Morganway breathe the magic of their live shows into upcoming debut album
Twins Callum and Kieran Morgan chat about the new record, drawing inspiration from Tom Petty and recording live.
On the eastern end of the UK, Norfolk is renowned for its breathtaking coastlines and sand dunes. The serene landscape, however, stands in stark contrast to the music of two of its residents, Callum and Kieran Morgan. The twins are the co-founders of Morganway, a band that’s about to set the region ablaze with their barn-storming blend of genres.
Birthed from a desire to not fit within the lines, the band list a smorgasbord of influences including Americana, alt-rock, country and folk. But Morganway are perhaps best known for their incendiary live performances, which feature heavy guitars, tight choral-like harmonies… and an expressive fiddle.
The band are now gearing up for their eponymous debut full-length as a six-piece comprising the Morgans, keyboardist Matthew Brocklehurst, singer SJ Mortimer, fiddle player Nicole Terry and drummer Ed Bullinger. Morganway is an 11-track outing that captures the best of the group’s electrifying live sound – and here’s Callum and Kieran to talk more about it.
Let’s start with your new album, Morganway, which is due out later this year. What can we expect from the new record?
Callum: I think this album is a culmination of what we’ve been working on in terms of our live sound. We’ve released some EPs and cut some demos but this is our first album. It mixes everything about our live show and a bit extra in the studio. There are some tracks on this album that we’ve never played live to an audience yet, and there are some tracks that have been with us since the beginning.
So I think [the new album] crosses a lot of genres and crosses a lot of what makes Morganway, Morganway. We’re not really a country band nor rock band nor indie band nor folk band. We cross over to a lot of those things because we’ve all got different personalities. The different influences affect each of us and are what makes Morganway.
Kieran: There’s some heavy rock tunes on there, quite inspired by people like Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers and then there’s also some folky atmospheric songs on there as well. There’s even a bit of prog-building going on in six-minute epics. So it’s a crossover and a journey from start to finish – an intense album I would say.
Composing for a six-piece band must be tricky. Can you tell us more about it?
K: Because there are six of us, it’s pretty easy to make a sound massive straight away. We’re constantly learning that the difficulty is what not to play as opposed to what to play so that the songs can build. But all six of us have very different styles and very different influences. It’s all about coming together that makes the sound of Morganway, and the more we write and compose together, everyone seems to know what to play and what not to.
C: What I find with harmonies is that I love the sound of them. SJ is both a lead singer and an amazing backing singer. She’s very quick at finding the right harmony. And for me, because I’ve always been a lead singer in other bands, [finding the harmonies] is not the way my brain works. I end up with an obscure harmony by accident or I very much have to be taught a harmony that works for this song.
So I think that’s what’s great about arranging music as a band. For example, if I brought a song to the band, it can sometimes take a life of its own when you get a group of passionate musicians working on an arrangement together. [The song] could be different from what you expected originally but can end up somewhere really cool. And I think Kieran is right. Sometimes it’s about what not to play as it is what to play. But then weirdly, I think we’re very lucky as a band because we have got some really great musicians and everyone seems to find their pocket in a natural way, even though it can be quite an intense experience.
What elements of your EP, No Tomorrows, did you carry over to Morganway?
K: On No Tomorrows, we had a 12-string Rickenbacker as well as those large, echoing guitar sounds with big reverb. Those were a big part of my sound as a guitar player and thus crossed over. For that EP, we did almost everything by ourselves in a home studio environment, which meant we laid down the drums and bass. But for [Morganway] we came to a studio in Cambridge, Headline Music Studios, to record. Our band is very much a live band, and we’re about how we play together and the sort of energy that [playing as a band] creates. What we wanted to do for the album was to have a core of songs to build upon live, with the six of us combining our energies together.
C: I think No Tomorrows was a discovery record because it was the first time we’ve recorded an EP to release with Morganway. We had our friend who’s a really talented engineer/producer, Chris Lyndon, to set up a home studio at our producer George Nicholson’s house. So [No Tomorrows] was recorded at home in that sense, but it was done with the intent to not make a demo – we were going to try to make a record ourselves. The thing we learnt from the EP was what we liked in terms of the guitar sounds. We liked all the individual textures and discovered what vocal sounds we wanted. I double-tracked a lot of my vocals, a bit like what John Lennon and Peter Gabriel used to do.
We developed a lot of production tips that we would take on to the album such as double-tracked guitar and vocals. We also experimented with different types of reverb, pads and synths. The one thing we didn’t have [going for the EP] was as Kieran said, performing it. We didn’t have the space to record [all the parts] simultaneously live. So we really knew from doing the EP that we wanted our debut album to be done live. Not the entire thing, but the core of it we wanted to be recorded live.
Is your recording rig different from your live rig? If so, how?
