MALICE..." AND MORE:
An Interview with Ryan Morgan of MISERY SIGNALS
Interview by Ray Van Horn, Jr. - February 2005
Being an opening band is always filled with adversity. There are many concerns, not the least of which is how to leave an impression upon a highly discerning audience whose loyalty is often hard-won? Having seen Misery Signals twice, I can testify this band is nothing short of buzzworthy. A hardworking stage presence plus a vibrant debut album, "Of Malice and the Magnum Heart," shows that Misery Signals are destined at this point to stand out from their peers. I caught up with guitarist and co-founder Ryan Morgan in the middle of the band's tour with Eighteen Visions.
Hey, how are you, brother?
Ryan Morgan: Doing good.
RoughEdge.com: Good, man. I've seen you guys a couple of times now, in fact, the second time was not too long ago in Baltimore with Eighteen Visions.
Ryan Morgan: Okay, cool.
RoughEdge.com: Before that, I saw you at The Black Cat in DC with Every Time I Die, Zao and Dillinger Escape Plan. So anyway, congratulations on your first album, "Of Malice and the Magnum Heart." It's very smartly written.
Ryan Morgan: Thank you, man. That's awesome. Thank you.
RoughEdge.com: Sure. Without a doubt. Like I said, I've seen you guys twice and prior to the Eighteen Visions tour that you're on now, the previous tour I mentioned with Dillinger Escape Plan and those guys, I understand you consider that tour the best of your career so far? I thought that show definitely ripped. So what made it so special for you guys?
Ryan Morgan: I mean, prior to that tour we had done some touring with Every Time I Die and Zao, so those guys were already friends of ours, so it was just a really good personal environment to start off the tour with, you know?
RoughEdge.com: Right on.
Ryan Morgan: Going through and getting to know the guys in Dillinger Escape Plan, it was just a really sweet atmosphere as far as all the personalities on the tour go, but on top of that, all those bands are bands we really like and respect as artists. They write and play with artistic integrity, you know what I mean?
Ryan Morgan: It's a rare thing these days for a band to really have its own sound and I think that tour really represented a lot of that aspect, which is something we really respect. So along with it being a great time to hang out with all those guys, you know, spend some time and having a good time, it was a good show every night and that's even more of a rarity that you get to be on a tour and see a show that you enjoy every night, you know?
RoughEdge.com: Definitely. Now, on the flipside to the Dillinger tour. I noticed you guys have a bit of a rant going on about the tour with Six Feet Under, calling it a nightmare and talking about how the supporting bands got stiffed, so tell me a little more about that tour.
Ryan Morgan: I don't know how much you really want to know about that tour. It was basically a bad time all-around. I mean, not to talk too much shit, but that band is way past their day, you know what I mean? Not that they were ever super sweet at any point, but they're kind of a washed-up old band, you know? They're not really drawing kids, like we were drawing more kids than them on a regular basis on that tour and not even making a tenth of what they were making as far as money goes. They still showed us no respect out of that, so as an opposite to that other tour we were talking about, this was a bad environment to be in and it was just kind of a really dead show every night. Those guys are pretty much just pricks overall.
Ryan Morgan: It was kind of a bad time.
RoughEdge.com: That basically sums it up, man. But luckily, the last two packages that you've been on are bands you're on the same label with or that are at least in a somewhat similar genre.
Ryan Morgan: Oh yeah, yeah. We've been super fortunate since then to be on great tours, so no complaints at all.
RoughEdge.com: Yeah. Oh, I saw a really cool shirt for you guys, and I don't know if this is just for Jesse (Zaraska) and Stuart (Douglas Ross) or it's all you guys, but I was going to pick it up, but this was the Baltimore gig where the venue cut it short over that incident with the kid and the bouncer during Eighteen Visions' set.
Ryan Morgan: Yeah.
RoughEdge.com: And everyone was kicked out, but anyway, the shirt I'm referring to is the one with your band name done in the Edmonton Oilers logo.
Ryan Morgan: (laughs) Yeah, right, right, right.
RoughEdge.com: I can't find that anywhere! I'm going to have to … next time you guys come around I'll get it from you then, but I'm a real hockeyhead myself. Is that something you're into or is it just those guys, or what?
