michael morley interview (de/create, 1995)

by Nick Cain

Michael Morley, as part of the Dead C. and Wreck Small Speakers On Expensive Stereos and solo in Gate, has been behind some of my favourite music. Anything he has touched is worthy of your time and money. Talking to him was most enjoyable he is a capital fellow, genuinely open and friendly. So now you know. This slightly-edited transcript of a phone conversation that happened in mid-November, 1993. It is ostensibly a Gate 'interview', but other topics were covered.

MORLEY: What'd you think of Amerika?

DE/CREATE: When I first heard it I thought it was a little bit linear...

M (laughs) 

D ...but then I listened to it a bit more and realised I was wrong. When I heard "Sunshine," I thought Ihad a handle on you, then I heard the album and it was like, 'Oh, fuck!' 

M But you've heard Guitar as well?

D Yeah, Amerika is great, I like it a lot.

M Only twenty came into the country and l'm not going to get any more. Nick Schultz,, he runs Majora, he doesn't have any left, he sold five hundred just like that.

D I didn't realise you were that big in America.

M There were two thousand copies of 'Sunshine' sold within a month. Some distributors still have it, but it was sold from Twisted Village to the distributors, so it went pretty fast. It buoys me a bit to think that I can sell that many in the States. I've still got over a hundred copies of it sitting in my bedroom (laughs), they're very hard to sell.

D Two thousand, that's pretty good.

M I was pretty pleased. It was better than the Dead C. single.

D Do The Dead C. do stuff in editions of five hundred?

M The latest single came out in an edition of two thousand,'The Dead C. vs Sebadoh'.. . 

D I was going to ask you about that - I was just wondering about Sebadoh - you don't like their new direction?

M 'The Dead C. vs Sebadoh'? That was a joke, really. I can't really remember the extent of the joke, it was like 'if Sebadoh can call one of their records vs Helmet then we can call one of ours 'vs Sebadoh'.

D I think Sebadoh had a real problem with Helmet.

M Really? I don't know anything about Helmet. I know Sebadoh because Lou Barlow sends us stuff, he's a fan and we communicate.

D Is Amerika a reference to Kafka?

M Yeah, to Kafka and to Rebecca Horne's sculpture 'Amerika'. which involves blood and rifles - she's an installation artist who's been doing stuff for about thirty years. I've seen photographs of her installations, they're pretty interesting. 'Amerika' I quite enjoyed because it was fairly bleak. I wanted to use that. Also, it's a reference to the whole mythology around America.

D The capitalism?

M Culturally as well, and generally, I mean America is fairly much a myth to us down here. It's quite a real entity but at the same time there's quite a lot of myth-making about the United States. I had a problem with Majora - Nick didn't really want to release it with the cover that was on it, he couldn't understand it, he thought l'd probably had too much pot. He did question me about that and I had to explain to him a whole lot of the ideas that I feel about making music in New Zealand, and that's sort of why the cover is like it is. It's long and involved, it involves things like how you feel pretty much isolated out here and to an extent, musically anyway, we can release records but we have no social interaction with anybody in the States. I could be in South Africa, I could be a black kid in South Africa building 747s out of wire and trundling them around my township, it's the same sort of thing in a lot of ways because there's an empathy that I feel more with those sorts of people than I do with a lot of consumers in the United States.

D Everything is so fucked over there yet they spew out such amazing literature and music.

M Yeah, in a way it's like the zenith of our culture, how European culture has evolved into this amazing melting-pot that is America, and especially now, in the last week with this NAFTA agreement, joining Canada and the US and Mexico into one large entity.

D I can't understand why there hasn't been some very major social unrest.

M I s'pose there is in a lot of ways - a lot of people are killed each day with handguns, it's a violent society. I know enough people over there and we discuss it a lot; what it's like, it's a fairly dangerous place. Like Chicago, where a couple of friends live, they don't go out at night - you have to get into your car straight away, you don't walk anywhere.

D Chuck D said before the '92 elections that if Bush were re-elected, there would be chaos on the streets by 1995, and if Clinton was elected, there would be chaos on the streets by 1997.

M (laughs)Yeah, it's an interesting concept, America.