K: No, not really. I used a different amp, but that’s because I don’t have the amp I’ve got now. The main rig is basically a Fender Princeton, a little combo amp. This is for live, and it’s my main rig. And pedal-wise, I’ve got a Greer Amps Lightspeed Overdrive which I basically have on all the time. It’s my main sort of overdrive tone alongside an Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano Reverb, which is toggled to the spring setting pretty much all the time. And I’ve got a cheap garage tone delay with a little slap back. I’ve also got an Eventide H9 that gives me that shimmer and tape delay, as well as a couple of fuzzes for lead.
And what about guitars?
K: My main guitars include a PRS S2 Vela with a 57/08 humbucker in the bridge that sounds really cool and Tele-like. And I’ve got, allegedly, a 70s or 80s Japanese Telecaster purchased from a dodgy website. The Strat has a mini Seymour Duncan in the neck. I took it to my guitar tech, an amazing guy called Nick Fraser. When I first got the guitar, it got shipped in a dodgy box and I took it out and it felt awful. But Fraser basically took it apart and put it together again and it’s absolutely awesome now. Luckily, I had him to save it. So those are my two main guitars.
In the studio, I have the Rickenbacker 360/12. It’s the same one from the Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers’ Damn The Torpedoes album cover. But essentially, in the studio, I didn’t have my Fender amp yet. So I used, for almost the whole time, a tiny 1×10 Ashdown combo. It was a tiny combo but it must’ve weighed 25 or 30kg. It sounded awesome, though. My kind of signature sound is OD with a little bit of delay and reverb all the time. And then I add all the delays to make it extra spacey.
What about you, Callum?
C: I’ve got a much simpler sound. As a contrast [to Kieran], I started playing bass as my first instrument. A lot of the bass on the album was played by me, and the same goes for our live performances. Basically, I came to the guitar because I was starting to write songs and there were only so many songs I could write on the bass with vocals. I kind of just do rhythm – I get kind of aggressive at times with the rhythmic style of playing guitar. And so far, on the album, I did a combination [of bass and rhythm guitar], which goes for the live performances as well.
For guitars, I have a Maton acoustic. It’s a sort of big Maton Australian acoustic, so [it has a] really cool sound. I’ve been playing it for quite a few years now and it’s battered around a bit and grown to my style of playing. So I tracked most of the acoustic parts of the album on that. I think I used a PRS acoustic for some songs as well.
My go-to bass is a Rickenbacker 4003 – a Jetglo, black-and-white bass. It’s a funny instrument because it’s not always the easiest to play. It’s not necessarily as smooth as some basses but it’s got that very distinctive growly Rickenbacker tone. Nine times out of 10 in the studio we try different basses to track with and we nearly always go back to the Rickenbacker, which like the Maton, has adapted to my playing.
When I play rhythm guitar again, I just plug it into a Mesa Boogie combo that belonged to my old guitar teacher. It weighs an absolute ton. I tend to use a Blackstar too because it’s portable and sound great. I also have a Gibson 335 which is really suited my playing, I think, as I don’t use any pedals. I just give the amp a little bit of gain and reverb, and that’s pretty much it. It’s a contrast to Kieran, who is creative with his use of effects and pedals. I just plug [my instrument] into an amp and that’s it.
What is something about your rig that would surprise most people?
C: The Rickenbacker bass. I think Rickenbacker basses were used quite a lot in the 60s and 70s by bands like The Beatles and later, The Eagles. The Eagles were a big influence on our sound. But I don’t often see people in the kind of alternative Americana rock scene with Rickenbacker basses. I originally played a Music Man but I grew to like a Rickenbacker. To be honest with you, from a vain point of view, I just loved the look of them. They look amazing but they’re one of those instruments that also sound as they look. There’s something quite surprising about the sound of a Rickenbacker on some of our songs because [Rickenbacker basses] are often not considered as versatile. [The Rickenbacker basses] have their loud and growly sound, which is why people like Lemmy from Motorhead channelled them so effectively.
I think we’re always surprised at how versatile the [Rickenbacker] bass can be in the studio. We often thought, “Oh this track won’t fit with a Rickenbacker. It needs to be a subtler sound.” And we’ve ended up going back to it. What surprises us about the Rickenbacker is despite how loud it is, or angry of a bass it can be, you’ll be surprised how often it can fit in with the most gentle-sounding tracks.
K: One thing that I’ve mentioned before is that I always leave on a slapback delay and reverb no matter what I’m doing – it could be a heavy rock song or a chilled folk song. I don’t ever use a compressor, which a guy once said to me, “You’re in a country band, you don’t use a compressor, what the hell are you doing?”
My two main ODs are from a company called Greer Amps, an American company. One of our friends lives out in Nashville having moved out there when he was 18. I was over there when he recommended the Lightspeed OD. I tried it and loved it, and haven’t seen another person in the UK with one, though I’m sure that there’s plenty. I’ve got no compressors.
Morganway’s debut full-length arrives on 2 August. Pre-order the album here.