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, most of us are pretty into hockey and we spend a lot of time in Edmonton, you know, writing the record; half of us live there, so we're fans of the Oilers and we went to a bunch of the games and stuff, so we just thought it was a really good idea to make a shirt that represented, you know?
RoughEdge.com: Absolutely, that's slick, man.
Ryan Morgan: We originally made a small run of thirty or something because personally, we thought it was a really funny thing, but in time people went crazy for them and thought they were the best thing and they sold really well, so we've been making them ever since.
RoughEdge.com: That's cool.
Ryan Morgan: I should add this too, while we're on the subject. You said you were having trouble finding one or you wanted to get one.
Ryan Morgan: We're actually in the process of opening an online merch store.
RoughEdge.com: Okay, cool.
Ryan Morgan: So for anyone that is maybe reading this that's in the same situation and wants to order one or wants to look into some of our gear, just pull up our website, www.miserysignals.net and we'll have some information pretty soon on how you can get a hold of our stuff if you're not able to make it out to one of our shows.
RoughEdge.com: Right on, man. You know, if I wasn't so busy writing up bands, I'd be really pissed about this lockout!
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, no kidding, man, no kidding. We're bummed too.
RoughEdge.com: Yeah. I need to get up there over the border and check out the action, especially the junior hockey. I understand that's where it's at in Canada!
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, that's where all the real fans are at, man! (laughs) It's crazier than American football.
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Right on! Now let's talk a little about the origins of the band. You and Kyle kind of rooted this band after 7 Angels 7 Plagues split. Having quit school and work at the time, then plowing on to form Misery Signals … I guess take it from there, because it had to have been scary for you when the original band broke up. Here you are faced with 'what the hell do we do now?'
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, exactly and that's exactly the feeling we had. It was kind of this disassociation, you know? We had all this momentum and we had all of these plans for 7 Angels and the rug kind of got pulled out from under us right when we were all geared up to go, you know what I mean?
Ryan Morgan: So it was just something that naturally occurred, you know?
RoughEdge.com: Mmm hmm.
Ryan Morgan: At least the mental enthusiasm that we had going, whether or not there was a huge fanbase, we had it prepared within ourselves that this is what we were going to be spending our time and effort on, so that's kind of how we started about, I guess. Did you want to know more about the formation?
RoughEdge.com: Definitely, please. Go ahead, man.
Ryan Morgan: Well, Jesse was actually the very last singer for 7 Angels as well. Not many people know that because he only played a few shows with us.
RoughEdge.com: Really? That's neat.
Ryan Morgan: The split release recording we were working on with Jesse, which would've been his debut with 7 Angels, never came out because we never finished recording it. We broke up while we were in the studio.
Ryan Morgan: So, many people don't know that he was the last singer of 7 Angels, so he was on board from the very beginning. We were looking around and talking to different drummers it ended up that we went with my twin brother Branden playing drums.
RoughEdge.com: That's cool.
Ryan Morgan: He was just coming along as a drummer and really developing and he filled in on the very last 7 Angels tour. He really impressed the hell out of us, so it was just a natural occurrence that we got him in the band.
Awesome. Now, one of the
most brilliant things on "Of Malice and the
Magnum Heart" I think, is the melodic intercession that you guys put on the
songs, like "In Summary of What I Am" or "The Singing Rain."
There's not too many bands in the metalcore scene that have kind of
tried this yet. So do you feel that
this attitude to take a risk outside of the formula gives you guys a little bit
of an edge?
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I want to do as much with our music as we can to keep it original and have it defined in its own style and I think that is one of the most noticeable things on the record that people mention are setting us apart. It's just something I've always been interested in writing the songs, is that kind of melodic edge and putting quieter things juxtaposed with really heavy music and trying to make it still work with the fluidity, you know?
RoughEdge.com: Right. Extending this theme, you guys really showed guts with "Difference of Vengeance and Wrongs" with the tender melodies and Jesse's clean vocals. What made you tap into that extreme?
Ryan Morgan: We were writing the song and it was one of the last songs we wrote for the record if not the very last song we wrote. We wrote it similar to how it is on the record and it just didn't feel natural, like … the song is a real light song, it has lots of clean guitar and whatever, and it has lots of chill emotion, and we didn't feel it was natural to try and force it into becoming more of a hardcore song, just to make it fit the other songs.
