A chat over laundry with Markly Morrison of Skrill Meadow

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Markly Morrison of Skrill Meadow

Most musicians are dicks. And too often it seems the illuminated life of artistic pursuits and the onus of creativity can be destructive, dysfucntional and dismal. Markly Morrison of Skrill Meadow is the exception. From his teenage days of honing his musical chops in his church's worship band to the release of his lo-fi punk country gospel album, Spirituals, Morrison has kept an inner light aflame to not online write, record and perform music (in Skrill Meadow, LAKE and Lazer Zeppelin) but DJ it, curate it and distribute it with his own independent label, Brown Interior Music. Making and subsequently balancing so many music outlets and forays could be disorienting but it's obvious that Morrison is successful at it because he's motivated by a genuine love of music. He's a cool, smart, well-adjusted, all-around-posi guy which makes it so easy to root for him. In between his projects, and while I did my laundry at his house, Markly talked with IMPOSE about an array of things: Ween; the desert; Juggalos; touring with R. Stevie Moore; the the formative sleights of fate that beget Skrill Meadow; where his resumed music projects are at and where they're going.

How did Skrill Meadow begin and what drew you this project? You play and have played in a number of bands.

I was 17 years old and and had just started experimenting with playing music solely for pleasure and as a creative outlet. I grew up in a musical family but I feel like I sort of took that for granted most of my childhood and teen years. I feel when I was 15 or 16 I started getting into all kinds of music ; just anything and everything. I just wanted to make my own and I wanted to be all over the board, you know? I feel like that came a lot from listening to “Weird” Al when I was little–he parodied so many different styles and a broad variety of music and artists and songwriters. I was familiar with his versions of a lot of songs before I even knew what the originals were. I started listening to the alternative radio station when I was probably, like, 15 and gradually becoming familiar with what we know as being “pop classics”–because I grew up more just listening to Christian music. I came from a Christian family and so I grew up listening to, like, DC Talk and Larry Norman and Petra and Daniel Amos…and–I don't know–Striper? [laughs] All kinds of stuff. I never knew Top 40 tunes growing up. I didn't really care about [the] Top 40 when I was that age anyway because I more into being, like, “fringe” or “punk”, or “alternative”, or whatever.

Anyway, I started fooling around with a tape recorder. I didn't really know much about multitracking but I started recording myself on one tape recorder and then playing along to it and recording it on another tape recorder–going back and forth until I had a whole bunch of different recordings of me playing along to myself on one song. I thought, “This is kind of cool. I'm going to show my friends” and I'd make tapes and give it to them. And then I kind of accumulated a body of work that I felt like was an album. It was probably 30 minutes worth of music or something. I didn't know what to call it.

And one day, I was driving around in Lancaster, California–where I mostly grew up–and I drove past a street sign when I was looking for some place and I saw the street sign: it said “Skrill Meadow.” And I thought, “My goodness, that's a really weird name for a street. I think I'm going to call myself that.” [laughs] And then a couple days later I drove by it and I had misread it and it was called “Still Meadow.” You know how you are when you're frantic and you're looking around for something. I just stuck with the name for no apparent reason. The name itself doesn't have any particular significance or meaning to me, other than, like, longevity and this attachment to the Mojave Desert, where I used to live. It kind of reminds me of that. I've considered changing it or just going by “Mark J. Morrison Jr.” 'cause I can't be [English R&B singer] Mark Morrison [laughs]. “Return of the Mack…Again.”

[laughs] He ruined it for you!

Yeah, that was probably about 1998 or 1999, thereabouts; and I made a tape called The Lo-fi Explorations of Skrill Meadow: Volume 1. I never made a Volume 2. I just kept making different stuff after that. But I sold a bunch of copies to my friends at church and kids on campus at the community college and I got some encouraging feedback from it, like, early on. Back then I didn’t even know how to properly play guitar. I would just tune my dad’s guitar open and play everything with one finger and then I had to memorize what a guitar sounds like in tune so I could tune it back; so he wouldn’t get mad when he went to go play it. And then I started fooling around with those chords and…what were you saying? How did I get started? I just did it. I just got started and felt compelled to keep going.

