“Cross Off” is a really special song and it kind of felt that way from the beginning!” States Mark Morton, guitarist of Lamb Of God on the first single release from his debut solo album ANESTHETIC which features none other than the incredible talent and amazing vocals of the late and dearly missed Chester Bennington (R.I.P.) of Linkin Park.
“Working with Chester was really fantastic and amazing because he was very enthusiastic, motivated and excited about the song. HE LOVED THAT SONG! And that is really why he was there. I didn’t know Chester personally until we started talking about working on music together” Morton then adds…”and more particularly until we actually wrote and recorded THAT song. I mean to get that chance to work with Chester like that and to create music with him was really exciting!”
Mark continues further by adding that, “he was very prepared and excited about “Cross Off” in particular because he was excited for his fans to be able to scream again because it had been quite a while since he had recorded a vocal like that. It was just a real joy and positive experience, we had fun in the studio, we talked a lot about the lyrics, writing together, what they (the lyrics) meant and where they were coming from. It was a real thrill to be in the room with Chester when he recorded that amazing performance and be able to work with him at that level and be in the same room as him!
Metal V asks Morton how it feels to posthumously hear “Cross Off”? “When I hear it…” Mark elaborates, “I think of it as at that time…the time of making that song and the energy and the process of putting “Cross Off” together. It was just really positive and exciting!”
It’s definitely an amazing song and truly great to be the first single released from the album! Did you have specific artists in mind when you wrote material for Anesthetic or did it happen very organically? “It kind of happened the opposite actually. I think that the material dictated the artists that we approached. I say we because I was working pretty heavily creatively with Josh Wilbur (producer for such bands as Lamb of God, Trivium, Oni, Gojira) on this project” Morton delves further into detail about writing specifics by stating that, “we would write and demo the songs then sit back and listen to the form that they were in instrumentally or sometimes we’d have a demo guide vocal on it if we had vocal or lyric ideas for it. Then listening back to that we’d try and imagine and have a conversation about who we would hear singing on each particular song. And that is where the guest list, certainly vocally came from!”
There’s an amazing and incredibly talented array of artists and vocalists appearing on the album such as Mark Morales from Sons Of Texas, Josh Todd of Buck Cherry, Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach, the incredible and distinctive vocals of Chuck Billy from Testament, Slash’s frontman Myles Kennedy. But there is one person in particular that’s singing on the album and that is the Tom Waits of our generation…one Mark Lanegan of The Screaming Trees and an incredibly successful and illustrious solo career.”AXIS” is such a great song and whilst it isn’t a massive departure from what you know and are influenced and motivated by, tell the listeners and readers Mark how you came to work with Lanegan? The production is vocally, aside from the chorus very removed and quite different from the rest of the album.
“Mark Lanegan is one of my favorite singers. I’m a big fan of The Screaming Trees, he’s worked with Queens of The Stone Age and his solo album Bubblegum is one of my favorite albums in recent history although it’s been out for a few years now. I was just a fan and didn’t know Mark personally and I had this song so I figured that I just take a shot and sent it to him to have Mark listen to it and then things just happened. The song “Axis” is one of the songs that actually changed quite a bit which I’ll explain in a little bit, but when I sent him the original version of the song he got back to me and said that he dug it.” On being in different places Morton explains how both he and Lanegan built the song apart from one another.
“Mark and his recording engineer recorded his vocal of the original version of the song and then sent it back to me and when I heard it I had a completely different idea. After I heard his vocal approach and the lyrics he wrote it sent my mind spinning in a totally different direction. I loved Mark’s vocal but I needed to re-treat it. So I had Josh remove all of my music for “Axis” and just keep Lanegan’s vocal and add a click track and then I actually re-wrote the entire song to HIS vocals. Which is the final version you hear on the album.” An incredibly artistic way to be free and organic in the writing process and Morton finishes on working with Mark Lanegan by saying, “Of course then I had to send it back to Mark to make sure he was cool with the final version because it changed dramatically, but thankfully he liked it so fortunately that’s the one we went with.”
Anesthetic is obviously a departure from what you’ve known and done as bread and butter for so long in Lamb Of God. What was your motivation behind seeking the solo / collaborative road? The press release for Anesthetic has you saying that it wasn’t a concerted effort to not to be anything outside of Lamb Of God but what was that point where you knew it would be a departure from Lamb Of God?
“That quote was interpreted weird in the Bio. By what I said I meant I wasn’t setting out to write a solo album. When I write, I’m just writing music that’s just knocking around between my ears. And sometimes that winds up being heavy metal music that’s good enough to be contributed and used in Lamb Of God and sometimes it just rock music, sometimes it’s blues music and sometimes it’s something that can’t be categorised, but I still work on that nonetheless.”
Describing Mark’s further removal from writing songs specifically outside of his better known involvement in Lamb Of God, Morton continues…”What happened was I started getting a collection of songs that clearly weren’t going to fit into the framework of Lamb Of God but that I still wanted to develop and clearly wanted to work with. So once I started getting a collection of those songs together I played them for Josh and Jake Oni from WPP Records got involved on both a business and creative level and we all had this kind of concept for this project and it was at that point I should start involving other people and it was then that Anesthetic started to evolve. So from the song writing point of view it was just me writing songs like I always do, but once I had a collection of songs outside of the metal framework we gave those songs a destination and framework and that’s when the whole concept started to come together.”
