Morne have been active in the underground punk and metal scene around New England since 2005. Although rooted in crust punk, the sound of the band exists outside of the constraints of the genre. Austere, elegiac, and in no rush to make a point fast, their songs play as sprawling epics. As a band that still writes albums instead of singles, and one that takes a precise approach to song craft, we were interested to hear their ideas about their music and more. Guitarist and vocalist Milosz Gassan sat down with us to answer some questions.
Arjun Ray: Thanks for sitting down to do this interview. It’s been a long time coming.
AR: So Milosz, you had the idea to start Morne back in 2005. What influenced the atmosphere and sound of the band at the time?
Milosz Gassan: To be honest the idea is a little older than that. I moved here to Boston in 2000 and one of the things I left behind was my band. So the obvious thing to do was to start to play again. I gotta say, it wasn’t easy. Finding people who see music the way I do was pretty hard. I was influenced by Amebix and Misery. Bands that had this really great vibe. There was something about it. There were more bands that I admired, though maybe not necessarily metal or heavy bands. They all had pretty heavy vibe. MG: Moving from Europe didn’t change my vision or path, I think it made it stronger. I was pushing to play again. I had a lot of ideas that I was going to use on my old band’s second album, but things changed. I moved away and it all stayed with me. Like I said it wasn’t easy to find people who want to do this the same way as I do. I kept writing songs, riffs. Meanwhile I joined a local hardcore band. Things were moving in their own way. After a while I started to play with few friends down in Connecticut and Providence. It was fun and productive in a way but didn’t last long because of our schedules, other projects, distance etc. I needed to keep it all local to make it move forward. Then I started to play with Max and Kevin (the drummer at that time). This was the first solid line up. I showed them songs and ideas I had and we recorded a demo. That is how it really took form. Then the vibe, image and atmosphere of Morne started to slowly surface… The whole specific idea about the band.
AR: Which hardcore band?
MG: It was Sleeper Cell. I joined them when their bass player left. They already had two 7’s out at that time. I recorded an album with them and some comp tracks. The album came out on Partners in Crime and we had a song on MRR comp. The band stopped soon after the album came out.
AR: Actually, Morne reminds me most in spirit of Amebix. Unabashedly metallic and experimental. You guys don’t seem to have any of that neo-crust thing that Tragedy started, and the sound is way more pristine and austere than most old school stench core.
MG: I don’t think there was or will be another band like Amebix. They created very unique atmosphere. Very heavy, I’m not saying that they are down tuned, which many bands these days take as heavy. The riffs, two-three notes that make you change your mood, moving and atmospheric. That’s what I’m influenced by. The vibe and image, is simple and bold. That had very big impact on me pretty much since I first heard them.
AR: Easily on of my favorite bands. I actually found Killing Joke, another of my favorite bands, through the influence they had on Amebix. AR: Not obviously punk, even though the influence on the drums and vocals is clear, I hear more post-metal in your sound. Bands like Oceans come to mind. I fucking hate terms like post-metal that, but how would you describe your sound?
MG: Killing Joke are great, I like all of their eras. Very influential. They are doing their own thing and that’s simply the way it should be. Post Metal…Post Rock…hm I heard bands adding word Apocalyptic to this sometimes. Not sure if they wanna scare someone or something. I don’t really know what Post Metal means…nor I care. I’m focused on a vibe and aesthetics of the band. The sound, the look. The name tag is what people want and they can have it. We come from a punk scene and more or less operate in it as people but the band isn’t attached to anything like that. We play what we want and what naturally comes from us. Since it’s distorted most of the time and loud we could call it metal I suppose.
AR: Good answer. And that’s the last we’ll be talking about genres. AR: The band has evolved a lot since I first saw you guys with Resistant Culture and Vitamin X in 2008. Each album seems very much within a cohesive overall sound, but with different emphasis. How have you guys directed your sound over the years and why
MG: Like I mentioned above some of my original ideas were leftover riffs I had for a second Filth of Mankind record. Obviously I never used them for that. It was a different time, different environment. Most of Untold Wait was written even before the band had a fully functional line up. Then things started to shift a little when I partnered up with Max. MG: Overall it’s all about the time and place and our state of mind. Different vibe comes out from us at different times but we are still the same people. I think it’s the same with music. It circles; drifts away, comes back. You wait and see what happens, how riffs change but the vibe stays the same.
