MARK MORTON Talks Debut Solo Album - "I Didn’t Anticipate Or Intend To Include Any Straight Forward Thrash Metal"
March 4, 2019, a year ago
Mark Morton is known to metal fans as one of the premiere guitarists working today. Founding member and lead guitarist of groove metal icons Lamb Of God, Morton is a riff making master of shred that has earned the admiration of fans for two and a half decades and counting.
Now, Morton is stretching himself creatively on his debut solo outing Anesthetic, enlisting a who’s who of rock and metal for a diverse group of collaborators including Arch Enemy’s Alissa White-Gluz, fellow LOG member Randy Blythe, Buckcherry’s Jason Todd, Alter Bridge’s Myles Kennedy and the late Chester Bennington.
Morton caught up with BraveWords to talk pushing genre boundaries, his emotional collaboration with the late Linkin Park frontman, being a part of the Slayer farewell tour and two decades of Lamb of God.
BraveWords: When you set out to put together this solo record, did you imagine the schedule being quite so hectic? Between your upcoming solo tour, Burn the Priest record last year and Lamb of God touring globally on the Slayer farewell tour, there hasn’t been much room to breathe.
Mark Morton: “Naively, I didn’t anticipate that. I thought a couple of years ago when we started this Anesthetic project that I’d do a solo album, do something different and it would be cool. It was, and I didn’t realize how big an undertaking it would end up being. Now that it’s out I’m so grateful and so humble at how well received it is, but now it’s happening and it comes with a whole lot of other stuff that I’m thrilled about, but I didn’t anticipate that in the beginning and the initial inception of the project.”
BraveWords: For anyone who knows you or has worked alongside you, the idea that you’d branch out for a solo album isn’t exactly out of left field. You’re constantly writing and working on new material, some of which I’d imagine isn’t tailor-made for Lamb of God.
Mark Morton: “It’s not (unusual). I am always writing and that’s sort of what the genesis of this project was, just the pile of music that I had that really wasn’t going to fit into the Lamb of God context. It didn’t seem like I could force that stuff through that filter, but at the same time I had some song ideas that were really worth developing. I bounced them off of Josh Wilbur, who you probably know is my longtime producer. He agreed that it was right to develop these tunes a little bit. That’s really where it started. Some of these ideas have been laying around for a while, like that’s a cool chorus and it’s a little straight forward and a little melodic for Lamb, but I do think it’s cool. You sort of develop from there, and then when we realized we had a handful of pretty cool tunes coming together, it was like let’s make this thing a project. It sort of grew organically.”
BraveWords: This isn’t your paint-by-numbers metal album. While there are a ton of thrashy riffs and moments you’d expect given your history, there is plenty of diversity given the lineup of singers and collaborators you’ve assembled.
Mark Morton: “That was kind of the approach and the philosophy from the beginning, to make this thing really diverse and showcase different styles of music and songwriting within stylistically different areas of rock. Honestly, at the very beginning I didn’t anticipate or intend to include any straight forward thrash metal on the album. My thinking at the time is I’m in Lamb of God, why would I do thrash metal? I’m fortunate enough to be in, what I consider to be one of the better thrash metal bands in the world. So why would I do metal somewhere else? Josh kind of had a different opinion, that my fans in Lamb of God would pay attention to this and they’d want that itch to scratch and they’re going to want some metal out of me ... We did wind up developing some metal tunes, and that’s where the songs ‘The Never’ with Chuck Billy and ‘The Truth Is Dead’ with Randy and Alissa came from.”
BraveWords: It would have been easy for you to call up friends and tour-mates and assemble a massive list of metal all-stars for this record, but you opted to shake things up and attract musicians from the rock, alternative world that may seem a little outside of the box. That’s a bold move.
