Mice On Stilts - an interview with Ben Morley

Kev Rowland

ImageKev Rowland: What are your first musical memories and what inspired you to start writing and performing your own music?

Ben Morley: When I was 13 I was put into a foster home due to a rough home environment, and my foster parents had a son who was into a lot of jazz and metal. He tried to get me into to jazz stuff, but I really identified with the metal he was playing me at that age. The album he gave me that I believe formed the platform from where I explored music was ‘Lateralus’ by Tool. I was really attracted to how challenging it was to listen to, in the sense that there was a lot to figure out. That was just me being a nerd at 13 I guess. I must have listened to it every day for about six years (no exaggeration) and I remember feeling disconnected from everything else when I listened to it. It was just me and them. Up until that point I’d never had an experience like that: I was totally addicted to music from that moment on.

KR: What were you doing prior to MOS?

BM: When I was eighteen I went to the UK when for six months and kinda over did it on using certain... shall we say, herbs. Turns out that when I got home I had a 'drug induced psychosis' and I was unable to work as I was sleeping all day and awake all night, and couldn’t control my emotions. Generally speaking, it was a horrible time and as I needed to do something I got back into guitar and started writing a bunch of really techy metal riffs. I discovered some guys through the Internet and started a totally instrumental band called Gate. We were influenced by Meshuggah, Isis, Neurosis and Devin Townsend and used lots of really long riffs that didn’t repeat. Eventually I felt that Gate wasn’t satisfying enough for me and what I wanted to do. I’ve always been attracted to the darker more melancholy stuff, but I couldn’t find that in the metal that we were playing.

After Gate I had a break for a couple of years, but a lot of really dark shit took place during that time that led me to form another band. Shortly after I decided on starting the band I was trying to come up with some kind of idea of exactly what we would look like, and the name was literally the first thing in my head after a really vivid dream one night. I’ve my own meaning behind the name, which came later, and I see it as an analogy for justice in a strange way.

KR: MOS have a very unusual line-up, with sound effects and both violin and brass, how did this come about?

BM: When I first had the idea of starting this band it was originally meant to be a four piece with cello, guitar, violin and Piano. That was all well and good until I met Rob (drummer). We had a jam with him and he never stopped turning up, so from then on it was a process of finding the right people, which probably took over a year. We took an open-minded approach where we didn’t really say no to anything until we started to find the right sounds through trial and error. A few people actually quit the band in the first year, as it wasn’t really their thing: hence why we saw many faces up until that point.

ImageKR: How would you describe each member of MOS? What other bands have they been involved with, and what do they bring to the mix?

MR: Rob Sanders - Drums (In Company, Ben Prestige Band). This man embodies none of the stereotypes of a drummer. He shows up on time, carts all of our gear around without asking anything in return, and doesn't play wanky drum solos at sound check. Rob and I have recently started exploring the mountains and volcanoes around Auckland. Love this man.

Joseph Jujnovich - Vocal Effects (Coconut Porn Company). I was on a bus to the north shore when I got chatting to Joseph, who I had met once before in a sex shop (but that’s an entirely different story). He was one of those guys that I had seen around town for a few years, but for some reason had never really engaged with. I think in terms of what he adds to this band is really the bones of it, aside from Rob. I really like music that is unsettling as it makes me feel alive. Joseph is somehow capable of giving our songs an eeriness to it that has, at points, kept me awake at night.

Tim Burrows - Bass / Production (Outrun the Buffalo, Scatterbrain). Tim and I met a church when were about 14 years old, and through a mutual love of Led Zeppelin we became best of mates. In fact, we were living together when this whole thing was starting. He is also responsible for recording and mixing everything we do and I’m really proud to have him as a friend. He quit his day job to produce music full time, and he is actually doing it.

Calvin Davidson - Synth / Sax (Outrun the Buffalo, Scatterbrain). We also met at church when we were 13 or 14. Calvin and Tim used to play in Scatterbrain, and then Outrun The Buffalo. Although he doesn't play much guitar in MOS, he is one of the best guitar players I’ve ever seen play. The addition of the synth has been interesting, as I didn’t actually think it was going to work as well as it has. Used sparingly, understated.

