"It was a bigger undertaking than I expected," Mark Morton laughs. "I didn't realize how much I was getting myself into when I was like, 'Yeah, let's do a solo album. That'll be cool!' Two years later, I'm like, 'Holy Cow — did that really happen?'"
Anesthetic, the Lamb of God guitarist's first solo album, features ten stylistically-diverse tracks that showcase Morton's immense musical, lyrical and compositional talents, touching on everything from thrash metal to alternative to bluesy hard rock. "I knew it was going to be all over the map, musically, at least compared to what people know me for from Lamb," he says. But practically from the beginning, Morton and longtime Lamb of God producer Josh Wilbur saw the album as more than just a chance for Morton to spread his musical wings. "I think it was always going to be different singers and different players on different songs," he says. "It was like, 'Let's listen to these songs, talk about who we hear on them, and then see if we can get them.'"
Happily, Morton had little trouble convincing other musicians to take part in the project. Every track on Anesthetic features a different vocalist, including Chuck Billy of Testament, Josh Todd of Buckcherry, Arch Enemy's Alissa White-Gluz, Morton's bandmate Randy Blythe and late Linkin Park frontman Chester Bennington. (Morton himself sings the anthemic "Imaginary Days.") But Anesthetic also features an all-star array of instrumentalists, including Dave Ellefson of Megadeth, Mike Inez of Alice in Chains, Roy Mayorga of Stone Sour, Jean-Paul Gaster of Clutch, and Steve Gorman and Marc Ford of the Black Crowes. "Everyone involved was like, 'Well, let me hear the song,'" Morton recalls. "And that, to me, was the victory — if they didn't want to do it, that was cool, but I was flattered that they even wanted to hear it. And then, every time, they came back like, 'I love it, let's do it!'"
We spoke with Morton about some of our favorite tracks from Anesthetic, as well as his upcoming solo tour and what's in store for Lamb of God.
WHO WAS THE FIRST VOCALIST YOU REACHED OUT TO FOR THE ALBUM?
The first person we reached out to was Josh Todd, to sing on "Back From the Dead". On that particular song, we didn't even have a top line for it — we didn't have any vocal or lyrics. We just had the music. It had this real straight-up rock & roll kind of vibe to it. We started talking about real rock star singers, and Josh's name came up. I got his phone number through a mutual friend, texted him, and he said, "Yes, send the song." I emailed him the song — and within ten minutes of me sending that email, he wrote back, "I'm in!" A few days later, he sent the demo of what he wrote for it, and that sort of set the standard for the process.
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WORKING WITH CHESTER BENNINGTON ON "CROSS OFF"?
It was great. I really didn't know what to expect, because I didn't know Chester, and I don't have a whole lot of experience being in a creative situation with someone of his star magnitude, or someone at that level of his career. I've toured with megastars, and I know some and am friendly with them; but to really be across the table and passing lyrics back and forth, crossing stuff out and bouncing ideas off of each other ...
Looking back on it, we instantly had this kind of innate creative trust, and that's what really allowed us to run with this thing. Because sometimes you write with people, and there's this kind of awkwardness: you don't want to hurt their feelings or offend them, and you're not sure if they like your idea and they're just being nice. But sometimes [that's] not there, and it wasn't there with Chester. We met, we talked about where we were coming from with each of our lyrics for the song, and realized that we were coming from the same sort of place. We didn't spend a whole lot of time on pleasantries or anything; we were just like, "Let's drill this thing; let's knock this thing out!"
There was no ego to him, zero. I saw that he was really enthusiastic about music, in general, and he was really excited to have his fanbase hear him screaming on something heavy again. Not that he had anything to prove; I think he was just genuinely enjoying doing that again. And he was just a really thoughtful guy. It was a pleasure to work with him; I really enjoyed it.
IT'S COOL THAT YOU WERE ABLE TO GET MARK LANEGAN TO SING ON "AXIS." HE'S SUCH AN UNDERRATED VOCALIST.
Yeah, I'm with you on that. Without even thinking about it, I'm gonna say he's a Top 5 vocalist for me, and probably Top 3, and maybe my favorite. His solo album, Bubblegum, I still listen to that album all the time. I love Screaming Trees, I love the stuff he did with Queens of the Stone Age, his solo stuff ... And not only is it Mark Lanegan singing that song, but Marc Ford from the Black Crowes does a solo, Steve Gorman from Black Crowes plays drums, Mike Inez from Alice In Chains, who's been a friend of mine for a long time, is on bass, and Myles Kennedy is doing the oohs and aahs in the background. What a cool band we put together for that song! It's one of my favorites from the album.
