Tuesday, March 3, 2009

My Own Private Idiocy - An Interview with Sightings' Mark Morgan

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Awesome drawing I did of Sightings.

Sightings are in my opinion , the most exciting thing going in music today.
Their music is often called difficult , and I suppose it could be , if it weren't so fuckin' groovy. Sightings take ugly , austere and often alienating sounds and distill them into something beautiful , sexy and almost soothing. It's like alchemy , with every essential element being in perfect balance.

They are the only band I've ever where multiple couples in the crowd were making out against the stage (What was up with that anyway? Too much fucking PDA Montreal , too much PDA.) It was kinda fuckin' gross.

I headbanged so hard at one of their shows that I cut my forehead on the monitor , but who fucking cares? Sightings are worth some bloodshed and memory loss.

I emailed back and forth with their guitarist/vocalist Mark Morgan and this is the result.



Chloe : I read in an early interview that on hearing Sightings your mom said “It was more musical than I imagined.”
Were her expectations based on previous projects you had or on something else?

Mark Morgan: I think it was based on the fact that my practice space (i.e bedroom) was directly above the kitchen when I was in high school so when mom was making dinner, she'd often be subjected to my haphazard guitar playing. Or she would be subjected to me yelling, "GODDAMNIT, I FUCKING HATE THIS THING!" Sometimes I'd be playing rather loud and I would occasionally hear, "MAAAAAAAARRRRRRRK, TURN THAT DOWN! YOU'RE KILLING ME!"

So, her early exposure to Sightings probably sounded more musical to her than my bedroom guitar journeys because I managed to bullshit my way into being in a band with two other people who have a bit more skill than myself. May I point out that since the interview you quoted took place, I recently cued up our "Electrician" cover for mom thinking that maybe this would be something she'd sort of "get." It takes awhile for the guitar to come in and when it did (mind you, it's not a particularly abrasive tone), she asked, "that's you, right? why do you do that?"

C: So , why DO you do that?

MM: It's in the DNA. I just feel compelled.

C: How haphazard would you say your playing is nowadays compared to then?

MM: Definitely less haphazard. It'd be quite an achievement to not improve in some manner after 18 years of playing.

C: Speaking of chance , how much of your sound is born of the equipment you use? Did you have a sound in mind , and build your arsenal accordingly or was it a more organic thing where you used the gear that was readily available and crafted the sound from what you had on hand?

MM: The idea of chance in regards to a finished tune is going to vary from song to song. Most stuff is set in stone with all the turns and stops-or lack of them-and others not so much. One or two of us might always be improvising at certain moments within a certain song but someone else will have a locked in part to give the song some sense of having an anchor. And even within that element of improvisation, I generally feel there's always a certain sense of, ya know, "this is a song." Take "This Most Real of Hells" for example as it's one of the more random sounding recorded tunes in the last few years. There's no way that song will ever be played the same way twice but it's always kind of...the same. This is a result of the fact that Jon's drum part does not change and Richard and I are still always playing the same type of patterns. Where the breaks appear is going to vary but I'm assuming anyone with a familiarity with that song would know what it was on any given night we play it.

In regards to my sound, I guess I had some general sense of wanting a tone that was exciting to me. I don't think I ever acquired a pedal with the mission of "I need that early 80's compressor sound" or "I need something that will allow me to effortlessly sound like Jimmy Page." All the effects acquisitions are just randomly finding stuff through friends or stores or whatever. When I first started I had a pretty standard fuzz, one delay and a wah wah. I got bored after awhile and started finding other pedals that I could use in conjunction with what I already had and it built from there into pedal chain eternity. I sometimes feel like a goof for having 8 or 9 pedals and then I'll occasionally see some dude who looks like he jacked a Guitar Center. At that point, my excesses don't seem that excessive.

C: I see you many of those guitar center jackers , and I always wonder how they remember all their settings for each song.
it’s like abstract math.

