March 11, 2020 Interview – Mark Morton of Lamb of God
A vital piece to Lamb of God, one of the biggest Heavy Metal bands around today, Mark Morton has made a name for himself as a superior lead guitarist with killer riffs and irresistibly heavy grooves. Responsible for composing nearly almost all of Lamb of God’s guitar solos, while forming many of their rhythms, he has been a steady force for over 20 years. Proud accomplishments, Morton is more than a one trick pony though, and he proves it with his 2019 solo album, Anesthetic.
An album that showcases the guitarist’s diversity, it offers less Metal-based songs as Morton teams up with a slew of well-known musicians/vocalists ranging from Mark Lanegan to the late Chester Bennington. An eye-opening release that continues to turn on a broader audience, Morton wasted no time putting out new music in early 2020 with his acoustic-themed EP Ether. Fulfilled by his various creative outlets, amidst gearing up for a big return from Lamb of God, Morton took the time to talk about the inspiration behind his solo material, his approach to songwriting, plus plenty more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been plugging away in music for a very long time. Having major success as part of Lamb of God, you have also gone on to release solo material. Briefly tell us, how would you describe your journey thus far?
Mark Morton – I guess there are so many ways to describe it: it’s been vibrant, it’s been incredibly fulfilling, it’s been exciting, it’s been very rewarding, but also very challenging and frustrating. There’s been some incredible highs and some really intense lows. It’s really been, as you put, a journey. It’s been, in a lot of ways, my life’s work.
Cryptic Rock – And you certainly have accomplished a lot. In 2019 you put out your first solo album, Anesthetic. What inspired the album?
Mark Morton – It was really the result of a number of years of songs kind of piling up. I don’t write songs every single day, but writing songs doesn’t really stop. In the course of writing songs, sometimes songs come out that are not really viable to be Lamb of God material. We have a character and personality in the band, and while we can push and test the limits of what we’re able to do within the context of that band, I feel like there’s a lane; sometimes that lane is a little broader than others, but there is a lane it exists in.
In the course of my songwriting I have come up with material over the years that didn’t really fit into that Lamb of God frame. These things started compiling. I wrote the songs, let them be what they were, and when I started playing some of the stuff for my producer he agreed with my idea that some of this stuff was pretty good and worth developing. That is really where Anesthetic started. I think the song existed before the idea for the project did in a lot of ways.
Cryptic Rock – Very interesting. The album is really a great listen. You collaborated with a lot of great vocalists, from Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington to Jacoby Shaddix of Papa Roach to Chuck Billy of Testament, plus more. What was it like collaborating with all these vocalists?
Mark Morton – I think that was really, for me, the greatest joy in the whole project. To be able to write with, and in some cases write for, all these incredible artists I was fans of or admired. In some cases some were friends, some I hadn’t met, some became friends. Just having the opportunity to work with such an incredibly talented core of people on a project that I was more or less the creative director for.
Really every song on that album was collaborative. I played all the guitars on the album, expect for one spot where Marc Ford of The Black Crowes played on it. Just having the opportunity to work with such a diverse, talented group of people was really the biggest reward.
Cryptic Rock – It really is an all-star group of musicians. As you mentioned, these songs would not fit with Lamb of God, per se. That in mind, do you find people who perhaps were not Lamb of God fans checking out your solo material?
Mark Morton – It’s interesting – I was curious to see how that would play out both ways. I didn’t know whether or not I could anticipate many Lamb fans coming with me to do this little more commercial, mainstream sounding Rock. There is some Metal on the album at sort of the request of my Producer Josh Wilbur who mentioned a couple of times, “You should probably put some Metal songs on this album because a lot of your fans are going to want to hear that from you.” We did the song we did with Chuck Billy, “Never,” and then “The Truth Is Dead” with Randy (Blythe) and Alissa White-Gluz of Arch Enemy.
For the most part the rest of the album wasn’t all that Metal. I didn’t know if Lamb fans would come with me and support that. I also didn’t know if anyone would take me seriously outside of Lamb of God. I’m fortunate to find that really both things happened. I think there are people that maybe aren’t the biggest Lamb fans, maybe Lamb of God is a little bit too heavy for their musical tastes, but they really like some of the stuff I did on Anesthetic. Particularly all the Linkin Park and Chester fans have been really vocal and supportive of the project. They have been real loud about letting me know how much they appreciate the song and how special it was for them, and I think all of us, to hear Chester’s voice again after he passed.
Cryptic Rock – Absolutely. The album is really a must listen. You followed up relatively quickly with a new 5-track acoustic EP called Ether this past January. A mix of some originals and some really cool covers, is this leftover material from Anesthetic or is it all new material?
