From the beginning to the last note
20/07/2018, Danil VOLOHOV
Playing jazz is a hard task – it’s a well-known fact. Musicians need to have backbone. An impulse. Something that could easily help to rise to spontaneous improvisation without stepping outside and forgetting about form, timing and bar. But that’s the point of jazz. In finding the balance. And also in off-beats and practically intuitive creating the building of notes and common chords.
Talking about Vapors of Morphine – we can’t say about it “pure jazz-collective”. There are too many different things each of the members has brought to the band. The blues background of Jeremy Lyons. Also as well-known chords of low-rock, played by former members of Morphine - Dana Colley and Jerome Dupree.
This November, Vapors of Morphine will have a big European tour. So before its start we decided to talk with Dana Colley. In the interview to Peek-A-Boo magazine, Dana told about band’s expectations of coming tour, his very first pushes to play and unreleased material.
When you started your career as a member of Morphine – there weren’t bands with the similar kind of sound. Do you remember your first gig and reaction of audience?
Morphine formed in Cambridge/Boston in the early 90s. There was a very fertile original music and art scene and many musicians and bands were motivated to experiment with instrumentation. There was a lot of guitar of course but also Casio keyboards and drum machines. Looping and samples were becoming integrated more and more. There was a lot of blending of idioms. Although there wasn't a band that sounded like Morphine we didn't seem all that "out of place" considering what was happening around Boston at the time. One of our first gigs was playing at the famed Middle East Restaurant in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We played on a bill with two very heavy guitar bands. We were in the middle slot. I remember thinking that we would probably not go over well. What I experienced was that the audience was incredibly receptive and open to what we were doing. The sound we had along with Sandman's presence, drew the audience in. We were the melon palette cleanser between the savoury appetizer and the heavy meat dish of garage bands we were paired with.
How was your classical sound formed and when did you understand that it was the thing you wanted to express?
I think I have always had something to express. I have struggled most of my life to find a way in which to do it. Playing a saxophone seems to be the portal that speaks most accurately to that pursuit. Every day I pick up my saxophone is another day that I go in search of my sound which is the link to the self expression. It is an exercise and a discipline. If it goes neglected weeds will begin to grow and the portal becomes more difficult to find. Every day when I begin to practice it feels as though I have never played the instrument before.
In one of your interviews you said that since your childhood you felt a kind of connection to jazz and blues. Talking hypothetically, have you ever imagined yourself being...a heavy-metal artist? For example.
Now that is a good question! Finally someone has seen inside my soul! Thank you! Yes! I am caught between a hard rock and a jazz place. I grew up in the 70s so the music that my friends older brothers were listening to was the music I listened to. 70s guitar rock. Allman Bros, Jeff Beck, Robin Trower, Rory Gallagher, Billy Gibbons, Richie Blackmore. Guitar was king. At the very top was Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix embodied the other world. As a listener one became transported in his sound and his performance. He seemed to be coming from a place beyond just playing "songs" to a place that became transformational and the songs (all amazing songs) were vehicles for a time and space travel.
The sound of his distortion alone. The complexity of that sound and the intimacy of connecting as a listener has compelled me to command my humble baritone saxophone to allow for, even the smallest feeling of what THAT is, to become reanimated in my own expression. If one one hundredth of a percent comes through than I can be happy. The sound of the guitar really speaks to me. I happen to play the sax so I have with various effects, amplification and the nature of the baritone saxophone been able to develop a hybrid of the two. Then you have Coltrane who was doing all of this and so much more, with just his tenor.
Critics always compare Morphine with beatniks. With that said your sound differs from bebop or is such point of view influenced by Mark’s lyrics?
Yes I am sure it was a direct connection to Mark's writing which would often employ the ideas of random selection. Improvisation and Automatic writing superimposed with spontaneous musical expressions. "If the muse calls, answer it". As Ginsberg said.
In a few months you’ll start a big European tour. How do people in Europe perceive your music ?
Now I will speak for every one of the 738 million people in Europe (had to look that up).Headline: All Of Europe Loves Vapors Of Morphine. We can fill in the rest. What's your deadline? But seriously, most Europeans, most not all, perceive our music mostly from listening. However there have been some who have been deaf and still come to see us to feel the vibrations, So I see your point. I just don't have all the numbers yet. In all seriousness (always a challenge) we have had such great concerts in Europe. The audiences understand the music and the history. Morphine has such a long history with Europe. It always feels like being at home for me.
And what do you, personally, expect from this tour? Maybe there are some places you’d like to visit again?
We have just received the final routing and it really looks fantastic! Netherlands, Belgium, Hungary, Italy, Russia, Paris, London. Morphine haven't played in Paris or London in a very long time. Vapors have never played there. I love both of these cities and have such great memories from both. We went to Moscow and Saint Petersburg for the first time last year and I am so looking forward to returning. It will be the first time in Zagreb so I am really excited.
Vapors of Morphine is a practically live project. Have you ever thought about releasing a live recording ?
Yes we are sifting through hours of files of live performances of which we have many. Over the years we have held a semi-residency at a bar in Cambridge called Atwoods Tavern. We have had the luxury and good fortune to have a great sound engineer who has over the years recorded most if not every show we have done. We have had guests and different configurations so I think we have the raw material for a very interesting record.
Among different jazz-musicians there is an opinion that you can play one song in very different ways. So does your playing have a connection with your mood or is that just a myth?
