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Interview: BLACKOUT ORCHESTRA
What got you into music, and if you had not gotten into music what would you be doing today?
MORGAN: I realized at a very young age that I could create music with nothing but my voice, and it stuck. If I hadn’t made that the main part of my life, I’d have gotten into social work.
BEN: I always loved movie scores - even as a kid I always noticed how a piece of music could underscore the emotions of a scene or moment. I also always loved to write little stories or poems. At 13 or so I discovered alt-rock and it sort of crystallized the two things for me, that songwriting was basically writing a poem and using music to score it essentially, to heighten the emotion. I think if I weren't making music, I'd probably be writing in some form or another - probably arts journalism, because I get very excited and passionate about new music or books or films and would love to get paid to write about it.
What do you like to do when you are not playing music and how does that influence your creativity?
BEN: If I'm not playing music, I'm usually listening to it, or reading about it, or watching documentaries about it. Going for long walks with a soundtrack is my daily ritual - it's very meditative in its own way and I always come home inspired.
MORGAN: That’s a hard question to answer. I do everything. I enjoy being outside, I enjoy staying in, I play video games (mainly RPG’s) and reading, I could go on. And everything influences me. I’m like a sponge.
How long has your band been around?
BEN: We started in May of 2020, really just making some demos as a fun thing to do in lockdown. We've both always been in bands but somehow we'd never really tried creating music together. It just so happened to be at the right time that I had just got through a really transformational time - a break up, getting sober, we were getting together - it was just really fertile in terms of having things to exorcise, and the excitement of slowly learning the production side of things made it even more exciting. Every day was a discovery.
Where are you based out of and how did that influence your music?
BEN: We both live in Toronto, and we're both very much city people. I've always seen Toronto as a really big small town - all of these seemingly disparate communities are actually surprisingly interconnected. There's something about the feel, the noise, the fact that there's always something happening. Some people find it overwhelming but I've always found it really invigorating.
How did you come up with the name of your band and what does it mean to you?
MORGAN: (Laughs) I feel like Ben can cover this answer. We’ll come up with a better story at some point.
BEN: In total honesty, we just went to a band name generator website and hit "refresh" until it spat out something we liked. It seemed to encapsulate the idea that there were no limits to the music - it could be an acoustic duo or it could be a 6 piece band with a string section and a triangle player. That freedom of genre and the fact that it was born out of the whole world shutting down, it just made some sort of sense.
Tell me about your most memorable shows.
MORGAN: Our first show in front of actual people was my favourite so far. It was held at “Tail of the Junction” in Toronto. The venue was filled with people. It was cold outside, and boiling hot inside. Lots of dancing! It was a cathartic release, having not played on stage for such a long time.
BEN: We were playing a festival for Save Toronto Music Venues - it was in various parks throughout the city, but the last stop that we were supposed to play got shut down. So we literally picked up and moved a few blocks down to another park. It was total last minute confusion, and so a lot of people didn't end up making it because they didn't even know where it was relocated to! But we played underneath a streetlight to a really lovely small crowd and it just felt like a really special moment - a summer night in a park playing these songs that really fit that mood and environment.
What is your favorite venue to play at, and do you have any places you want to play that you have not already?
BEN: I've played almost every venue in one band or another, and honestly they all have their own vibe. From a performer's perspective, The Garrison has always been a great room with great sound. As an audience member, I love the Danforth Music Hall - also great sound, no real bad sightlines - that's somewhere I'd love to play one day.
MORGAN: There are a few venues I’d like to play at that are on my bucket list. The big one will always be The Phoenix. I attended my favourite concert there, and I’d just love to thrill an audience the same way I was thrilled there.
If you could play any show with any lineup, who would be on the ticket?
MORGAN: Realistically? Or Not? I’m going to go non-realistic. The Arrogant Worms, Jenny Lewis, Gangstagrass, Pomplamoose… We wouldn’t fit in with any of these musical giants, but we would be a great opener!
BEN: There are so many other indie artists I've connected with in the last few years. I'd love to have an all day festival - I'd get Rue Snyder from New York, Dilemma and Lee Christian from the UK, Strange Breed from Vancouver, our local friends in Honey Beard and Vox Somnia. There are a ton more - one day we'll have the clout to put this together - and it would be a great excuse to play the Danforth!