Mark Morton: "Had I intended to make a metal record, yeah it would have been really easy to scroll through my contact list on my phone and grab this guy or that guy. And there was some of that, Chuck Billy is a great friend, Dave Ellefson, Alex Bent and Paulo Gregoletto from Trivium. There are a few from the context of Lamb of God on here, but it was more deliberately to stretch out. To have the chance to work with Mark Lanegan, who is one of my favourite singers in music in general. Steve Gorman and Mark Ford from The Black Crowes are some of my favourite musicians in anything. Myles, Chester. Naeemah is such an amazing talent. I’ve been playing with her for two or three years, me and Naeemah and Jean-Paul from Clutch and a few other folks in that combo. That’s an actual band that we have. It’s a band in the sense that we get together and play, but we haven’t played any shows and this is our first kind of release for music, but we’ve written songs and recorded songs. That’s a real living and breathing entity. Some of it was people I thought were appropriate for the song that I hadn’t worked with or known before. Josh Todd, great example. Never worked with Josh before that, but the song 'Back From The Dead' had that kind of sleazy rock, hard rock feel and that was the voice. It was a combination of things, old friends and good friends and people who I just admired their work. It was across the board depending on the song."
BraveWords: Take me through everything surrounding the single “Cross Off” with Chester Bennington. Obviously, the tragic surroundings of his passing have spotlighted this particular single to a truly high degree. What was the process like of working with him, and perhaps getting him to bring out a heavier side that was somewhat dormant in recent years with Linkin Park?
Mark Morton: “It was something that Chester was really excited to do. I feel like you can hear his enthusiasm in the performance and I think that’s one of the things that makes it so great. Chester really, really loved this song and that’s why he was there, because he really loved the tune. He was excited about getting the chance to do something heavy and scream and something that was more in the metal world. He had a great love for that kind of stuff and a great appreciation for it. He was just stoked to be involved. Linkin Park had evolved into something more with a pop sensibility and their body of work speaks for itself, and their longevity, it’s amazing. He still had roots in that heavy stuff and he was stoked to be doing that and you can hear it. That was a big takeaway for me, how enthused he was to be able to do that again and how great it was for him to do it and how excited he was about it. It was really cool to be a part of.”
BraveWords: Yourself and Lamb of God have been touring extensively with Slayer on their farewell tour. What does it mean to you personally to be a part of this historic final trek? And where do you rank Slayer all-time in the terms of their impact and what they’ve done for heavy metal?
Mark Morton: “It’s really an honour to be included in so much of their farewell tour. It was flattering to be a part of the conversation to be even considered to go. We’ve worked with Slayer quite a bit over the years, but this is a bigger deal. They really included us on the bigger portion of their farewell dates, and a couple of different continents at this point and still going. It’s an honour to be asked to be direct support for them. Slayer, for me as a heavy metal guitarist and songwriter, was a really big influence and it’s been great to get to work with these guys and see how they tick and kind of learn by being on these tours over the years. And it still feels like that, like we’re paying attention and we’re learning. In terms of their legacy, in terms of extreme metal I think they’re the biggest band that has been. Metallica is obviously the biggest heavy metal band in the world, but Slayer in terms of extreme, underground metal world, they’re of that stature. They’re kind of the benchmark at this point.”
BraveWords: Correct me if I’m wrong, but taking everything into account with Burn The Priest, it’s been 25 years of the band that is known today as Lamb of God. That’s a hell of a milestone for any group.
Mark Morton: “Wow yeah, that’s when Burn The Priest started. 25 years ago. You’re the first person to tell me that. I think that was kind of the thinking about the covers album, that it would be some kind of anniversary ... But that’s great. One of the things I’m super proud of, beyond our collective body of work which I’m very proud of, is just the longevity that we’ve had. It’s a testimony to a lot of hard work, and we try to keep it fun. I think right now with Lamb of God we’re working on new stuff and it’s feeling really good. I try to stay in the now. I feel like we still have a lot to stay. We still have some things to accomplish, even this far into our career. I’m super honoured to be even here where we are where people still care about our music. We’re doing our thing and trying to evolve and get better. I’m still trying to learn how to play this guitar, and that’s where I try to keep it today.”