In an ongoing media collaboration with photographer, Chris Polak, we took some pictures and interviewed rising star, MT Warning.
You’ve been working with Taylor Steele on the Mt. Warning project. You guys met at a gig, right?
Yeah, he had just moved to town when he approached me after a show. We became friends and a few beers later he asked me to create a song based on visual ideas for a film clip. I thought it sounded interesting and from there he gave me a concept about a guy floating in water with mermaids swimming around taunting him. The challenge was imagining if visually that situation were happening, what would a song sound like? I made the guitars sound like hearing your heartbeat when you’re underwater by using constant low tones. We had vocals of this amazing girl, Tori Lee, and we actually had Morgan Kibby from M83 sing on the intro to that song. I thought it was really fun and Taylor really liked the result, so from there songs started coming together as the two of us threw these ideas back and forth.
You play all the instruments and Taylor acts as a producer then?
Producing in the sense that he throws all the visuals at me. I’ll be in the studio until sun up and then email him a track or he’d drop by the studio to tell me if it fits in with what we’re working with. If not he’ll tell me, “What if these guitars were a bit more abrasive there or the vocal was softer or what would a lyric like this sound like.” He’s not a musician so those kind of suggestions from someone who doesn’t play but sees music is really awesome. Sometimes, the results are things I’d never have thought of.
It is an interesting concept. As a musician, how do you find working this way?
I find it super freeing. I’ve worked with other musicians who are producers and it’s like, “Oh yeah, we should chuck a different chord in or we should use a certain type of piano because it worked on so and so’s album.” Whereas, Taylor doesn’t have that knowledge so he’ll say, “I think it should be more colourful or it should sound more like a fire or at this point I imagine clouds parting in my mind.” As a musician, the freedom is incredible. I’ll close my eyes and think if I play that on guitar, piano or drums it will sound like what that looks like to me. Then I’ll take it to him and he’ll be like, “That works.”
Would you describe the music as visual noise then?
It’s definitely noise made with distinct visuals in the mind. His knowledge of visuals is very important and when it comes to film clips he’s super passionate. It’s the world that he lives in and wants to show off, just like I do whenever I get behind a kit or pick up a guitar.
I guess it’s no surprise then the film clips are so powerful. What other visual stimuli did he throw at you when you were throwing concepts back and forth?
When we decided to start this record he told me he needed the innocence of someone leaving home for the first time and made me picture being given a rusted old car, as you head off to college or something. The vocals on that song (Forward Thinking) are about the innocence in your head, that nervous excitement. The drums are this flat thing that, in my head are like the tires hitting the mudguard, builds the tension of the open road until the big guitar parts come in. That’s when you’re finally owning it, fist pumping all the way down Route 66 or whatever the fuck you’re doing.
Do you feel these dynamics are obvious enough for people to pick up on them?
It’s definitely available but it’s super subtle. In my head, I have things that I want to see when I perform it so it transports me to a place where I can give a greater performance. But, I also want people to make their own assumptions. The best thing about music is it’s yours. When you hear it, it’s not about the person who wrote it. It’s about the person who is listening and whatever they are experiencing. That’s the exciting part, there is no right or wrong meaning.
How many tracks did you end up writing?
The album is eleven tracks. It has an intro, three acts and an outro. The intro sets up the lifespan, it has this almost prayer vibe to it. Then the next three songs make up act one and it deals with the changes and growth of youth and innocence. Act two deals with a time when you might lose yourself to drugs or fall in and out of love. You’re in a mid-life crisis, you’re on a motor bike with balding hair and a pony tail. Then in the third act, you’re owning all that and starting to see things in the world that you might have always wanted to see but couldn’t before the finality of everything.
You have talked about crafting the music. How did working on lyrical content work between you both?
I kind of owned the lyrics. I’m into words and always have been. I would have been an author if I had an attention span, which seems to be a characteristic of our generation. It will be interesting to see who will be the ones writing books of our age, I can’t concentrate for that long. Anyway, I turned to songs when I realised it was a good way of getting a story across. We collaborate thematically what the song will be about and then the actual words become my responsibility.
The dynamic between the two of you seems to be quite, “It’s not you and me but us.”
It’s for the outcome, the greater cause and the music. He is an egoless person and I mean I have an ego on a dancefloor but when I’m working with someone, especially someone who is a great friend, it’s first and foremost about the songs. When you truly get along with someone, communication and creativity is naturally going to flow better.