EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Ezra Kire from Morning Glory
LOS ANGELES, February 27, 2014 — Morning Glory is the brain child of Ezra Kire, formerly of Leftöver Crack and Choking Victim. Morning Glory has been simmering on the backburner since Choking Victim broke up in 2000. Kire did not really start focusing on Morning Glory until he left Leftöver Crack in 2012. Morning Glory’s War Psalms is set for release on Fat Wreck Chords on May 4. Ezra Kire took some time to speak with Wells On Music about Morning Glory and his departure from Leftöver Crack.
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Kevin Wells: What was it about Morning Glory that made you want to leave Leftöver Crack to focus on it?
Ezra Kire: It’s my music, my voice, my vision, my opportunity to say to the world what I want to say. Every person really wants that if you’re a real artist. To me, Leftöver Crack was, I wouldn’t say a footnote, but a side thing in my musical life. Leftöver Crack was something that I did for a while, but to me, that was almost a side project, you know? It did really well and it was successful, but from a personal point of view, that was just one other thing that I did.
I was one of the main song writers in the band and one of the main contributors and gave a huge part of my life to that band, energy-wise. I have a hard time dividing my energies. I like to really concentrate on one thing. Not that I am against people having multiple projects, but I feel people don’t take you as seriously when you’re doing more than one thing. Or, if you decide to divide up your energies, then they also will divide up their energies and give you back what you’re giving them. They’ll come out to your shows, but maybe only half as many of them will come out, you know? They’ll sort of treat it like a side project too.
Leftöver Crack was good, but I really wanted to do my own thing and sing my own songs and write my own music. Leftöver Crack was good, but [Scott] Sturgeon had a stronger hold on the overall vision of it and it was sort of his band at the end of the day. I basically just wanted more creative control and wanted to be able to express myself.
KW: Not many bands can pull off mixing in a piano with punk rock, what originally made you want to incorporate pianos into your sound with Morning Glory?
EK: I guess about three years ago, I got clean and sober and was going to a support group called Music Cares, which is a really great program. They actually have one in L.A. They have one out here in New York. It was basically a musicians program, a non-religious, non-step based program. One of the things they told me when I went in there was [that I] should learn a new instrument. I had had this piano in my apartment that had just been sitting there. I bought it ten years ago and I don’t even know why. I don’t remember why I bought it [laughs]. So when they told me to learn a new instrument, I picked the piano. It’s as good as any other instrument. It was either that or the harmonica [laughs]. So, that was basically how I started playing piano.
I just sort of picked it up by ear and just from learning off the internet, like Youtube how to learn piano videos [laughs]. Eventually, I just started writing a lot of music on it. That’s how the piano came into play in the Morning Glory stuff.
It felt like a really natural progression. It wasn’t a conscious decision, like oh, this is a great song and now I’m gonna stick some piano in there. It just seemed natural, probably because I was writing a lot of the songs on the piano. They started out as piano songs and turned into rock songs after. I’ve always written my music on an acoustic instrument. I feel like if they’re not good songs on an acoustic instrument, they’re probably not good songs at all. Some of the most rockin’ tunes were composed on an acoustic guitar.
It’s sort of like learning to surf on a big plank of wood. If you can surf on that, you can surf on anything. It’s the same thing with music. If you can play it on an acoustic instrument and make it sound good like a real song, you’re gonna do just fine when you plug it in.
KW: I have been listening to this new record, it rocks! Were you consciously trying to make it a bit harder hitting and faster than recent Morning Glory records?
EK: That’s a two-part answer. The first is, no. Those were just the songs I happened to be writing according to what was going on in my life, sort of a reflection of where I was at. The second part of that answer is that I did consciously put on the songs that I thought rocked the hardest. We actually recorded two records at the same time. One will hopefully be out in August and the other will be out on March 4, I think. The second one is also a rockin’ record, but it’s a little bit more to the Poets side of things.
The Poets record was a good record, but it was kind of scattered for me. I really, really wanted to write a record, almost as a challenge to myself, that was cohesive, that wasn’t too long. I just wanted to write a good, rockin’ punk record that was under 40 minutes or whatever and every song said something. In that sense, I was consciously trying to choose songs that were in that vein. I didn’t really want to put out another epic f**kin’ thing [laughs]. I just wanted to put out a regular record that was fun, that kids could enjoy and they don’t have to hear the whole record to get it. Every song will stand on its own.