AR: Untold Wait is probably my favorite album of the three. I’m a sucker for ripping mid-tempo riffs. What’s the plan for recording in the near future?
MG: We are working on our new material. It will take a while. We never want to rush anything, it happens when it happens. Next album will probably be out sometime in 2016. AR: What is your writing process? Is it collaborative or is their one main writer per song?
MG: I brought a lot of finished songs and riffs to the band over all those years but I don’t think there is a strict writing formula in Morne. It just has to sound right no matter who writes it. We are pretty picky about what ends up on our albums. Our horizon is pretty wide and very narrow at the same time if that makes any sense. MG: Sometimes I bring a full idea and we all work on it. Sometimes Max has something and I add to it and vice versa. Billy wrote some riffs recently that we will definitely use. We have some new music brewing that seems to be 100% collaborative effort of all four of us. I guess in any band there is or should be leading person but the chemistry between all of the members makes it sound the way it sounds. There is a direction and we are getting there as a band, not as single people.
AR: Yeah that makes a lot of sense. Everything is available to draw from, but very little makes the final cut. It’s hard to make a band 100% collaborative in my experience, but it can be really good if it works.
MG: I agree, It’s pretty much impossible to be always on the same page with your bandmates. I think that is a part of being in a band, and this brings another thing which is to make it all work. Everyone has their own role in this pretty complicated at times structure. I think as long as people embrace their roles and work with each other then the results are pretty satisfying.
AR: What influences do each of you bring to the music?
MG: Influences…hm now when I’m thinking about… I think it’s really hard to talk about influences by naming names etc. I think music we listen to shapes us to some degree and everyone releases the vibe they absorb in a different way. Two bands may say they are influenced by Discharge and one is playing heavy well produced music and the other is playing very noisy lo-fi punk. I mentioned before that I am influenced by Amebix. I’m influenced by their vibe, simplicity, image. You may say Morne doesn’t sound anything like Amebix…and that’s the point. I’m not ripping them off, I’m influenced by their work. I think it’s not a very straight road. We are all different people and we all bring ourselves to this and aim for one target, and that is a record, and another one and another one.
AR: One of my old band members had a thing about not sitting on a song idea for too long before recording it. I don’t know what his deal was, but every song idea ended up scrapped or recorded within a week. I preferred a more deliberate song writing process. How do you decide when a song is ready to be played out or recorded?
MG: I guess you just feel it when it’s ready or not. It’s kinda hard and foolish to rush anything when you write 10 minute songs. When we have riffs that we feel are good and fit Morne, we work on them. If there are any doubts about them fitting what we are aiming for we don’t even start working on it. Sometimes someone brings a cool riff but it just doesn’t fit what we do. Some bands write 20 songs, record them and release only 10. We aren’t one of those bands. We write an album as a one piece of music. Sequence it even before it’s recorded. Make sure it flows and feels the way we want it to and then we record it. Keeping it as simple as possible is the key. If it takes time or not it has to feel right.
AR: It comes across. The albums really do work cohesively. Good records to play from front to back without interruption.
AR: You take an intentional and purposeful approach to your music. It seems like a very process oriented endeavor, and I respect that as a musician and as a recording engineer. Can you talk about what kind of ethic you bring to a recording session for an album?
