By Chyrisse Tabone, Tampa Bay correspondent
Interview with Chris Morley of UK band Ellis Red
How it all started….
You guys have been together since 2013?
Yes, that is correct. We’ve known each other for years and years. We started off with myself and the drummer. Actually all of us have [been in bands] and this is the third band. Half of us were in one band and half of us have been in another but we’ve all been playing as one sort of unit for the last 10 years, really. …in different guises. I started out in drums. Then I started to play guitar and now guitar and vocals.
Did you all go to school together?
Actually, no. The bass player, Gary and Nick, went to school together. Dave and I went to college together. I used to do a lot of live sound engineering in my youth and I met Dave, the drummer in the band. I met him when I was about 14. I didn’t start playing in bands with him until I was in my early 20s.
Ellis Red Members: Chris Morley, Gary Stone, Nick Barnard, Dave CarterGenre: RockHometown: Tiptree/Colchester
Is that what you studied? Audio or sound engineering?
I did a little bit of live sound stuff. I studied music technology which is a little bit about the technology side of things. I learned about composition and film music. It was interesting but does not play a huge part in what my music is now or what my technological knowledge is now. It’s more like ‘hands on-get out there.’
The engineering of your CD is really good. That’s why I was wondering if you did it yourself?
We did, yeah. It’s all self-recorded, produced, and mixed. It’s my handy work on most of it and also the guys played a part in how the sound ends up. Yes, I was at the helm of that. Thank you.
It’s well balanced…the instruments and vocals. It’s very pleasing. That’s why I wondered if you had studied it because it sounds so good!
Yes, I studied by listening intently to every record I’ve ever owned and trying to replicate or tweak it…something like that.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Across the band we’ve got quite an eclectic mix, really. I started with a guitar in my hand at about three or four. I kind of messed around with it. I was around 7 or 8 so when I started listening and playing stuff like The Beatles and The Carpenters…..and then quickly got interested in electric stuff. When I was about 11, when I started secondary school, one of my mates handed me Metallica’s Black album and Iron Maiden’s Bless the Beast so then I was hooked on metal for years and years. I progressed to bands like Pantera.
We all come from different backgrounds. Gary our guitarist was massively into Blink 152 . Nick used to love bands like AFI…and we still do…Alexisonfire. There seems to be a common thing between us when it comes to old rock. We like [bands] like Thin Lizzy , Queen, Slash and Foo Fighters…massive influence on all of us. That kind of unites all of us. I think that’s why our music ends up sounding a little like that kind of rock-pop vein. That’s something we all totally agree on.
When did you start singing? You have a good voice.
Well, thank you. I don’t know really. I used to play in a few cover bands in college. I used to do backing vocals and throw in an old lead vocal here and there. This is the first thing I have…or we have…ever published with me as the lead vocalist.
I was in another band for awhile with our bass player Nick. It was pretty weird though…well awesome….because I was really screaming and not singing. So this is the first time I’ve ever done the lead parts. I love it! I really enjoy it.
And the writing…
When did you start writing?
Ever since I picked up a guitar I had the desire not to just put something on paper but to create something of my own.
Our guitarist Gary, a very, very good mate of mine…he’s the same. Ever since we could play we wanted to make our own versions of the things we used to hear. We then got into more and more into music production. I wanted to analyze how people were making their songs and how they are making the parts….all the little nuances that went into it. You kind of start thinking of your own and how you want to put them together. Like, oh, this is cool…how would it be if I used it in my own bit or my own way?
What is the process of songwriting for the band? Does one person write the melody and one person write the lyrics?
The songs that are on the EP have been a work in progress. They originated in song ideas I had been kicking around a long time. I put a few demos out with a few rough ideas about how I thought they might sound or end up—maybe just a verse or a chorus—and send it around to the other guys to work with (because we hadn’t been in bands in awhile). They all loved it and then we threw in a few more ideas together. Eventually they kind of evolved (although I think I had a road map in my head where I wanted these songs to be musically and melodically). And then we kind of stitched it together.
I always tend to put lyrics last (as weird as that might sound). Most people do it the other way around. They start with a story and build a soundscape behind it but I’m completely the other way around. My head is tuned straight into music and melody and layers. Then, a lyrical story kind of weaves its way on top of that.
Behind the music….
Looking at some of your songs [on the EP] what would you say is the theme? Do you come up with something randomly?
I think there’s some self-analysis going on in a few of those. It’s really me talking about my own shortcomings, to be honest, or my own insecurities.
There’s a couple of songs based on definite themes, like “Bones and Beauty” for example. I saw a documentary about a year ago about how a mental health institute looked after young people . One of the patients, in particular, was a young person with bulimia. The story kind of stuck with me. This person was battling so much with something they were trying to help her with. All of the lyrics in that song are pulled out of that one experience.
So are all of the lyrics in your songs about something that has touched you? Are they autobiographical?
Yeah, basically. I am a great believer that good music has to evoke an emotion somewhere. For me, that’s the whole point of music. It has to connect with me and whoever is listening (on an emotional level). So I think if you can try to get that with the melody of the music or the lyrics or whatever the other person listening to it can find to connect then, brilliant. Even if none of the lyrics mean to them anything and nothing with what is means to me, I’m fine with that. I’m not a pronounced storyteller at all. I just put stuff down that makes an emotional connection and if that works somewhere else for others, than brilliant.
