The new album is called Poets Were My Heroes. Can you tell us a little bit about why you chose that title?
I wanted to pick a track that represented the record as a whole, the overall message, and where I was at musically and lyrically in my life. Originally it was going to be called "Another Way", after the third track on the record, which talks about the largely self serving attitude we have in western societies, going against the grain, and a hope for an alternative -another way of existence.
But the title itself, "Another Way", seemed a little too accessible, and too broad- Too blanket-like. Too pablum, like Nevermind. It's a good title, but it's meant for mass consumption. It's not offensive, moving, or thought provoking, just sorta all encompassing and vague. It has meaning but not in any real direct sense.
I felt like using "Another Way" would have been a little insulting to some of the audience, though it would probably sell more copies. In the end, I chose Poets Were My Heroes as the title track. It was more personal and basically saying the same thing only with more detail and interest. The record touches a lot on a malevolent world and a strong desire for alternatives to this sort a selfish and singular attitude we all have or are confronted with on the streets.
It's not exactly literal. Saying that poets were my heroes is like saying I look to the gays, or I look to the writers, or the intellectuals, or to the philosophers. It's not looking up to war heroes, generals, well educated men who grease wheels, or the heavy movers and shakers that do all the decision making in our world, whom we are so prone to uphold in our society. It's taking a cue from the peace makers, the thoughtful, the revolutionaries of heart and mind, and at the same time it's a protest and a "fuck you" to authorities, our national attitude, and the way the world is going in general.
What's the background behind the title Poets were my heroes?
"Poets Were My Heroes" is actually a song I wrote for my friends JP and Jamie Toulon, two brothers that started the punk band Old Skull back in the late 80s or early 90s when they were just little kids. JP was my best friend, and I was close with Jamie as well. They both died last year in very tragic manners, and so I wrote this requiem for them.
I've heard that the new album actually has a full orchestra in part. Why did you make the decision to pay for a full pit?
The song has an entire orchestra on it. I had a string quartet and a horn section come in and I multi-tracked them into a huge orchestra. There were 4 different string lines and two horn lines, and each group line broke down into individual lines for the cellos, violas, and violins. I had to sing or play each musician their part for each line on the piano since I am not a classically trained musician.
I let them all know before they agreed to play that they would have to be patient with me as all the lines were in my head and there was no written sheet music. They were all extremely good sports about it and most everything was done in the first few takes. It was a new experience for me. I probably could have played it all on a keyboard or hired a single string player who could have tracked each line one at a time, but I really wanted to do it right, so I spent the extra money to have a whole group quartet in. It was not cheap, but it was fully worth it.
There is no substitute for real live sounds! And that was my attitude for every session. There are no artificially or digitally reproduced sounds on the entire record.
In addition to being about what I talked about earlier, "Poets" is about all the wasted talent in the world. It's also about lack of support. How life can become exponentially difficult when you feel like no one believes in you… A feeling I had throughout the last year.
A little support goes a long way. Sometimes just one person saying they believe in what I'm doing will be enough for me to follow through and finish what I'm doing. But without that knowledge it gets very hard. So it's important to let people know you love and support them while they're still here. I'd like to think JP and Jamie would have liked this song. They were just a few of the world's poets that inspired me and are gone too soon.
As I interpret the song "Another way," it seems that you are expressing the concept that pop music and manufactured art doesn't truly express the human condition, or at least as how you see it. Do you think we are at the end of music as a source of fantasy or escapism?
That is one aspect of the song. To explain it further I must make a confession: When Leftover Crack took a break from touring last year i took a job as a freelance stagehand. One of the places I ended up working a lot was the Clear Channel owned IHeartRadio Theater in Tribeca. It plays host to all the bands that the 4 or 5 major radio stations in NY promote… Clear Channel owned stations broadcast from the second floor of the same building.
So yeah, I work for Clear Channel occasionally. I load gear for bands and set up camera equipment and lights. It's a very exclusive venue. It only holds 150 people, standing room only. You can only get in by winning your tickets on the radio, or if you're a "VIP." I saw so many big commercial radio bands come thru and play to a room full of record executives, CEOs and their mistresses, and a few screaming teens.
