Described by Maverick Magazine as “One of the best and most exciting prospects to emerge in a long time”, UK Americana Rock six-piece outfit Morganway are on the ascendancy. The recently released sophomore album ‘Back To Zero’ was met with universal critical acclaim and with the crucial UK festival season in full swing, we spoke to founding members (and twin brothers) Callum (lead vocals, bass) and Kieran Morgan (guitar, vocals), and vocalist SJ Mortimer – one of the shining lights in the UK Americana scene – about the album and all things Morganway-related.
You have just completed a hugely successful headline tour of the UK, it must have been a great feeling that the tour was so well-attended.
Kieran: Yes, it was a really special feeling. It was our second or third UK headline tour and it really felt like a step up. The goal was that we would sell out one or two nights, and I think it was six out of the ten nights that we sold out, with the remaining nights not that far behind. It felt that the audience had grown to a level that we hadn’t had before, so yes, it was a great feeling.
As a relatively new band, was there ever the fear during the lockdown that live music would never return to the way that it previously was?
Callum: Honestly, I wasn’t stressing about whether we would gig again. I was thinking “Let’s hope the world doesn’t end”! But I remember watching a Flaming Lips live video with my wife, and it was from Glastonbury a few years back, and I remember seeing this huge crowd of people just loving it…and we both got choked up by that because it wasn’t so much the performance, it was seeing this mass of people. And I think that was when it really hit home that that was not able to happen. And then it was “Will this happen again?”. Maybe for a while, I thought that it might be a different scenario returning to touring if we had to implement social distancing. Before covid, we had this encore where we played a song from our first album, ‘In a Dream (Coming Home’), in amongst the crowd. We kind of stole that from CC Smugglers – not the song itself, but playing in amongst the crowd! And we had a conversation between us and thought “Maybe initially we shouldn’t do that when we get back on tour”. But this tour…no sense of that at all! It was back to normal.
SJ: We had a tour last year where it was like halfway back to normal, but this one felt like everyone was happy to get back out and into sweaty little venues again!
How long does it take you as a band to decompress after a tour? Are you straight back to normal the next day or does it take a while to readjust?
Kieran: There is definitely a pretty hard comedown after a tour ends. It’s such an awesome life being on the road – well, I think that it is – but it is also exhausting and emotional because there is so much waiting around just for that special ninety minutes at the end of the night. We always say that we have six band members and seven opinions, and it can be quite hot-headed, but on this tour, everyone got on so well and there was a real sense of family on the road….
SJ: And it really was night after night, one show after the other. We only had one day off and that was a travelling day…
Kieran: So the week after was shit! The week after that was even worse and then it was okay after that! [laughs]
You touched on the fact that Morganway has six band members and seven opinions, if you ask a duo or a trio what are the main advantages of having so few band members they usually respond that it is cheaper and there are fewer arguments…but you guys go in the totally opposite direction.
Callum: It’s definitely not cheaper! [laughs] But people do say that you don’t see as many bands in that sense, and there is something special about bands. We have lots of friends who are fantastic session musicians and they do amazing shows with people who they haven’t even practiced with…but what we have as a band is that chemistry that you have through the fact that you maybe do have arguments, the fact that you do know each other very well, and the fact that you are a band. You are a kind of gang, and even though there are six of us, and that makes travelling such an expense, it is worth it. We are all influenced by bands, just that whole experience…when I saw the Red Hot Chilli Peppers for the first time when I was thirteen I was just as excited to see the drummer Chad Smith as I was to see the singer Anthony Kiedis.
On the subject of duos, what’s your opinion on the recent Royal Blood fiasco, where they had a go at the audience of a BBC Radio One free gig for not being into them?
Kieran: It was shocking. I mean, I love playing to a crowd that doesn’t know you. Regardless of whether or not it was a loving crowd, I would hope that we would never do that.
SJ: It’s a nice challenge to try and win them over. And there is a moment where we all look at each other and go “We’ve done it!”. We are always playing to new people, this festival season we are playing festivals that we haven’t played before, to lots of new crowds…and that’s really exciting.
Callum: It was a strange billing for sure. But who knows, maybe there was a problem with their in-ears and they couldn’t actually hear the crowd, because if you watch some of the footage the crowd are clearly cheering.
The sophomore album ‘Back To Zero’ has been out for several weeks now, once an album is out there do you go back and revisit it or is it move on to the next one?
