I got the pleasure in the past couple weeks to talk with Bob Morris, member of both The Hush Sound and Le Swish to talk about new releases and The Hush Sound’s upcoming ten-year anniversary tour for their sophomore album Like Vines.
The tour begins this Tuesday, May 31st, in San Diego at Cashbah.
Nicole Scott: So Like Vines apparently has been out for about 1000 years, so I’ve heard. How does it feel to look back on it? Any weird emotions going back and revisiting it?
Bob Morris: I’m sure there will be. It just feels like a new tour. But when we play some of these songs that we haven’t really played live in a long time, or maybe some of them probably almost never, I’m sure it’ll be pretty strange. Like “Magnolia” and “Lion’s Roar,” I think we played those right at the beginning. I think on our second tour, which was with Panic! at the Disco, we had a thirty minute set and for some reason thought we could play thirteen songs.
NS: That’s very ambitious of you!
BM: Yeah, I mean we were “Well, each of these are about two and a half minutes long, so theoretically we could play thirteen if we go real fast!” And I think we played six songs, and then after that realized it’s really not about playing a ton of songs it’s about playing good stuff.
NS: My personal favorite thing about the album as a whole is this really cool juxtaposition between these delightful sets of instruments compared to some of these haunting bits of lyrics. For instance you were talking about “Lion’s Roar,” which is pretty distressing at points. And there’s recurring images of lighthouses, ghosts, and the like, so my question is what were the inspirations for that overall atmosphere?
BM: Well, a huge part of it was – this is really funny now in retrospect, in terms of what we like taste-wise now – but I remember Greta and I both were really good friends before we started the band, and she joined this other band. And basically she told me later, to make me jealous, it was called Departure of Alex. And I was in this punk band called The Audition, and I was thinking “Okay, I gotta quit this band. We had just gotten signed a week before. Greta is in this other band, we need to be in a band together.”
So, I quit the band and we were into watching movies and stuff. The movie that was really great to us at the time was Big Fish, and I think if you listen to “Lion’s Roar” and some of the other songs, you kind of hear some imagery from that movie. But another thing that we really liked was Saves the Day, and they would always have these really – I wouldn’t call them “happy” but I would call them “poppy” – sounding songs with dark lyrics. I think that was just in our early understanding of art, this juxtaposition of pop music with dark lyrics was just an effective way of telling stories that was a little surprising and gives you maybe two kinds of feelings at once.
NS: That is definitely the vibe I was picking up off of it! But, you currently are making music with Le Swish. How is that music-making venture different than that you’ve ever done? How is that rewarding to you as a musician?
BM: Well, I’ll always be making music. When Le Swish started, it was my friend Genevieve, and she had a show at Satellite, which is the cool club in Silver Lake. I had just gotten back from Europe on a trip, and she asked “Hey, will you play a show with me in nine days?” and I thought “Man, I can’t play a show in nine days. I don’t have any band or anything like that.” And then I woke up the next morning thinking “What am I doing with my life? Yeah, I’ll play!” I called three drummers, four bass players, four guitar players, basically every single person I asked said “yes” so I had to call back two bass players and two drummers and be all “Sorry I’m gonna go with this other guy.” It was really flattering and I was thinking “You know I should be doing this more often.”
I didn’t want to make an album, because I didn’t really have a full vision of what I wanted to do yet. So, I decided to make a new song every month, and I’ve done that for a year. Now everyone is asking me when the album is coming out, so I guess I’ll make an album now. It’s been cool in general because I’m a different person. I think I was so controlled by my emotions back in the day, I was such a reactionary and emotional being, and now I am able to have more fun with the music. Not that it wasn’t fun before, but it was more emotionally taxing. Like we had this Halloween song and I suggested if all the words in the verse rhymed with “scary,” so there’s like sixteen lines that rhyme with scary. I just have to enjoy the music for the music instead of kiss everyone’s ass. Not that The Hush Sound was trying to do that, but we just recognized how easy it was to get signed when we were in Chicago. Like all we have to do is get a bunch of people at the show and get Pete Wentz to think that we’re cool.
NS: So it seems you all have been pretty far removed from that “big music label” scene for awhile now since being with Fueled By Ramen. So how did it feel being in that atmosphere and what’s it like to move away from it to, I guess you could say, more humble ground?
BM: It’s funny, Jon Walker from Panic! at the Disco, who’s also a Chicago guy, just moved in next door to me. He and I just kinda laugh about the whole thing. It really was a situation if you were in Chicago at the time and didn’t get signed, you were just seen as an idiot. That wasn’t the tough part; it was resonating with people who actually dig what we’re doing. But getting signed was a situation like “Oh, we’ll give you $10,000 and if it makes a ton we’ll be happy.”
I kind of came out to LA to quit music, which is a hilarious thing to say. I had enough fun in Chicago. So I moved out here and my friend Drew from the band OneRepublic, he told me to move out here and be his roommate… once I got there he told me “We turned your bedroom into a recording studio” and I thought “Okay, well I guess I’m not really gonna be able to quit music.”
NS: So now with your actual song-writing process, do you remember your first song-writing experience? Like what made you pick up that instrument?