But it was when one of the American Idol season's winner performed last year that I first wrote some of lyrics to "Another Way." Sitting despondent in the corner, gagging at the spectacle of the meet-and-greet. The whole thing was so disgusting, I can't even tell you. It was this schmooze-fest of big wig executives and radio hosts, glad handing each other and congratulating themselves on their own successes, catapulting their latest pawn to the top of the charts. It was everything you imagine that sort of shit to be. A total cliche. It was all so fake and substance-less. It didn't have anything to do with music.
I don't even remember the music, except that the artist was using a live Auto-tune effect to correct his bad pitch. It was cookie-cutter music for mass consumption. A machine in which you could interchange the singer a year from now. We pluck these people from obscurity and make them famous simply by putting them on TV. Today we can manufacture fame. You can make anyone famous with a small investment and see a big return. And people are so willing, so desperate for fame and money, that they'll sell themselves at any price. It's sad and says something about the state of the world.
I'm so glad not to be a part of that world of entertainment, at least not beyond being a stagehand, because let's face it: if John Lennon or Jimmy Hendrix were alive today they wouldn't stand a chance of "making it" in today's music industry. Not that I'm a huge fan of either of them, but they were certainly more talented than the singers that television shows like American Idol are making famous now. At least they wrote their own songs. I have no respect for singers that don't write their own songs. Song writers, poets... they're the ones connected to things we're not. So that was one aspect of "Another Way"- Me sitting in Clear Channel scribbling in my note book.
After that I made a point not to use any Auto-tune on the new Morning Glory record. Not even as an effect… it can make vocals sound more "soaring" and clear. Auto-tune is the most over-used software of the 2000s. But I've even heard crust bands use it!
Then, do you think this concept of manufactured fame has student musical growth?
Just because some of the music industry sucks doesn't mean that I think there's no good music anymore, or that music is dead… quite the opposite actually. There's never been more good music than there is now. Since music is accumulative. Every day more songs are added to the world's library of tunes and expression. There's always gonna be great music and music that is total crap in every genre. But we're certainly not at the end of music as escapism. Music takes me away more than ever. It'll always be my favorite drug… Chemically it produces the same dopamine as heroin, and the Olympics have now outlawed the use of music in their sports since it can produce up to a 10% increase in performance!
I find it fascinating that Choking Victim and Leftover Crack often used "Satanic imagery," but the new song, "Another Way" uses more traditional Biblical imagery as metaphors with the lines referring to "Eden's walls." Of course, the name Ezra itself is considered a Talmudic and Biblical name. Does this shift have significance, or have I peered too deeply?
This is a good question. I am not religious but I really enjoy the imagery of religious art. I don't know why. It's so cathartic and always deals with these grandiose concepts like good, evil, sacrifice, and perdition. It's always inadvertently gory and often gaudy, full of hidden messages, and usually it's just so bad that it's good.
Most of the artists who were commissioned by the Church were staunch dissidents and rebels. Dante even put the Pope himself in one of the seven layers of his Inferno hell. And while "Eden" is a Christian concept, I used it in "Another Way" because, although I am not a Christian, I felt like that image best described what I was trying to portray in the song.
But, some people will always read into things too deeply. I was doing an interview for someone recently and at the end I played an organ song on the new record called "Touch", about Mother Mary, if she had been a junkie, pleading for help to get off the drug. It shows her in a human condition… a woman who could've struggled with all the issues we deal with as humans, as a human suffering, not as the divine.
I sang the entire song, a song I see as very sad. After I finished it, all the interviewer, who was videotaping the whole thing, could say was "What's with the Jesus thing? Did you find Jesus or something?" People are so fucking stupid. They don't listen to the words. All they hear is "Mother Mary" or "Jesus". I can't spend my life explaining or defending my music. Everyone is going interpret it their own way. If people wanna think I've become a born again Christian, let them. What do I care? Ezra is a biblical name, but I didn't choose that name. I just had hippie parents.
And to answer what I believe your question is more directly… I have become a more "religious" person in the last few years, having lost a number of people very close to me. Not religious in the sense of organized or institutionalized religion, but personally... spiritually maybe. I'm the most nonspiritual person in the world, but I think the pain of the loss of my friends Nick and Brandon and JP and Jamie, cut too deep for me, and the only thing that would lessen it was the thought, no matter how absurd, that maybe these people were still with me somewhere, perhaps waiting for me, happy somewhere, at very least in my heart.
