On 23 June 2023, Luke Morley releases his new solo album, Songs From The Blue Room, some 8,169 days after his first, El Gringo Retro, was released in Japan. Having been lucky enough to hear it, it is another shining example of Ryan Roxy’s ability to predict the future when he said in Episode One of MetalTalk TV that some amazing music would be released after the pandemic has eased.
Luke Morley – Songs From The Blue Room (Conquest Music)
Release Date: 23 June 2023
Interview: Steve Ritchie
We caught up with Luke, relaxed in his London home, but full of excited anticipation for the album’s release. Even with the release of just one song so far, we find out that the feedback has been such that the prospect of seeing this live is very possible.
“Vocally, I’m not writing for Danny, I’m writing for myself,” Luke says of the difference between writing for Thunder. “I also think that people have expectations of Thunder and see Thunder as being very much a rock ‘n’ roll band, or hard rock band, call it what you will. I think the joy of being able to make a solo album is that I can go anywhere I want because people don’t have any preconceptions musically about what it’s gonna be. And if they do then it’s not something that I would worry about because I think the whole point of it is not to record like a Thunder record because that’s what I do in my day job.
“This for me is doing something different and maybe getting a few of those things out of my system that maybe I can’t do with Thunder or don’t feel is appropriate for Thunder.”
Across the album, there is a distinct charm to Morley’s voice. With the exception of drums, then this is all his work, including production. How does he feel sharing his soul to this extent?
“I didn’t think about it like that,” Luke smiles. “I’ve just written a bunch of songs. I think if you’re in any kind of creative endeavour, if you write books, you make music, you make film, whatever you do, I think you’re used to sharing your soul, to a certain extent. I think maybe all of us as creative people have some kind of genetic issue or problem that makes us crave approval from lots of other people at the same time.
“I don’t want to analyse that too well, otherwise, I’ll throw myself a bit more mad or madder. For me, it’s an interesting exercise because it was brought on by the pandemic, to an extent, in that I couldn’t physically collaborate with anybody. I just had to kind of get on with it, and once I got into the process of doing it, I started to quite enjoy it. It’s a very different process than with the band. I write the songs for the band, but obviously, I want them to enjoy the songs and be comfortable in them. This time, I’ve got nobody. Having said that, I think I gave myself a serious talking to a couple of times.”
I Wanna See The Light is the enticing first song on the album. “Get me out of this cold, dark place,” Luke sings, the lockdown, lonely feelings, raising their head. “It’s very much about you feeling slightly isolated, missing your mates and not being able to go out and be spontaneous,” Luke says. “That’s a massive part of being alive.”
Luke says he and his wife enjoyed themselves during lockdown, watching films, listening to music and sitting “in the garden drinking wine too often.” That’s something myself and my wife embraced too. “I imagine it didn’t go that well for some people,” Luke says.
Listening to I Wanna See The Light, there is some wonderful ear candy in the way the song is presented. The layering of the different guitar parts in the mix is really special, and one for the headphones. You wonder if building the song is an organic process or if Luke has the big picture in his mind at the start.
“It’s a mixture of both really,” Luke says. “I wanted this particular song to sound like it was driven by the acoustic guitar, but I wanted to move electrics in and out a little bit. There are some odd droning parts going on that maybe aren’t very obvious. They’re there in the background to help add to the atmosphere.
“I always have a rough idea. It’s a bit like painting. You start with the background and do the foreground last. This is a good example of that. You layer up and go, oh, maybe that’s working or maybe that’s not working. You always make sure you leave room for the vocal and what the vocal is doing. I always work that way. I think you have to be aware of everything all the time. That’s what production is.”
The first single, Killed By Cobain, is a lovely slice of Americana that brings to mind The Traveling Wilburys at their finest. In the States, David Reece of Bangalore Choir told MetalTalk that grunge saw their record company tear up their contract. The impact was felt on this side of the pond too.
“It did impact us,” Luke says. “We weren’t starting from scratch at that point. We sold 250,000 albums, and we had a single in the top 60 in America. The video for Dirty Love was all over MTV, like a rash. So our profile wasn’t low. But what you’re describing happened to your friend, that happened to us. Geffen, which was our label, suddenly completely pulled all their resources away from the more traditional rock acts. They actually bought the Seattle label that quite a few of those bands were on and all the resources went that way.
“A lot of the American rock radio formats changed virtually overnight. We found ourselves in a weird position where we were supposed to go out on tour with David Lee Roth and Cinderella, but the tickets didn’t sell. Over there, it was very seismic. It was a bit like punk rock here in ’75. I don’t think grunge really translated here as much. I think over here, people thought, well, it’s just more rock bands. They were more plaid shirts and more tattoos, and they’ve got goatees, from a fashion point. It got away from the big hair and all that sort of stuff, which wasn’t necessarily a good idea. But I don’t think it had quite the impact that it had in America to be fair.”
