Going Solo: Mark Morton’s “Anesthetic” (Interview)
When one thinks of Lamb of God, decades of gold standard groove metal tend to come to mind. Serving up the chaos that is so intently sought from faster subgenres while upholding their technical end of the bargain, Richmond’s legends have left an undaunted mark on heavy music. While Lamb of God has certainly prevailed as a unit through thick and thin, their talents as individuals have not been undermined. Lead guitarist Mark Morton is proving that after a quarter-century in music, this sentiment is truer than ever. Morton is credited with tackling the bulk of Lamb of God’s songwriting, providing a unique flavor thanks to his soft spot for blues influences. While his style is prone to exploring the road less traveled with wisdom and control, the work that he has shared through the conduit of Lamb of God has only been the tip of the iceberg.
Morton’s first solo release Anesthetic began with a springboard of unreleased material that deviated from the bounce-house of thrashy metal that anchors Lamb of God. But as this stack of work grew larger, it could no longer be contained. By enlisting figures from other faces of rock, Morton brings something to the table for everybody, leaving boundaries at the door and following his heart as a musician. After Anesthetic kicks off with the powerhouse “Cross Off” featuring the late Chester Bennington, tracks like “Axis” ooze nostalgia of the raw and uncut days of alt-rock. If you crave the atmosphere of a beer-swinging show instead of rain-shielding coffee shop, though, fear not: grand finale “Truth is Dead” featuring bandmate Randy Blythe gives a taste of what Morton fans know and love (and perhaps a sneak peak of what Lamb of God has in store in the new year).
When it comes to Anesthetic, the element of surprise turns out to be the greatest expectation. In order to provide more teasers while leaving something to the imagination, the mic is now passed to the myth, the man… the Mark Morton.
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You have a new record called Anesthetic coming out that we’ve been hearing a lot about. Could you give us a brief background on how this came to be? I understand it was a project of many years.
Sure. You probably know that my primary band is Lamb of God. I do a lot of writing for that band, lyrically and musically. I’m kind of writing music all the time. Maybe not literally every day, but it’s kind of a constant process for me. A lot of stuff I wind up coming up with isn’t particularly in the lane of Lamb of God. The stack of stuff I had been working on didn’t fit the traditional heavy thrash metal context, but I didn’t want to just throw it away. I considered the idea of doing something with it. I bounced some of that stuff off my producer Josh Wilbur and he agreed it would be worth developing. That was pretty much the genesis of the project — taking some of the ideas that didn’t fit the Lamb of God mold and developing it into stuff that’s a little bit more traditional hard rock or blues-influenced. Some of it has a distinctly 1990s feel. More of a rock or hard rock sound than what people know my work with Lamb of God to be.
It’s exciting that this material is getting to see the light of day. Would you say that the writing process for your record was a major departure from Lamb of God or did you keep up any similar procedures?
There are a couple of songs on the album — I’m thinking of “The Never” and “The Truth is Dead” — that tend to be more in the style of what Lamb of God might do. I don’t think they sound exactly like Lamb, but they’re definitely more of thrash metal songs. Those became included at the suggestion of my producer because he thought that some people listening to this record are going to be fans of Lamb of God, so he thought we should include some metal. We did add that to the mix, but it was a conversation because, for me, the idea of the project was to really publicly explore other genres. It’s hard rock for sure, but it’s definitely not as technical as Lamb tends to be.
In that sense it was a departure, but I think within the framework of Lamb of God, I’m one of the guys who’s usually pushing to get out of our comfort zone. If there’s something that feels a little off the wall or out of the box, a lot of times I’m involved in that. For me, it wasn’t that different; it was just more accumulating these songs that I had been working on just on my own for myself. This [album] gave them a place to be. That was really the idea behind the project. I’ll add, too, that some of the people I brought in [to feature] breathed a whole new life into it and made it honestly a much bigger project than I had initially envisioned. It’s been a joy to watch it become its own thing.
I heard that there are contributions from Trivium on “Cross Off.” Are they featured on all the tracks?
They contributed in the sense that Paolo [Gregoletto] and Alex [Bent] are the rhythm section on the recording of that song. They weren’t involved in the writing process, but Paolo played bass and Alex played drums — and quite well, I might add. There were a bunch of different rhythm sections, bass players, and drummers on the rest of the album. Dave Ellefson (Megadeth) plays bass on “The Truth Is Dead.” Mike Inez from Alice in Chains plays bass on a lot of the album. There are different feature artists depending on the song.
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That’s a lot of talented people on one record.