Something had to give. I've dealt with so many deaths over the years. I think I've lost well over 10 close friends and twice as many acquaintances in the last 5 years alone. There were 3 suicides last year alone. One was my best friend. Most of my closest friends and people I consider family are dead now. I can't even count anymore. Suicide is an epidemic. I've always been a devout atheist, but so much death has made me question it. It has turned me agnostic!
Along those lines, you have a number of references to suicide in your music, such as the song "You make me wanna die young" and "Suicide for Jennicide." Is suicide something that correlates to your life directly, or is it used in your music as more of a metaphor?
Suicide has had a direct impact on my life. It's a horrible, devastating, and sad thing that I can't say enough bad things about. I've sung a lot about suicide in the past for that reason.
Suicide is still one of the largest killers of youth in America, and around the globe. It's a painful and disillusioning thing when young people feel there is no hope.
Having said that, I try to keep a sense of humor about the whole thing and think of what the people that I knew who have passed on would have wanted me to do. I'm sure they would have wanted me to continue to talk about it, not to be too grim, and even laugh a little. You have to laugh and try not to take it too seriously. Its way too enveloping otherwise.
Both those songs you mentioned don't have anything to do with suicide actually, but at least one song on the new record was written in response to a suicide, and in the liner notes I plan on providing suicide prevention information. Mainly what we need to know about suicide is that when someone tells you they are going to hurt themselves, it's important that we do something, or say something. Don't ignore these types of threats, no matter how often they may be made. It just may be the time they decide to go through with it, which was the case with Jamie... My other friend Zakk, who died in November also told people he was planning it.
Will the demos that you made available for streaming in 2008 be included on the new Morning Glory album?
No. There are a few songs old songs like "Divide By" and "Summerburst" which I re-recorded specifically for this record, but that's it. They fit the vision of the record. I did re-record some of those other demos during these sessions, but they'll be going on to The Whole World Is Watching EP, making it into a full studio LP. Most of those demos were horrible, very poor quality recordings, and I'm glad they'll be taken off the "market", so to speak. The studio versions will be replacing them. But Poets will be almost entirely new material.
Will there be any special guests on the new album?
No. It's just me and the band. Mostly just Early (on drums), and myself. The other members who make up the live band, Adam and Chris, played some guitars and bass, but mainly for posterity. Lucky Strano (ex-Morning Glory, Ex-World/Inferno Friendship Society) played some of the solos I really couldn't pull off. Adam and Chris added chemistry that didn't exist. But I played almost all of the instruments on the record, mainly because of budget restraints, including the piano, guitars, bass and percussion instruments.
I learned to play piano last year when I got clean because someone told me that when you get clean you should learn a new instrument. So there ended up being a lot of piano on the record… and strings.
My hat's off to Early, who learned most of the tracks overnight. Some of the songs were written on a Friday, learned on Saturday, and recorded on Sunday. I owe a lot to my band. Adam, Chris, and Early all stuck with me. That means more to me than I can express. At a time in my life when I reached out and found no one there, they stood with me, humored me, and acquiesced when it came to the making of the record.
Studio time was expensive and it was just easier for me to play all the instruments. Plus a lot of it I wrote on the spot, in the studio, or while tracking. Sometimes I would change entire choruses while I was in the middle of them… luckily the drums worked for completely different melodies and riffs. I think Adam and Chris realized that it was the only way the recording was going to get done. But all the more credit to them for understanding. I'm lucky to have some of the most talented musicians in New York playing with me.
Apart from my band, I had a really hard time garnering support for this record. One record label had been bugging me for years to make this record. So, I called them up and said I was ready to do it. They then offered me $800 to record it with! You gotta laugh at the absurdity of that! These days $800 won't even get you the tape to record on. I was really insulted and pissed off that they didn't believe in me, so I told them to forget it. More than anything their lack of confidence in me hurt and caused me to doubt myself.
That was the pretty much the attitude I was up against all year. No one wanted to help me make this record. I ended up paying for the entire record myself because I couldn't get any decent label support, and certainly no "big name" artists were going to take time out of their busy schedules to come down to the studio and contribute. So, I sort of went into it with an attitude of "well, fuck you all then, I don't need you anyways." And it's for the better since debut records don't really need guests anyhow.