RoughEdge.com: Right. It was a good call.
Ryan Morgan: So it became more naturally of a ballad, if you want to call it that, and we just tried to stick with how the song sounded best and not worry way too much about making it fit with rest of the record. I mean, I think it does fit in and we take a little bit of criticism for having the clean vocals on it or whatever, and the fact that it's not Jesse doing the singing, it's a friend of ours named BJ Ellis. He was in a band with our other guitarist Stu before Misery Signals.
RoughEdge.com: Wow. Cool, man.
Ryan Morgan: BJ did guest vocals because we thought it was more appropriate for the way the rest of the song sounded and we're happy with the way it turned out. We can't really do it live too well since none of us really sing as well as BJ does. We're happy with the way it turned out and we're glad we made the decisions that we did with it.
RoughEdge.com: I'm with you, man. It's a shame you would take any criticism at all because there's so many bands out there beginning to do the exact same thing that you really do need to kind of wave your hand and say 'Look, we can do this!' you know what I mean?
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, I agree completely, but you get those dudes, you know, particularly in hardcore and metal scenes that are really set in their ways and are unempathetic about anything that doesn't make you want to mosh.
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Their loss, man. If you're talking about the first forty minutes, which is full of piss and anger, then (laughs) oh, well. To me, it's kind of nice to have the break at the end.
Ryan Morgan: Right on, I agree.
RoughEdge.com: Now, the lyrics to "In Response to Stars" intrigue me. Are you guys lamenting the loss of a friend, an adversary or both?
Ryan Morgan: That song is more about the relationship between band members. Specifically, Jesse wrote that song about being in a band with his brother and the band itself coming between them and their personal relationship.
Ryan Morgan: So it's more about the difficulty of being a touring band and having something that you take seriously come between yourself and friends and loved ones, bandmates, that kind of thing.
RoughEdge.com: Right. Now, you guys have your video for "The Year Summer Ended in June," which I think looks really sharp. How grueling was it under those lights, man? (laughs) Considering how long videos shoots actually take, you guys look like you really suffered for your art!
Ryan Morgan: (laughs) Actually, you know, it wasn't too bad. The guy we had working on it, the guy's name is Dale Resteghini from Raging Nation Films, he really knew what he was doing. We did spend a real long day shooting that video but for the most part it was all set up. We were just chilling in the other room having snacks and watching MTV while they set up everything and we just did our takes and did the group shots and stuff and we didn't actually end up under those lights for too long a time, you know? It's comparable to lights at any show, really, you get hot, you get sweaty, but that adds to the energy, you know what I mean?
RoughEdge.com: Right on.
Ryan Morgan: It helped me get into the feel of it because it was our first video, you know, so we didn't know what to expect, right?
Ryan Morgan: It's kind of bizarre, you know what I mean, just kind of playing along with your CD and not really actually be the ones playing at that moment. It was kind of a weird experience
RoughEdge.com: Kind of surreal.
Yeah. The light thing kind
of helped me get into the flow of things, you know?
RoughEdge.com: Yeah, that sounds pretty cool. Now, I've met your labelmates Twelve Tribes, who are a bunch of righteous dudes, particularly Adam (Jackson).
Ryan Morgan: Yeah.
RoughEdge.com: And the reason I'm mentioning them is because I like to lump you two bands together, not because you're both Ferret bands, but because you both think outside the box with your music structure and your lyrics. Mentioning again the layers of the acoustic melody you have on say, "Worlds and Dreams," Misery Signals is not your typical hardcore band.
Ryan Morgan: Right.
RoughEdge.com: Neither of you two bands. So my question here would be, do you feel obligated to raise the bar a little since there's so many bands out there? I mean, I think you do, whether it's intentional or not.
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, yeah, those Twelve Tribes dudes are great guys. They put out a great record, we all love it and we love those dudes, but I don't feel the pressure because of a band like that so much as I feel the opposite, you know, the negative side. Bands that I'm sick of, not bands that I like, are really my engine to create something that has some sort of integrity and thinks outside the box, as you put it. It's not so much I feel I have to raise the bar and compete with those guys, or bands like Dillinger that are extremely skillful in what they do. It's more about bands that are just lame, you know, that bum me out.
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Sorry, I couldn't help laughing.