I was thinking in terms of you usually playing in bands to you doing a one-man band format but Spirituals was mixed and mastered by Eli Moore, who you may know from your band. You might know him.

Yeah, LAKE: that’s the reason I came up to Olympia in the first place. And that was actually right around the time I had started to focus on Skrill Meadow again; probably no more than 3 or 4 months before I moved up here. I’d done my first live solo show that I’d done in probably 4 years or so. I was playing in a rock and roll band in Lancaster called Airplanes and I was writing songs for that group and since I had a whole band at my disposal I wasn’t worried about doing my own thing but I was pretty much doing my own thing with this band. I started getting into the Boredoms and Ween…all the shit that my bandmates weren’t really into. So I wanted to branch out and do some stuff that wasn’t “indie rock”; I was trying to get away from the “indie rock” sound. And I moved up here to join what was then an indie rock band. Now it’s more like “adult contemporary”, I think [laughs], LAKE but…

[Markly and Melissa laugh]

But not, like, in a bad way…

No, no. I think it’s in a very sincere…I think it’s just straightforward pop music; more so than trying to be on the cutting edge or fringe. It’s just being real and not trying to be weird.

It seems like the music you grew up with in your formative years towards you being a teenager towards to, very poetically, discovering the Skrill Meadow sign—I guess the logical progression would be that you were able to discover and go from listener to maker and have that transformation. Arguably there’d be no LAKE or Lazer Zeppelin without Skrill Meadow.

Yeah. And I feel like a friend of mine, Joel Hatcher, once said to a young girl who asked him why he never listened to the Beatles: “I love the Beatles but for me, music is a forward journey and I’m just trying to learn more.” And I dig the Beatles, too but I agree with that statement. I’m trying to explore new avenues and, you know, you are what you eat, so to speak and I like having an outlet for just sort of giving some feedback for the things that have been speaking to me. And so that’s the main reason that I like having a solo project; it’s just to have an outlet where anything goes. I mean, a country album to follow up a gloomy bass album.

It’s the next logical step. I even think of—when you were speaking about the name Skrill Meadow—and the Mojave desert…and not even from a religious thing, but just as a historical figure. I see an allegory of Jesus going into the desert and coming back with all that knowledge and speaking with the desert.

Yeah, totally. The desert is a very mystical, spiritual and inspiring environment, especially to grow up in and live around. People seek out the desert for just that reason; just specifically to be isolated. I mean, that’s why Captain Beefheart lived there. That’s where people go on vision quests in the United States. They just go to the nearest desert.

Josh Homme played concerts in the desert.

And that’s where people film car commercials, too.

Yeah [laughs]. Music is a figurative car commercial. I remember having a [previous] conversation comparing Christian upbringings, which I think being around so much of the written word probably moved me to be a writer. And you were saying you cut your chops—or you got the most actual playing of music—in your church worship band?

Yeah, that was really cool. I just got the notion that…in my heart of hearts, I didn’t want to be a musician. I was kind of slightly rebellious about it because my parents were both musicians and they were just like, “why aren’t you playing music?” It was just this thing, like, “well, if they want me to do it…I’m a teenage boy and I don’t want to!” And, I don’t know, I started listening to the Beastie Boys and I really liked all the rhythms they were doing. I bought a Sparklets water bottle and started drumming on it, in my room, just in my spare time. I immediately fancied myself a percussionist. My cousin Lance always told me, “You should be a drummer. You always got a beat on you. I notice you’re always tapping your leg or something.” I took that to heart and I fancied myself a percussionist. The church let me try out for being in the praise band and doing congas and the jimbe and whatever else was around. They had a lot of stuff: like, four different wind chimes; one was as long as my arm span; little wooden shaker things that made insect noises. That particular church was very charismatic and had a lot of almost-Grateful Dead-esque jam sections in their songs where everything would be very atmospheric and ambient and that when I was like, “Oh yeah, this is fun. I can just make any sounds I want to as long as it sounds pretty.” And then I started getting into dub: King Tubby and Lee “Scratch” Perry, things like that ‘cause I’d find tapes at the thrift store and be like, “Huh. This looks neat and different.” Before you know it, I was bringing in a melodica with a delay pedal and doing that as part of my “percussion”; hooking up music boxes [and] winding them up in different keys and letting it play along with the music so I’d have this little music box station. They just let me go to town and then I started picking up on guitar, bass, drums—things like that from everyone else around me that I was hanging out with there.

