Incendiary interview Morton Valence

The problem in the music scene is that there’s too much conformity, everybody just copies everybody else in an effort to be cool, I would say being un-cool always trumps being cool as it lasts a lot longer.


Morton Valence have just released a bobby dazzler of a record in Me & Home James: one we’re ranted on about recently. It’s one of those records where you realise something is happening with a band: something creative, something momentous is in the water, so to speak. And quite apart from our musings on the creative reputation of Morton Valence, fact that we hadn’t interviewed the band for going on 5 years, (probably since they released Sailors) was also a good enough reason to ask singer Rob some damned impertinent questions.

IN: I see Morton Valence's music as louche, erudite urban pop; very much London music...

MV: I always thought erudite was a brand of glue and I’m not quite sure what louche means, but yes most definitely urban, and most definitely London, I grew up and have lived practically all my life in South London, that’s what I know, so that’s what I write about, I don’t understand the countryside, besides, the countryside is well covered at the moment by a lot of other bands.

IN: I know my review stated your music made out that you were strangers in your own manor (i.e. London) is that fair? Or journalese bullshit?

MV: I wouldn’t class us as outsiders or anything like that, we just do what we want and aren’t really bothered about being cool; we have our own agenda and our own ideas and have never adhered to what others think we should or shouldn’t be doing. The problem in the music scene is that there’s too much conformity, everybody just copies everybody else in an effort to be cool, I would say being un-cool always trumps being cool as it lasts a lot longer.

IN: I never get why bands conform; I mean you must know lots of bands who conform, I mean what does conformity get you nowadays, as an independent band? Fuck all I'd say... so what's the point?

MV: Well yeah, but I guess I’m talking about the conformity of the crowd, a lack of individualism, become a punk… join the army, that sort of thing, a few years ago every new bunch of wannabes looked and sounded like the Libertines, these days it’s Mumford and Sons or whoever, that thing of trying be like what happens to be cool at the moment and the industry jumping on it like a bunch nonces at Chessington World of Adventures, I see a lot of that, but it’s nothing new I suppose. One of the great things about the first wave of punk bands around 1975 - 77 was that they were all very individual, no two bands looked or sounded the same, then by the 80s it had turned into this homogenized uniform, which by my definition is pure conformity, albeit a paradoxical type of conformity, but conformity nonetheless. I guess it probably has nothing to do with music and more to do with the way we are as humans, but I'm not here to dabble in amateur philosophy, I just wanna talk about is the new Morton Valence album if that’s ok with you?

 IN: Ok… We’ll do that. You have the Confederate / rebel flag on your cover, why is this?

MW: Because we wanted something that simply reflects the sound of the record in an image, this found us and was perfect immediately.  The idea is that it’s out of focus and neon, reflecting our take on country music, which to me is urban, blue collar and late night. 
If people take it as some sort of right wing thing then they should just take a look at us and obviously nothing could be further from the truth.

IN: Why does sticking that flag on your LP cover make you right wing? These people don't have New Order or Joy Division records I take it. Anyway Primal Scream did it on their LP Give Out but Don't Give Up cover...

MV: I know what you’re saying, but what I think concerns some people is that there are idiots out there that misinterpret things, a bit like when republicans in America chant Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA without realising it’s actually an anti-war song, in that particular case I can understand why. But as for the Nazi party latching onto Joy Division/New Order and singing Transmission instead of Deutschland Uber Alles… errr well I doubt it, just as I can’t really picture the KKK singing one of our songs, it’s a ridiculous notion, but I do like the idea of fetishising the enemy nonetheless, it can be more effective than fighting it.

IN: So the record cover isn’t a visual tribute to your recent US tour?

MV: No, not at all, but we love it in New York and we had some great shows over there, so much great music has come out of that city, possibly more than any other city in the world, sure you can say, “hey, what about Manchester? Detroit? Seattle? Memphis? Or wherever?” And maybe you’d have a point, but to me it goes way back before the birth of hip hop and punk (both spawned in New York by the way) stuff like Okeh Records, Gershwin, Bee Bop, The Apollo, Studio 54, Fania, The Brill Building, Dylan, the Velvet Underground, I could keep going and these are names that just roll off the top of my head, so I guess you could say New York is like a music-Mecca to me, but having said that, one thing Morton Valence most definitely is not is what is classed as Americana in spite of our influences. Americana – in particular the UK variety - is not what we're about, we believe in a more glamorous aesthetic rooted in our city of London, which is reflected in our songs.

IN: I agree pretty much with you about New York. I always thought that you couldn't (in a pop-music sense) exist without Memphis, New York, Düsseldorf and Berlin: they are the main wellsprings of popular music, whether driven by attitude, or technology or ideas of freedom. The UK thing has always been (for me at any rate) always more vaudeville. Or being the court minstrel. It's music hall at one level: not a bad thing but UK acts are always one step away from panto, or being the poet laureate... it's not a bad thing at all, I just think it's in our blood & our outlook.