Mark Morton – (Laughs) It’s funny, I get asked that a lot. I guess it’s because how close in time frame the projects. All the stuff for the Ether EP is new. It’s sort of the converse of how Anesthetic was written, where I had the songs before I ever knew what their destination would be. For Ether it was the other way around. I did some acoustic showcase shows for Anesthetic and in the course of playing those shows, and sort of re-purposing some of the songs for acoustic, I really enjoyed the challenge. I enjoyed the process to keep going on that tangent, so I had this idea of writing some acoustic-based songs.
With Ether, the project came before the songs. Obviously the covers are covers, but the three originals were written specifically for this project, where each song would have a primarily acoustic components. It was just born out of the experience of getting the opportunity to do some showcases in support of Anesthetic that were acoustic-based; that is what spawned the Ether EP.
Cryptic Rock – That is cool how it all came about. You have two covers on the EP with Lzzy Hale singing on The Black Crowes’ “She Talks To Angels,” where she nails it, and the Pearl Jam cover. What led to the decision to pick these two songs to cover?
Mark Morton – They were just really natural choices for me in terms of my musical tastes. That kind of ’90s era of music, there was so much great music in that time frame. It was a real defining time for me as a musician in the early ’90s. At that point I knew how to play guitar but was really making my first attempts at songwriting. It was a real important time for me, musically; I think there is kind of a thread musically of that period in my solo stuff.
Knowing I was going to be choosing acoustic songs I thought of those two songs naturally – “She Talks To Angels” is acoustic in it’s original form anyway. I’ve been a pretty loud and proud Black Crowes fan all of their career – like I said, Marc Ford played on my last album and Steve Gorman played drums on a couple tracks. To do the song I thought would be really cool, but I wanted to do something really different with it, so I thought having a woman singing it would sort of change the lyrics and change the angle a little bit in a really powerful way. As you say, Lzzy really knocked it out of the park, she just blew everyone’s mind with her performance on that song.
With “Black,” one of the great songs from that era, I think we sort of used as the template the Pearl Jam unplugged version of that song. I had heard Mark Morales sing that before. He plays guitar, as well, so he performs solo, acoustic shows on his own, so I knew how well he sung it.
Cryptic Rock – Well the EP was a pleasant surprise. You did some solo gigs in the UK, but are you now in Lamb of God mode with the album set to hit in May?
Mark Morton – Yeah, definitely full-throttle with Lamb of God right now. There are some windows, so I’m hoping to explore some opportunities for some solo stuff later in the year; nothing I can talk about yet and there is nothing that has come together yet. Lamb of God is definitely the priority, and like I said, we are about set to put the throttle down. We’ve got a big album coming out, so that is where the focus is right now.
Cryptic Rock – And people are extremely pumped about a new Lamb of God album. A guitar player at heart, is it different for you to write songs acoustically? Many guitarist do write acoustically prior to adding any effects/distortion.
Mark Morton – It’s really no different for me, it just kind of depends on what I’m trying to write. I don’t really write any Lamb of God riffs on acoustic. There have been a couple of pieces, though; there was an intro for a song called “The Passing” which was written and performed on acoustic. There are a few parts across the discography that are performed on acoustic and I think it was written on acoustic. Certainly the riffing and the main components of Lamb of God’s you hear, that’s all written on electric.
I have always played acoustic, though; I’ve always played more mellow stuff and around the house that is kind of how I played. I have written songs for other people that were on acoustic, so it’s not like it is anything new for me. It’s more depending on what my objective is, which is going to influence which guitar I pick up; it is just finding the right tool for the right job.
Cryptic Rock – That makes sense. You said you will look to revisit the solo stuff when time allows. You put out the album and EP back to back, can we expect another quick f0llow-up?
Mark Morton – I’m not sure yet. I don’t really have anything on the calendar in terms of another solo release. I can say pretty confidently I anticipate doing one at some point. Like I said, right now the focus has shifted back to Lamb of God – we’ve got a really full schedule and a monster of an album we are getting ready to release. That’s my focus so I’m going to gear up for that and play my position in everything that is Lamb of God. From there, once I get the opportunity I will definitely dig back into the solo stuff; it’s something I really enjoy and get a lot out of. I’ve got good problems: I have a lot of music to work on, a lot of directions I can go in, and it feels good to have all this. I’m really grateful to have all these opportunities and options, but Lamb of God is for sure the focus.
Cryptic Rock – Very understandable, and yes, these are good problems to have. Last question, if you are fan of Horror and Sci-Fi films, do you have any favorites?
Mark Morton – Gosh, I’m such the wrong guy for that, I really am. I tend to watch documentaries on Netflix, that is pretty much where my movie stuff goes. I like documentaries on anything really – a lot of music documentaries, but also historical stuff.