There are some really interesting combinations of people on the song “Axis.” Mark Lanegan from The Screaming Trees and Queens of the Stone Age does vocals. He’s one of my favorite singers in the world. Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge) sings backup vocals. I’m playing guitar. Marc Ford from The Black Crowes plays lead guitar. Steve Gorman from The Black Crowes plays drums and Mike Inez plays bass. That’s just one example of the band I put together for a song. There are some really cool combinations of artists on this thing and that became one of the great joys for me in the process — getting all of these amazing artists together in a combination that maybe would have never happened otherwise. In the case of “Axis,” that’s sort of my dream combination of players. Having the opportunity to do that was just so fun and rewarding.
For sure. Anesthetic is not something that happens every day (in a good way!) Obviously, this album is something that you’ve been putting a lot of work into for a long time. What’s your best advice for seeing a project through to the end?
This project did have a long incubation time. For me, it was really believing in the songs and having this general long-standing consistent love for writing and recording music. That’s my favorite part of what I get to do with Lamb, this project, or anything that I’m working on. I really love the process of creating music, collaborating with talented people. I never would have imagined that I would have had the chance to work with the people that I did on this project. I got to co-write a song with Chester Bennington and be in the studio with him. I had amazing experiences with the people involved in this. It’s my album in the sense that it has my name on it, but it’s collaborative, too, and it’s really rewarding to work with people who I admire creatively. In terms of sticking with it, just enjoy the process, let go to a degree, and let it evolve as it evolves. Hopefully it’ll be tied up in the end and the world will get to hear it. Staying in the moment keeps my feet planted.
You brought up your song with Chester. It’s amazing to see new musical contributions from him. Do you perhaps have a favorite Linkin Park song or special memory of him?
I think I simply admire the longevity of Linkin Park and their body of work. They’re one of those bands who have lasted through style changes and trends. They seemed like they might blow up and go away, but they stayed and evolved. I admire that as an artist. I think everyone in the world who heard Chester sing understood that his voice was just one in a generation — maybe even rarer than that. It felt really good to be able to be a part of something where he got to reference that hybrid theory in his vocals. He was really excited about being a part of something heavy. That’s one of the things I’m most grateful of in this project. I really admire what they’ve been able to accomplish and the consistency and quality of their work.
Thank you for speaking to that. His voice is incredibly recognizable. People will be stoked to hear it once more on “Cross Off.”
Yeah, [the track] is starting to float around and people seem to be responding really positively to it. It’s fun to watch it go. I wish he was here with us to enjoy it, too, but it feels good to read some of the feedback. A lot of people see it as a gift to be able to hear him again on something new. I’m fortunate enough to be a part of that.
What inspired the name Anesthetic?
Anesthetic was just something I thought of. It passed the “cool name for an album” test. It references this idea that music and writing have always been this place where I can go to heal, recover, hide, isolate, desensitize. I felt a parallel between something that dulls pain or numbs you and the process of diving into my music and existing in that world. That’s sort of the philosophical idea behind it.
I really admire the artwork of the starry cabin being watched over by the arrow-skimming Madonna. Who is responsible for that?
That is Dan Danger. It was my first time working with him and he was great. He’s fantastic. We had a cool rhythm working out the cover. I’m really stoked on how it turned out.
Going off the theme of genre-bending, who are some of your favorite non-metal artists to listen to and enjoy?
Honestly, I don’t listen to a lot of heavy metal in my spare time. I say that sometimes and I feel like it comes off as disrespectful or unappreciative of the genre, but that’s not it at all. I love heavy metal and thrash metal. I love heavy groove and guitars. It’s what I do. But I get so much of that through the process of writing and recording with Lamb. Really, I’m a big fan of classic rock and heavy blues stuff. My favorite guitar players are Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin, Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix — guys like that. The Black Crowes is one of my favorite bands. I was really stoked to be able to play with Marc and Steve on this project. I listen to a lot of hip-hop music. I like a lot of older artists — Biggie, Jay-Z, Pusha T — but I also like some of the new Ski Mask [the Slump God] stuff I’m hearing. I really dug what xxxtentacion was doing before he passed. He was pushing the envelope. So, I’d say classic rock and hip-hop are what I listen to in my free time.
Is there anyone who you’re hoping to collab with in the future?
I don’t know yet. I’m still sort of settling down from this process. Most recently I’m back to working with my bandmates in Lamb of God. We’re working on a bunch of new material that feels really good. It’s great to be back home and in my seat as a member of the band. That’s where my focus is right now, but I definitely wouldn’t rule out [future collaboration]. I had a great experience doing this project. I can’t promise that I won’t ever do it again because it was really a joy to be a part of.
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