Thursday, February 2, 2017

George Morris & The Gypsy Chorus

Right now, George Morris is getting ready to put out his third album. And, right now, George Morris is possibly panicked he may never write another song, ever again... ...Until he does. Until he will. He always winds up back at the proverbial drawing board, even if he feels these sorts of anxious tremors greeting him at the conclusion of an extensive creative process. I get that. It's just he catches me off guard when he says it... Actually, he catches me off guard when he says something else, too, but more on that later.

Morris is the singer/guitarist of The Gypsy Chorus. The songs on the band's forthcoming album were written and arranged by Morris, then developed and produced in Zach Shipps' studio in Ferndale. The instrumentalists who flesh out these songs are Helena Kirby, Zach Pliska, Doug Diedrich, and Ronny Tibbs.

Morris jettisoned right out of high school and out on the road with his bandmates in The Satin Peaches; the group of wunderkinds were signed to a label just in time for the waning days (around 2006) of the turning millennium's indie rock renaissance, when the music industry as we once knew it pretty much crumbled away...

In 2012, he went the solo route and started working on what would become 2013's Organ Solos. The melodies were lilting loop-de-loops that were instantly anthemic, ridged with a bit of post-everything nihilism and airily wailed in that wipsy/hazy high-altitude voice of his... Organ tones filled most of the albeit minimally-dressed soundscape, interwoven with sequenced beats and the inevitably valiant guitar solo.

Then in 2015, after a couple years of performing locally and touring a bit with The Gypsy Chorus, Morris released We Will Go To Hell For This, a playful, snarky, sophisticated cinching of lyrics taking op-ed deconstructions of the social scenes swayed into these instantly indelible melodies, trancing trips like "Girls On Parade" or balls-of-the-feet urgency of "Never Regret It."

But now, we've got an album that Morris said, after thinking about it, "feels like the album I've been trying to make for a long time..."

George Morris LP release party Saturday, March 11George Morris & The Gypsy Chorus
@ Bemo's Bar in Bay City
with Tart / Martin McNeil  / & Barbarossa Brothers 

"I just wanted to do a full record with no restrictions," said Morris. "I tried to do that on the last one but the restriction was: me...having to produce it. That was a limitation. This time, i wanted to go with someone who knows what they're doing. (Shipps) helped me make the record i wanted to make."

Morris is bandmates with Shipps in Arc Pelt, a group led by singer/songwriter Liz Wittman. In fact, Morris is also playing bass with Carré  Calloway in Queen Kwong. This..., after Morris actually told himself towards the end of 2016 that he thought he could probably benefit from taking a bit of a break from music. "I failed at taking a break," Morris recalls, looking back on the three solid years of work with the Gypsy Chorus. "My goal was to disappear for a bit, but i just couldn't say no to anything. I enjoy it though. It's nice to just show up and play bass and not have to be the frontman. I can play bass while drunk, too, so, that's nice; I don't have to pace myself for those shows..." He chuckles as I tell him he's keeping up with that rock-star ethos. "It's part of the show..."

Morris can't actually recall a time in his life when he didn't want to be playing music. His parents were both musicians, and by the time he was 8 years old, he was starting on his first drum kit. The Beatles, all of the Beatles, along with substantial FM radio sets of classic rock music, were on all the time while he was growing up. (He even tried to form his own band as early as 4th grade). His first high school band wound up getting gigs to play Zeppelin covers. His endearing showmanship springs from having Jimmy Page as an integral early influence.

Morris met another music kid in 9th grade, Jesse Shepherd Bates. This was in Walled Lake, and they're eventual encounter came about basically because every other person in their respective social circles was basically mistaking one for the other; i.e., long-haired rock music kids who were each just starting to get in to Radiohead. This led to the formation of The Satin Peaches.

"Looking back, I would have done things differently," said Morris. "(2005-2007) was a crazy time in my life. We were 19 when we got signed, but my mom had just passed away the year before that. So, getting signed was like this severe low going in to a crazy high..."

How does one process that emotional roller coaster from one pole to another?

"A lot of alcohol and drugs? I mean..., the industry was just gone two years after we got signed, anyhow. We like to think we killed it. But, from then, to now..., I have such a better perspective on life, and what I care about, and what I don't care about."

Looking back, Morris said it wasn't until he was in 9th grade before he finally started listening to music that was made after, like, 1979... "I was totally all classic rock until then, but once I heard Radiohead and The Strokes, I started realizing how much good music was out there. Even then..., I can't really stand indie-rock anymore. It's just so generic, and all sounding like the same MGMT-mimicking bullshit over and over."

Lately, Morris said he's been listening a lot to magic-melody inclined music makers like Frankie Cosmos and Charlie Hilton. "Melody is what I'm trying for, most, and then the guitars are this compliment for it. I treat songwriting as anything; its' work. I start something on a keyboard, write a demo."

"There's a lot of emotions in the songs, but I don't usually really know exactly what they're about..." See, that's another thing. Even though I might feel pretty moved by a poignant bit of poetry in one of Morris' new songs, he doesn't approach lyric formation like a typical singer/songwriter. The melodies are unabashedly given prominence when he's arranging. The words just kinda seem to fit, that's all.

But I do ask him about whether he worries that he'll have to try to cater himself, to craft an image, to make sure he's appealing to a certain audience. "No, that never goes through my head. The only thing that goes through my head is feeling terrified I'll never be able to write another song again."

Morris admits, soon after that statement, that he basically can't not write songs. He, like any artist, has that urge to be working on something. He may call the formation of these melodic tunes "work," but it's inevitably fulfilling something for him. He knows that. And he knows he'll write another batch of songs, soon...

I say to him: "You have an artistic side!" I kinda shouted it. "You know that, don't you?"

"Do I?" he asks. He's serious.

And I go back to talking about bands having to craft an image, and the drama that creates for one's self-respectability. "Nah man... I'm done with that drama. I'm getting better about everything, with music. I'm getting past the cynicism. I'm just getting to where I'm asking: 'Am I still enjoying this?' And Liz (Wittman) said: 'Remember...that you liked it at a point and always try to remember what that was.' That's helped. I feel a lot better about it all, now. And...performing, that's actually always fun, especially when the band is as tight as it's gotten to be."

And he goes on to talk about how excited he is to travel up to Bemo's in Bay City. That's just about a two hour drive for most of us in Detroit, but Morris doesn't care; he that venue, and the crowds up there, to be nothing but enthusiastic and encouraging. "It's more fulfilling for me if we just tour to smaller rooms that have attentive, supportive audiences... I've given up the idea of making money with this, just seems more worthwhile to make records! And to not worry about anything else; just find the audiences that want to listen. Seems less stressful. And, more sustainable in the long run."

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