Mark Morton: Solo Music Offered ‘Clarity’ When Writing New Lamb of God Album
While it's been five years since Lamb of God released a new album, the band and its members have been anything but inactive. For guitarist Mark Morton, when he hasn't been on the road opening for Slayer on their farewell tour, his focus has been on the beginning of his solo career, which found him most recently issuing the acoustic EP Ether.
As a guest on Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio program, Morton discussed the balance between writing acoustically and as a solo artist compared to his style with Lamb of God. For the riff-slinger, it's a refreshing chance to step outside his comfort zone and explore other areas of his guitar playing he's always possessed but never properly showed off professionally.
Meanwhile, Lamb of God's self-titled new album is on its way, set for a May 8 release, with a co-headlining tour with Megadeth to follow in the summer.
The songs that are on Ether are different from what's typically expected from you. What did you learn from your acoustic performances last year that led to a continuation with this EP?
That was really the catalyst. I put out Anesthetic last year and in the course of the campaign for that, I got the opportunity to do these showcase shows. I did one at the Sonic Temple Festival in Ohio and then one at Download in the U.K.
We just did these acoustic versions of the songs and I hadn't really done anything like that before and it was such a challenge and so much fun to do those stripped-down versions, different vibe, and kind of mellow versions of the tunes and it went over really well.
It got my gears turning and I had the acoustic in my hand a little more than usual and came home and just started messing around with it and writing some songs. Then we had the idea to start putting Ether together and put together a tour of the U.K. around the same time that we released the EP and made a theme out of it.
Ether includes covers of Pearl Jam and Black Crowes songs. How have non-metal bands influenced your playing in ways you ultimately incorporated in Lamb of God?
It's kind of one of those [what came first] chicken or egg [situations] for me because I've always played stuff that's not metal.
People that have followed my career certainly know me from Lamb of God and as being the thrash metal guitar player. That is certainly a big part of who I am and a big part of my playing, but all along, even in the beginning, I've always been really into rock music and blues-influenced classic rock. So I've really been playing this stuff all along, but only in the past couple of years have I found the opportunity to pursue the outlet of recording it and releasing it.
It's interesting because there have been times when I've sort of infused some of that stuff into Lamb of God. There's some bluesy moments and bluesy swagger in some of the Lamb of God stuff, but never to the degree that I'm doing on Anesthetic and Ether.
Some of the things I'm doing on the solo stuff just really wouldn't fit into the framework of Lamb of God, so it's been very liberating. It's been really exciting to have the opportunity to explore that side of my playing that's maybe been a little pent up over the years.
Then when I got back to Lamb of God, in the course of writing for that I felt a real kind of clarity and a real ability to focus on the character and the style and what's correct for Lamb of God and really sort of honor the legacy of that body of work that we've created with that as well.
It's cool. It gives me kind of an outlet for both sides and helps me sort of clean the slate across the board.
You did a five-date acoustic tour in the U.K. How is the preparation different when you're about to go onstage in that setting compared to the moments leading up to a Lamb of God show?
I'm going to be honest — it's nerve-wracking for me. These are much smaller shows when I do the acoustic shows and when I do the solo shows in general. I guess you'd call it anxiety. It's just kind of this adrenaline and this kind of this nervous anticipation and excitement all sort of wrapped into one before these smaller shows.
It really reminds me of when I first started performing and when I first started playing in front of people because it seems new again and it seems fresh. It seems like a different kind of experience for me and it's a little out of my comfort zone — that is a thrill for me.
With Lamb of God, it's not that I don't take it seriously and it's not that it's not important — I'm just so accustomed to playing so many shows with Lamb of God and we've done it for so long that I'm very much in my comfort zone. I have been in front of 100,000 people with that band and I feel safe and confident and cool and that's good. But when I'm in front of 200 or 300 people with a solo thing, the nerves are rattled. I kind of enjoy it. It makes it feel new and fresh again.
You built your career on aggressive and heavy music. How has writing and playing acoustically challenged your sensibilities as a musician?
Over time my shift in songwriting has been from writing the riff to writing the song. Even in the course of Lamb of God, I still write a lot of riffs for the band and the songs are composed of that, but it's less about the guitar part now and more about the overall song composition.
In that sense, as I've matured as a player, I've become more of a songwriter. Hopefully that's reflected in some of the solo stuff too. It's really just continuing that pursuit of trying to grow as a songwriter because that's really where it's at for me these days is the song.
There is a new Lamb of God album coming out this year and it's the first with a new drummer. How did the relationships between the rest of the band benefit from welcoming Art Cruz and helping acclimate him to your band family?
It's been a really awesome experience bringing Art into the fold and watching him find his place in all of this. In the process of doing the new album, it's not that it becomes something you take for granted necessarily, but you become accustomed to the process and you become accustomed to the scope of things of working within a band like Lamb of God.
For Art to come in and have it all be very fresh and very new and some of the experiences are sort of first-time things on a level that he hasn't really operated at before, it's kind of a thrill to see him take that on and see him rise to the occasion and see him deliver as he has. He's such a phenomenal drummer.
So that's, that's been a real joy and it's just been kind of a relief for us to get settled back in and kind of re-solidify where we are and what we're doing. We feel really great about what we're doing creatively and really excited about turning it out into the world.
Thanks to Mark Morton for the interview. Follow Lamb of God on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and pre-order your copy of their self-titled record here. Find out where you can hear Full Metal Jackie's weekend radio show here.
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