I’d always played keyboard at home for fun—I knew rudimentary keyboard stuff that I would do entertain myself; shit that I was scared to do in front of other people. And I eventually got comfy with that, too. It was people that I played in the praise team with that I started playing rock and roll music; writing original songs with and kind of branched out from there. I feel like that particular church got kind of weird for me. I think it’s a really good ministry [that] they have going on and they do a lot for the community. There were just things that weren’t to my taste. I kept doing music and I feel like I’ve definitely been blessed. It’s carried on.

I remember you saying that your mom was really stoked on you doing an album called Spirituals. The first song on there is “Me and Jesus.” For the record, you’re not being ironic [with this album].

Yeah, I think, all in all, it’s a good country-western record that I made that I would want to listen to. It’s got a lot of songs I really like. That first song, “Me and Jesus” by Tom T. Hall—one of the great underrated singer-songwriters of the 20th century—when he says, “me and Jesus got our own thing going/we got it all worked out/don’t need anyone/to tell us what it’s all about.” I feel like that’s a good way to sum up that record in particular.

I’ve listened to it a few times and I’d be inclined to agree. Just to think—in you performing these songs live—that someone, especially in so-called “indie/alternative scenes”, [would] come through with a set with a bunch of songs where Jesus a big part of the lyrical content. It’s almost punk because it’s sincere and irony is the modus operandi. It’s honestly really played out. One of the obvious things [as to] why it’s a such a unique album is because you don’t see a bunch of people [doing] country western.

I think the combination of country and gospel is about as punk rock as it gets, in this day and age. [laughs] You can’t play this stuff on a country station because it won’t fly ‘cause it’s not Autotuned. I’m not expecting a whole lot of radio play from this album. [laughs] You can get my last album for that.

What were some of the more memorable parts of recording this album? [In terms of] the writing of it, deciding what music went on there [and how to] bring it together?

Well, first of all, I didn’t write a doggone thing on this album.

Don’t say that! Then you’ll have to pay licensing fees!

Well, then, let’s strike that part of the question from the record [laughs]. It was a unique opportunity that I had to record this album. When I was on tour with LAKE, we were listening to the Carter Family and it just made me really feel inclined. I had it in me and I knew the tunes and I’d have a lot of fun making a country gospel record and I brought it up as soon as I thought of it. Eli and Ashley [Eriksson] of LAKE said that they were going to be out of town for a couple of weeks and that I could use their studio and so it just made perfect sense to go ahead and do it. I went in originally trying to prioritize making a follow-up to Hard Water ‘cause I had a few rough sketches for some more dance-y stuff. I was trying to record on Eli’s computer and I just couldn’t hang. It was just too complicated. I don’t like computers very much. They make me mad. So I got my 8-track tape machine and decided I’d spend a day working on these spirituals. I just had so much fun with it from the get-go; I couldn’t stop. I was in there every day for, like, two weeks; the quickest I ever finished a record. I feel like that’s two things: that it was perfect timing and it was the quickest I ever finished a record. A number three was that it was the most fun I ever had making a Mother’s Day gift.

Aww, that’s so sweet. That is very opportune timing. It was really inspiring and I don’t know, nice, to see you collaborating with people in Olympia…

Just all my friends…yeah, it was really awesome. A lot of willingness from people in the Olympia music community and just people I like to hang out with, in general. [They] were just getting down with this concept and making what I think is a really fun…[pauses then imitates sound of tape recorder being rewound] [Markly and Melissa laugh]

Did you just…

I just hit the rewind button.

Oh my goodness.

It was great having so many people here to get down on this. It’s a really fun record, I think but there’s a lot of fun that shines through in the final product.