There is a famous quote by Gene Autry about Errol Flynn: “He spent more time on a bar stool, or in court, or in the headlines, or in bed than anyone I knew.” I ask if this is the type of thing that can generate a bout of songwriting in Luke’s mind.
Luke knew about the quote. “I’ve read various things about that period in the history of Hollywood that I find quite fascinating. I read David Niven’s books. David Niven and Errol Flynn shared a flat for a while. God knows what that was like. But the song uses Errol as a metaphor for all men. As men, we get to a certain age, and we realise that, whereas women used to look at us, now they look through us. It’s a bit of coming to terms with the fact that you’re getting old.
“Those of us who are lucky enough to experience that have to deal with it, obviously, but not everybody gets the opportunity to get old, and we should remember that. It’s a privilege not granted to everybody. It’s a guy looking at his younger self, I suppose, and saying, all right, son, you know, it’s time to kind of get off your bar stool and retire gracefully from everything.
“It uses Errol as a metaphor, because obviously, he’s probably the most famous shagger in all history. All of those things that he spent his whole life doing destroyed him in the end. It’s also maybe a little bit about my father, who passed away two years ago. He lived a full life. Let’s just leave it there.”
Damage is a great song, the first on the album where there is a piano. “I’m a guitar player, so I can do pretty much what I want on the guitar,” Luke says. “I sit at the piano, and all it represents to me is a load of frustration because I can see everything, I know where everything is, but my hands won’t bloody go there. My dexterity is not fabulous. Having said that, I’ve got a lot better the last few years. It’s something I use as a tool for writing frequently, and most of the time it will get transposed on the guitar. But occasionally, I think if something kind of sounds great on the piano, it will stay there. That’s obviously the case with Damage. It’s built all around the piano part.”
Nobody Cares has some wonderful atmospheric piano. It is the five-minute epic of the album. I love the way it builds. The bass comes in and then the mandolin later. I wondered if there was a plan to play any of this live because there’s an obvious crowd participation point in that song.
“I’m actually talking to various people about the possibility of going out maybe later this year,” Luke says. “Just a chat. But if I do it, I want to do it properly. That’s the thing. I want to make sure the right musicians are available, and it’s the right kind of venue, and everything’s right about it. Because I’m too old to do it badly. I have no desire to do it if I can’t do it the way I want to do it.
“As the album is kind of a side project anyway, initially, I was thinking I won’t bother doing any gigs. Now the news is out that the album’s coming, and people have heard the first track. Well, when are you touring? So I thought I better have a look at it.
“I think this will work well, live. I think a lot of the tunes will work quite well because I think they’re essentially quite simple songs. Funny enough, Nobody Cares isn’t simple. It’s in waltz time, which is odd anyway. It has a bizarre key change and then a modulation and demodulation, which doesn’t happen very often. I must have been on drugs that day [laughs]. I have no idea where the ‘da da da da’ came from.”
There is some wonderful humour in Nobody Cares. With the ‘da da’ sections and key change with the acoustic guitar solo, it all feels nice and happy. But it’s split by the verses where Luke is just having a bloody good old moan.
“Exactly,” Luke laughs. “Lyrically, it’s about the mundanity of most of what people put up on Facebook or social media. Like here’s a photograph of my dinner. Because I think there’s enough bloody mundanity in my own life, I don’t need other peoples as well. That’s what the song is saying. It’s just for God’s sake. You haven’t got to share everything that’s going through your brain. You really don’t, you know. Yeah, so it’s just me moaning as usual.”
It’s a song where Luke really pushes his vocals at point and it comes across very well. “I’m very lucky,” Luke says. “I’ve worked with some amazingly talented singers over the years. Danny, I mean. Jesus Christ, he’s got one of the great English blues rock voices. He is a pure tenor. If he had been born 200 years ago, he would have been a fantastic opera singer. He can do anything. It’s amazing.
“Then subsequently working with the other people that I worked with like Peter Shoulder, who I did The Union with and a couple of years on and off working with Robert Palmer and Power Station. I’ve worked with some amazing singers.
“So, singing was not really something I had to think about particularly. Obviously, I make demos at home all the time. When I’m writing Thunder songs, I’ll sing them as best as I can. Danny’s a pure tenor, which is way higher than me. I’m much more in a baritone range. So one of the nice things about this album is I was actually singing songs where I could actually hit the notes, and that really helped me.
“Being a singer isn’t something I’ve explored massively, to be honest. So that was a good exercise on this album as I had to get into it and think about it a lot more. I think about singing a lot, even if it’s Danny and what he’s singing, because as the producer of the Thunder records, part of my job is to make sure that everybody is doing the best they can and that their interpretations of the songs are the best it can be. So I think a lot about Danny’s vocal parts and what he’s singing.
“That’s something that is part of the construction of the song that is crucial. So, I’m analysing singing all the time even if I’m not doing it. But now, I’m actually having to do it. So it’s slightly different. But, it’s a good challenge to give yourself when you’re 60 years old.”
Watch The Sun Go Down is a great song and something that would make a great second single. Luke says he is not allowed to say anything, but he does agree that it would be a great second single. So that’s nailed on, then.