D When's the new Dead C. album coming out?

M It's supposed to be out in January, The Operation Of The Sun, three songs.

D I saw The Dead C. supporting Sonic Youth in Wellington in February, I went along thinking you'd be noisy, but you were so tranced-out.

M That was an amazing concert, it wa's the best one of the three we did. Robbie had smashed his head on a concrete beam half an hour beforehand, and we went on. We hadn't had anything to drink or anything to smoke, and we were totally straight.which has never happened before - any time we've played live we've always ensured that we've been suitably aesthetized, because it's quite scary. I just try and get inside myself, just get out there and look at the floor and play. It was pretty wild, getting out there and playing and knowing Robbie was feeling like shit. He'd thrown up a couple of times,he was in shock. I thought we played well, the first piece was really neat. 

D. Do Dead C. improvise when they play live?

M The first piece was totally improvised, the first ten minutes or so, and then there were other parts where it was improvised all the way through. I think we did 'Helen' that night. 

D I remember you did a song called 'Sonic Youth' - it was a really fast thrashy song that slowed down, stopped, then sped up, about a minute long and at the end of it Bruce said 'And we've got hundreds more where that came from!'

M (laughs) l'd have to hear the tape. I don't remember. In Christchurch we were punk rock, we played for about twenty minutes, we just did really fast songs and then walked off. We had people stagediving. Auckland was just too hot, we weren't up to it.

D I talked to some guy I met there that night who had heard Harsh Seventies Reality and he thought The Dead C. were either really bad, or just joking...

M (laughs)

D... but afterwards he said he really liked it. There were people there just scratching their heads - 'who are these guys?'

M That's neat, because we're not known in this country, we're an unknown quantity in a lot of ways. . .(laughs) we don't get hassled by the local music scribe, Grant McDougall, we don't get accosted by him. Well, it's happened a few times.

D Accosted by him? He writes for Rip It Up, doesn't he?

M I think he does. I think before we played with Sonic Youth he did come up to us - Bruce and I were wandering along the main street in town and he came up to us wanting to do an article about us in Rip It Up before the tour to give us some press but we just said 'Fuck off, why write about us in Rip It Up, you don't review our records, why the fuck should you even acknowledge our existence, just fuck off!' (laughs)

D Rip It Up have just ignored Xpressway.

M I know, it's part of Donna Yuzwalk being part of that scene. Bruce has offended her on numerous occasions. She's stupid, basically.

D It's pretty disgusting, just the way they've ignored you.

M Oh yeah, big deal, fuck, it's only New Zealand. It's like in Dunedin, we're not talked about in the music columns.

D Really? I can't understand that. 

M Well, we're not very... I s'pose we can't be that approachable. I dunno, we're quite busy, we're not hanging around waiting to be interviewed. We're all doing things all the time, we don't hang out as a band or anything (laughs).People can't get a handle on us, I think that's the main problem down here. And we're pretty antagonistic towards the local music scene, generally. In New Zealand I think we are viewed as outsiders. I mean that's how I feel; that's how we've been treated.

D I've always found that strange, the Flying Nun stuff just isn't that interesting in comparison.

M Again, I think it's just New Zealand. It's just the fact that there's only a small percentage of people who are really into music and those are the people that - although we're making music for ourselves - buy our records for whatever reasons. If there's less than one percent in the world, that's okay because it's gonna help us sell records (laughs). When it comes down to it, that's the reason we ve stayed together for so long now - I haven't been in a band this long , ever. I don't think. It's just good, the way we work. It's telepathic in a lot of ways, as far as music-making goes, when we're just improvising.

D With Gate, do you improvise?

M Yeah, although recently I've just been doing Gate by myself and I've been playing what are effectively folk songs. just playing electric guitar and singing. They're basically Dead C. songs, but since Sonic Youth The Dead C. have only played live four times - we've just been recording and improvising and recording a few songs here and there. I've been asked to play a few times so I just go and do it. It's sort of folk (laughs). It's slow and mournful, not very 'up' music, but I quite enjoy it. I've been doing a few Gate things, just wild improvisational stuff with tapes as well, noise backing tapes. I've been fluctuating. David and I were doing suite a lot of live things there for a while too, last year and the beginning of this year but I've stopped that because I want to get out of performing and settle down and do some work and a bit of recording.