KW: I read that you would sleep under the piano while writing and recording this album.
EK: I did. I stayed at the studio a lot, which was Jesse Cannon’s studio in Union City, New Jersey. We’ve been working together so long that I gave him a check and he gave me the keys. I would just stay out there and come and go as I pleased. I was writing as much as I could while I was there. I’d be up all hours of the night, wandering through the studio, bashing on instruments and not having to worry about waking anybody up. So, yeah, I was sleeping under the piano.
[Jesse Cannon] went as far as teaching me to use the Pro Tools rig so that I could track all the vocals on my own. Sometimes, if I was feeling up to it, I would get up in the middle of the night, track the song, like do all the vocals for it, and then go back to sleep. That was really unique and freeing. It lifted all the constraints off me. That way, I felt like I could sing every song when my voice really felt up for it and get my best performance out of every song. It really allowed me a broad range of time to do in. It was really nice to be in that studio. It’s sort of a little musician’s paradise. You had instruments everywhere and I could just be by myself and not worry about what was going on in the rest of the world.
KW: Is that par for the course when you record?
EK: Sort of, but not really. I’ve never had that freedom before to do it. I’ve normally been distracted by other things, but usually when I am writing I do all kinds of things. I don’t listen to music for a few months, which is harder to do than you would think because everywhere you go, you are bombarded by music. People play it out of their cars and they blare it at the grocery store and at the bodegas. Everywhere you go, you hear music.
I would wear earplugs outdoors. I just had to stop all sensory input. In that sense, I always try to isolate myself from everything else that is going on just so you can hear your own music, you know? It’s actually like kicking drugs in a way. When you stop listening to music, the first three or four days are really hard. And you never realize how much you listen to other music until you try to stop and all of a sudden, you realize it’s coming at you from everywhere.
After about three or four days, your body just goes through this thing where it boots all of the toxins out and your mind becomes really clear. Then you start hearing this other music that is somewhere inside your mind. I always have to prepare myself to get to that point. If I know I am going to be writing, I know I have to stop listening to music first. Otherwise, you write some f**kin’ chorus and it turns out to be some other s**t you heard on the radio a year ago. It was a really catchy song and it stuck in your subconscious. Next thing you know, you’re writing a f**kin’ Brittany Spears tune or something.
KW: Well, that’s probably why you shouldn’t be listening to Brittany Spears on the radio.
EK: Dude, I wish I could avoid it, but it’s everywhere. It sucks. [laughs]
KW: What is that you like about working with Jesse Cannon?
EK: He’s really good at what he does. I don’t have to communicate every little thing to him. He already knows what I am going for. That eliminates a lot of the actual process of recording. So, it’s a big money saver for me and a time saver. By the same token, I know what his style is. I know his production style and his engineering style. I know what equipment is available to him. He’s also extremely knowledgeable. He is really good at producing the sounds I want to hear. I can just describe it to him in what I call music speak. He just has a whole library of stuff and knows what I am going for.
He’s also one of those guys who has a musical background, but he’s not a musician. I think he played drums at one point in his life, but he doesn’t know how to tune a guitar. He couldn’t play a lick, he doesn’t know any notes, but he does know when something is off pitch. He knows how melodies work together. It’s really, really fascinating to me, actually. To me, I don’t know, there’s just something about somebody who is solely interested in the engineering and the producing process and he is not in it to make his own band big. He really loves what he does and he’s in it because that’s what he f**kin’ loves to do. That’s refreshing to me and very helpful.
KW: Wow, you would think at some point he would have picked up the guitar or something.
EK: No, actually he hates it [laughs]. He doesn’t even want to deal with it. I ended up tracking most of the guitars with this other guy, Mike, his assistant. He has an assistant to do just the guitars because he doesn’t really want to do ‘em. He prefers to concentrate on the big picture, the overall vision of it. He actually just wrote a book last year and it’s doing really well. He’s kind of my go-to guy on music industry stuff because we don’t have a manager. We basically deal with everything in the music industry ourselves. So, when I have a question, I just go to him because he knows everything there is to know about the music industry.
KW: What kind of touring will you be doing for this record?
EK: I was actually gonna try to keep the touring limited this year because I am working on an acoustic project right now, but we have to do some touring. I think we’re gonna be in the UK in July and August and Europe. I think we’re hitting Australia in September or October. I think we’re gonna be doing a couple dates in Canada in May and we’re gonna be playing some local shows in our area here in New York in the meantime.