Kieran: Move on! The famous line they say is that “the mix is never finished” and you will find things that you could have added or you think “Maybe we should have done this”. It was created around the lockdown…but we knew that we weren’t going to bring it out until we could gig properly. I love that an album gets a new lease of life once it’s out there and it’s new to everyone even though we have been sitting on it for a while. So, move on I say!
SJ: We are already busy on the next thing really.
Callum: You listen to an album a lot when it’s getting mixed, and mastered, so you really do live it at that point. And because we are independent we are in charge of everything during that phase and we really do live and breathe the mixes. If I am listening to a track and I’m not thinking about all the different parts and I am just listening to it, then that to me is a finished mix. With ‘Back To Zero’ we worked hard as a band to get mixes that we were all behind. I actually listened to our first album not that long ago for the first time in a year or two, and it’s quite nice to give yourself some distance from an album.
‘Wait For Me’ is such a strong, instant way to open the album; was it always going to be the album opener?
SJ: For a while, we weren’t even sure if it was going to be on the album!
Callum: Yeah, let’s not go there, Jesus! [laughs]
SJ: Matt Brocklehurst, our man on the keys, listens to music a lot, he’s basically a music encyclopedia. He’s also a DJ and loves putting a lot of combinations of tracks together and somewhere in versions of one to ten of the track listing it just made sense for it to be number one.
Kieran: We three at least had tried different variations of what we thought the running order should be…
Callum: I think at one point it was going to be ‘Burn Every Page’, and then we thought that was a bit long…
Kieran: And then Matt just said “What about this order…” and we all went “Yeah, that works…done!” …thank you, Matt!
Callum: We knew that it was always going to end on ‘The Sweetest Goodbye’ or ‘Brother’ because they are the more mellow tracks on the album while the rest are relentless. But album running orders are so hard, so so hard!
Callum, you mentioned ‘Brother’ which of course closes the album, it’s quite a heartfelt few minutes; how long did that one take to come together? And what were the circumstances behind it? Did you and Kieran have an argument and the end result was ‘Brother’?
Kieran: We argue every day!
Callum: Always having arguments! I don’t know how I feel about that song now that I’ve had some time away from it. The fact that you see it as heartfelt is nice because people are able to take different things from songs…
Kieran: I don’t see it [as heartfelt], mate! [laughs]
Callum: Well, the last verse is quite personal about being a twin…I think! But the song did come together quite quickly. The phrase “I’ve seen you go, I know you can…” was the start of it, and it was going to be called that for a while, and then SJ said…” Just call it ‘Brother’!”.
SJ: The first time that we jammed it as a band was when we went into the studio and people were actually learning the chords as we were tracking. Both Matt and Nicky [Nicole J Terry, violin and backing vocals] are classically trained musicians and can learn things by ear and can then play it instantly.
In what ways do you feel that band has grown in the time from the recording of the debut album to the recording of ‘Back To Zero’?
SJ: I think that we have definitely gone through our growing pains as a band. I think ‘Back To Zero’ reflects that in many different ways because we had that forced time away from gigging which gave us the time to be creative and write in different ways that we haven’t done before. We had a lot of back and forth with demos before we could all meet up, and as soon as we could, we literally got into the studio straight away and started tracking the new stuff. It feels like a band now., and it feels weird to say that but when you first start a band everyone is getting to know each other and what makes everyone tick, and now we are on that we are ready to go! [laughs]
Callum: As far as writing goes, one thing that has changed is that other members of the band now are feeling empowered and want to do more writing. Often a song starts with myself or SJ separately and then we bring it to the band. But now we are experimenting more and trying different combinations of band members writing together, or taking something that is really rough and then taking it to the band. Some things can surprise you, a song that you might think is fully formed might get dismantled and reassembled when you take it to the band. It’s being open to that process and as SJ touched on, we are more open now as a group of people working together and collaborating.
Looking at your summer schedule, it’s packed with festival appearances; the festival season seems crucial to Morganway so it is vitally important that these micro-festivals survive.
Kieran: Yes, 100%. There are so many of them, and for us, a micro-festival might mean playing to 2,000 people in the afternoon on the main stage. 2,000 – 5,000 people might be considered a small festival but for a lot of bands at grassroots levels it might be the chance to play in front of a few thousand people rather than 50 – 100 in a little venue. We always love playing festivals. We love the chaos of it, we plug in and say “Let’s tear the place apart”.
Watch Morganway tearing the place apart throughout summer 2023 on one of the following dates:
More information can be found on the Morganway official website
Interview – Dave
Top – Richard Ecklestone
Bottom – James Robinson