D I saw Pavement playing in Wellington. The bass player was standing in the crowd watching the 3Ds, he was like Stimpy the cat, smiling away, he said he'd seen Gate, they were 'totally noisy'.

M Yeah, we were that night, we had expanded to a four-piece. David Merritt and I were on guitar, and we had Paul Cahill who plays guitar for Trash and a friend of ours. Lou Ellison, an English woman, I think she'd only been drumming far three weeks but we got her to drum for us, she was pretty amazing, rock-solid. We did a 'rock' set, we played all night. David and I did noisy, two -person guitar duets for the first half of the night and then we had this rock band. It was a great night

D The Gate Night Out.

M (laughs) Yeah, it was. That was the last time we played, I think, as Gate, as a larger, extended form of just me, because I've been doing stuff as Gate by myself since about '89.

D What's the recording process?

M Go in there and put it on (laughs). A lot of the time, if it's songs that have been written, then they'll be worked on. Every week l'm recording, so if I've got a song with lyrics I'll record that and build up something, and maybe get someone to come in and do something - Robbie's helped out a few times. Robbie plays drums on 'Sunshine' - I just did all the guitar, bass and vocal parts ane he came in and did all the drums after l'd done everything else. I was trying to do a drum track to it but I couldn't play it properly. I've done drums before on Gate things but I was really stumped and Robbie came in and did it, just like that. without even listening to the tape properly (laughs). We've done Dead C. songs like that, we'll have guitar stuff sorted out-agd get Robbie to come in and do a bass overdub, or a guitar overdub or drums somewhere. He just does it, he's amazing, a really incredible musician. Robbie Yeats bloody excellent. I can't imagine not playing with him, he's just one of kind as far as his playing goes, really talented. He has just what you need when you're playing, he'll just come out with something totally unexpected and it just leaves you... insane. He does this amazing guitar solo on the 'Hell is Now Love' 7", he does the lead guitar that just comes in (laughs), it's just incredible. l'm always blown away by him.

D The Julian Dashper Gate Experience - what was it like?

M It was great, we just videotaped a jam session with Julian because he was doing that drum installation around the country. He was doing drum installations last year which contributed towards an installation he had at the beginning of this year in Auckland called 'The Big Bang Theory'. He was just getting drum- kits, setting them up, and on the front drumskin of the bass drum he'd have the name of the band. So the name of the band in Auckland was The McCahons, in Nelson it was the Willestons, in Christchurch it was The Anguses, in New Plymouth itwas The Drivers after Don Driver and in Dunedin it was The Hoteres after Ralph Hotere. I lent him a drumkit when he came to do it at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. we went in there one day and set it up, took a photograph and pulled it down. As a favour to me for doing all that, I said that he had to come and play drums on Gate's next recording, which was that night - at midnight he had to turn up at the studio. We recorded the session, it's about 45 minutes, total improvisation. We did double 7-inches, basically the twenty minutes that we considered the best, taken out in 5-minute segments. It took a while, over a year. I think I had it all finished in August of this year, and it was recorded in September last year. By August l'd done the first twenty copies and then I did another thirty copies for Jimmy Johnson at Forced Exposure, fifty copies, which is the most I'd ever done at Geraldine. 

D I was wondering about Geraldine.

M Geraldine is a village between Timaru and Chistchurch, a liitle wee place, and there's a plant there where we can get discs laid-cut onto polyvinyl chloride. There's a guy there who has a factory and because the records are disc laid-cut not pressed, you can send a tape and he can run off two discs at a time by playimg the tape at reaI time. He just makes up editions, I usually get editions of twenty made. But I've just sent away our next 7", and it's going to be an edition of fifty, which will be interesting because I haven't really done fifty before and it's the closest rock music thing I've sent away in a while I'm thinking of maybe doing an album there as well but at the moment Bruce and I are trying to sit down and nut out a few things. We might get three CDs made at the beginning of next year that we can sell - Handful Of Dust, Dead C. and Gate. We can have control of our production again - vinyl's a really good thing to do - but we get labels in America to do that for us.

