Best known as the frontman in The Bluetones, Mark Morriss released his debut solo album Memory Muscle on June 2, 2008. Getting his hands dirty with his own set of songs has been an inspiring experience for Morriss who started trying them out acoustically at open-mic nights in London way back in 2004: ‘I’d just turn up with my guitar, play five or six songs, along with everyone else. I didn’t want any special favours, and just enjoyed the experience of stripping things right back down.
He started recording the material with producer Gordon Mills, enlisting Grammy award winning composer David Arnold along the way. ”We first met on the set of Little Britain, ironically. We were both making a cameo in the same scene, and it was here that I learnt that he really liked the Bluetones’ music. In fact, it was when he was composing the soundtrack to Independence Day that he first heard Expecting To Fly. I was naturally, incredibly flattered, and never dreamed that I’d ever have the chance to work with him.”
Arnold arranged the strings for ‘How Maggie Got Her Bounce Back’, ‘I’m Sick’ and ‘Lay Low’ – and he plays piano on ‘Unwanted Friend’. The album also features two covers: a light, mellotron-enhanced twist on Teenage Fanclub’s raucous ‘Alcoholiday’ and the album’s closer is a take on Lee Hazelwood’s ‘My Autumns Done Come’. ‘If I view myself as anything it’s as an underdog’, says Morriss, ‘and I relate to the fact that Lee Hazelwood is a songwriter who has been really underrated – most people don’t know him beyond ‘These Boots Are Made For Walking.’
Another major inspiration on the album’s pithy, world-weary observations about life, ageing and betrayal is the writer Kurt Vonnegut, especially the track ‘So It Goes.’ ‘That’s a phrase he used a lot in his books, especially Slaughterhouse Five,’ explains Morriss. ‘He’s something of a misanthrope, I guess but with a pitch black wit and despite everything, a real humanist at heart.’
The lightness in Memory Muscle is often in the music itself – dark lyrics with warm, sunny arrangements: ‘I wanted to make a Californian kind of album,’ he reveals. ‘I wanted to re-create the sounds of my favourite records when I was a callow youth. It wasn’t stuff from my own generation really, it was music from the West Coast of America in the late 1960s and early ’70s – things like Forever Changes, Rumours and Harvest.’
On the first single, ‘I’m Sick’, there’s even a Latin feel, as a sweet counterpoint to the song’s ’sense of disappointment. It’s a collage of images, from childhood in the ’70s to being drunk and confused in casualty. ‘Bienvenido’ is also about those dark nights of the soul,’ he adds. ‘That misplaced sense of wisdom at three in the morning when you’re in a noisy nightclub and you’ve got your ‘new’ best friends around you and you’re making a mess of yourself again.’
Memory Muscle is also balanced with humour. Now in his mid-30s, Morriss clearly revels in the lines from Hazelwood’s ‘My Autumn’s Done Come’ – ‘Let those ‘I don’t care days begin’/I’m tired of holding my stomach in.’ ‘I think a lot of comedians want to be rock ‘n’ rollers and a lot of songwriters want to do stand up,’ says the singer who himself has appeared in episodes of Little Britain and Spaced.’ ‘Performing these songs as a solo artist over the last few years, I’ve more often than not found myself feeling stuck somewhere between those two worlds.”
Since those early acoustic days however, Mark has now formed his own backing band The Mummys and with the release of Memory Muscle will be hitting the road to share these newly embellished songs with whoever enjoys a persuasive melody and a nifty way with a word.