Ryan Morgan: I just want to separate myself from them and be like, 'Here's what we're doing and it's not the same crap you other guys are doing!' You know what I mean?
RoughEdge.com: Yeah, no doubt. Now, watching you guys perform live, the thing I noted both times is how squared off Jesse keeps his shoulders as he shifts across the stage.
Ryan Morgan: (laughs)
RoughEdge.com: He's got really stiff shoulders before he leans into his throwdown stance, but anyway, tell me about your emotional charge when you perform, because you guys really throw down intensely out there.
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, yeah. We try to get into it as much as we can, you know? We're trying to have a good time too, we're doing it every night, and we just want to feel it as much as we can. We're all big believers in rocking out, so we put our all into it, and I like to see that when I see a band get really into what they're doing, you know what I mean?
RoughEdge.com: Mmm hmm.
Ryan Morgan: That's kind of how we do it, I guess.
RoughEdge.com: Without a doubt, dude. Now I read on the site where you guys like to "provide an outlet to express the anguish and hopefulness that drives its members, while producing a cathartic experience in the listeners." Could you elaborate on that?
Ryan Morgan: (laughs) I don't know if I could, man. It's pretty elaborate as it is!
Ryan Morgan: I'm not even sure who wrote that, but I guess that's kind of the mission statement. I don't even know who wrote that biography, to tell you the truth. We do want to keep our music rooted in emotion and personal energy, you know what I mean? We want to keep it honest, so I guess that's a pretty good mission statement for us.
RoughEdge.com: Now, you guys, to me, are a prime example of a band with something to prove and the goods to do it when you perform live. Since you've basically been openers right now, do you feel really hungry to spotlight yourselves from your touring mates?
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, it's not really a competitive thing against the bands we're on tour with, but we do want to make a mark and it's hard to do when you're an opening band. You've only got 25-30 minutes to play a set every night, you know what I mean?
Ryan Morgan: So we are anxious to get out there and maybe play some longer sets and do what we can do, but it is really a goal of ours to shine, you know what I mean? We want to do as best we can and make a mark. There's so many bands out there playing so many shows and you've got to do something the kids are going to remember if you want to make it anywhere, right?
RoughEdge.com: Exactly. I can give you some good news anyway, because I end up going to shows by myself about half the time, so when I'm by myself I listen to the crowds after each band, just to hear what's going on in their minds and there's been a lot of buzz on you guys, both times I've seen you.
Ryan Morgan: Awesome, thanks very much, man. Actually, last night I was experiencing something of the same thing. We played at this place called The Theater of the Living Arts in Philadelphia.
RoughEdge.com: Philadelphia! I know exactly where that's at.
Ryan Morgan: Real cool place, and I ended up walking through the crowd after we played. I just put my coat on and nobody really knew who I was and I was kind of listening in on what people were saying, you know, just by chance. I wasn't out there to eavesdrop or anything, but I heard a lot of people saying a lot of good things and it's an awesome feeling, you know what I mean?
Ryan Morgan: That's their honest opinion, when they don't know you're listening, so that's a cool thing and thanks for noticing.
RoughEdge.com: Oh yeah!
Ryan Morgan: (laughs) That's really cool.
RoughEdge.com: My pleasure. I really like that area. They have so many cool music stores on that street.
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, yeah. It's a sweet neighborhood. Actually last night it was Fat Tuesday or whatever, which is like the first day of Mardi Gras or something along those lines …
RoughEdge.com: That's right.
Ryan Morgan: I don't fully understand it, but basically there was more police out on the street than there were civilians! (laughs)
Ryan Morgan: Huge block party or something, I don't know, but it was kinda cool.
RoughEdge.com: That's too much, man. Now I understand that your trailer had a problem not too long ago?
Ryan Morgan: (laughs)
RoughEdge.com: This is one of my favorite questions that I end up asking just about every band because everyone seems to run into it. It's common ground.
Ryan Morgan: Yeah!
RoughEdge.com: So you guys vented your frustrations out on the old one? (laughs)
Ryan Morgan: Oh yeah, man. We had our way with it and it's given us so much trouble since we got it. I mean, it was an old, used trailer and we got a great deal on it, but you get what you pay for, you know what I mean?
RoughEdge.com: Mmm hmm.
