From Teaparty Boston, Mar. 12, 2010
Whatever happened to the words? Whatever happened to us? These are the questions that Mornin’ Old Sport asks over and over, like a lover to an old flame. The difference is they’re asking everybody in Boston, and probably the whole world.
Formerly known as Wiffle Bat, the Allston-based band is all about tearing down walls—between people, between genres, and between the singer and the sung-to. Tonight, they take the stage at the Cambridge YMCA, and they really hope you come by.
TeaParty sat down with three of Mornin’ Old Sport’s six members—Zebulon Krol, Jeff Price, and Brian Arnold—at Krol’s apartment on the Berklee campus. A fitting location, considering everyone in the band either went to or is a current student at the school. They come together to make the kind of tuneful, wordy, layered music that would give artists like Beirut and Fanfarlo a run for their collective money.
How did you guys first get together?
Zeb: It started out with Scott Nanos and me. I was in a band that was kind of falling apart, and one of the kids I was in that band with knew Scott. The first time I saw him, I remember thinking, “There’s something about that guy.” He brought this whole different thing out of me, like, “No, let’s do something weirder!” And so right away there was this really good chemistry. And then it grew from there.
Jeff: The full band didn’t really come together until the end of our recording process for our EP.
Is the band’s name a Great Gatsby thing?
Z: Yeah. Jay Gatsby refers to everyone as “old sport.” Scott and my favorite writer is Fitzgerald, and we relate to Gatsby a lot. He’s such a cool character, because he’s really kind of trashy. You know, he’s trying to be something he’s not, and he probably came from a shady background, but he did it all for love. And I think that’s how Scott and I are in a lot of ways. Our upbringing was not a good scene, and we’re trying to pretend we’re something we’re not. We go nuts for music and art and stuff, and our lives are pretty absurd because of it.
There seem to be a lot of different musical influences at work in Mornin’ Old Sport. What artists made the biggest impression for you guys?
Z: Everyone in the band comes from a totally different background, and that’s a really cool thing, seeing that all get smashed together. I know Dave Stalling’s biggest influence is Igor Stravinsky, and he got his Masters in composition, so he definitely brings a whole different thing to our band. And Kate Smeal is into jazz and folk stuff, and I know she did some musical theater.
J: For me, I’d say John Coltrane. He really tried to bring the human soul back into music. I like a lot of funk and R&B, jazz, the Rolling Stones, the Band—basically any music that you can feel humanity through.
B: Beck is a big influence for me. You look at his older stuff, and each record is different and has a different theme. Like Midnight Vultures, it’s all different genres, all in the same disc. The Magnetic Fields and Björk are pretty up there too.
Z: Yeah, Björk is definitely huge. She can try anything, and she gets away with it. I’m also really inspired by great literature and movies. And lyricists like Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, or even someone like Bright Eyes.
Yeah, lyrics are really key for you guys, right?
Z: We really pay attention to the lyrics. I think the overall expectation of lyrics is really low right now, and there are so many that don’t even make any sense, or there’s just one cool line in a song. We just want to do something that’s really good.
If you guys had to put yourself into a genre, what would you call it?
Z: Mediocore. It’s a new genre. Scott came up with that. I guess a lot of people compare us to Beirut, the Smiths, Arcade Fire, though our next album is pretty much straight country folk. It’s gonna sound like throwback Patsy Cline, fucking Ennio Morricone.
B: It’s got some Spanish horns!
Z: But our next album is gonna be very electronic-based. And then after that, we’ve got 24 songs of circus music to record. We just wanna do our thing. We just wanna make something good that we can stand by at the end of the day and say, “Yeah, we’re proud of that.”
Sounds pretty ambitious. Do you think that formal musical education gives you a leg up as a band?
Z: I think we might have some more tricks up our sleeve than other bands. That’s the thing about going to college, it’s like going into a room with a professor who says, “Here’s all this shit that I learned while I was being an idiot my whole life.” And some of it you can take, some of it you can’t. I think training helps. It gives you a language to communicate.
J: You have a bigger vocabulary.
Z: But you can get that in a lot of different ways, so I’m not saying we’re better than kids who didn’t go to music school at all. That’s not the case at all. There are some people who are so naturally gifted, I feel like I’ll never catch up with them.
J: The biggest thing about going to a music school is just making connections with other people who are doing what you’re doing.
Z: That might be our biggest leg up, is that we were just able to meet each other.
B: School’s school.
Z: Yeah, you do what you gotta do, you know? If it helps, do it.
What’s the songwriting process like for Mornin’ Old Sport?
Z: Scott, Kate and I do the songwriting, but we do the arrangements as a group. One of our rules in our band is that we’ll try anything before we say it’s a bad idea. So even if it’s totally off-the-wall, we’ll try it, we do it right, and then decide whether or not we keep it. That’s the thing about music—and I guess it’s true of all art—is that all the fucking stars have to align. You can’t have one bad lyric, you can’t have one bad guitar turn, you can’t have one bad snare hit, everything just has to be like, [makes coming-together noise].
You feel like you have to strive for perfection.
Z: Yeah. Nowadays it’s especially hard, because there’s like the iPhone, and there’s like people flying in space, so the level of perfection in shit is crazy. It’s so much more competitive.
B: Since record sales aren’t what they used to be, there are fewer people that have huge recording budgets and spend a lot of time in a really nice facility with all these people lathering their backs and polishing their sounds and sipping their tea for them. The thing is that we live in this golden age of technology and the internet, where you can have a home studio that’s awesome. So there are a lot of bands that can and do self-produced stuff. And because of that, the music world is flooded right now.
Z: The whole business plan has changed. It used to be that you starved to death until you get really big and then a record label pays you to record. Now it’s like you starve to death to collect gear and then do your own thing.
You played at the Cambridge Y before. What do you like about it as a venue?
Z: We did an EP release there last year for Mourning Sickness. It was the idea of Philip-Michael Scales, who’s the lead singer of This is How Rumors Get Started. He’s a very interesting DIY kid. He feels like there isn’t enough of a music scene of Boston. And he was like, “Why isn’t there a family thing? Why aren’t people really teaming up and putting on big shows?” And he found the Cambridge Y. His idea was that we’d release our album with all these different bands playing, and it’d be kind of a scene-starter. That never really came to fruition, but we’re kind of picking up that idea.
J: The fact that it’s not a bar is really nice because it becomes more of a community thing. The problem with the Boston scene in general is that whenever you’re playing a show, you go into the club or the bar, and people are just observing, they’re not really taking part. Our big thing is trying to get people to interact.
Yeah, audience participation is a major thing for Mornin’ Old Sport, right?
Z: I just want to connect people. That’s my biggest pet peeve in our society right now, that with all the Facebook and text messaging, there’s so little human interaction. I just want to combat that as much as I can. I just want to put people in a room together and just get ‘em to talk. It’s the lost art form. That’s my goal—to get a bunch of people in the same place, and remind them that they exist, and see what happens. It could end up being a train wreck, but either way it’s gonna be a spectacle.