Graham Reid | | 4 min read
Not many New Zealand musicians could pull a quote about themselves from the influential American magaine No Depression, and certainly not one as glowing as that about Bill Morris.
“He’s thousands of miles from Nashville, " wrote John Apice, "but even those songwriters would not want to get into the ring with a heavyweight like Bill Morris. If they did, they’d have to bring their best songs and arrangements and they better not blink.”
Yes, Morris has fans in the crucible of alt.country and at home too. The title track from his album Hinterland was nominated as country song of the year, there were glowing reviews for his previous album Mud, and he's been likened to New Zealand's Paul Kelly for his thoughtful, often hard-edged storytelling.
Hinterland contains some terrific songs (see review here) so it was time to flick Bill Morris our Famous Elsewhere Songwriter Questionnaire . . .
The first song which really affected you was . . .
Would have been something on Kris Kristofferson’s self titled album, which was my Dad’s favourite record at the time. I remember as a kid hearing Darby’s Castle, which tells the tale of an adulterous affair destroying a man’s life dreams. I remember being fascinated by the lyrics, even though I was far too young to understand what was going on.
Your first (possibly embarrassing) role models in music were . . .
Well yes, this is embarrassing to admit but…. U2. Growing up in the hills, I was largely sheltered from popular music and culture in general until I was about 13. Then I heard someone’s copy of Zooropa in 1993; I found it quite mesmerising. When all my peers were getting into into Nirvana I was listening to Achtung Baby for the first time. How lame is that?
The one songwriter you will always listen to, even if they disappointed you previously, is?
Nas. A frustrating artist but I’ll listen to even his worst records for the moments of genius contained within.
As songwriters: Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards; kd lang or Katy Perry; Madonna or Michael Jackson; Johnny Cash or Kris Kristofferson?
Jagger-Richards -- I’ve never really caught the Beatles bug, but always loved the Stones. kd lang. Michael Jackson. Kristofferson. I got to meet him when he toured here last year, he shook my hand and when I told him I was a songwriter, he looked me up and down and drawled, “Yeah, you got that look about ya.” I felt like I’d been ordained or something.
The three songs (yours, or by others) you would love everyone to hear because they are well crafted are . . .
Kev Carmody - Droving Woman. About 20 verses, no chorus, no bridge, just a simple, unassuming narrative of one woman’s life under the wide Australian sky. Utterly spellbinding. Kev lived this song, like he lives all his songs.
Paul Kelly - Deeper Water. I could have chosen a number of Paul Kelly songs, but this was the first one of his that made the hairs on my neck stand up I when I heard it at the age of about 17, and it still does every time I hear it.
The Front Lawn - Andy. Powerful song, just floors me when I hear it, my all time favourite NZ song.
Melody first? Words or phrase first? Simultaneous?
Usually a phrase first, then the rest is pretty simultaneous.
The best book on music or musicians you have read is . . .
Honestly I don’t tend to read much about music or musicians - I find it hard enough to find time to read and when I do I prefer to read science or history books when it comes to non-fiction.
If you could co-write with anyone it would be . . .
The last CD or vinyl album you bought was . . . (And your most recent downloads include . . .)
Last CD was Mel Parson’s excellent new album Drylands. Mostly I just buy NZ stuff on CD now. I downloaded the new Kendrick Lamar and was listening to that a lot lately, which got me to pay a lot more attention to his previous record, good Kid M.a.a.d City. A great storyteller and lyricist.
One song, royalties for life, never have to work again. The song by anyone, yourself included, which wouldn't embarrass you would be . . .
Well, obviously I’d prefer it was one of mine, but if I’d written Dreams by Fleetwood Mac I think I’d be pretty happy with myself.
One line (or couplet) from a song -- yours or someone else's -- which you think is just a stone cold winner is . . .
"Pancho was a bandit boy, his horse as fast as polished steel
Wore his gun outside his pants for all the honest world to feel . . ."
Townes van Zandt, from Pancho and Lefty. Only Townes [right] could encapsulate the youthful bravado of his main character with a gut-punch like that.
Songwriting: what's the ratio of inspiration/perspiration?
When I started out it was mostly inspiration, until I learned you can’t rely on inspiration - you need to work at it too. Now its about 50/50. Seizing the moment, not letting go until you’ve wrestled it to the ground.
Ever had a song come to you fully-formed like it dropped into your lap?
Yes, it happens now and then, those days you take the rest of the day off and shout yourself a couple of beers. I got one completely written in my head in the car a while back and had to pull over to get it recorded. Often they’re the best songs.
And finally, finish this couplet in any way you like: “Standing at the airport with an empty suitcase at my feet . . .” (You are NOT allowed to rhyme that with “meet” however)
a box of air from anywhere but here.