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Kyle Morris: Steady Diet of Strange
By Sean Smith
Fort Wayne Reader
Kyle Morris is sitting across the room while telling me about a strange film he's recently seen. This is the first time we've talked and it's the first thing he discusses with me. The movie starred Peter Fonda and it involved all sorts of counter culture behavior. The more he recalls, the more I'm fascinated. Fascinated by the film and his storytelling abilities. Fascinated, even more so, that he took the time to watch, as it turns out, the entire thing. But, as it also turns out, this is the sort of thing that fuels Morris and has resulted in his full length debut album, Pica.
Pica is a disorder that compels humans or animals to eat non-food items — dirt, pencil shavings, pen caps, paperclips… The list goes on. So, too, goes the list of things that Morris has 'ingested' along the way. The shortlist would be avant garde music and film, as well as the occasional episode of Dr. Who. He's also had to swallow his pride after two consecutive break-ups. Although it may be cold consolation, the record that came from those experiences is nothing short of perfect. While every singer/songwriter alongside Morris works with lyric and melody, it is what he has crafted with those simple tools that really set this album apart from many others. He has a very straight ahead approach with his lyrics, yet the melodies are nothing short of strange and inspired.
Morris' early inspiration came from his father who had a background in barbershop quartets and grandfather who played guitar. "I never saw him play guitar. I only heard him play harmonica before he died. Not right before he died, while he was still alive," points out Morris, with his trademark wit.
His musical career began with a stint playing recorder in the 4th grade and then grew to include show choir. Things took a dramatic turn when he decided to pursue guitar. He bought a Fender guitar and an amp, albeit with the help of his father. "I dug a ditch for my dad and he bought me the amp. I didn't take any lessons. I just followed this one guy around at school and was excited to learn ‘Smoke on the Water.' Before that I was listening to The Beatles, Glen Miller, The Beach Boys, Billy Joel and Elton John," recalls Morris, "When I could play 'Black Dog' by Zeppelin I found out that a lot of other guitar players couldn't do that, so I thought maybe I could do this. That was kind of the beginning."
Later, while in college, Morris played in random bands and goofed off with "pothead musicians and stuff." Eventually, he started playing solo, while also splitting his time with jazz and concert band. He worked a lot and was a closet musician after college, before attending open mics. "I didn't know anybody and meandered around and I ended up sitting at a table with Lee Miles. He seemed like he was out to lunch and just really tired," states Morris matter-of-factly, "There were two other girls sitting there with him. Then, a few weeks later, I saw him sitting at another table by himself. So, we ended up sitting at this table and we were out of work. He wasn't working and I had just been laid off."
Miles convinced him to file for unemployment and take his time finding another job. Morris obliged and they spent the summer wandering around and getting to know each other. The more time they spent together, the more they developed their music and began creating set lists. "We played Neil Young and stuff that we liked. We practiced and the rest is history. We got really gung ho and tried to play out. We hit it really hard for about a year and a half, but we got really burned out," frowns Morris, "We were playing once or twice a week and they were really crappy gigs. Nobody would clap and we were cramped in the corner. If there was a really nasty crowd we avoided originals. We just didn't feel like getting our souls sucked out that night."
Playing with Miles was great, but at times he felt a little like John Oates to his Daryl Hall. "The deal was I bought the P.A. and he would do the booking. He had a lot of CDs out, so he would give them one and they'd put Lee Miles on the sign and it was whatever. He always told them, but I was always second. I don't really care a whole lot about getting attention," assures Morris. "I guess I was hugged enough as a kid. Now, I have an album out and people can pay attention to it."
And pay attention, they should. The eleven song cycle deals with the realization of a failed relationship and then the struggle to move on. "Some of these songs are kind of old and some are relatively recent. A good test is if I come up with a musical part and it doesn't stick in my head, then it’s crap. If it sticks in mine, then it's going to stick in other people's heads. There aren't any filler songs on here," Morris continues. "It was kind of a purge. A cathartic thing. 'Sad Like a Sunken Ship' came out of me like a sneeze and 'Memory' took a lot of work to figure out what was going on."
The writing and recording of the songs really helped and Morris says it also helped to know he was in some good company. "When I was down in the dumps I'd listen to Morrissey and old blues. It was really comforting to know that someone else had gone through this. Even these cool musicians were crapped on by some woman. It happens to everybody," Morris reminds himself. "I don't feel that bad anymore."
He points out the lyrical similarities between Morrissey and himself. "A Morrissey song, when you're in a good mood it's a good song, but when you're feeling like crap it really comes to your rescue. The lyrics in 'Sad Like a Sunken Ship' depict feeling good one day and bad the next. I think the sunken ship metaphor was really fitting, because it's just sitting out there completely useless. It's just like your relationship. It's crap."
As far as melodies, Morris says he waits for them to appear. "I listen to weird stuff. Japanese noise rock or Chinese folk music or Latin guitar. There might be something interesting or funny somewhere in that," he says. "You're either open to that or not. The extra guitar part in 'What You've Got Now' wouldn't have been that way unless I was exposed to Chinese folk music. I'm standing on the shoulders of weirdness. But, that's where I get my influences. It's better than getting them from Fall Out Boy, who are like McDonald's, which isn't really food, either."
Be sure to add Pica to your music diet today. The album is available at Wooden Nickel and Morris will be playing the North Anthony location at 2 p.m. on June 21st. Later that evening, he'll perform at 9 p.m. on Little Brother Radio, 89.1 WBOI FM. Morris will officially celebrate the release of the album on June 28th with a free all-ages show at 816 Pint & Slice beginning at 7:30 p.m. along with Alabaster Fox, Hope Arthur and Lee Miles & The Illegitimate Sons of One William Branham.