“Last year, I put out the Anesthetic album and did a full live band tour, but after that, I got the opportunity to do some abbreviated acoustic sets – one at the South Temple Festival, in Columbus, Ohio, and one at Download last summer. That was really the first time I’d got to do something like that...” Lamb Of God's lead guitarist Mark Morton enthuses.
Anesthetic is Morton’s debut solo release; a hard rock and metal record – perhaps what you’d expect the metal maestro to do. The acoustic gigs? Well, that was more of a change of direction...
“It went really well, and I was kinda thrilled with the feedback I got from it. For me, it was time to stretch out, get out of my comfort zone a little bit, and do something different. Those first couple of acoustic shows were definitely an opportunity, and I really enjoyed it. So we started this campaign – an EP of acoustic songs, and some cool covers too.”
The result? This year’s Ether EP, a five-track offering featuring guest vocals from Lzzy Hale, Killswitch Engage’s Howard Jones, John Carbone (Moon Tooth) and Mark Morales (Sons Of Texas). A contemporary line-up, then, but Mark traces his influences back to the 90s on Ether, as revealed in cover versions of Black Crowes and Pearl Jam songs.
“I’m on record as being a Black Crowes super-fan. On my last album I had Steve Gorman play drums on two songs, and Marc Ford played a guitar solo, the only guest guitar I had on that album. The idea to me of having Lzzy [Hale] sing that song [She Talks To Angels], coming from a different protagonist, was kinda heavy and cool.
“Black is just a great song, I’ve always loved that song, particularly the Unplugged version – it gives me goosebumps. I’ve heard Marc perform it a bunch of times in his own acoustic gigs, so that one was really obvious for us to do. Our version is consciously stripped down. We didn’t try to recreate such a classic song, we just put our own quiet spin on it and it turned out cool.”
Talking about the challenges of choosing songs to play live, Mark is pragmatic, with songs seemingly choosing themselves or ruling themselves out. He also reveals his emotional connection with one or two favourites.
“Some of the more metal-oriented songs we’re not gonna do – we’re not gonna do the song I did with Alissa (White-Gluz) and Randy (Blythe), we’re not doing the Chuck Berry song – those are pretty much thrash metal songs; we could certainly play them on acoustic guitars but they don’t translate very well.
“There is some more mellow, straight rock stuff on Anesthetic and those translated pretty well. For example, Cross Off [featuring the late Chester Bennington on vocals] wouldn’t be right not to play. It’s such a special song, a special part of the solo stuff I’ve been doing – it means a lot to people, a lot to us, and to me.
“There really is a song underneath all that, and we got to the kind of essence of that, instead of trying to replicate all of the riffing and all the technique that’s in the version you hear on the album, we tried to present and honour the actual song.”
"I have a pair of beautiful Guild D-55s, the electric ones. The good people of Guild are taking great care of me. They make a beautiful guitar and have really stepped up. I’ve had my D-55 for years, it’s what I recorded all of Ether with. Then coming over here, they gave me a loan guitar that’s the same model, so I’m stoked. I’m in good company, and we’re playing straight into the PA – no loop pedals or effects or anything like that, we’re just playing the tunes, man. There’s nothing I love more than chunking up a heavy riff, doing a screamin’ two, man, pushing speakers, but this is just a different kind of thing. I’m learning as I go, and making people happy."
We get the impression Mark has been evolving as a musician, with the acoustic guitar becoming more of a go-to choice.
“I wrote some of the stuff on Anesthetic on acoustic, and almost all the new songs on Ether. I recently wrote a couple songs with Mark Lanegan, also on acoustic. It depends on what I’m writing – for Lamb Of God, I’m writing entirely on electric, but outside of that, I keep an acoustic lying around.
“Now more than ever, I’ve been playing more acoustic. I think it’s healthy to write on acoustic, because it doesn’t lend itself to the sort of trickery – the technical focus – that we may intuitively start doing when we grab an electric.
“I don’t wanna downplay electric playing and riffing, it’s just a different style. For me, when I play acoustic, I try a lot of different options to make sure I’m checking every potential vibe of the chord before I decide where it will sit.”
Reflecting on the suggestion of a new direction, Mark says, “I think with Anesthetic people saw there was a lot of diversity in the songwriting, it’s not just metal. I love metal, it’s my home, but I got the chance to do something a little more diverse stylistically, and I pounced on it. Maybe people will recognise me for doing that kind of stuff, too. Regardless, I’m just glad that people are listening at all. You need to grow as a songwriter.”
- Mark Morton's new acoustic solo EP, Ether, is out now via Rise Records