Now I’ve been a fan of Lamb of God for nearly twenty years and I love hearing new music from bands and artists I’m familiar with that stray into different territories. One of the tracks that I was truly impressed with on the album is the blues rock inspired track “Reveal” featuring the vocals and guitar of Naeemah Maddox. A warm and enticing song that just oozes passion and desire. I asked Mark to give us some insight into how he came to work with Naeemah and her working band. “Of course I would love to, Naeemah’s fantastic. That band is an actual band that rehearses and play together. We haven’t played any shows and we don’t haven’t anything that’s actually released, but I have been playing with those guys and girl for a couple of years. We did actually put out a few years ago a couple of instrumental songs on Soundcloud which did the rounds here and there for a little bit, but that’s the project where we are all scattered up and down the East Coast and two or three times a year we meet and rehearse, write and record songs in Maryland. And Naeemah is part of that project which also includes John-Paul Gaster from Clutch playing Drums and others and we’re just a collective that writes tunes together “Reveal” is one of those songs that we had”.
Anesthetic is clearly a catharsis but also removal from what we’ve come to hear and recognise by Mark Morton in the form of Lamb Of God. Can you give us a little insight into your influences and what motivates your songwriting and when did you start writing the album without any thought of collaboration?
“All of my influences are all over the place and they’ve been that way for a long time, but that being said a lot of my influences and styles make their way into Lamb Of God one way or another. Whether that from my blues side or whatever but I always try to work in my non-metal influences in Lamb Of God one way or another. And sometimes that may be a little few and far between or a little more harder to work its way into their music and songs. And my favorite guitar players are Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Billy Gibbons you know those classic rock players but I also love British blues. And in terms of when “When did I start writing a solo album?” the answer is I don’t really know! I know when we started demoing songs for the album and that was in late 2016. But actually before that I’d had a handful of these songs that were kind of sketched out about two or three years before that. There wasn’t this one morning that I woke up and said “I’m gonna write a solo record! There was just this kind of process of songwriting where I collect ideas where some of those songs just sit in the background or some of them get worked on right away and it’ll be a rock song that may not be right for Lamb. On Anesthetic is a bunch of songs that I have been sitting on for a while.”
And on Mark’s thoughts as to why Anesthetic took so long to finally come to fruition; “ Mainly because of my commitment to Lamb Of God. We’ve been pretty busy, plus our producer Josh Wilbur (who produces LOG and also produced Anesthetic) has been busy and it was only when our schedules aligned that we could get back to working together. Then on top of that, adding all these elements of adding all these different players and performers on the album and we have to also work around their main commitments and their main bands so you can imagine how much of a juggling act it can be and a process that very long going from start to finish.”
Funny Mark should mention the quote “Start to Finish” because at the beginning of the interview we discussed the opening song and first song released from the album being “Cross Off”. Now the last song on the album “The Truth Is Dead” featuring Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy and one Mr. Randy J. Blythe, who just so happens to be the front man for Mark’s bread and butter band in Lamb Of God. So the obvious question had to be asked…Was having Randy be a part of this album a no brainer or did he approach you and want to be a part of Anesthetic? Mark laughs in response and states “Yepp, having Randy be a part of this album was a no brainer! And I’ll be honest and tell you why because there a pure and simple reason. Randy is one of my best friends in the whole world. And it just so happens that one of my best friends in the whole world just also happens to be the best metal screamer in the whole world. It was a pretty easy call to make, I had a metal song and I needed a screamer on it and I couldn’t imagine anyone else that I would of sent that text to. It was as easy as that. Literally being a text to him and then a return text back to me!”
Not forgetting also the contribution to “The Truth Is Dead” by Alissa White-Gluz doing the clean harmonies accompanying Randy and their trade off throughout the song; “well we already had Randy’s vocal done first and I think it was a conversation between Josh and I we’re we thought about adding Alissa and the song being a kind of heavy metal duet not realising the energy or how great their voices would compliment each other. Particularly in the chorus I think that they just sound so great together and hearing them both come together so perfectly was something special and you just can’t ever plan for that!”
Mark strongly points out that, “it was really important for me to have some strong women on this album. I didn’t want it to be just a record full of smelly dudes! And I think that having both Alissa and Naeemah on Anesthetic makes it more dynamic and cooler”
In closing I asked Mark if he had any plans on touring the album or if it was just a studio project and he was just going to slip back into the Lamb Of God realm? – “Yeah. we announced just a few weeks ago that we have an American/Canadian tour coming up in late March and we have a live touring band that’s been put together which we haven’t announced yet but is really really cool which is going to be announced next week. And along the way on a few of the dates we’re lucky enough to have some special guests coming out to play with us.” So the next and almost last question was if there’s a chance on any Australian dates? “Not Yet, but it sure would be cool.”
And to see us off Mark kindly finishes by saying…”I really look forward to coming down to Australia again because it is definitely one of my favorite places to be. Ever since the first time Lamb Of God came there, we have always been so well received. It is definitely a highlight of the tour itinerary for us and I hope everyone enjoys Anesthetic and that they find something on it that they really like.”
Mark Morton’s debut solo album ANESTHETIC is out March 1st on Spinefarm Worldwide and Caroline Records Australia