D What's the deal with Corpus Hermeticum?

M The thing is that we really did need to cut down Xpressway, it was becoming too unruly. It could have got bigger if we'd wanted it to but at the sametime there was no point, because we have labels in America who release our stuff now. There seemed Iittle point in actually keeping Xpressway going-as if was and Bruce not having enough time - he has barely enough time to go to work and to iook after the family. He then has to find the time to run a record distribution network and be in a band and the band was losing out in a big way, and so was Xpressway because he just didn't have the time anymore.

D What about all the Gate tapes?
M They all came out in editions of twenty. l'm going to do a CD compilation of all those things - Cachian, Cropped Silver Hi-lo, 'Tonken'/'Trig', Islands Of Memory and probably the Julian Dashper, as well as the new 7", 577 Crash.

D You're very prolific.

M That's the thing, you've got to keep doing stuff - we don't sell millions of copies of one record so you've got to sell 500 copies of one, then do more. That's what I like about the Sun City Girls, their whole attitude is that we do this sort of stuff and we'll do these records, once they're out they're out and once they're gone they're gone.

D I like them a lot but I can't afford to send to America for all their stuff, so I've missed a lot of it.

M Yeah. It is difficult, but again, we live in a place where it's difficult to get anything. They're an interesting band - I was supposed to play with them in November, at the beginning of the month in San Francisco but I never got there.

D When's the Handful Of Dust LP coming out?

M It's done but it hasn't turned up in New Zealand yet, we're just waiting for it. It was sent a while ago, apparently. I talked to Wayne Rogers and he said that they'd sent the' records. It took ages for 'Sunshine' to turn up here - they were shifting house and they forgot about the parcel in their move. and (laughs) three weeks later they go into this room and, 'Oooohhh! There's Michael's parcel! Better send that!' (laughs) Yeah, he's a forgetful bastard but quite nice. He's doing a CD for us next year, Lounge, which is improvised stuff as well, sort of a follow-up to Guitar and Amerika, the last thing that David and I recorded.

D What's David up to?

M I haven't seen him for a while, I don't know where he is. When he turns up he turns up, when he doesn't he doesn't. I do things regardless of anyone, really. I can't really rely on (laughs) having a stable band around me, that invariably means you get disappointed, it always happens. It's like how The Dead C. have gone for the last two years - Bruce has been fairly tied up being a Dad, now he's got two kids and it means time is a precious commodity at the moment, so we take what we can get as far as playing and recording goes.

D What do you do for a crust?

M Sell records and paint pictures and sell pictures. I paint all the time, that's what I do every day when I get up, I start painting, if I've got the guts. I just carry on all day and I might do some music at night - music doesn't take up every day, I might do it once every week.

D Is pop music dead? Is it relevant?

M It's there, I wouldn't know how relevant it is, every now and then you get a good laugh out of it. U2 are coming to New Zealand and the 3Ds are supporting them!

D They are?

M Yeah ! It was in the Otago Daily Times on page 3 - '3Ds to support U2', and apparently the big reason was that their name is numerical. 

D Oh, of course.

M (laughs) Like,'Yeah, right!'

D Didn't you do a U2 installation?

M I did, it was called 'Pro Bono'. I had all of the Achtung Baby advertising. You know how they gave out all of those 12" images of what was on the cover? I just wrote 'Hey fuck me Bono' on them in pen and did hundreds of them, and then wallpaper-pasted them to a wall in Auckland and down here they were stapled into an art gallery. Linda Tyler, who's an arts historian down here, wrote me this pretty neat essay that went along with it, because it had to be supported by some kind of material (laughs). 

D It's strange how people are taking U2 seriously again all of a sudden.

M I can't believe are taking U2 seriously, are they? I think people are just forgetful. U2 are bastards, they're creeps. How dare they fuck over bands, like they've done to Negativland.

D That was really bad.

M That was fucked, they should be fucking humerous enough to actually say 'Just forget about it'.

D There was an interview Mondo 2000 about that.

M Yeah, that was great - it really put them on the spot and showed how totally fucked they are.

D They don't even know what their management is doing.