KW: Do you find it harder to tour now that you’re sober, or is it easier?
EK: Not really, and I should clarify. I drink sometimes. I’m not sober of alcohol. I was referring to drugs, which I guess the proper terminology is clean. I’ve been clean off drugs. I do still drink occasionally, although it’s always limited to one or two beers at the most because alcohol makes me tired. You know, it’s funny and that’s a good question. I’ve never thought of it before. I think with Leftöver Crack, my problem was with drugs and since I quit the band around the same time I got clean, I never had to experience going back on tour with that band and stay clean. Morning Glory I see as a different ballgame altogether. It was something totally new and different for me, so I never really associated the two things together.
KW: Were drugs ultimately the reason you parted ways with Leftöver Crack?
EK: Well, in a different kind of way, yes. That being the Leftöver Crack message. I wouldn’t say it condones the use of drugs, but it was ambivalent at best. I didn’t feel like that was a message that I could fully stand behind in the end, you know? So, I don’t know. I was taking part, of course. I don’t think we were saying anything that was overtly bad to kids. We were basically just saying think for yourself. Make up your own mind.
Now that I’m clean, I think that maybe kids are stupid. You have to account for the lowest common denominator. Maybe that’s not fair to tell a kid to make up their own mind. Maybe they need more strict guidelines and role models to look up to to stay off drugs. I don’t really know. I’m still finding my feet with the whole thing.
At least with Morning Glory, we don’t have any kind of mixed messages whatsoever. I feel like I can stand behind that at this point in my life. So, in a way, I did stop playing in the band because of drugs, but it had more to do with the message we were sending to other people than drugs having an influence on me. Does that make sense?
KW: Yeah, definitely. Do you prefer touring or recording more?
EK: Ah, man. I love recording. There is no doubt about it. I really love being in the studio. That’s one of my favorite things to do; to be in the creative mode, but you can’t really be a real band without doing what a real band does, which is playing shows and touring. To cop out a little bit, I would say I love them both equally.
I definitely still love playing shows and going out and having fun and singing along and being with other people and having a good time and putting on the best show possible and entertaining people. That, to me, is like the whole thing of it. You’re not really a real band unless you’re doing that. But with the recording process, they’re almost like two whole different aspects of it. I love both of ‘em.
KW: You mentioned that you’re working on an acoustic album. Is that a solo acoustic album?
EK: Yeah, for lack of a better term, I guess solo is the right word for it. I was trying to come up with titles for it. I will call it, “Solo Record,” but I’ll put stars where the O’s are. People always see solo records and they put stars in their eyes [laughs]. I really hate the term solo record because nobody’s solo s**t is ever as good as their stuff they do with their band, but I guess you can call it solo stuff for now.
This is just a collection of all the songs I have been writing on piano and acoustic guitar over the last year. I just have so many of them. I was on some type of writing spree since February of last year. This is my opportunity to get away from the band and not deal with five other f**king people and all of their opinions on how they think the songs should go. I just get to do this one on my own and it’s super simple. I’m really gaining a lot out of the experience of just writing a song, tracking it, and that’s it. It’s also super lo-fi. I’m just tracking it on my laptop in my bedroom and I don’t have to deal with studios and money and stuff like that.
The way technology is, you don’t have to worry about the quality of recording so much. You can basically record on to any piece of software you have and have it mastered into something that sounds as good as anything else that’s out there right now because of the technology we have. I was actually listening to this guy, Jake Bug. He is this kid from the UK who plays, I guess, acoustic stuff, although it’s kind of more in a country sort of vein. I think one of his songs he tracked on his iPhone and put it out on his debut album. You listen to it and you can’t tell it is different from anything he did in the studio. It’s really amazing actually.
KW: Will you release that on Fat Wreck?
EK: Umm, I don’t know. I haven’t gotten to that point yet. I’m not sure how it’s gonna come out. I almost feel like I could probably put this one out on my own and just release it to the general public on the internet for free. I’m sure it would probably do just fine.
KW: Is there anything else you would like people to know about you or anything you’re working on?
EK: No. I guess I can mention on this record, we worked with Brian Viglione, who is a fantastic drummer from Dresden Dolls and now he plays for the Violent Femmes sometimes. He really contributed a lot to this record. He has a certain style that made the record really rock. He was super easy to work with and hopefully he will be playing some of the shows with us this year.