And there's a funny story about it, too, because that song is very different on the record than the one I sent him. Once I heard the vocal that he'd laid down, and the kind of pattern and melody he put into it, I was like, "Hold on — I feel like this could go a different way." So I had Josh pull the whole track out, and put his vocal on a click for me, and that's when I wrote the acoustic part underneath. I really wrote the music that you're hearing as an accompaniment to the vocal that he laid on the original piece. I had to go back to him and go, "Uh, listen, man… I kind of rewrote that tune. I don't need you to do anything other than let me know if you like it or not." He was like, "It's great." "Okay, cool. Talk to you later, dude!" [Laughs]
WERE THERE ANY OTHER TRACKS WHERE YOU DECIDED TO REVAMP THE MUSIC BASED ON THE VOCAL CONTRIBUTIONS?
Not to that extreme. But there were other tunes where things kind of became something different. I'm thinking specifically about the last tune, "The Truth Is Dead," with Randy and Alissa on it. It was important to me to have a couple of women singing on this stuff; I didn't want it to be all male energy on this album. We sent the song to Alissa, and she was down to sing it. On "The Truth Is Dead," I had initially envisioned an extended guitar solo over the clean arpeggio thing at the beginning of that. When we got Alissa on board, Josh said, "You're a great guitar player, Mark, but why don't we have Alissa sing something over that part?" I was like, "That's a great idea — take my shit off of there!" [Laughs] So it just became a feature of her amazing voice. And the way her and Randy's voices fit together, it really became something bigger than the sum of its parts.
YOU'VE WORKED WITH RANDY BLYTHE FOR NEARLY 25 YEARS. WAS IT ANY DIFFERENT RECORDING WITH HIM IN THIS CONTEXT?
No. Not remotely. [Laughs] The only difference is that I was in the room when he was tracking, because usually Randy doesn't want anyone in the room. Randy was easy; Randy's one of my best friends in the whole world, so I was just like, "Hey man, I'm doing this thing, will you sing on it?" "Yeah, I'll sing on it. Just fly me out." [I had] written some lyrics, but he was like, "I don't want to use these; I wrote some other ones." "Okay, cool, lemme hear what you've got." And they were great, so I was like, "Let's go!"
TELL US ABOUT "THE NEVER," WITH CHUCK BILLY AND JAKE ONI.
Jake was involved on putting together the vocals of that song; he helped write that. Most of what you hear on Jake's part was his demo — it sounded so good, we kept it. And Chuck's an old friend; we've toured together many times over the years, and he's literally sat on my back porch and played Candyland with my daughter. [Laughs] I hope one day she appreciates that! So it was really easy to hit Chuck up, and he's such a legendary voice of metal.
Also, I should mention that Josh was a strong catalyst for me doing some metal. When I first started doing this album, I was going to avoid metal completely, because my thinking was, "I'm in a great metal band — why would I put metal songs on my solo album?" But Josh felt that the Lamb of God fans who come over and check this out are going to want to get that heavy metal itch scratched. So he was like, "Let's put a couple tunes on here that are more in the lane of what people know you for." So that's where "The Never" and "The Truth is Dead" came from — a deliberate decision to include more thrash metal stuff.
DID ANYONE DECLINE TO PARTICIPATE?
I sent an email to Jason Newsted, because I thought it would be cool to have him play bass on a track, and he very politely and respectfully declined. And actually, I'm gonna get crucified for telling you this story, but ... I'm friendly with Slash, right? We've talked a few times; he's a Lamb fan, I'm a huge Slash fan, and we've got some mutual friends, that kind of thing. So I hit Slash up to play on "Back From the Dead." I said, "Do you want to play on this thing?" And he's like, "Yeah, man; I'm interested. Send me the song." But I had cut a solo for the song already, and the solo just slays — I talked to Josh about it, and he was like, "No way, man; we're not wiping that solo for anybody!" So we never sent Slash the tune, because we didn't want to erase my solo! [Laughs] We kept saying we were going to send him a different song, but we just never did. So Slash was willing, but I just never sent him a damn song.
YOU'RE GOING OUT ON THE ROAD TO PROMOTE THE ALBUM. WHO'S GOING TO BE IN THE BAND?
I can't say it yet, because it's not confirmed, and I'd hate to have it out there in case it changes. But it's gonna be different, because I'm not going to bring ten singers out; we're just going to play these songs live and kind of make them their own thing in a live setting. I think it's going to work out.
WHAT'S LAMB OF GOD'S STATUS RIGHT NOW?
Oh, Lamb's rolling, too! We're working on new material, and we've got some solid dates for later this year, and some that look like they're coming together. So it's going to be a crazy busy year, but that's good. It keeps me out of trouble! [Laughs]
SO ... NO NEW LAMB MUSIC UNTIL NEXT YEAR, THEN?
Uh ... I don't know, man, I don't know! It could potentially come sooner than that, but I don't want to make any promises. We really don't have any date on a calendar, right now; it just depends on how quickly it comes together, creatively. But I can tell you that there is some new material coming together, and it feels really, really good!
SOUNDS LIKE YOUR DANCE CARD IS INDEED PRETTY FULL FOR THIS YEAR.
It is! But I'm excited, man. I mean, I still wake up and think, "What am I going to do when all this dries up? What am I going to do when I have to go get a job?" But it keeps working out, so I don't have to. So I'm glad to be busy this year! [laughs]