M That's disgusting, how dare they, it's just pathetic. They should be grown-up enough to sort it out without lawyers.

D They have their own private jet.

M Oooohhh, disgusting. l'm not surprised.

D They're so hideously rich.

M U2 are a big joke and they're a rich big joke. I wouldn't go and see them just because the 3Ds are supporting them and (laughs) Big Audio Dynamite! God! We watched the interview the other night on 60 Minutes with Bono, I should have videotaped it. How can you justify sampling the airwaves and then turn around and sue somebody because they sample you? That's fucked, totally ridiculous. U2 are millionaires and Negativland are fuckin' no-time punk rockers. They're getting done. Don't get me started on U2 - fuck them! I was hoping that l'd get sued, but it didn't work out that way - showing the exhibition in Auckland and Dunedin wasn't really going to get me any worldwide attention. I was using their advertising and colonising it for my own benefit - I even sold some of it, too !

D U2 are a reality on their own.

M Well, they are. They must make Island float, I don't think PJ Harvey would be able to pull them out of any mire they fell into, she's a little bit too risque, perhaps. PJ Harvey's pop music, isn't she? I've listened to her LPs now, thankfully, because I saw the video for 'Dress' and I thought that was quite interesting.

D She's great.

M Yeah, I quite enjoyed her. The Steve Albini-produced stuff was quite interesting. This must be pop music - Island Records are sanctioning her in a way, and so they view it as a viable product.

D A friend of mine saw Shellac in Auckland.

M You're kidding - did they come and play? They faxed us and wanted us to play with us, Shellac wanted The Dead C. to support them but we couldn't. Bruce has a new job and he couldn't take time off so we had to turn them down. 

D They played last Monday, no one knew about it. Have you heard the two singles?

M I've seen them, but I haven't bought them because they're about ten dollars each. They look good - do they sound good?

D I only listened to them superficially, they didn't sound like that big a deal.

M Are they like Rapeman, a Band sort-of-thing? 

D Yeah, they're a Rock Band.

M It's good that he's doing stuff again because I liked Rapeman, they were a really interesting band. The name was perhaps suspect, but I never really worried about that.

D My friend was in Crawlspace and Albini was there - he walked past and my friend said 'Ching!' and Albini replied 'Yeah, tonight!'

M(laughs) Excellent. Where did they play?

D The Gluepot.

M I would definitely have made sure I was going to be there if I had known about it. Mr. Albini is an interesting fellow - he did some mastering for us in Chicago so that we could do a CD there, the DR503 stuff. He said he liked that so we sent him some other stuff. Fuck! I didn't know they were playing at all. That happens a lot, though. I didn't go and see the Meat Puppets because I didn't know they were playing. So what other music do you listen to?

D At the moment? AMM ...

M Yeah? l'm playing with them in Atlanta, Georgia next year. 

D No shit?

M Yeah ! l'm doing an 8 l/2-inch flexi for the people who are organising my concert, Table Of The Elements and the Tula Foundation. They rang up, they've been ringing (laughs) a lot, we're trying to organise this flexidisc - l'm supposed to have it to them by the beginning of December and l'm a bit stuck because my 2 track is broken, so l'm a bit of a wayward soul. They rang up last week and said that since l'm going to be there in April, maybe they should get me onto this AMM show they're doing in Atlanta.

D They're legendary.

M Yeah, I've just heard them and they're amazing. I've heard of the individual members before, like Cornelius Cardew, but l'd never actually heard anything they'd done. Kim and Peter from Dadamah, they've just moved down here, they got sent some AMM CDs, so I sat down and listened to them, they're really good.

D I've also been listening to some of the jazz on Ecstatic Peace.

M Frank Lowe?

D I haven't heard that one. I've got the Arthur Doyle.

M Arthur Doyle's amazlng, those records are amazing. And they're recorded on cassettes, on walkmans. That's the way to do records, I tell ya. You don't want to go into a big studio. I've just done a sort of acoustic jazz record with Danny Butt, we had a night in my studio - I've got a painting studio upstairs which is quite a big room with a nice sound to it. l'd never actually recorded anything in there so we got in there one night and just recorded for a few hours, and it sounds really good. We're gonna do an 8" record at Geraldine so that we can get it out fairly quickly.