Aaron Longville - Sax / Trumpet. We met at house party where he was walking around with a saxophone playing jazz. Aaron is 'the horns guy' and plays about 5 different types. He is also a very insightful person that has a lot of wisdom to offer.

Brendan Zwaan - Piano (Shepherds of Cassini, Emberglow). I first met Brendan through his band Shepherds of Cassini (which by the way, if you like prog metal, you are in for a treat as they play incredible music and are one of my favourite kiwi bands, hands down). He plays guitar in Shepherds and I had no idea he played piano, but when we advertised for a new pianist his name kept coming up. A few people separately mentioned to me that we should at least talk to him. I can only describe him as a total musical genius. They started around the same time as us, and they have the violin player of another band (An Emerald City) who I adore. I’ve always really looked up to the Shepherds in a sense. If Mice on Stilts were a person, her best friend would be Shepherds. In short, it’s lovely to have Brendan in Mice.

Sam Hennessy –Viola. When we were 3 weeks away from our first tour in early 2013, our violin player ditched us – I’m not sure it was his thing. So Joseph and I desperately emailed just about anyone we could to find a replacement. We must have reached out to about 20 players with no luck at all. However, Sam had just put an incredible article on the Internet about a local Christian music festival that we had both attended years before. I read it and felt the need to email him to say thank you. We got chatting, and when I found out that he played a viola I instantly invited him on this tour with us. I just love how liquid life can be sometimes, when everything just falls into the place it needs to be in. Sam is a wonderful human being with a lot of share.

Just thinking about these people has made me realize how much i love these guys.

ImageKR: For those who have yet to hear the EP, please talk through each song and what it means both musically and lyrically.

MR: It is strongly centred on loss, and I thought that it would be cool to use the imagery around drowning to convey that.

SYDS SOCKS - This is the homage to Mr Barrett.


A MOSS OCEAN - The song with the feelings

VULNERABLE VADER - Coming to the end of the journey now. This one is a snapshot of a depressing few weeks I had a few years ago. It also has the most violent moment on this recording, but if I’m being honest it really is just us trying to rip off Kayo Dot.

TUATARA LAWN    - Much to my surprise this became the most listened to song from the whole EP. It’s just over 12 minutes long, so it’s the longest by a mile and is the 'prog' song.

KR: Many have described your music as “crossover progressive”, but you call yourselves “Acoustic Doom”. How did that tag come about?

BM: The doom thing was actually something that happened on a live on air interview. We were on ‘Freak the Sheep’, which is a local music show run by Silke on 95BFM here in Auckland. She has been so, so, lovely to us since we met her in 2012 and she asked me what our genre was. Tim was behind me filming (he wasn’t in the band at this stage) and he just whispered in my ear 'doom folk bro'. It kind of stuck; I say it stuck, what I mean is we call ourselves doom folk. Everyone else just thinks we’re dickheads.

In terms of how we actually sound, I’m not sure I’m the best person to ask because I still genuinely believe we make sad pop music. We use many instruments, and across one recorded song there could be as many as thirteen throughout the whole thing, so I guess you could say it’s quite layered. Emotionally I’d like to think it’s rather draining, that’s my perspective anyway but I’m not sure about the listener. ‘An Ocean Held Me’ is about drowning in the sea, but somehow it all being ok in the end. This is my outlet, it’s where I currently place any feelings I struggle with. Dynamically we go from a solo piano to full blown apocalyptic bulldozer (that’s Steve Von Till's phrase), and we’re still trying to figure out everything in between. How do we sound? I’m not sure.

Catharsis? Oh wait.... Doom.

KR: Were you surprised as just how well this has been received in the prog world outside of NZ, and what has been the highlight to date?

BM: It has honestly been the biggest surprise of all as at no point did we ever try to write progressive rock. It is actually a real honour to be included within that genre. I listen to a decent amount of prog anyway, but this band wasn't meant to be that at all!