Ryan Morgan: It ended up that the wheel and the encasements and, I'm not even thinking of the right word here, basically the axle broke off where the wheel attaches to it.
Ryan Morgan: So it was just basically the last straw after fixing the wire like, twenty-five times, and replacing the tires that kept falling off and popping, whatever, knocking our whole wheel wells off, and after putting way more money into the thing than it was worth, we were like, 'Screw it, we need a bigger trailer anyway,' so we packed our stuff into this little crappy box.
Ryan Morgan: So we ended up on the side of a highway, the van drove away and came back with a U-Haul trailer, put our stuff in it and we just took the empty trailer and found anything we could to beat it up with, slipped it over the side of the highway and left it there!
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) That's nuts!
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, fuck that thing! It was satisfying on a personal level.
RoughEdge.com: I'm sure it was, man. I can't even think of how many things I've destroyed in the name of anger.
Ryan Morgan: I'm sure we could've towed it somewhere and got a small price for it, maybe a trade-in at least, but it was more important to get the emotional thing out of us!
RoughEdge.com: (laughs) Enough is enough at that point.
Ryan Morgan: Right, exactly.
RoughEdge.com: Now, I want to touch upon this quickly; you guys go up to perform at the Yesterday Was Everything Fest in Edmonton, something Jesse put together, right?
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, yeah. Jesse and his friends put that together, right.
RoughEdge.com: So it's for the fallen members of his former band, Compromise, right?
Ryan Morgan: Correct.
RoughEdge.com: And you guys raised some money for Mothers Against Drunk Driving?
Ryan Morgan: Yep.
RoughEdge.com: Awesome. So can you tell me a little more about this?
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, as you said, Jesse and his friends put it together in Edmonton and Misery Signals has played it the past two years. The year before that was the last 7 Angels tour, so 7 Angels played at the first one the year of the accident that the two guys from Compromise died in. It's a real cool thing because it gets a lot of press and it's been thrilling and it's for a real positive cause, you know, and we feel real good honoring those guys that were great friends of Jesse's and also friends of ours. It just feels good to be a part of something that raises something positive, you know, like money for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, even more so for the memory of those guys.
RoughEdge.com: So, not to be overly morbid, but I take it those guys passed because of a drunk driver?
Ryan Morgan: Correct. Those guys, their van was hit from behind by a drunk driver and it ran them off the road and they smashed into a tree.
RoughEdge.com: Man. Jesus Christ. That's really cool that you guys have put together something like that and kept it going.
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, absolutely. It's almost an obligation but it's something positive that's become of it.
RoughEdge.com: For sure, man. My last question for you, then, you guys have the EP and the all-important first album under your belts and you're about to go to Europe soon, right?
Ryan Morgan: Correct. Next month.
RoughEdge.com: Right on, man. So what do you expect of Europe and 2005 overall for Misery Signals?
Ryan Morgan: You know, I have no idea what to expect, but we're all really excited. It's a really crazy thing for us because not only is it our first trip overseas but it's our first trip on a tour bus. We're splitting a bus with Eighteen Visions for that trip.
Ryan Morgan: It's going to be a whole new environment for us, so we're really stoked just to make those steps, you know what I mean? It'll be awesome to be over there for the first time there to see the sights, so it's going to be…not just the tour, but the whole experience of the trip. We're kind of anxious to see how we're received over there, you know? We've never played, but we've gotten a lot of press in the UK and we've gotten a lot of contact from fans and stuff like that from overseas, so it's going to be awesome to see how much that comes into play when we're at the actual shows doing our thing. As for the rest of the year, we've got some other tours lined up for the future that we're excited about. We're going out with Strapping Young Lad, who Devin Townsend is the singer of that band…
Ryan Morgan: So we're good friends with him and it's going to be a fun time. We're looking forward to working on the new material, that's kind of the main thing on our minds right now. We've been talking about ideas in the band, throwing some riffs around and stuff and just getting an idea of the direction of the band, so we just really want to focus on putting out a solid sophomore release, you know?
RoughEdge.com: Yeah. Well, good luck to you overseas and when you guys come back into town I'll come up and say hi this time.
Ryan Morgan: Yeah, sounds good, man.
Ryan Morgan: All right, take care, man.
RoughEdge.com: You too. Thanks for your time.
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Revised: 23 Aug 2016 22:57:10 -0400.