D Is that a Gate thing?

M I don't know, I s'pose it'll be Gate but we've yet to finalise a title or to organize when it's going to come out, but we'll do about 100 copies. I think they charge $4 for an 8-inch and we can get 20 minutes of music on it, so that's good value, it's like an EP.

D I still can't believe you're playing with AMM.

M I know(laughs nervously)! I haven't really told many people. Don't tell anybody! (laughs)

D They've been around for thirty years.

M Yeah, they're in their fifties. l'm playing with Jim O'Rourke and William Hooker, who does duets with Thurston Moore.

D What's Thurston Moore like?

M Oh, he's great. They're all really wonderful, just such normal people. We had such a good time touring with them. l'd known them since last time they came. I met them in '89 when they came out because I was living in Auckland. I went to dinner with them and gave them some Dead C. stuff that we'd just self-released, The Sun Stabbed , then took them around Auckland the next day. I've been writing to Lee ever since. We've been communicating quite a bit, we're doing a collaborative record at the moment - we send tapes to each other. That'll come out some time - it's a longterm project, about an album's worth of material that we've got now. We send tapes to one another and then fuck around with them and send them back and se what happens.

D It's great that a band like Sonic Youth can get so big, they're really huge now.

M I've got really no idee because I don't read music magazines a lot. I remember when they were coming over I managed to see a couple of videos of them being interviewed on MTV, and it hit me how big they were, and then reading a few articles in straight magazines I'd never seen before - something in Planet, I think. They were being talked about the same way The Velvet Underground are talked about and I thought "Great!" , people have caught on, and this was for stuff like Goo, which I wouldn't have considered their best album.

D It seems that extreme music is becoming more acceptable.

M That's the whole thing There's still music that sends people into fits, though.

D Like The Dead C.?

M I think we fall into that category, although I have heard Eusa Kills spoken of as a 'pop record'.

D I can't see it myself.

M I s'pose if you line up the records end on end it must be the closest thing, but it seems you'd have to be working pretty hard to define it as pop.

D When the Dead C. play semi-normally, eg. the version of 'Power' on Clyma Est Mort, it just blows away Rock Music. 

M I know what you mean, music is infuriating and fustrating-at times because you can see what's being released and you see how much is being spent on the most absolute dire crap, and you think 'Christ! Why don't I get my shit together and start doing records again, or do another CD?' I think that's what drives me in a lot of ways to do stuff, because now I feel it's easier for me to do stuff and for people to release it and for it to be bought. Years ago, it was actually quite hard to get anywhere, we were battling uphill. Playing with Rich in Wreck Small Speakers, we were a real minority - in Dunedin it was pop music, The Clean, The Verlaines, Sneaky Feelings and bands like that. We felt very much apart of all that anyway - I couldn't say we were ever really a part of that scene. We were contemporaries and we were involved socially, but as far as music was concerned we were on our own. It seems as years have gone by things have gotten easier, without the assistance that is so generously dealt out to bands struggling in New Zealand - the media in New Zealand are fucked, the mainstream are totally fucked as far as having any idea ol what's going on. There's still a vast majority of people who wouldn't know anything about Xpressway anyway and don't know anything about Alistair Galbraith or TKP or Dead C. or Gate.

D You must get frustrated by that.

M It's just hard to Iive sometimes, you just wonder where you're-going to get your next rent payment. It's not like you can go out and play and come back and you've got a month's rent (laughs). (ironically) I don't do that sort of thing. It doesn't happen. If I lived somewhere else it might, but it doesn't happen down here - you've got to be a little bit more resourceful. 

Gate/Precious Metal: 14 Aurora Terrace. Port Chalmers. Otago. 
Corpus Hermeticum: PO Box 85. Port Chalmers, Otago. 
Twisted Village: c/o Forced Exposure. 
Siltbreeze: PO Box 53297. Philadelphia, PA 19105, USA. 
Majora: PO Box 78418. Seattle, WA 98178, USA. 
Table Of The Elements: PO Box 423838, San Francisco, CA 94142, USA.