Singer/songwriter Morgan Christopher Geer has one of the more unique stories I’ve recently heard. Originally, from the San Francisco area, Geer is the son of a California mushroom farmer and a New Orleans folk singer. Formerly a member of Asheville, NC-based Americana band the Unholy Trio and a few other bands, Geer ran into Tom Waits while at a fish market in Sebastopol, CA and had a conversation about life and art with the legendary singer/songwriter that was so revelatory that Geer not just to finally do it on his own, but may have helped inspire what may arguably be his most unabashed honest, funniest and sincere effort to date, Into the Missionfield early last year.
Just as 2012 came to a close, I had an opportunity to speak to Geer about one of my favorite albums of last year, Into the Missionfield, his influences and several other topics. If you were to listen to Missionfield and checked out the Q&A below, I think you’ll find Geer to be a charming rogue. Check out the Q&A below.
Photo Credit: Julia Oliver
Drunken Prayer at the 2012 Wildwood Music Festival. Photo Credit: Chad Lanning
WRH: You come from quite an artistic background – one of your parents was a folk singer and another was a farmer. How has that influenced your own artistic pursuits?
MCG: I never knew my dad as a child but my mom, besides being a great musician, was and is an avid music fan with great taste and high, critical standards. She’s pretty vocal about why something’s good or sucks.
WRH: When did you realize that you wanted to get into music?
MCG: Well, I come from a musical family so there was always singing and playing going on. I do remember one year the choir I was in as a child, recruited an electric bass player to join us. I loved the sound and the power. On the ride home my mom asked if I wanted one and I was terribly excited by the idea that I could maybe do that.
WRH: Who are your influences?
WRH: Who are you listening to right now?
WRH: How would you describe your sound?
MCG: Ecclectic. I mean there’s definitely a rootsy vibe to the whole thing but Drunken Prayer has always been a vehicle for me to play and write without regard to genre.
WRH: Like a lot of solo artists, you started off being and working in a band. How did that come about?
MCG: I love playing in bands, I wish I had one now. It’s hard to convince 3 or 4 other people that your vision is worth sacrificing for though. Every once in a while the stars align and I find myself playing with a solid, if fleeting, group. That usually happens in Portland, Oregon. On the East coast I play stripped down or totally solo. Going back and forth keeps it fresh.
WRH: You’re now recording under the perfectly suited name, Drunken Prayer? How did you come up with that? Was it something you came up with and it immediately felt right?
Ah, just word play. I hear band names all the time in conversation, or perfect memoire titles for friends. They’re usually pretty sarcastic. I amuse myself doing mundane things by coming up with goofy rhymes and songs. That’s how “It’s Christmastime” got written. Once the lyrical ball gets rolling it’s hard to stop, no matter how inane.
WRH: Generally speaking writing and recording in a band by it’s nature is collaborative. Was it liberating to write and record songs as your particular vision dictated? Or was it more difficult?
MCG: Yeah, totally. I’ve rarely gotten the chance to truly collaborate though; I mean songwriting wise. I’d love to find my John Lennon or Keith Richards but that’s not the kind of thing you can look for on Craigslist. Sometimes I think about going all Prince and playing everything myself but I like the chemistry of playing with other people, they always bring something unexpected to the table.
WRH: On Into the Missionfield, you play a great deal of the instruments and I’m sure that it helps that the material is comprised of basic arrangements – vocals, acoustic guitar, maybe some drums here and there. But as an example, on “There Ain’t No Grave,” it’s pretty obvious that you’re backed by a bunch of musicians. When you’ve enlisted others to assist, did the writing and recording process become collaborative, where others added to your ideas?
MCG: Not collaborative in the songwriting or the arrangements really but definitely in style and feel. When I’m looking for musicians to play with, chemistry is more important than technical ability. That said, I’ve been blessed with some of the best players I’ve ever heard.
WRH: If I’m not mistaken, your latest album was written and recorded in fits and starts over several years. Did you write and record the songs in order or was it more of a haphazard (for lack of a better word) process where songs were in various iterations until they were finished? If so when did you know when you had something finished?
MCG: It was haphazard at first and just not clicking. It’s rough when you have a song nearly finished in the studio but you can tell that it’s not living up to its potential. A few of them were like that. So I did what I usually do and that’s shake the whole thing up. I ended up going to a different studio, turning a few things upside down and sure enough the record started to click.
WRH:In my mind, as much as the songs on Missionfield are a howl of pain, there’s a bitterly tragicomic sensibility at the heart of the album. Was this subconscious or was it intentional?
MCG: If you look close enough you can see the absurdity in almost everything. Plus I have a foul sense of humor. And, like I said earlier, I compulsively play with words so those two factors are what shape most of my writing. It’s hard to say which is which; I think the subconscious informs the intent.
WRH: “Balloons” is a track that contemplates religion in a rather unique way. And other songs contemplate relationships and other things people deal with on a daily basis – or they’ve considered it at some point. How much of the material on the album is based on your experiences and those of others you know?
MCG: I think they’re ultimately about me and my relationship to the world but I have a sometimes overwhelming empathy for the people and situations I see around me. I’m often walking in other people’s shoes.
WRH: You’ve been an independent musician for quite some time now. What advice would you give to aspiring musicians?“
MCG: Keep your standards high and your expectations low. Read Lester Bangs.