Lying To Myself is really great, and there is some very well-fitting harmonica in there. “Harmonica is another one of those instruments I play badly but just about enough to get away with it. It’s a funny instrument because there are lots and lots of people who play it OK. I’m just another one of them. John Lennon was a very OK harmonica player. Then you have people like Stevie Wonder, who can really bloody play. My brain can’t even… I don’t even understand what he’s doing, but it’s so complex.
“But for just knocking out a tune and giving a flavour of something. I mean, Dylan is another one who will never go down as the greatest harmonica player in the world. But what he did, it complimented his acoustic guitar, and the combination of the two is kind of timeless for me. So it’s nice to be able to do that. I like the sound of the harmonica. It’s not the most popular instrument, and it’s not used that often these days. But I always enjoy it.”
I’m The One You Want is the most Thunder song on the album. There is some really cool bass lines on there, especially when playing in unison with the guitar. “I love playing the bass,” Luke says. “I really enjoy it. To me, it’s the most underused instrument in rock, particularly because it’s so easy to do the obvious thing. My favourite bass players are James Jamerson, John Paul Jones, John Entwistle, Paul McCartney. There’s always something going on. There’s always a counter melody or something interesting.
“You always notice the bass on records but not to the detriment of the song. It can be a wonderfully melodic instrument and very powerful. It’s the sort of instrument people tend not to notice until it stops, and then they go, hang on a minute. There’s something missing here.
“The thing I love about having a home studio is I can really take my time and try and find something interesting for the bass to be doing. Although on this particular song, the particular section you’re talking about is just doubling the guitar. Normally you don’t hear bass parts that quick, but it’s quite an interesting thing to do.”
The album finishes with the beautiful and upbeat mood of Don’t Be Long. It’s a lovely, poignant song. I really love the way Luke has presented the album in the order that he has across the ten songs. I think the way a lot of people listen to music these days, they really miss out on the beauty behind the journey of an album of songs presented in a certain order. Presumably, Luke would agree with that.
“Completely. I think it’s a generational thing, really. I find it really worrying if I’m listening to the Beatles and I hear a Beatles album or if I hear Beatles songs out of context in the wrong order. It makes me feel quite uncomfortable.
“So the sequence was important. If you get it wrong, people can lose their way listening to it. I think these days though, young people listen to music very differently. Their attention span is, I think, a lot shorter, and they’re less patient. I think in my generation, if we bought a record by an artist that we liked or that we kind of believed in, and then we heard the album initially and we didn’t like it, we would persevere with it for a little bit. Eventually, it would reveal itself.
“Maybe young people aren’t really like that so much anymore. I think there’s very much kind of, ‘I don’t like that, next’. I’m probably doing all young people a disservice because I’m sure they’re not all like that. But I think we live in a very, very fast world where there’s not much time for dwelling on things. There’s so much being thrust into your face that to try and take everything in is impossible.”
I say I will get in trouble with the wife, for telling Luke that she can make a judgement on a song after 40 seconds. He laughs. “One of my favourite bands is Steely Dan. The first time I heard Steely Dan, I could still remember where I was. I was sitting in a field. I was sitting at Reading Festival in 1975. John Peel was a DJ, and he played Do It Again. I just stopped what I was doing completely. It was a real moment for me. I had never heard anything that kind of cool and laid back and interesting and weird.
“But then, when I bought the album, I just thought it was quite kind of obtuse and difficult. But still, to this day, I listen to Steely Dan at least once a week. It’s the sort of music where it doesn’t reveal itself to you at first. You have to put some effort into understanding what’s going on, but it’s worth it. You get much more out of it in the end.”
While Luke mentioned preconceived ideas, I certainly did not have one. But it is an album that I really enjoyed listening to, and the thought of hearing these songs live is an enticing prospect. Songs From The Blue Room is something he should be very proud of.
“Thank you, I’m very pleased with it,” Luke says. “It’s a funny thing, people. I’ve been asked a couple of times over the past couple of weeks, do you still get excited when you put something new out. Very much so. There’s always that kind of worry that people aren’t gonna like it, or people are gonna go, oh, this is awful. There’s always that kind of slight worry, but so far, touch wood, certainly, the reaction to the first track has been very, very good. And people like yourself who have heard the album have all been very positive. So, so far, so good. I mustn’t complain.”
Luke finished with a message for the fans. “As far as Songs From The Blue Room is concerned, I really hope you enjoy it, and it floats your boat. But also, just a massive, massive, massive, massive, thank you to everybody that helped us out with Danny’s situation. Just to say that he is recovering and he’s doing really, really well. I don’t think Thunder will do much this year, but I think next year it’s definitely a possibility. I just want to pass it on from him as well, just to say thank you so much.”
Songs From The Blue Room is out on 23 June 2023. Pre-orders are available from https://slinky.to/SongsFromTheBlueRoom. More details and other merch, is available from Luke online store at https://lukemorley.tmstor.es.