Which song is going to be the single on the album?
“Trust Your Enemies.”
Is that the one that the BBC played?
Yes, the BBC has a really great service called “Introducing” which basically gives start-ups, unsigned bands, and those on the fringe of getting support the opportunity to upload the music and get it listened to and played on local stations. They also played “Owed to Freedom” and “Time & Place” on Saturday. We’re pretty chuffed with that.
How would you categorize your music? The style?
In a nutshell, rock-pop, probably. Heavy rock-pop!
Yeah, because “Trust Your Enemies” is a little heavier.
Yeah, it’s got the guitar part in the middle and a little bit of yelling.
The name, touring, and challenges
Tell me about the band’s name. How did you get the name ‘Ellis Red’?
The name actually makes a lot more sense when you know where it comes from. It might not be that exciting. We sat down and we had all been in bands for the last 15 years with terrible names that no one understood. We just thought ‘What do we all love and actually makes sense…and we could probably agree on [without being] made-up from nowhere? We ended up talking about film characters because we all loved watching films. Ellis Red is “Ellis ‘Redding’” from the film Shawshank Redemption. It’s not exactly his name but it’s pretty close.
Our bass player still hasn’t seen that film, can you believe?
Wow! That’s a classic!
Yes, it’s ridiculous. I lent it to him (this is how long ago) on VHS.
Yeah, that’s old!
Yeah, 15 years ago! He had it so long that by the time he brought it back, he bought it on DVD for me (because he had lost the VHS).
So, that’s it. It has a bit of a back-story.
Are you planning to do any touring?
Not at the moment. We are not at the point for the music to financially support us. We would like to crack the digital communication bit first. We’d like to get our music out to as many people as possible (free or paid). We just want loads of people to listen to it and enjoy it. We are concentrating on the next six months to build that reputation. If there are plenty of people who enjoy our music and would like to see us live, then yes, we’d love to.
What do you think is the biggest challenge today for musicians starting out?
The Internet is the best and worst thing that has ever happened to music. You can access a whole bucket load of stuff sitting at your seat at home. It means you can create music with modern software that can only cost you 200 quid…200 or 300 dollars to get yourself active in making professional sounding tunes and get them out on the Internet in seconds, for free. That means that more people can listen to and appreciate your music. The downside is people cannot make as much money from it and what scares me the most is most of the experiences you get from live shows or face-to-face interaction might start to slip a bit because people cannot afford them. That scares me a little bit, I think. I would hate a world where everybody just sits at home collecting music through a device. That’s not the same.
Tickets are pretty expensive. I don’t see how people can afford [to attend] the large festivals? I don’t get it?
I don’t either. All four of us and our partners went to see the Foo Fighters in Wembley stadium. And the tickets were the equivalent of $100 each for one show. That’s a lot of money when you haven’t got much.
It seems music is a business now.
Yes, I don’t know if that’s a good thing, especially for purists and hardcore music lovers.
When did you think about music as a profession?
The first time I got my electric guitar, I was like ‘Yeah, this is pretty awesome.’ Being loud and playing at school fetes. Yeah, this is pretty awesome.
I started working in an office for awhile and you can never stop thinking about the buzz of a gig. I think my heart has been made a little bit cold. In my teenage years and early-20s, that’s all I wanted to do. I used to tell everybody ‘don’t worry about next year…I’ll be famous by then.’
The whole thing [for me] was the being on stage thing. All four of us in Ellis Red absolutely love it!
Do you consider yourself of being an introvert or an extrovert?
I would say I’m an introvert.
Except when you are on stage?
Equipment and more…
What kind of equipment do you favor? Guitars? Effects?
Garry & I use delay pedals. A Boss delay pedal. Gary loves Fenders. I’m more of a Gibson man. I have a Les Paul and Firebird. Gary loves Tellys too. We both play through Orange cabs. Engl amp head. He plays through a Hughs & Kettner. Nick our bass player is a bit of a Fender player as well. He’s got a jazz bass and an Ashdown rig. That’s about it for us.
Of the bands today, whom do you listen to?
I listen to a lot of stuff, including a few guilty pleasures (bands that are in the charts which I should not really talk about).
I’m massively into Periphery at the moment. I don’t know if you know these guys but they are really, really extreme prog metal. It’s really technical stuff.
I listen to old favorites like Foo Fighters and a bit of Queen here and there.
Do you ever write songs on acoustic guitars?
Yes, all the time, actually. Gary and I both do. I’m sitting next to one right now [he lifts a guitar into the air]. It’s the quickest way to get an idea out of your head.
Lastly, the most burning question…
I usually like to end the conversation with something silly (since I’m an American). What did you have for breakfast?
I think it was cereal this morning?
Was it Weetabix?
No, it was Cheerios.
SOUNDCLOUD Listen to song samples.
See Rock at Night’s review of Ellis Red’s debut EP V:IV. It will be out to major retailers on June 29, 2015.