Yes most definitely! It is really the only thing that allows you to play a song over and over again, is the magic that happens when you open it up each time. The beauty of playing with Jerome Deupree and Jeremy Lyons is, they are both masters of improvisation and both thrive on the moment. As a trio we can move freely, as individual players or as a group, into areas that can't be mapped out or even written on a page.
But if we’ll imagine that it’s true. What do you think is the element that Jeremy has brought by becoming a part of Vapors of Morphine?
Jeremy has brought so much to this group. He is leading the whole band. He is playing the main line of every song holding it down while singing, while I aimlessly attempt to find the right key by noodling until I hit something. Jeremy is a musicologist. He has studied the American Delta. He has an entire body of songs from his life in New Orleans. He rips on banjo, dobro, diddlybo, bass, slide, and electric bouzouki, and happens to be an incredible singer. I love to be in a band with Jeremy and Jerome. I am always inspired. Jerome is a world class drummer. His work on Cure For Pain is a drummer's rosetta stone.
Can you say that being citizens of Boston/Cambridge affected the classical sound of Morphine?
I would say yes. When I first came to Boston I had a job working as a busboy for a restaurant down by the waterfront. After my shift usually late at night I would walk home through the city. There was a section called Downtown Crossing where a lot of shops converged. Late night there was never anyone there. Once when walking I heard the sound of the alto saxophone from blocks away. I followed the sound to its source, This cat was playing solo with such fullness of sound and range I could tell that he had something to say. I would keep coming back to listen to him. We became friends, his name is Bob Gay, Bob was incredibly generous. At the time I was interested in discovering the altisimo range which Bob had complete command of. He was quick to suggest I check out Rayburns Music and speak with a man named Emilo Lyons the sax doctor. He could help me sort out a good horn and then I could take it from there. My pursuit of the altisimo lead me in another direction ultimately but what I learned from hanging out in Rayburns came from the energy of the place. The veterans, Big Band heroes. All the cats on the east coast came up to see Emilio. Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz all signed pictures to Emilio with love and respect hung on every wall. Soaking in the generation that came before me and before that really had an impact. I would go in and listen to guys try out their horns after Emilio had done one of his world famous overhauls. Complete with the tiny leather flowers he cut and painted and used to make his signature handiwork, instantaneously distinct.
I would watch their faces as they would rip into some incredible arpeggio run. I, at this point, had no idea what an arpeggio was. There was a parallel rock world at the guitar music mecca store E.U. Wurlitzer. A second floor walk up at the corner of Newbury and Mass Ave. Practice rooms filled with guys wailing and noodling on guitars. I would go up there to try the only electric wind instrument that was in existence at the time, the Lyricon. The man behind the counter who I came to know as Hartley, would begrudgingly set me up in a room to work out my electric fantasies. There was never any way I could ever own one but I would visit once a month.
One of your side-projects is a trio “Twinemen”. I heard rumours that you’re recording something new right now. Is it true?
You may be thinking of my bandmate from Twinemen Laurie Sargent. https://www.lauriesargentart.com/ She has just released a new recording. Twinemen is not recording or performing at the moment.
Your musical legacy is countless but of course the main thing – is your “inventing” of such a style as “low-rock”. So as one of its “creators” can you trace some new artists?
Well, beyond the countless cover bands there are elements in certain songs by some current artists that suggest they may have heard Morphine and were going for something along the same lines.
An ideal show. What should it be like and what examples of an ideal show you can provide ?
I would say an ideal show is one that grooves from the beginning to the last note. It's like one long wave with everyone on one giant surfboard.
During the coming tour Vapors of Morphine will play the shows in:
06-11-2018 Tilburg (NL) @ 013 Poppodium
08-11-2018 Zagreb (HR) @ Vintage Industrial
10-11-2018 Florence (IT) @ Flog
13-11-2018 Moscow (RU) @ Club Red
14-11-2018 St.Petersburg (RU) @ Kosmonavt Club
15-11-2018 Paris (F) @ Petit
17-11-2018 London (UK) @ The Lexington
Other dates and cities will be announced on the band’s site: http://www.vaporsofmorphine.com/
GROUND NERO • The derailed capitalist system has made luxury wage slaves of many people, in whom the hunger for luxury seems to have no limits.
CHRISTIAN DEATH • 'I think pacifism will be the rehearsal for the ultimate slaughter'
DISTRICT 13 • Many have a “life in chains”, each for themselves.[...] Many would like to be free, but they are trapped.
DANIEL B / PROTHESE • ‘I Don’t Want To Be Confined In A Genre That Creates Expectations And Borders’
THE LIVELONG JUNE • OUR AIM WAS TO PRODUCE SOMETHING THAT SOUNDED LIKE NOTHING ELSE THAT WE LISTENED TO
LEAETHER STRIP • ‘MY BIGGEST HERO IS ALAN WILDER’
PARADOX OBSCUR • EVERY NEW ALBUM IS GETTING CLOSER TO THE FUTURE…
FIRST AID 4 SOULS • Composing Songs Begins By Reading A Lot Of Books
PERSEPHONE • Maybe You Can Describe The Production Like A Puzzle: You Have To Find Each And Every Piece And Put It Together
ERIC BILITCH • 'I WOULD NEVER WANT TO MAKE A MOVIE FOR EVERYONE!'