BM: Yeah, I mean the first time I wanted to be a musician, I was throwing little dance parties for my mom and dad with my sister, and it was basically Guns N’ Roses. I really wanted to be the drummer. They got me a drum set, and I played the drums for three weeks, and they may have helped me along the way, but those drums broke. I think they kind of helped them break because, you know, living in a small house with them it’s all “Oh, not cool, having a three year old playing the drums all the time.” So I was into that. Every year, it was drums. Drums. That’s what I wanted, every year, crying. Birthday. Crying. Then finally in fifth grade my family got me a guitar, and I had no idea what I was doing but I was young.
I was just kind of a tall guy and people listened to me for the reasons in this world that are fucked up, and I was just bossy and everyone else was not willing to be bossy. So it was just kinda “You all are in band and orchestra and know how to read music but I’m just gonna tell everybody what to do and we’re The Sour Grapes,” that was the band.
But in terms of writing the Like Vines stuff, at the time I was really into the sound of jazz guitar and that’s probably how “Where We Went Wrong” happened. I think it was just fun to create stories. When Greta and I would sit down and write songs in the very beginning with So Sudden and Like Vines, which was really collaborative, we were more comfortable as young people writing stories about these situations rather than writing about our own emotions. There was a distance to it. But now I think I’m pretty comfortable writing about stuff even if it offends people. I think that’s one of the traps actually that people have to learn, after the people around them start to notice what’s happening with their songs. They have to not censor themselves.
NS: Now whenever you actually like sit down and get to the grind and start writing, do you have any rules or rituals that you follow?
BM: Lately I kinda write the song without the instrument. I have a song right now called “Work for You,” that’s the first one I did for Le Swish, and I was thinking “Work for you, work for you, work for you, I wanna work for you, I wanna work for you” and I kept saying it and I was all “That’s the song!” So I think that when you come up with a concept or a feeling that hurts you or excites you it almost kind of writes itself once you sort of have the main theme. I think the most obvious way of putting it is clay spinning around, and you’re just shaping it. You have what it is, then you make it better and better until it’s just good enough. You could keep spinning it forever and kill it, but you have to stop some time.
NS: So when you have the concept you’re talking about, how you decide instrumentally how to pair that?
BM: Well sometimes someone in Le Swish will send me a track they just made, and none of them write lyrics. My favorite thing is to write vocals and melodies, so it’s almost like it’s not even fair. It’s just done. But with the music, with “Work for You,” there was this chord progression I just kept playing… a very 80’s kind. It’s not the same as “Not a Stranger,” The Hush Sound song, but I was just going through this phase where I loved those chord relations and everything was sounding really good to me there, but that being said, you can make the mood however. Le Swish has a song called “The Real Thing” which is about questioning. Like you could be so in love with someone but the truth matters that you’re always gonna have attraction, and it’s about being in touch with that, like having a mate that’s not unrealistic and isn’t so jealous that they can’t handle it, which is an important thing in life for a relationship to succeed. I think innately I still like to juxtapose lyrics, but at the same time I’m not uncomfortable making a sad song that sounds sad.
NS: You all are probably sick and tired of being bombarded with this question, just because of the nature of The Hush Sound, but I have to ask not just for my selfish benefit, but everyone else. Is there anything the fans can be expecting as far as the future of the band?
BM: You know, I don’t know. It’s never my call. It’s really so fucking easy to make a song, yet somehow there are snags. It’s hard to say. I’m not saying it won’t happen, but there’s nothing exactly planned right now. I know that other people are very focused on other things, and I am too, but I’m just under the impression that making songs is just really easy and fun, so I would love to do more. We’ll see though, it’s been a confusing thing. I know we sort of announced we were doing stuff before, and then some other stuff happened. I mean, there’s no negativity or anything, it’s just kind of hard to get everybody in the same place, that’s why we’re only doing a few shows, which is kind of a bummer.
NS: It’s just cool that you all have this dynamic where no matter what happens with your own individual projects or anything you can always jump back into the grind and keep playing like you always have been.
BM: Yeah, though the grind in my mind isn’t much like doing thirteen shows. Like we were on tour for ten months out of the year. That took a toll on us, we felt very much like we were working for our management rather than the other way around. And the feedback we would get back would be “You gotta have hits, you gotta have hits!” and it bummed us out. And you know, that’s what their job is, that’s what they’re supposed to do, to get us to be successful. But we were hilarious, we were self-sabotaging like crazy. They’d say “We need the chorus to be more explosive” and we literally sent them the tracks back with explosions in it. Machine guns. They didn’t respond to that well.
NS: But did you think it sounded good?
BM: You know, it added something. But you know, I would have a hard time believing we won’t make more music. I know that Greta is very much into Springtime Carnivore. Chris and I are around. Darren is out there rocking and rolling in Chicago. I think if we were all in one place it would be more possible. I assume at one point we’ll be like “Let’s fucking make this song.” We’ll see, I can’t promise anything. I’m really looking forward to these shows, I think they’re gonna be super cool. If more songs meant more shows, I would definitely do it.
Thanks again so much to Bob Morris for the great conversation.