Interview: Elizabeth Morris of Allo Darlin’
“We lost all our money on tour, but we had an amazing time and got to play our music to loads of people.” - Elizabeth Morris
There’s something to be said for the romanticism of a band touring all over the world in a busted up van, or two, and making absolutely no money. But of course that probably only seems romantic if your sitting from the comfort of your home, and happen to not be a member of the band.
However, this is the recent history of Allo Darlin’, a UK based band, comprised of drummer Michael Collins, guitarist Paul Rains, both from Southeast England, and singer/ukuleleist Elizabeth Morris, and Bill Botting, both originally from Queensland, Australia.
The group started as a solo project for Morris in 2005, before collaborating with Paul Rains in 07, releasing a cover of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City,” and expanding to its current size, following it up with the song “Henry Rollins Don’t Dance,” which can only described as a perfect pop song, in every single possible way. They then released their absolutely brilliant eponymous debut in the summer of 2010, produced by Simon Trought, continuing the trend of their ingeniously catchy lyrics and melodies, memorable instrumentals, including sharp bass lines, and the ukulele playing coyly against the drums, and not to mention pop culture references from Paul Simon to Ingmar Bergman.
I feel it is also worth mentioning they have created one of the greatest music videos of all time, for “The Polaroid Song,” directed by Jun Keung Cheung, paying homage to The Breakfast Club, only substituting Robert Smith for Judd Nelson:
We are blessed to be able to present today’s interview with Elizabeth Morris from this marvelous group.
Neotomic: From all the pictures and videos I’ve seen, I can’t help but first asking, is Bill Botting always smiling?
Elizabeth Morris: Bill definitely smiles a lot, it’s true. He just really loves music and loves playing. I only see him frown when we run out of beer. And when he gave up smoking. But apart from that, he’s all smiles.
Allo Darlin’ - Atlantic City
N: Your cover of Springsteen’s “Atlantic City” cleverly replaced harmonica with flute. What do you believe is necessary to pull of a successful cover? Should you stick close to the original or completely reinvent it?
EM: Well, personally I’m of the view that if you’re going to cover something, you really need to make it your own to be able to justify it. One of my favourite albums was that Cat Power Covers record - I love how her versions are almost unreconisable from the originals. They’re just incredible. I think my favourite on that is I Found A Reason.
N: The roughness of your first record, gives it a joyous, live sound. Do you
prefer that spontaneous, and sometimes raw recording style, or looking back, would you polish it up at all, if you could?
EM: Well the thing is we can’t go back - we were such a baby band when we recorded it. We didn’t care that it was imperfect, Simon was really trying to capture something that even we weren’t aware of at the time. We all felt pretty free and we weren’t at all concerned with what reviewers would say and so on because we were only really making it for ourselves and our little indie pop scene over here. We never, ever expected it would get reviewed on Pitchfork or anything - I think if I had known, it would have been a lot more self-conscious and it would have suffered for that. So no, I wouldn’t polish it up. We like it how it is, even though I can’t really listen to most of the songs on there anymore.
N: On your site you said in April you are going in to record your next album, and unless Wikipedia would lie, it says that it’s titled Europe. Are you approaching your new record in a similar fashion as your last, or are you headed in a new direction?
EM: Wow who updates our Wikipedia? That’s amazing, Er, yes it is going to be called Europe. And yes we start recording it next week.
We’ve been playing so much the last two years since we made the first album - we really know what kind of band we are now and what kind of band we’d like to be. So quite a few things will change. We’re going to be a bigger analogue studio to record, but we’re taking Simon with us as producer again. The songs are a bit more developed - we’ve been playing them on the road on our European tour and everyone knows their parts this time. When we made Allo Darlin’ a lot of the songs had only been written the night before and we really only learned them in the studio. Sometimes that works, and there will be a couple on this new album like that because I’m still madly writing some songs.
But I think in general we know we want more, we feel a bit more like
masters of our own destiny.
N: Since you’re gearing up for another tour of the States, just after coming back from what sounds like an exhausting tour of Europe, is touring Europe any different than America, and do you tend to have a different fan base across the pond?
EM: Touring Europe is very different from touring the States. In lots of places in Europe people who were coming to our shows had never heard of us - in little tiny venues in Italy and so on. Generally when we’ve played in the States before people at the shows will know who we are. I think the fanbase in America is a lot more broad based - I have found that Americans are so open to all kinds of music. Like we’ve played on bills with punk and hardcore bands in the States before and I totally love that. I really love playing in the States.