Guesting and cameos on records is really overdone and has just become a way for labels and artists to sell more records using names. It's so ridiculous. My friend Yula Berri did come and sing on one song, "Born To December". And Jimmy from InDK sang backups on "Touch", but it was strictly because the song called for their voice. And they're both so talented I was lucky to have them on. I really struggled this year with a feeling of no support from labels and other artists. Some of that feeling went into the songs, like the title track for instance. Now I hope this record does well.
You've stated that you are looking forward to moving away from the "Crack Rock steady" sound. Do you feel that you've expressed all that you can within the confines of that genre?
Well, not necessarily. Punk is a genre that will always have something to say. At least, I'll probably always have something to say in punk rock, but the music may be different this time around. I hear a lot of music in my head and not all of it falls into the punk genre, though it's usually within the spectrum.
I love punk, I grew up on it, but I'm not going to ignore all the other music when I'm hearing just to please an audience. Music is in my brain and sometimes its symphonies, pianos, white noise solos, wah wah distorted bass sounds, and epic contrasts and sing-a-longs… and I try not to be confined by the restraints of labels.
Anything that comes from the heart is good music, and I don't care what type of music it is. Music either feels right, or it doesn't. Every genre of music contains some crap and some brilliant material. I would say Morning Glory is largely influenced by the concept of sing-a-longs. The image of a room of people all singing together is one of the most powerful ideas to me. I want to create that situation somehow. Some of the greatest, happiest moments in my life have been singing in a group or choir when I feel like I am sharing and contributing in something greater than myself. It can be almost religious.
Something about the joining of melodies, the unity of people of all backgrounds, and a momentary shared singular emotion by so many small folks making one collective sound, is a statement about humanity and creation itself. That we are all a part of something bigger and together we can do amazing things that we could never do by ourselves. It's my main influence in song writing and the reason I've always liked Noel Gallagher's writing.
But while the music on this record may fall to the rock side of the spectrum, the lyrical content is "punk" by any standard. It covers borders, thanatopsis, addiction, existing against the grain, orphanage, hope, change, anger, etc. Some of it is uplifting. Some of it is sad. Some of it is political. All of it is personal.
Where there be any ska tunes on the new record?
There is no ska. I don't even like ska and it's a genre I can definitively say I want to no longer be associated with. I definitely wanted to move away from that. I'm tired of being pigeon-holed into a type of music that I never listen to. And while I still enjoy playing ska music live, it's not me in the writing anymore. But otherwise it wasn't a conscious decision to move away from punk rock. It's not even a huge shift, it just feels like a natural progression to me.
If you are interested in moving away from those types of sounds, is Morning Glory still a punk band?
Morning Glory is still a punk band in my opinion. We always will be. But while it fits my definition of punk, it may not fit into others' definition of punk. Writing music is an exorcism and I was just writing what I was hearing in my head, trying to exorcise the insomnia demons. Since I tracked 19 songs I ended up having the choice of sequencing it as a punk record or a rock record.
I ended up making a rock record in the end, because that is what felt right to me. I'm sure some die hard punks won't like it. But that's nothing new. That'll always happen.
I remember losing fans to the No Gods/No Managers album who said it just wasn't as fast enough as the old Choking Victim. Is No Gods a punk record? Only to some. But if some people don't approve of what I simply see as creative evolution, that doesn't bother me. Whether the record does well or not is purely inconsequential. Of course I want it to do well, but ultimately I wrote this record for myself, and it couldn't have come out any other way without being a lie.
I think it's a great record and I'm proud of it. Life is broad and there's a lot more out there than punk rock. There's a lot more to me than punk rock. I hear so much music it keeps me up at night. I can't sleep. And in the end this record comes from the heart... and that's all that matters to me.
Morning Glory records sporadically, but it seems that fans of the band like everything the band has put out. Do you purposefully only record when you feel that you've written your best material?
No, I've released a lot of crap. Back then I didn't realize people might actually go and buy it. Now I pick songs that I think are good and then track them. But 3 out of 10 times they don't come out as I was hearing them in my head, which is why I tracked 19 songs this time. I chose the best 13 songs for the final sequence. At least 2 or 3 of them didn't come out as I was originally hearing them. I may never use those tracks for anything.
