Marcel Rudin’s band unofficially started at a bodega near his ex-girlfriend’s place, where he came across a stand of dried white mulberries. Kind of intrigued, he searched up the plant and found its binomial nomenclature: Morus Alba. This was originally intended to be the name of a jokey band with his good friend Tim Erbach; he played bass in Perennial Reel (they released their excellent swansong, Ribbon, earlier this year) and, with Rudin, runs the Jersey City-based label Mulberry Sound. Although that particular band with Erbach never quite came to fruition, Rudin held onto the name, just in case.
Following a self-titled EP from April, Morus Alba are now releasing their debut album (a work that took around three attempts, on Rudin’s end, to record/complete). The styles that suffuse Stay Asleep, as well as their self-titled EP, are all clearly distinguishable — psych rock, post-hardcore, folk. Having these three particular styles exist within the context of a single band, though, is something unfamiliar; in fact it’s exhilarating to hear this idiosyncratic combination. “Skyscraper,” from their full-length, displays veritable psych rock motifs, such as the brief yet robust ambient guitar passages, and the triumphant solo that catalyzes a swift buildup in tempo about halfway through the track.
The first studio version of “Skyscraper” is actually acoustic, released back in April 2013; then an “electric” version came out this past summer. Stay Asleep’s “Skyscraper” is a newly recorded update of the latter, with the conspicuous addition being those brief ambient sections. However, that first electric version isn’t available on Morus Alba’s Bandcamp anymore. “I had tried to record [the song] every time I had tried to do a full-length because I’ve always really liked that one,” says Rudin. “After playing the song with these guys for awhile we finally had a better version that was definitely different than the single version. Also it gets too cluttered having too many different versions of the same song on your Bandcamp.”
Morus Alba had gone through numerous lineup changes before reaching the current one, comprised of Rudin’s friends from Bard, where he’s currently finishing up the school year. Alongside him are Seby Martinez on guitar, John Carroll on bass, and Daniel Risdon on drums. The band-practices involving those three, leading up to Stay Asleep’s conception, all started with Rudin presenting a song idea in the form of an acoustic demo, then they toiled and refined where needed. “Salvia Mike,” the album’s sole acoustic track, was an exception to this process: “For ‘Salvia Mike’ we hadn’t gotten around to doing the song [as a] full band by the time we were recording actually, so I had to do it acoustic. I had written it on my little classical guitar anyways so it worked out, but now we have a much sicker full band version.” Martinez adds, “The full band version sounds really cool and grunge-y. I’m personally hoping we get a chance to record it in the future.”
On Stay Asleep, tracks fall between the gentleness of “Salvia Mike” and the reverb-heavy colossus of “Skyscraper.” Other cuts include “Moment You Crash” and “There’s A Song In Here Somewhere,” which are paragons of how the band executes post-hardcore (Rudin cited DC underground linchpins Faraquet as an influence on the album). But while most of Stay Asleep is on the louder side of the spectrum, sometimes Rudin likes to strip the material down in the live setting. Along with making acoustic demos as a point of reference for bandmates, he’s done solo sets as Morus Alba, such as a slot at OnPoint festival back in October (just him and his electric guitar), sharing a bill with the likes of PWR BTTM, Speedy Ortiz, and Eskimeaux. “I really like finding ways to make songs I intend to play electric into acoustic or just solo songs, so when I’m playing solo I’ll usually play around with whatever comes to mind.” It’s emblematic of how, in addition to stylistic territory, Morus Alba are versed at diversifying their dynamic.
He was also involved with the album artwork, the creation of which was a collaboration between him and Tim Erbach’s brother John, who goes to art school on the West Coast. It’s a conflation of two separate photographs, explains Rudin: “My photo, which is a databent version of a picture I took in my neighborhood, is projected while John Erbach took a photo of that over some other textures at his school in San Francisco.” The artwork is also part of John’s own series How To Be Invisible In The Digital Age, which, according to Rudin, seems to be about countering the all-too common notion that to use the internet means to absolutely forsake privacy. “You’d think for people being worried about their life taking place online the natural conclusion would be to use the internet less or protect their information more,” says Rudin. “John has figured out that the way to become invisible is to encompass yourself, be disguised in the digital world.” (John has a few online accounts, for example, and photos of himself are scarce — although he has a few performance videos in which his presence is obvious.)
Right now, Risdon is out of school and interning at Relapse Records, Martinez is working in the comedy industry, and Carroll, in between painting houses and selling meat, is a writer; but they all plan to keep playing in Morus Alba. “I’ve been in a lot of bands,” mentions Carroll, “but this one has been the most fulfilling and entertaining.” As for Rudin, while he doesn’t consider himself a visual artist, he wants to keep doing photography even after college. “I love taking photos and making weird images,” he says. And since he’ll be out of Bard soon, Rudin plans to bring Morus Alba back on the road as a full-band; for the time being, though, he’s been doing weekend solo sets here and there.
Rudin also mentioned that eventually he wants to make a full-fledged pop album, one that sounds “somewhere between Van Dyke Parks and Frank Ocean.” The musical grandeur of that combination is tough to fathom; however, based on the exhilarating, multi-directional precedent set by Stay Asleep, it’s not totally far-fetched. There’s an obvious multitude of projects he plans on pursuing, but aside from touring in light of Stay Asleep, continuing the band in general, photography, and that future pop album, his other goals are pretty straightforward: “be a good partner and put out my friends’ records.”