In some ways, it’s like the Carter Family tribute album that you recorded…

Yeah, America Salutes the Carter Family

…Minus obviously that you sang and played on this album, Spirituals. What was it like recording the Carter Family album? It seems like it…

…Like a companion piece?

Or it’s exploring the same sort of things. I mean, the Carter Family weren’t afraid to sing about Jesus…

Well, that’s, like, the 1940s so it’s just at the time, much more mainstream and I feel like I just take it with a grain of salt and that’s kind of what I’m hoping is the case with this album; that people find spiritual significance in these tunes—they can get down with it. And people who just want to listen to some punked out country music can get down to this, too. I don’t feel like the album is preachy. I feel like it’s very blatant but there’s not an altar call or anything. [Melissa laughs] I feel like working on that Carter Family tribute for 3 years was a contributing factor to the psyche [and] the train of thought that brought this album about. I feel like Spirituals is more a followup to America Salutes the Carter Family than it is to Hard Water. I’m probably going to be leaning more in that direction on the next record; more dance floor kind of stuff. Everything has its time and place and this is what came natural. That’s kind of a process for me; just coming back to things and re-exploring them in a new light.

I would like to mention that you have a follow-up planned to Spirituals. Is that still happening?

I’m not sure if they’re going to be chronological but there’s definitely more country-western concept albums to follow and the nature of these are yet to be disclosed.

Shhh…don’t tell anyone. You been in the exploration of the country-western and seems like Ween is a big influence to you…

You know, it is and it isn’t. I mean, I feel largely that that band is a little too sarcastic for my taste but they are so talented. The thing I respect about them is the same [thing] I respect about, say other heavy-hitters like Beck…

People doing weird but doing it well?

[People] having a very diverse and eloquent catalogue. Just full of surprises and very well-executed. I’m a huge Daft Punk fan and I can’t believe this new album they put out. And it’s a huge departure from the last one where it just basically improvised, noisy, repetitive, like, brain-drone songs. And now they come out with this smooth pop record and I really respect that a lot about them. I do like Ween. I saw them once at the Hard Rock Café in Vegas and they played for 3 hours and it never got boring. Their 12 Golden Country Greats that has 10 songs on it, is really great, too.

[To] be able to collaborate or at least enlist the help of good people to actually have a physical product of an album. Ween does sarcastic/weird but they follow it so intently—they follow sarcasm with such a sincerity.

It’s true. It’s very true. I definitely don’t doubt that they take themselves seriously. Well, they’re not a band anymore. For the majority of their existence I feel like they were sincere which was a complaint that I got from a lot of friends when I would listen to that band; that it was sincere. You just don’t know; it kind of is. You read some interviews with that band and man, they talk about some heavy stuff. That was their way of getting through it. They’ll have some really messed up topical songs and, you know, they’re just going through something; like being real and being kind of real messed up at the same time. And, to each his own. That’s not really my favorite of their output but I feel like I like that band at their very best when either: A) you can hear it and tell that these guys are having way too much fun; or, B) you hear just out of the blue—in the midst of all this absurdity—some extremely heartfelt track. It’s, like, “Whoa, this is really inspirational.” Musically, I lean naturally to slightly avant garde takes on whatever I do but when I hear it in my head, I’m like, “Oh yeah, this is the new Beyonce “…[laughs] my own interpretation of pop or whatever.

The church-going community is so sincere even when they’re making music for lifting up the name of Jesus Christ. I guess I’m over irony but I’m not buying that you would’ve gone through this whole process of recording Spirituals just be like, “Haha, you guys: ironic.” Well people really dug Hard Water. There’s always a chance that—it just happens to be a matter of place and time—let me make a question out of this: what are your long term foreseeable ambitions with Skrill Meadow? I guess you’d only ever end it if you quit the band with yourself.

[laughs] Yeah, I just hope I don’t get kicked out ‘cause I really enjoy doing it and [it’ll] just continue to reflect whatever chapter of my life I’m in at the time being. I don’t really see myself ever stopping; at least recording music. I can see, like, taking long breaks from touring and things like that later in my life. But I don’t think it’s something that’ll go away ‘til I do.

Skrill Meadow's Spirituals is out now on Brown Interior Music.