Lots of musicians and producers do that now. I've heard that many big name hip hop artists like Snoop Dogg, Jay-Z, or even Gwen Stefani will record 300 tracks and pick the very best 15 for their record. That way every song is a hit. This is a new concept for me. I used to release everything I tracked. Big mistake!
Now there's a bunch of crap floating around out there with my name on it. Ugh. I have a saying now, "Say it, forget it. Record it, regret it!" It's the artist's curse to hate everything they've ever done. I suppose you can't discredit it, but I feel everything I've done up until now is juvenile and just plain bad. Let me put it this way… I would never go out and buy one of my old records. With this new stuff I was recording shit that I thought the world could use. A record i would actually go out and buy. To this day i have never put on a record I've made and listened to it. Not even one song. The last time I heard [Leftover Crack's second LP] Fuck World Trade was in the studio in Chicago with Steve Albini. But who knows? A year from now I may hate this record too.
Are you still in Leftover Crack?
Well... yes and no. I'm taking a leave of absence until the band is ready to write some new material. We played some show over the holidays and although they were fun, I have to put my foot down and make a stand for some new material.
Somehow, I get roped into playing every time because I love playing music and touring, and ultimately I love everyone in the band... in different capacities. Somehow, for better or worse, we have come through a lot together and our fates are intertwined. We've toured the world together and I think I've spent more time with those four guys than anyone else in my life.
You know we've been playing music together for the better part of 15 years now. Alec [LoC bass player] and Sturgeon [LoC Vocals] and myself now span 3 decade of creativity together! Life is long and unpredictable, but I'd like to think we'll be old punkers still rocking out together when we're old and grey. But we're an implosive band and there's always a sense that things could fall apart at any moment.
That being said, this year I am taking just for Morning Glory. I don't know if Leftover Crack knows that yet. We have communication problems. I've tried to tell them. I may play a show here or there with L.O.C., we'll see. But Morning Glory comes first right now. And whenever they are down to write, I'll be waiting. I already have a few tunes that I'm saving just for L.O.C. It's really hard to say what will happen with that band. Many factors come into play.
It's interesting that you point out communication problems in Leftover Crack. Some of my very favorite bands, including Black Flag, the Ramones, and Crass, were composed of members who didn't really get along that well and were at times extremely dysfunctional. Do you think personal conflict is one of the elements that make Choking Victim, Leftover Crack, INDK, and Morning Glory so unique, or is that an overly romantic view?
A lot of what makes a band a great band is the creative push and pull of multiple creative forces. It's all about chemistry. If you change one member out, the formula changes too. And especially in the punk genre where conflict is an integral and very necessary part of the energy. Most of Leftover Crack's best shows were when we hated each other the most. Sometime we'd go for days or weeks without speaking, locked in a van or hotel, on the road, despising each other, but we'd play for one hour at night together and it would be magic on stage. I still haven't figured it out yet.
A year or so ago found people accusing you of having substance abuse issues. Were those claims true? If they were, are you still dealing with those issues?
It's no secret that I have battled drug addiction from a young age. It been very public and all the harder for me… Especially as I am a private person by nature. Everyone has their demons to fight. Mine happens to be heroin addiction.
Sometimes when I think I've gotten the better of it, it will creep up on me again. It's an insidious disease. I must always be on my guard. But I'm determined not to let it get the best of me. When I fall down now, I just get back up again and keep trying. I will not let this thing take me. A few tracks on the new record deal with drug addiction in its different capacities. Some of it sad, some of it regretful, some of it hopeful. None of it is romantic.
It has been a constant struggle for me. Being able to write songs about it, sing about it, and tell people about it is very important to me, and I try to be honest and forthright. Almost everyone has been affected by addiction or alcoholism at some point in their life, whether it's them or someone they know. This time around, I had a lot to write about. Much has transpired since Fuck World Trade. I won't go into war stories, but I know I am notorious for missing shows, sometimes entire tours, due to my addiction problems. At times I wonder how many kids have paid to see me at my worst. I'm genuinely trying to put that all behind me.
And music may be the one good thing that has come out of addiction for me. Some people have accused me of being a cliche musician, but the truth is I was an addict a long time before i was a cliche! Genetics, experience, upbringing, and personality traits like preferring solitary to social situations, made the perfect storm for me.
