By Brian Tucker
“I found a little more confidence in my own creative judgment,” Drunken Prayer front man Morgan Christopher Geer said of making his latest album House of Morgan. “I’ve come to fully appreciate the pros and cons of freedom.”
That freedom came about from lack of freedom – immobility. Geer and his wife became parents eight months ago around the same time he would have been in a studio making a second album for Portland, Oregon’s Fluff and Gravy Records. Geer grew up in Black Mountain just outside of Asheville, North Carolina and moved back to Asheville from Portland for a spell to get in a year’s worth of shows. With the new baby, Geer and his wife have stuck around.
“Like, what seems to be the theme of the record, I went with which way the wind was blowing,” Geer said of remaining of Asheville.
Geer made House of Morgan in what most might consider a lo-fi approach – recording with a four-track cassette recorder and later, the use of a computer. Working with whatever was in his reach – a limited recording system, unfinished songs and the musical instruments around him, Geer referred to the process as being hindered only by a “loose” deadline by his label.
“Ironically, the biggest distraction was the fact that I didn’t have a clock to watch. This led to a lot of all night “lemme see what this does” rabbit holes.”
The result is a nicely unpredictable album that, start to finish, is intermittently filled with stomping, bluesy blazing songs to more tender ones. House of Morgan might be erratic but it mirrors the process in which Geer made it. It sounds like a creative mind at work, playing around until the mind is worn out.
“It was totally organic – the process, the content, the artwork. I usually know what direction I want a song to go in, but after that I let it decide for itself. If your antennae are up, it’s usually obvious.”
The nature of House of Morgan feels like night and day. It’s not just in the songs feeling polar opposite but that there’s a before and after melancholy to them whose content mirrors good and bad about ourselves.
“That’s probably an accurate way of putting it. I’ve been told by people that know me that this record reflects me personally more than my others. It’s unintentional, but I imagine since we are all more alike than different, it would also be a reflection in the contradiction in all of us, and life as we know it. That in a nutshell is Drunken Prayer.”
On the album Geer does an update of a song his father used to sing to him (“On Mobile Bay”), a hypnotic Baroque/Renaissance era madrigal called “Heigh Ho (Nobody Home)” he sang in his high school chorus, and the apologetic double take of “Things I Shud’v Done” and “Things I Should Have Done. The former is a slow, bluesy take and the latter is a marvelous scorching take done in the half the time. “Ultrabad” veers into stoner rock/psychedelic territory and the shotgun boogie of “KEF-666” is laced with dynamite sure to melt speakers.
Geer even revisits his last album Into Missionfield with a happy song called “I Saw it with My Own Two Eyes Again” that’s about a UFO.
“This version is creepier. It’s about a UFO encounter I had as a little guy so it felt right. I’m a big Flaming Lips fan and they cover themselves all the time so I figured I could too. It’s really liberating to rid oneself of the rules we put up.”
More with Morgan Christopher Geer
First, is this a solo show or a full band show in Wilmington?
Geer: We’ll see. That’s been a thorn in my side since moving back to North Carolina. My band here is composed of loaners so I’ll see who’s available. As of today it looks like Drunken Prayer will be an electric two-piece, drums and guitar.
How did you get those raw tunings on “Ultrabad” and “KEF-666”? “KEF-666” is dynamite. That must be fun to level at a crowd.
Geer: Well they’re probably closer to raw de-tunings. Those two were recorded live with drums and guitar on a Radio Shack PZM mic. The vocals on “Ultrabad” were sung through the pickups of an old Telecaster. Some of what you might be hearing could also be the tape flutter in the initial cassette recording. Unfortunately I’ve yet to play “KEF-666” live since House of Morgan came out. I’d love to, but I’ll need a solid band first.
Why led you to revisit “I Saw it with My Own Two Eyes,” albeit with a great co-singer?
Geer: This version is creepier. It’s about a UFO encounter I had as a little guy so it felt right. I’m a big Flaming Lips fan and they cover themselves all the time so I figured I could too. It’s really liberating to rid oneself of the rules we put up. The co-singer is me, run through an effects processor that makes me sound like a drowning baby.
“Heigh Ho” is hypnotic with a lot of punch.
Geer: It’s a sixteenth century English madrigal. We used to sing it in my high school chorus at Christmas. I always thought it would make for an interesting old time style song, so I recorded the guitar, mandolin and vocals with W.C. Beck at KXCI in Tucson in the middle of a tour, and then I did the rest at home.
Are you a restless personality, needing constant change of scenery?
Geer: Yeah. My single mom and I moved a lot in my formative years. I was forever making new friends and entertaining myself. I’d like to be out playing more than I am now.
With songs, are you writing about yourself or the world through as it moves around you?
Geer: Mostly external but a little of both. I try not to use songwriting just as therapy or navel gazing but it happens. I’m not going to say anything that hasn’t already been said by someone more poetic and qualified, so I try to avoid preaching and philosophizing. I’d rather give you something to preach and philosophize about.
I like lyrics because they’re not necessarily meant to stand alone. Often, lines evolve just because the combination of vowels and consonants work well with the melody. The really great thing about that are the unintentional and subjective meanings that can reveal themselves. It’s important to me that the songs have a life of their own, so they can change a lot from performance to performance. The recordings are more like snapshots of what they were doing that day.