MG: When we write music we let ourselves go a little. It’s a process when anything can happen. It’s pretty interesting to see how things flow, get moved around, get added, or taken away. It’s a process that takes a lot of time. When we feel that we have solid concept for our new album we make demos to see how it all sounds together. We tweak some things and then we start to rehearse it. We practice two or three times a week and play the new material sequenced one time after another for few months. We want to be 100% prepared when we enter the studio. Morne isn’t one of those bands that write their songs during their recording session. When we enter our studio we know what we want to do and basically turn it all into a little machine. I usually plan how many days we gotta book and when we will record what and how long it may take. I know, some bands these days record their albums on a computer in their practice room but that’s not really our thing. We like the classic, conventional approach. We try to be very direct with this approach and do exactly what needs to be done, and the more prepared we are, the easier and smoother our recording sessions are. Sometimes, we come up with some quick idea when we are recording but generally we enter the studio with a plan and end the session with the plan being completed. It saves a lot of bullshit and doesn’t break the bank. AR: So you guys are putting out your own vinyl and you have some stuff out on Profound Lore?
MG: Our first album came out on Feral Ward and they handled all formats. That was more standard situation. Profound Lore is our primary label now and they released our last two albums, Asylum and Shadows, though they specialize in CDs and other digital formats. Vinyl releases are up to us. It is a little bit different approach then then we had with Feral Ward. Vinyl versions of Asylum came out in Europe on Alerta Antifascista and here in The States on the Armageddon Label. With Shadows, we decided to take a little bit different route and try to do it ourselves. We started Morne Records to handle our vinyl releases. It happened with great help from our long time friend Ben who runs Armageddon Label. I think it’s a pretty natural progression for Morne.
AR: I didn’t know Ben was involved with Morne. That’s cool, Armageddon shop is fucking great.
MG: Ben is my long time friend and friend of the band. He actually played with me for a while when I was starting it as a project. Dropdead was on hiatus and he had some free time to jam. He does good job with his band, stores, and the label. Wish there was more people with guts out there.
AR: That’s a classy and expensive move to press your own vinyl. Don’t see quite as much of that these days with all these tapes.
MG: Pressing a record is very expensive but we wanted to see if we can do it ourselves since we had that agreed freedom from Profound Lore. I think it brought us closer to a true craftsmanship and some sort of DIY ethics. We are pretty strict about what goes through the band and what the band goes through, and pressing that album was one those great things we wanted to achieve us a band. Write your own music, write your own lyrics, design your own artwork, while being supported by such a remarkable label as Profound Lore. On top of it, being able to release your own vinyl on your own label is a really satisfying thing. Profound Lore gave us an opportunity to try to do it and we greatly respect that. We are supporters of DIY ethics but I gotta say, it is really awful to see when bands try to ride that train and put that tag on themselves only because they have no recognition from larger labels, but then they maybe get that contract, they sign it and disappear. I think honest approach is the key no matter what you are doing. No need to sell yourself as someone you aren’t. We aren’t directly part of the DIY scene but it’s still something we identify with to some degree as people and try to support it. AR: It’s impossible to ignore that Morne places a lot of value on aesthetics. I’m a fan of the new logo. It’s got some of the same uncomfortable overtones and aesthetic power as the Crass logo. Can you talk about the imagery used for Morne?
MG: Thanks. We always wanted to have a symbol; an emblem that can represent the band without even saying its name. Max and I were trying to come up with something for years but nothing was ever good enough or fit the band. All the designs, layouts could be so much easier with something like that haha. The thing with band emblems is that everything pretty much has been done. Different approaches, different styles but pretty much all of it is already out there. Black Flag, Husker Du, Crass, Einstürzende Neubauten. Very hard to come up with something, especially when you are so picky. Guess you never know but we spent a couple of months last year working with napkin drawings and computers, going back and forth and we finally agreed on it. Cold, block like image that fits. Now it seems so easy. MG: Max designs our album covers and pretty much all images we use. He crafts something that seamlessly fits the band, its vibe and message. I think it represents us very well and speaks for the band without us saying much. I was always a fan of simple images like that. I remember the guitar player in my old band did some good layouts for our releases; not exactly along the same lines but in this frame. I like stuff like that. Last time I spoke with Max about our art he said that he wants to try something different for the next album. We will see.
AR: I want to back up a second and ask you about Filth of Mankind, your old band Milosz. Do you still have any affiliation with them?