I was a predictable candidate for addiction long before I was in any bands. Alas, we all have to do the best with the cards we are dealt. And, I hope ultimately that with Morning Glory, somehow, I've been able to inspire and help other people, other addicts, to get off and stay off of drugs. I know I've been very candid about addiction in the past, but I feel it's not something to tip-toe around, and that being open and honest about it is the only way to help solve the problem.
I think some people felt that I was somehow condoning drug use in the past, because I would talk openly about it. Perhaps I wasn't being very clear. Perhaps the message was misunderstood, or the tone wasn't right. Sometimes sarcasm or tongue and cheek content is lost in the delivery. Like the song "Gimme Heroin" which was an anti-drug song, by all means, talking about the horrors of being strung out. But people don't always read the lyrics, they just see the title. But that's a consequence I have to deal with now.
If I ever lead anyone down a path of this destructive behavior, it was not my intent, and I hope i can redeem myself of any misguidance. You also have to remember I was very sick… If things seemed unclear, it's because I could not say them clearly myself.
There is no hope in addiction and it's a long and painful path from which no good can arise. It's hard to make people who have never been addicts understand it. They think it's a life style choice. They don't understand the concept of no control. They think it's a moral weakness, a character defect, or a lack of will power. In reality it is not. It can affect anyone, anywhere. It can be luck of the draw. Some of the greatest most talented people on the planet suffer from addiction issues. Very smart people. Very creative people. Very talented people. A lot of artists and forward thinkers. I'm sure there's a psychology behind it. I hope Morning Glory's music can offer hope to anyone who feels trapped in the cycle of addiction or alcoholism. And I don't wanna die a rock cliche. I still have so much to give. This record is the beginning of that. I hope for a second chance.
As a point of interest, I recently reconnected with my mother. She sent me a copy of the very first song I ever wrote, when I was just 5 years old. The song is called "Stevie Dinner." It was a play on TV Dinner by ZZ Top, which was popular when I was 5. It's about how "Stevie" drinks too much, to the point that it is his dinner. Steve was my father. So the very first song I wrote was about alcoholism in my family. Of course it was innocent back then and I didn't realize the pain it would cause later on in my life. I used the track as the opener of the new record.
Sorry if this is a prolix answer, but enough can never be said about this issue. I encourage anyone out there who is struggling with these issues to get help and stick around, keep trying until it sticks, and don't abandon those who need you. It does get better and complete recovery is very possible.
I appreciate your openness. Morning Glory is expected to release the new album in the Spring. Should we expect any other activity from the band such as touring, singles, etc?
Yes definitely. We hope to be playing shows by April and touring by August. We're already making preparations for tours in the States and the UK. I'm looking forward to it.
Any last comments?
It took me over 10 months, off-and-on, to track this record. Jesse Cannon and Mike Oettinger, the two engineers that worked on it with me, were absolutely tireless, and put a very piece of their own soul and workmanship into it. I hounded them endlessly to make things right, the way I was hearing things in my head at night, unable to sleep, and they submitted to my insane demands for full orchestration, having a string quartet and a horn section in their studio, plus a string of talent and gang vocalists that contributed, and they always did it with good humor and an extraordinary work ethic.
The final track, "Born To December", which was inspired by two of the most important people in my life, my long time girlfriend, Nico, and my mother, had 139 tracks of instruments and voices to mix, and Jesse tackled it without any complaints. Any other engineer would have laughed at me. Jesse not only tolerated and humored me until everything was just right according to my ear, but contributed a great deal to the outcome and vision of the record. I could not have done it without him.
It sounds as good as anything on the radio today, quality wise. There is a part of me and my soul in this record for the first time ever. Everyone deserves a second chance and I hope the audience will grant me this one time, take it for what it is, just some songs, and maybe even enjoy it. No more, no less. I really tried my best, stayed on track, stayed clean, and put my heart into what I was doing.
I don't have a family, I don't have children, or much hope of any kind at all. But, I do have the greatest job in the world and the most enthusiastic, endearing, and loyal fans that any singer/song-writer could hope to have. Together we are a family and I owe my continued existence to the fact that I have devoted listeners, no matter how few, who have stood by me patiently all along, waiting for me to get my shit together. I'm grateful to be able have this opportunity to give a little back to the world, and I hope that will show up in these songs.