My highlight of everything so far is still just playing in this band with these people, and being allowed to continue doing this. I’ve some great friends that I love very much, and many of them I wouldn’t have met if I hadn’t started Mice. I’m very grateful to the rest of the band for taking a chance on these songs and seeing where we would end up. We are a young band with a long way to go and a lot to learn.

·     There is a very small group of people that come to just about every one of our shows, and seeing their faces gig after gig is always a highlight. If you’re reading this, we love you! xx

·     Getting that email from Daniel (Gallifrey from ProgArchives) was pretty important to me. A few months after we had released the EP he sent me an email to tell me how much he loved the recording.

·     Kev, you coming out that Kings Arms show also blew me away.

·     Releasing vinyl was another one.

·     Recording a choir for the new album.

·     A few weeks ago we supported Yes at the Aotea Centre, which was unreal!

Essentially, this whole band is an accident, initially it was a wee project to kill time while I got my shit together and it just kept going. My expectations were so low; I didn’t think this would even be a live band, let alone record an EP.

KR: How is the new album going?

BM: It is very, very, very, close to completion. All of my parts are done but there are still some horns to be recorded. We need to start thinking about how we are releasing it etc., but hopefully it will be early to mid next year. It still doesn’t have a track listing although the songs are 95% recorded. Here are details of three of the songs that will feature.

FUNERAL - Last year one of my close friends he wasn't having the best of times, and we were really worried about him. On one occasion I had to go and pick him up, take all his meds away from him and offer him a mattress of my floor for a few nights until he felt safe and this song is about him and the possible reality that he might not be here. It’s directed at him, although it could be about anyone. Look after yourself, the people you love and those who are currently strangers. Musically this is our heaviest. It has the quietest moment in all of our songs and then over ten minutes it builds to the loudest.

HOROEKA HAUNTING - I used to suffer from something called 'Night Terrors', which are nightmares so horrific that it affects you on a mental, emotional and psychical level. For me, what that looked like was waking up screaming (which is actually the first line of this song). Most of the time when I awoke, not only was I filled with a genuine sense of fear but would often be hallucinating as well. The worst one I ever had, I woke up on the floor and there was bats flying around my ceiling. This song is essentially about that and musically it is very slow and sludgy.

AND WE SAW HIS NEEDS THROUGH THE CASKET - Last year I came across an article on Wikipedia while surfing the web one night called 'DEATH OF KELLY THOMAS' which is about a 37 year old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia for most of his life, and was beaten to death by police officers in Fullerton, California three years ago. There is raw footage on the Internet captured by local CCTV, and after reading through the article a few times made myself watch the video. In it you can clearly see three men in uniform saddle up to Kelly and pick on him, threaten him and eventually let loose on him and it’s incredibly horrific to watch. Kelly calls out for his dad 31 times, and these guys were supposed to be looking out for him! To add to this, all three of them got off their charges. It made me so angry inside, and I couldn’t stop thinking about this poor man and what he suffered through for absolutely no reason at all. "AND WE SAW HIS NEEDS THROUGH THE CASKET” is my song for Kelly. It features a choir, comprised of our friends, all incredible singers and they sound beautiful.

KR: So what’s next for MOS after the album?

BM: Playing shows outside of NZ is what I really want to focus on for us next, and I am really keen to tour through Europe, which would be a dream come true for me. But we are finding it hard without any contacts. So this is actually something of an invitation. If you are a tour manager / booking agent, or you think you are or you know someone who might be able to help us get there then please feel free to email me at Ten adres pocztowy jest chroniony przed spamowaniem. Aby go zobaczyć, konieczne jest włączenie w przeglądarce obsługi JavaScript.


Photographs: Genevieve Senekal 2014 

MLWZ album na 15-lecie Zespół Focus powraca do Polski z trasą Hocus Pocus Tour 2024 Soft Machine: "Other Doors" Tour w Polsce Pendragon: 'Każdy jest VIP-em" w Polsce! Atomic Rooster powraca do Polski jeszcze w tym roku Steve Rothery Band Weekend w Warszawie we wrześniu 2023r.