The music of Welsh art-pop provocateurs HMS Morris is an incredibly difficult beast to pin down; one minute cold, edgy post-punk, the next sweet soaring melodies. There are elements of traditional Welsh folk, psychedelia and almost everything in between.
Following up the release of last year’s debut album, Interior Design, the band recently returned with a new double a-side single, Morbid Mind/Arth. Morbid Mind is, despite its title energetic and upbeat. Bass-driven, rock wig-outs meet soaring vocals, as it lyrically explores the morbid curiosity that resides within all of us.
Arth, the Welsh word for Bear, is an altogether different beast – a tribute to, “an animal associated in cultures around the world with spiritual strength, courage, and harmony with the cycles of the Earth”. Musically it’s a gently unfurling thing of great beauty, pitched somewhere between the pysch-prog excess of Midlake and the fiery guitar explorations of William Tyler.
These intriguing new offerings so hot on the tail of an exceptional debut album hint at a band with a restless creative drive, and ahead of a run of live dates, Heledd from the band took some time to answer our questions. We discuss topics from his love of dance through to a lack of nautical inclination and whether Hedgehogs make a good subject for a song.
FTR: For those who don’t know already, who/what are HMS Morris?
We are a pop band based in Cardiff. We use ‘pop’ in the loosest of terms. ‘Pop’s the blanket and our blanket has a lot of fringes.
FTR: Just because it intrigues us, where does the name come from? Are you nautically inclined?
The name developed from my (Heledd’s) fear and curiosity of the sea, I’m definitely not nautically inclined – I gag at the thought of sand anywhere near my mouth. I also decided to grab my mother’s maiden name ‘Morris’ to keep it alive as there are no male decedents to keep it ticking, it’s a crap tradition.
FTR: You’re releasing a new double-A single, Morbid Mind/Arth what can you tell us about recording?
These two are our first singles after the release of our debut album ‘Interior Design’ last year. We recorded them in a small studio in the Riverside area of Cardiff that we share with lots of other musicians, it’s a lovely inspiring creative hub. These songs are the furthest we’ve travelled along our pop blanket’s fringes and they contrast greatly, from the really unpredictable whirlwind of Morbid Mind to the calming uplifting nearly-traditional melody of Arth. I don’t think we’ll ever settle on a style or genre, we’re too curious and we get bored very easily.
FTR: Do you think singles are the future of music? Does the album format still appeal to you?
I love an album – it’s a journey from start to end through a musician’s mind and experiences. It’s like buying a chunk of an artist’s past. As a teenager I’d listen to an album from top to end, no shuffle, the second I got it. Kids get distracted very easily these days as everything’s so instant, everything’s available and you don’t have time to take it all in, so you skip and because of this singles will thrive, but I’ll always stand firmly by the album.
FTR: Morbid Mind is about the lure of the morbid, are you quite morbid people?
Ha, I think we all like a sneaky episode of Bizarre ER now and again.
FTR: You’ve described Arth as a tribute to bears – what appeals about the animal? Are there any other animals you’d think deserve their own song?
Arth’s a tribute to bears and it’s about adopting the strength and wisdom of a bear to deal with some of the crap that’s sometimes thrown our way. In 2015 Sam and I travelled to British Columbia for a wedding, I’m sure there was a bear exhibition in nearly every tourist information so I slowly started to gather a lot of information about them and finally during a cycle ride near Jasper we saw a real one, it was just off the cycle path, I’ve never felt so scared and so excited at the same time before, I’ll never forget that moment.
I’m a big fan of hedgehogs as well, but I’m not sure if they’d make a great song subject….
FTR: You’ve got tour dates coming up next month, what can people expect from the live show?
The live show’s as erratic as we are; it’s to be expected when all our songs are so different. There’s quite a bit of live guitar and vocal looping within the set which make it exciting for us and the audience hopefully as there’s always the sense that something can go wrong.
FTR: Who are your musical influences? What were you listening to when you wrote this single?
Last year we listened to a lot of Aerial Pink and Air I think that explains a lot.
FTR: What about influences outside of music?
I (Heledd) studied Drama at school and university; I really enjoy Avant-garde theatre and dance – the likes of Pina Bausch and Akram Khan. I would have loved to become a dancer but you need training from quite a young age, and unfortunately the only training I received when I was young was line-dancing once a week at our local Rugby Club.
FTR: What’s the current scene like in Cardiff? Any new bands we should be looking out for?
The scene in Cardiff’s always been strong, right now we really love Rhodri Brooks & Eugene Capper, they have an album coming out this year, keep your ear to the ground for it.
Even though the scene’s thriving here there have been a lot of threats to music venues in Cardiff from new developers trying to build flats and hotels on Womanby Street which is the busiest street for live music in the City, there’ll be a lot of demonstrations and protests over the next few months.
FTR: What are your plans beyond this single? More touring? Another album?
There’ll be another single after the summer and hopefully some touring to places we’ve never been before, It’s early days to confirm an album but we’re hoping early 2018.
Morbid Mind/Arth is out now via Waco Gwenci. Click HERE for more information and details of all upcoming HMS Morris live shows.