What is some advice that you would give to someone who is just getting into playing in a band and some advice that you would give to your younger self?
BEN: Don't try to be something specific. If you're trying to be a specific genre or like a specific artist, you'll always be having to shoe-horn yourself into that category. I spent so many years playing in bands that were second-rate Nirvana because we wanted to be like Nirvana. But in reality I love a lot of music - and once I wasn't trying to write like someone else, I took elements from all the music I loved - hip hop beats, electronic textures, the immediacy of punk rock, the emotional strings of movie scores, the romanticism of post-punk and folk - that suddenly what we did made sense. We weren't trying to be something else, we were taking elements of everything we loved to make something that sounded like us.
MORGAN: Keep practicing. As a vocalist, it can be hard to keep up with your vocal training. Sing whenever and wherever you can. Stage presence is important when you don’t have an instrument in front of you.
If you could go back in time and give yourselves advice, what would it be?
BEN: Drink water, move more, listen to everything, and spend time in the quiet alone with your thoughts.
Of your songs which one means the most to you and why?
BEN: That's like picking your favourite child, I can't do it! I don't know, I think "Siren Song" was a turning point, just in terms of feeling like all the ideas I had for the band were coming together. On the new record, there's one called "The First Time" . I don't really write love songs, but that one came out all at once. It was late at night so I had to get the idea out really quietly and there's all this background noise, and that recording became the basis of the one on the album. Just a little magic moment.
MORGAN: "The First Time". Ben wrote that with so much love, specifically for me. When he presented it to me, he was a bit sheepish. It was a song specifically for me! It represented a lot, yet it was so simple and literal. I wrote every lyric into my journal when he sent it to me. It's not just my favourite Blackout Orchestra song, it's one of my favourite songs of all time.
Which songs are your favorite to play and which get requested the most?
MORGAN: I feel like that would probably be "Siren Song". I’m also a big fan of "Blue Skies"!
BEN: "Nothing But Blue Skies" on both counts. I think it has a really hopeful feeling at it's core and that's seemed to connect with a lot of people. We haven't played any of the new ones yet - I'm really excited to see how the new album comes alive when there's an audience and other band members involved. Writing and recording is my favourite part of the process, but there's something really special about how songs change and become something else once you're playing them together in front of people. It can be pretty magical.
What is the creative process for the band, and what inspires you to write your music?
BEN: Lyrically, I write when I have a feeling to process. I find the act of writing really creates a sense of relief - if I'm struggling to understand a feeling or situation, putting pen to paper helps me understand it. Musically, it can be anything - sometimes it'll be sitting with a guitar, sometimes it'll come out of playing with a beat, sometimes just a specific sound or texture on the synth. Usually it's just something small that sparks it, and I start thinking "hm, what if I did THIS? How would it sound if I add THAT" and it kind of snowballs into a song almost by accident. It's more of a process of discovery than of intent.
What kinds of messages do you like to get across in your music?
BEN: I don't really write to impart a message in mind. I write what I'm going through, and hopefully if there's a message that comes from that it's "you're not alone in feeling this way" , but it's entirely incidental.
Do you ever have disagreements in your band, and how do you get past them?
MORGAN: I come on when I’m on stage, and Ben is a master of recording. Trying to get me to record anything can be difficult, and that’s where we “disagree”.
BEN: Having known each other for about 14 years, and being in a relationship outside of the band as well, we've had to get pretty good at communicating, so we don't have many problems talking about music. And when it comes to ideas and what works and what doesn't, we just try every idea, and listen back, and usually we both come to the same conclusions about which ones work and which don't.
What are your plans for the future, and do you have anything that you want to spotlight that is coming up?
BEN: We have a song coming out at the end of April called "Unfound" . It's the 2nd single from the upcoming album. It's definitely a little more dreamy than "Tongues". And we're really excited for the album (Beauty Sleep) to come out in August. We're really proud of it. The first record was very much a moment in time, and we were stylistically all over the place because we wanted to try everything. The new one is still drawing from all corners of music, but I think it's a lot more cohesive, sound-wise. I'm curious to hear what people think of it.