If you don’t know who John Moreland is, it’s safe to stay you stumbled onto this site trying to find small amounts of ammunition for sale. Hello, friend! Put aside your worldly troubles and let’s talk about songs.
I saw John Moreland for the first time this past weekend, and matched my expectations. There was a magnitude 5.1 earthquake in Los Angeles while he played “Break My Heart Sweetly” and I didn’t notice. I think that sums everything up.
John was kind enough to take a few minutes and answer some questions outside the bar before his second show on a Saturday night. Here are the questions I asked him and the answers he gave.
9B: How do you feel about the expectation of access to the musicians that fans in our genre of music have? The hanging out before and after shows, the buying shots?
JM: Usually it’s fine. I’m down to hang out with people, it’s all good stuff. Maybe a couple times it’s been sort of weird, because I’m kind of a quiet dude naturally. I think there have been times when people have thought I was an asshole when I didn’t mean to be, but I just wasn’t as talkative as they would like me to be. Usually it’s okay. Sometimes on tour, you don’t always want to hang out…but most of the time it’s fine. People don’t usually buy me as many shots as they buy Ben Nichols, so that hasn’t been a problem.
9B: A lot of your songs have religious themes or references, but you don’t strike me as a very religious person. Where does that come from?
JM: I grew up religious, in a religious family, so I think it’s just a language that’s natural to me. It’s stuck with me, even though I’m not really in that world any more. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I feel about that stuff now that I’m not an impressionable kid anymore.
9B: Do you ever do research into these stories? Some of your references, like to David and Uriah in “Cataclysm Blues No. 4”, are very specific.
JM: I had to do a lot of research on that one, because I vaguely remembered the characters but didn’t remember what happened. Actually, that one came from Ryan Johnson from American Aquarium. He had an idea to write a whole song based on David and Uriah from Uriah’s point of view. I was going to help him write that song…and then I kind of just stole the idea and used it in my song instead. He had to bring me up to speed on that one. I sort of vaguely remember my bible stories. I used to always be embarrassed in Sunday school because I was like the Sunday school slacker who wasn’t up on all the stories and stuff…but that’s been enough to drop some references in songs and get away with it.
9B: A lot of your songs on In The Throes are love songs…do those come from situations or emotions that are still present in your life?
JM: They’re recurring. It’s stuff that’s always going to come back up. I wrote that stuff, and some of it was written, and I thought that it was over…and I find myself back in the middle of it, maybe with a different person.
9B: Do you keep the same set list for every show?
JM: Usually I’ve been playing ten or twelve songs. Last night I think I played around twenty, so I just played In The Throes as the first set and about half new songs and half old songs for the second set. I don’t have an exact setlist, but I have a general one in my head. It’s kind of broken into thirds. Certain songs go in the first third, or the middle, or the end. “3:59 AM” I’ve been playing last, I feel like it would be weird to play it third or something. Stuff gets moved around within its section, and certain songs come and go depending on what I feel like doing that night.
9B: Yeah, you played “Smoke and Cigarettes” last night, which was great to hear.
JM: I hadn’t played that one in a while until last night. Brought it back out to kill time, but I kinda dug it. I might start working that one back in.
9B: Talk to me about your ‘No Heroes’ tattoo.
JM: Well, it’s the title of a Converge album that I really like. There are people that I admire, of course, but it’s a reminder to be realistic with that stuff. I go through times where I kind of get caught up with hero worship bullshit. It’s not healthy, and it’s sort of demeaning to yourself. You forget that the people you’re putting on these pedestals are just like you, and you can do whatever you want to do.
9B: Have you played any shows recently with bands that took you by surprise?
JM: The first time I saw Adam Faucett, I’d never heard him before. I’d heard people talking about him, I knew he was from Arkansas. I saw him open for Ben [Nichols], and I ended up playing a couple songs that show even though I wasn’t on the bill. That fucking blew me away. I’ve been addicted to his records ever since. I played with Mark Utley in Cincinatti, he was really great. He had a line that said, “I started smoking again so I could spend more time with you.” I thought that was badass. I remember that. A couple weeks ago in Salt Lake City I played a show with this dude named Sammy Brue. He’s twelve, and he can play finger-style guitar better than me. He’s already really good, it’s just gonna be ridiculous to see how good he is in a few years. That’s all I’ve got off the top of my head.
9b: What have you been listening to on the road?
JM: This tour I’ve been listening to a lot of my friends. A lot of Adam Faucett’s new record, and Lilly Hiatt’s records. Aaron Lee Tasjan, his new EP that just came out…his old band, the Madison Square Gardeners? I’ve known him for a while, but I didn’t know that band until a few weeks ago at South By. I was staying with Chris Porter and Bonnie Whitmore and they showed me that stuff, I was just like, “Holy shit!” I’ve been listening to a lot of Madison Square Gardeners, and George Strait. Driving around Hollywood with the windows down blastic George Strait. That’s probably about it.
9b: What have you been reading on the road?
JM: I just read Willy Vlautin’s new book, called ‘The Free’. I heard about it, but I didn’t remember I heard about it; there’s a Drive-By Truckers song about one of the characters. Somebody in Alabama recommended I check him out. He’s from Portland, he’s in a band called Richmond Fontaine, and when I was going to Portland the other day it crossed my mind. I found it at the fanciest Barnes and Noble I’ve ever been to. So I read that last week, and it was great. Now I’m trying to find more of his books but they’re all out of stock at all the bookstores I can google, so I’m probably just gonna order them when I get home.