues, it’s always been very mutually supportive. So I felt now’s a good as time as any."
W&H: ARE YOU NERVOUS?
"Yeah! Cause I’m up there, and my names up there in big letters and I’m there to have pot-shots taken. I can’t hide behind the security blanket of my friends.
But that’s how I started out, just turning up and open mic nights with these songs and playing as just another person turning up for the night."
W&H: IT MUST BE A HUMBLING EXPERIENCE AFTER BEING IN THE BLUETONES...
"Definitely. You feel completely exposed and naked, but it’s good. It’s scary but it’s empowering as well. I get a real high after the gigs I feel like ‘I’ve done it! I’ve not made a tit out of myself!’"
W&H: DO YOU THINK BLUETONES FANS WILL APPRECIATE YOUR SOLO WORK?
"Well, I’m hoping they’ll come along for the ride. But I’m also hoping that people who discounted the Bluetones will be able to hear this and be surprised. You always hope to win a new audience, but the label ‘The Bluetones’ will always turn off a number of people cause they assume they know what it is, they have a preconception of what it’ll sound like.
So hopefully it can work both ways. People who already like the Bluetones will get into this, and people who weren’t sure about them will like this, and it might turn this onto what the Bluetones are doing. It’s a win-win situation."
W&H: IS THE SONG ‘LEMON & LIME’ REALLY ABOUT SHOOTING CIVILLIANS?
"Ha! I don’t know what it’s about really. Sometimes when we write songs you start off with one thing in mind you veer off in another direction. So when I was starting to write ‘Lemon & Lime’ I was writing about me and my brother. You know, ‘Partners in Crime/ Drunk on inertia/ Untroubled by time’ – it’s just the fact that we’ve been doing this thing together for so long and we’ve gone on this journey as brothers. We’ve gone from our bedroom to all over the world. That’s where that came from, him and me.
And then you get distracted by lines and it goes somewhere else, like going and sorting out some civillians. I try to avoid cliché, ‘crazy situation’ and all that sort of stuff. Things you hear in every fifth song."
W&H: THERE’S A LOT OF FAMILY INFLUENCE THERE
"Absolutely. Like with “Maggie Got Her Bounce Back”. My girlfriend Maggie has big curly hair, and a couple of years ago it stopped being curly overnight. And about a year ago it got curly again, and that’s where it came from. She came into the front room, and she’d washed her hair and just let it dry naturally, and she said “I got my bounce back”, and I was like “I’m having that!”"
W&H: HOW WAS YOUR RECENT TOUR WITH DODGY?
"It was great! I used to live with them - about 15 years ago The Bluetones and Dodgy used to live together. But before the fame. It wasn’t like some kind of weird Monkeys-style Cribs.
I went to see them about 18 years ago, fucking hell that’s a long time ago! We went to see this band called the Grooveyard and Dodgy were supporting them, and they just blew me away. They were like The Who crossed with The Byrds, they were amazing.
So I went up to them afterwards and asked where they were from, and they said Hounslow. I asked whereabouts in Hounslow they were from, and they said ‘Bramerson Road’, and my Nan lived on Bramerson Road! The next time I went to see my Nan I knocked on their door, and they were like ‘Oh come in man, and skin up’ and all that shit. And we became friends. This was around two years before they got signed.
They lived in a council house, and then as one of then moved out, I moved in, and then Adam moved in. And then the Bluetones got going so we used to share the same space in the garden, in this sound-proofed garage.
After they got signed and got their own places, the other two Bluetones members moved in, and we inherited their house. We have a real history."
W&H: IT’S LIKE A BEAUTIFUL FAMILY ROCK TREE
"Yeah. The thing was that they got signed to A&M about two years before we did, but we had a hit first hit before them. That felt weird for us – it was like ‘fucking hell, we’re on the same label as Dodgy, who are like our heroes’, cause they were doing it. They were a great band who were touring –they were living it. We dreamt of that. "
W&H: YOU WERE MASSIVE IN THE 90s, BUT YOU SHY AWAY FROM BRITPOP REFERENCES, WHY IS THAT?
"I didn’t like what was associated with the Britpop tag. In my mind I associate Britpop with laddism, you know football chanting and downing pints of lager with your Fred Perry and reading Loaded magazine. It’s never been my bag.
Even at the time, ‘Britpop’ was the third label we’d been stuck with. There was ‘new mod’, ‘new-wave of new wave’ and then Britpop came along, but that one fucking stuck. And now people say: “Oh yeah, Britpop, Bluetones, Oasis, Shed Seven,” and I’d be like ‘NO!!!’ I feel no kinship with those bands.
Yeah, we’re boys, and we play guitars. But that’s like putting Then Jericho and The Smiths in the same bag. We always felt that we were part of a greater tradition of British guitar music, Squeeze, XTC, things like that. And to be suddenly lumped with these people because we were around at the same time – I mean fucking Menswear for fuck sake!"
W&H: HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE UK SCENE TODAY?
"I think the Kaiser Chiefs do amazing singles, and the Arctic Monkeys are one of the best things to hit these shores in Christ knows how long. I really like the Klaxons, and I’ve gone full circle with them, because I hated them when they first came out, but I’ve listened to them and I hear them channelling things like Roxy Music, and I admire their ambition.
But beyond that, The Libertines totally passed me by, AND I think Pete Doherty is totally over-rated as a song-writer. But there’s a lot going on out there, you’ve just got to scratch beneath the surface to find it."
W&H: WHO ARE YOU LISTENING TO AT THE MOMENT?
"I’ve been revisiting Morrissey's first album ‘Viva Hate’. Although, I’ve gone right off him lately. I think his last couple of records aren’t that good, and he’s suddenly got popular from his worst records. That’s just fashion as far as I’m concerned, it’s got nothing to do with music.
His first three or four albums are just brilliant though. They are the reason why I’m here, The Smiths were the ones who turned me onto alternative music. It’s important to remember how brilliant he’s capable of being. I think he needs to sack his band and collaborate with someone really exciting again."
W&H:WHAT ARE YOUR GUILTY PLEASURES? MUSICALLY SPEAKING, THAT IS?
"I do a cover of Girls Aloud songs in my set. I think they’re fucking brilliant, although I’ve not sat through a whole album yet. I don’t know who writes their songs. Actually I do know who writes their songs cause I’ve covered them on the B-Sides and I have to write down the credits. Anyway, their singles are always killer. I stand by my Girls Aloud love affair."
W&H; YOU RECENTLY APPEARED IN LITTLE BRITAIN. IS YOUR SECRET AMBITION TO BE A STAND-UP COMEDIAN?
"Not really! Although I do think there’s a definite cross-over between being the front man of a band and being a stand-up comic. You’re up in front of a crowd and it would be very easy just to play the songs and not address the audience, and I always felt like I had a responsibility to entertain.
In terms of the comedy thing, I just made friends with people who were making comedy shows on the radio and they got successful."
W&H:IF YOU WEREN’T A MUSICIAN WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
"Well, when I was unemployed and I went on one of those Job Seeker courses, according to that I’d be a meteorologist. But seriously, I’ve always had a very active, creative mind so I’d be writing in some way I think."
W&H: WE THINK YOU SHOULD WRITE CHILDRENS BOOKS
"Well that’s something that crossed my mind. When I’m at home I’m always making up stupid rhymes and limericks. I guess that’s why I’m looking forward to having a little baby in the house, cause I do stuff like that all the time anyway!"