MG: No man. I’m one of the founders and author of most of our music on the releases but I left the band many years ago. Haven’t been an active member since. I’m good friends with Pawel, one of the motors of the band back then and also second guitar player (not the best one though, cheers mate) who left many years ago too. He roadies for Morne when we tour in Europe. Seems like we still see things eye to eye except few minor fall outs we had over last 20+ years. I lost contact with the vocalist who also isn’t in the band. Don’t have much contact with the drummer and bass player recently. They are only two remaining members of FOM who keep resurrecting it in various new lineups even after apparent split-up four or five years ago. Not sure why anyone would want to do anything under that name after so many major changes and not much activity for so many years. Music is art and art is your message. I believe when you mess with it too much you start to look like you never had anything to say. Funny that you asked this question today.
AR: Thanks for the honest answer. AR: What are the plans for the future with this band. How do you see the band changing or staying the same? I know you guys recently went through some lineup changes…
MG: I assume you are talking about Jeff’s departure. I could say we had artistic differences…and what won’t kill us will make us stronger or something else as stupid. But I’m not a person who likes to sugar coat anything just to make it go away. Jeff was a big part of the band for a good amount of years. We recorded three albums together and did a lot of touring, shared laughs and were in situations where our patience was put through serious tests, but that is how it is while you are in a semi-busy touring band. You start to wear out. Personalities clash, you lose interest or just want to do something different. I can’t speak for him here but I’m pretty sure he would agree. A while ago things started to not work for him which consequently made things start to not work for us. We did a very successful tour in Europe last April and after that I went to Poland for a while. Few weeks later, Jeff called me and said “hey man, I’m leaving the band”. I said “ok”. We talked a little bit about my dad’s health and some other stuff and that was it. I didn’t try to stop him because I respect his decision. No drama, no stupidity. We aren’t some kids who run around in circles trying to prove something to each other. Being in a band isn’t easy and if anyone ever tells you something different they are full of shit. Now, path and direction of the band won’t change one bit because that was established way before Jeff joined the band. We carefully auditioned a few guitar players and decide to move on with our friend Paul Rajpal who was working at New Alliance Studios during Asylum and Shadows sessions. Very good guitar player with similar playing style to Jeff’s, which is super important to us. Great personality and work ethic. We are already writing new material and moving forward. MG: See, this is one of those things that we do: express our passion in music, lyrics, artwork and all around it. We do it for self-centered, ego driven desire. Not for some spiritual crap, black masses or other shit like that that a lot of bands try to sell to their fans. Or some semi-political cover up to their lack of opinions. We do it for personal satisfaction and fulfillment, and then when our work makes us wake up to a message from someone saying “hey guys, just discovered your band and listened to your albums, they really made my shitty day better”, that is what makes it worth doing. We are writing our new album, going to play some random shows on the East Coast and tour a little in the fall.
AR: It’s not uncommon to see that Morne is on tour in Europe on big summer metal fest bills. How is your reception in Europe compared to that in the States? Where else do you guys want to tour?
MG: We played a couple of bigger festivals in Europe over the last few years. Roadburn was one of the greatest. It was a true honor to be invited to be a part of this very unique and exclusive event. Great experience. We also played at Hellfest in France, one of the biggest festivals in Europe. Very good and very strange experience at the same time. DIY Hard Core fest in my hometown in Poland organized by my friends was a very cool experience. It’s very heartwarming to see people being involved in creating something like that. Europe is good for us. We toured there three times and all three trips were great. People from different scenes and different backgrounds follow music with a very remarkable passion. Small, big and pretty much any bands are treated very well. I think the situation in the States starts to catch up slowly but steadily. People travel and see how it’s done in other places and start to get to implant it in their local scenes. I’m hopeful.
AR: One of my buddies who works down the hall from me played Hellfest 2014. Some strange lineups, but tons of excellent bands, but that’s another story. AR: Would Morne ever consider touring less traveled countries, like the country of origin of this zine, Pakistan?