MV: I dunno about that, I wouldn’t necessarily describe Joy Division as particularly vaudeville or panto. (Rob, sneaky I know to add this after the interview but what about Peter Hook & the Light?? - ed). But sure, in the UK there’s certainly more of an interaction between the world of haute couture and the music biz, I think that’s a given, it’s always been like that because London is a fashion centre, fashion being a type of theatre I guess, then there’s the music hall tradition that dovetails into the Small Faces and the Kinks, Queen and Bowie, and then Pete Doherty took the baton and ran with it, well… ran with it until he got so skagged out he couldn’t even stand, let alone run.  I’m not saying one place is better than another, although Düsseldorf takes some beating (by the way I fucking love Kraftwerk) but in my over-romanticised view of the world New York is like an El Dorado, it’s a personal thing I guess, plus I like big cities full of concrete, and they don’t get much bigger and full of concrete than New York, mind you, you’re right, Berlin is definitely up there too.

IN: How did the States take to you anyway?

MV: They were extremely hospitable and the shows were all highly enjoyable. They have a very “hey let’s do it man!” mentality. Pretty much everywhere we’ve been in the world outside the UK we’ve been treated well, being a musician in the UK grants you a status slightly below that of a toilet attendant, the only difference being – with all due respect to toilet attendants - they probably earn better money.

IN: Very apt... I take it you've seen the Peter Cook sketch with John Lennon as the toilet attendant? If not, you are grooving on another plain. (From the Not Only… But Also 1966 Christmas Special)

MV: I’m not sure if I have, but I have seen Charles Hawtrey playing Dan Dann the toilet man in Carry On Screaming, a classic.

IN: Man on the Corner & Sailors on the new LP, is this unfinished business in terms of making people more aware of these songs?

MV: Myself and Anne have worked together for years – Anne Gilpin is also a gifted dancer and a choreographer – and we have a lot of material, some of which we signed away to this record label who didn’t do a lot of anything, we recently reacquired the rights to the songs and felt they should be aired as they’d been buried in a legal dungeon for years doing nothing. They also happened to slot perfectly into the new album, so 4 tracks on Me & Home James are new recordings of old songs and we’re very happy to breathe new life into them once again.

 IN: Did releasing Bob & Veronica gave you a fillip, a push... you seem to have a spring in your step since that release, there's a breadth and ease to the song writing since then...

MV: I don’t know, songwriting isn’t something I’ve ever really thought about, it’s like sex or masturbation, just something you feel compelled to do once in a while without really considering why, what the point is or what the consequences may be, so I suppose the term “release” is an excellent way to describe creating an album. I think the songs on Me & Home James are a natural development from Bob & Veronica, I’m not really conscious if they’re any better or worse, but I would say the narratives are a lot stronger, Leo Fernandez (our bass player) and Alejo Pelaez (keyboards and lap steel) influenced the feel of this album a lot with their Latino thing, it certainly has a different mood and atmosphere plus we have a fantastic new drummer (Daryl Holley) who brings a fresh dynamic to things. But the main thing to us was that we didn’t do a second album that sounded like a bunch of outtakes from the first - so many bands do this, usually because of the way record labels are which is all too often the death knell of a band – Morton Valence is a band that is still growing and if I thought an album wasn’t a progression from the previous one, I wouldn’t release it.

IN: Why was Bob & Veronica so important to release for you, I mean it was a PLUSH release, booklet, the lot...

MV: Oooo easy tiger!! Bob & Veronica was important because it was our first album, simple as that, but every album is important if you’re involved in making it, the booklet was something I wrote to accompany the album which was originally going to be sleeve notes on the back of the CD but turned into a 110 page novella, I’ve always described it as Mills and Boon on acid, trash fiction with trashy twist at the end, like most things I do, it just sort of happened, and I’m still not sure how or why, but that aside, Bob & Veronica Ride Again is about the music, everything else is added garnish to spice it up a bit.

IN: Are you growing into a role of old troupers? Somehow I can imagine you becoming the musical equivalent of Last of the Summer Wine (in my books this is a massive compliment btw - I loved it, especially Thora Hurd & Kathy Staff)

Blimey, not sure how to take that, old troupers? Makes us sound like Arthur Askey and Vera Lynn doing the hokey kokey or something, sure…  we’re older than Justin Bieber, but we’re contemporary and a long way from retirement.

IN:  So was Dame Thora. Worked till she dropped. You should do a musical on her life. You could do it.

I think you might be onto something there Richard, it has to be the natural progression from the concept album, surely!!