But any band will tell you that touring Europe is great. Lots of venues have little band apartments where you sleep after the show, and you kind of feel a bit like the Monkees. And it was really beautiful travelling around and seeing how enormous it is, how diverse the landscape is. And the food and coffee is great too!
N: Should fans expect any of your new songs from the tour to be on the next album?
EM: Oh yeah! I would expect that most of the songs we’ve been playing live will be on the album. Apart from the ones that don’t fit…
N: On our site we’ve been lobbying to make 8-Track the next vinyl. Is it possible for 8-track to ever achieve such a cult status such as vinyl, and would Allo Darlin’ ever sell their albums on 8-track?
EM: Haha! I think it’s unlikely - although I’m all in favour of making releases really beautiful and limited. I know some people say the sound quality is much worse than a CD or whatever but there is something really really special about having something you really love on vinyl. And I love how bands are coming up with more and more inventive ways of packaging them. Sometimes I have pipe dreams of only releasing albums on vinyl, but I can see that’s a bit daft aswell. That’s my artist head talking.
N: Are you one who digs through old demos of songs written months or years ago when you get ready to record, or are writing up to the day you enter the studio?
EM: Um, definitely writing up until the day. I find pressure is good for me - I was always one of those kids doing all-nighters before handing in essays or doing exams. I have never ever been able to, what’s the phrase? Time-manage? Time-something? I forget.
N: Do you write from a autobiographical perspective, or are you portraying
characters on stage?
EM: Generally autobiographical, with a bit of caricature thrown in for good measure.
N: This may sound obvious, but what do you think works better creatively, a tight commutative environment such as Allo Darlin’, or a tense competitive and argumentative one like the Kinks or Sam and Dave?
EM: I think there is something to be said for tension - a lot of great art has come from uneasy situations. In fact most of it. The best records are always the one when the lead singer’s just had their heart broken or whatever, or like those Cassavetes movies when he and Gena just remorgaged their house to finance the film. But personally, I find it much easier to play in a band with people you get on really well with, who don’t have enormous egos and when everyone is kind of working towards getting the song right, regardless of how interesting their part is or whatever. The song is the only thing that matters, in the end.
I suppose our tension comes from the fact that we’re all broke, we’re all throwing our everything into this. But if it doesn’t work, we still know we would have tried.
N: On the record I hear what sounds like influences of everything from The Beach Boys to the Velvets, but your song “Woody Allen” switches to film references, and I can’t help but thinking that some of your music sounds like some of the sunniness of the late 70s Allen films, especially Annie Hall. Does film or other media influence your music as well?
EM: Wow that’s a nice thing to say. I think film and indiepop music kind of have gone hand in hand since the beginning. You know all the indie girls have their hair cut like Jean Seberg or Anna Karina - the French New Wave has a pretty big impact on the styles of the indie kids! I think it’s a common interest for a lot of people who play this type of music or who listen to it. I don’t think I would say that film directly influences my songwriting - with the exception of that song Woody Allen - but I would say that the culture of film and making art and reading books and being around creative people does. I used to work in the film industry and I really did love it. I love cinema.
N: Annie Hall or Manhattan?
EM: Annie Hall!
24 May Vera Project Seattle, WA
25 May Holocene Portland, OR
27 May SF Popfest at Rickshaw Stop, San Francisco, CA
28 May Echo Los Angeles, CA
30 May Casbah San Diego, CA
31 May Rhythm Room Phoenix, AZ
01 June Centre for Contemporary Arts Santa Fe, NM
03 June Chaos in Tejas Austin, TX
08 June Mercury Lounge New York, NY
09 June TT The Bears Boston, MA
10 June Il Motore Montreal, QC
11 June El Mocambo Toronto, ON
13 June Schubas Chicago, IL
14 June The Bishop Bloomington, IN
16 June Black Cat Washington, DC
17 June Kung Fu Necktie Philadelphia, PA
18 June Music Hall Of Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY
P.S. Thanks again to Elizabeth Morris for the time, and the great answers.
P.P.S. That collage of Botting made for the interview was a bit creepy wasn’t it? A bit, eh? Yeah, thought so…