MG: To be honest I would love to go everywhere we can. We get messages from Malaysia, Indonesia. Australia, New Zealand and Japan are definitely on our future map. We still haven’t been to a lot of countries in Europe. Got invited to Mexico and I’m sure we will get around taking that trip at some point. Like I said I’d like to go pretty much everywhere as long as we can get there safely and get back home in one piece. There is a lot of interesting regions that would be amazing to explore as a band but the political situation in those places definitely makes us push them to the back of our list. Unfortunately.
AR: The political situation in some of these truly fucked up countries ends up channeling some of the most aggressive, heavy, and righteous music out there. You may find some amazing bands to play with in places off the map, along with foaming-at-the-mouth fans more excited than most audiences to see heavy music.
MG: I’m aware of it because I am from a country that has a not as fucked up but pretty rough history. Whole Eastern Block, communist era. Russia, Berlin wall, Cold War. It put a lot of pressure on people in their normal day to day lives and their “after work time”. Radio didn’t play much “western music” not talking about punk or metal. You couldn’t go to a store and buy the Ramones cassette. Stuff like that didn’t really exist. Not everyone could get a passport and fly to London to pick up some new music. That tension created a lot of great punk bands, metal bands. I have contact with a lot of people in countries that are still in kinda the same situation Poland was in back then. Not talking about even more fucked up regions where stuff like that gets you killed. I remember when in the early nineties , a few years after the Berlin Wall collapsed, we could see more and more underground bands coming to Poland. Shows were packed and people were freaking out. Bands loved to play there because they always had a good crowd. I remember when I went to see Misery and Extinction of Mankind in a town few hours south from my hometown and there was 600-700 people; both bands played extended sets and it was crazy. The next day we drove across the border to Berlin to see them again and there was 30 people and no one really cared. People were spoiled by so many bands coming through their town. That wasn’t always the case but it was happening a lot around that time. MG: It’s much easier to create art, music or whatever it is in a country that provides a cozy place to live, you make good money and they also pay for your practice space because they invest in arts and entertainment. I really hope that at some point we will get to go to a place and play to people who see two, three bands a year and are really happy and passionate about it. Not sure when but it will happen. AR: What bands are you guys most excited about right now? Are there any bands that in spirit or in sound you consider similar to Morne?
MG: I’m probably the most boring person in Morne when it comes to questions like this. I often get stuck with a few bands that I listen to for few months straight. There may be weeks when I only listen to Cocteau Twins Peel Sessions or days when I blast Misery in my car and then go to see Doom play. I’m not an easy customer when it comes to music or pretty much everything. There are a few local bands that I like. The new band called Sea and our good friends Obsidian Tongue are great. Hard working people. Punk band Sadist has a very interesting approach. I admire when bands do their thing. Even when it doesn’t bring them a full house every time they play, I think it’s better to be original to a degree and honest then use half assed rip offs of someone else’s songs and call yourself influenced by…. that’s weak shit. As for bands in spirit of Morne…. I gotta say, I don’t really know man. I’m sure there are a lot of bands doing stuff the way we do.
AR: How fucking cool is it to be on the Darkthrone cover for Circle the Wagons? I assume you get asked all the time, but I had to.
MG: You know, it’s a great thing. It’s very honorable to be endorsed by a band like them, or I rather say by people like them. They are very down to earth guys. Fenriz emailed me few years ago, when we released our demo and asked if I wanna trade it for a recent Darkthrone cd. Very old school penpal situation. It was very simple. He liked the band. One day he said they are working on their new album cover and asked if it’s ok to put Morne logo there. You know what, their band is huge and our band is smaller but at the end of the day we are still people doing pretty much the same things. If you start to freak out and run around like a little kid you will look like that little kid and no one likes that shit. Like I said it’s a great honor. In their eyes we did a good job and they decided to support us and that’s awesome.
AR: Thanks for giving us a great interview. Please let people know how they can support the band and any other info you want to share with our readers.
MG: Thank you so much for the recognition and for supporting our band. It’s a really nice thing to be part of and I greatly appreciate it. People can contact us through our pages and support us through their appreciation of our music and supporting our label. Cheers.
____________________________ live band photos taken by Hillarie Jason