Interview: Ben Morley of Mice on Stilts
We shouldn't have feelings that we're scared of - if we embrace all of our downfalls and just accept ourselves for who we are, then we're in a much better position to process those things — Ben Morley, Mice on Stilts.
I have a confession to make.
I got caught up in the world, the business of day to day life, all the trivial things that allow us to waste our days doing things for ourselves, doing thing that please us, selfish things - this interview/post should not have taken as long as it did, but now I'm sitting here, coming back again to Hope For A Mourning - the new full length album from Auckland band Mice on Stilts. Every time the album starts it's like the world stops; things slow down, come back into focus, the music; it's resonance pulls me out of whatever technical/complex musings and back into moody thoughts of life, the universe and everything in between, and yet - in that moment the answers don't matter - the music is all there is - and it is everything.
Musically Hope… is a calming, peaceful, yet haunting experience, exept for that undeniably bleak and melencholic turmoil underlying everything - but it's the power of these songs and their production to bring out these senses that have me calling out this album one of the best releases I've heard from a New Zealand artist in a long while - if not any artist.
I'd say it's hard to put into words all of the thoughts this album brings to mind but that hasn't stopped me recommending it random baristas and friends when ever the topic of music comes up, it didn't seem to stop me spill them out over coffee with Ben Morley - vocalist, guitarist, and primary song writer for Mice on Stilts the other week.
Mark: Ever since getting back into the creative side of the local music scene everyone has said I should check out Mice on Stilts, so it was great to catch you opening for Anathema, where did the band/name come from?
Ben: I don't really know where the name came from, I just thought of words that sounded nice together. We used to live in this dingy flat on the North Shore; three of the six people there were super depressed and it was grim - I used to play in this band Gate, this Meshuggah/Djent like worship band and I wanted to start writing music again and started writing sad pop songs, we recorded it and put it online and people liked it and said we should form a live band...
…it was originally meant to be something between classical/folk - just guitar/violins/cello but then I met this guy Rob Sanders who was a drummer, I was really drunk and said "you should come to our band practise" and he never left - so that threw out the whole Quartet thing...we just slowly built up this 7 piece band and now here we are!
Mark: With 6-7 people in the band, how do the dynamics work? Is it a concious fact that you're the band leader or is it more free...
Ben: Nah… everyone in the band has an equal say, totally you know, but whether anyone says anything…I kinda like write these bones of songs and we flesh them out together, but having said this - the song and the bones of it are such a miniscule part of the band; I mean that's just like the foundation, all the melodies and rhythms are so important - it'd just be singer/songwriter music otherwise - everyone has a very important role...
...so that's how things got started - I think we played our first show in August 2012, so we've been together about 4 years...
...The first EP (An Ocean Held Me) was December 2013 so that was about 2 years after we started - we only worked on it for 4-5 months whereas this album we've worked on for about 2 years - we just wanted to release it 'properly' and thats' a big reason why it took so long - Aeroplane have released it and it took awhile to sort that out, the recording process did take ages - we just didn't have the most efficient way of working. We went into the studio with 10 songs but culled two of them, so we had these 8 songs but we didn't have melodies on them and some had unfinished lyrics...some didn't HAVE lyrics so it was quite a slow process. If we do another album we won't do that again, and that's on me.
Mark: What's your song writing process, you mention songs having no melody, what did you have?
Ben: Just chords basically, I never quite...probably to own detriment but I never got that thing of like writing a song together - I just kinda thing whatever it takes to get the final recorded version is ok, there's probably heaps of people who think like that - I just jott down lines of lyrics and come up with a chord progressive, I just - make them work and force them together.
Mark: You call the music pop, but with such long (8-9 minute) songs, that don't follow a standard verse/chorus/verse structure...
Ben: The reason I call it pop, is because I think it still more or less, if you rip apart the music - it's going thru this verse/chorus process, it might go off into some other section but it comes back, well mostly comes back - but it's not like like the traditionally formulaic pop song - even if it's 12 minutes...
Mark: It's just...music.
Ben: Yeh - it is what it is, I don't think it's anything particularly mind blowing, it's still just another band doing music. It's not like, it's just thoughts and feelings - just songs.
Mark: Just songs - but the reverb just bounces around, and your voice creeps in all sombre and melencholic - it's not your everyday release...it's melencholic, sombre, and brings forth tension and feeling…Listening to the album I'm reminded of Norwegian art/prog band Gazpacho), Seattle industrial/rock band VAST, and prog/folk band Deluge Grander. That's my impression of your inspiration but what/where do you find inspiration from?
Ben: I think a lot of what inspires people to write music or make film is often the reason, it's the same purpose that it serves to them - the concept of the album, which only made sense to me retrospectively was like - we shouldn't have feelings that we're scared of - if we're embracing all of our downfalls and just accept ourselves for who we are, then we're in a much better position to process those things.
Like if you say "I'm depressed" then that's ok… I know it's hard to do but, it is what it is. I'm just saying it's cool to be what you are, and that's kinda what the albums about, there are a couple of songs about people dying and if your going to talk about those kind of ideas then you have to be open to those ones. For me the whole band has served an important purpose to me because um, the whole song writing process is really cathartic and there's also a huge amount of community in the band. It wouldn't be worth it to me if like I was playing in a band with people I didn't like..
Mark: How did the release gig go?
Ben: It wen't really well - we played 5 songs and got really drunk, it was a good time - for me it's been about 2.5 years since starting this thing just getting it finished and out there - that night just symbolised that for me… it was like a ritual._
Mark: Are you getting out on the road to support the album?
Ben: Not really at this point, pretty keen too - we should. One thing we did do which is pretty cool, this is probably the part of the album I'm most excited about is we made a book - it's kinda meant to be the album, as a physical release we had a book as well as the CD - we had a 60 something page.. essentially what we did was we took the lyrics and the themes of the album - the songs are about experiencing feelings like people do, so we thought it'd be a good idea to involve a lot of other people - we sent out the lyrics and the themes to about 60 difference artists - artists/photographers/writers/poets, my friend made a card game, so each chapter has 3-4 pieces in it that kinda reflect other peoples opinions about what that feel was.. I'm really excited about that - the creative community coming together and making something with us.