You know , when I watch you play I can not understand AT ALL what you are doing . In fact , and please don’t be offended by this , the first time I saw sightings I almost seemed as if you were touring your guitar , rather than playing it. Yet the sounds were consistent with the album.
I think it was one of the more mysterious things I’d ever seen in a live music context

Care to share the how and why of your playing style?

MM: Probably the biggest influences on my playing style is sheer fucking laziness and to a slightly lesser degree, a certain level of retardation in grasping basic guitar technique. In the beginning, I took lessons for about nine months when I was in high school and I absolutely loathed the idea of having to practice for hours upon hours to become even moderately competent. Pathetic, right? Anyway, while attempting to learn whatever song I had to play for my teacher, I'd end up spending more time trying to make some horrifying sound come out of my tiny Hondo amp with no effects pedals. It wasn't necessarily that I had formulated some belief that noise was king but rather this just seemed the easiest route to auditory satisfaction.

C: Do you consider yourself a stubborn person then?

MM: For the most part I would say that I'm not stubborn. Generally pretty easy going. Or so I claim.

c: Well then I guess we can all be thankful for your teenaged walk on the the stubborn side.

Do you feel like the music you make follows a certain tradition?

MM: Yeah, definitely. Wait, do you want me to speak for my own stylings or the band in general?

C: Let’s hear about both , where do you place your playing and your band within musical tradition?

MM: I always hate trying to figure this shit out. It's not that I think we're unclassifiable but rather there's been so many things that have had an effect on me personally that it's hard for me to sift through my mental files. You tell me.


C: Well I hear echoes of Brainbombs and Royal Trux in your early stuff......

MM: I like Brainbombs and Royal Trux but I'm not sure if they ever had a serious influence on us collectively. A problem for me in sorting this out is that there are things that I'm into that may have influenced me but there is also music I love that I'm pretty sure has never filtered down to my playing because I'm either too incompetent to integrate that style or I just merely have no desire to do so. Making something sound like say, Throbbing Gristle, pretty easy. Making something sound like
George Jones, pretty impossible (for me) but would I want to anyway?

Two big things for me early on in the band were Fushitsusha and crappy punk rock of the Killed By Death variety. Keiji Haino's guitar sound and playing was crucial but I also had a desire for more traditional/forward motion. Also, the idea of garbage can production was a big thing. Take that Sick Things record for instance. If they went into some big studio and laid the tunes down, it would definitely not have had the same impact as the 4 track (or one track?) stuff they ended up doing. Of course, there's tons of other records/bands that have inspired me too but do we really need a list?

C: What about current music ? Do you feel Sightings are part of a movement or scene right now?

MM: As far as being a part of a scene or movement, god, I hope not. There's probably nothing worse in a rock interview than some yahoo talking about how his band dwells alone in their own little sonic temple but I'm going to have to be that very yahoo. Sure, there's current music I like and all but I genuinely feel that I haven't seen a band that's quite like us (may the reader decide if that's good or bad)and I'm just more into particular, individual groups that do whatever it is they gotta do and aren't completely beholden to a genre-OK, not always true but whatever. For instance, most noise bores the crap out of me but then when I see someone like Aaron Dilloway play, I'm truly inspired and moved because his music consistently delivers the frayed and tattered goods and there's always an amazing sense of dynamics. Yet, what I'm involved with and what he's doing are pretty different things.

In the end, I've never felt comfortable with gang/group mentalities even though I consider myself a fairly sociable guy. Maybe it's some only child shit on my part.

C: I’m not an only child but am loath to be part of any group or club myself. *shivers*

What current stuff are you listening too these days ?

MM: This isn't all hot off the presses (man, that's going to be a total old man saying in a few years) stuff but some fairly recent releases I've liked are the recent Animal Collective record, Nyogthaeblisz , Group Inerane , Group Doueh and random stuff on Raster Norton. The last No Neck show I was was pretty awesome.

C:“Hot off the presses”.... Do you have any concern that many kids *already* don’t know what that means today?
An article that CBC ran about a year ago said that 48% of teens in the US didn’t buy a single cd in 2007.

MM: Well, less merch sales for us. Doesn't help our tour finances.

C: Are Sightings planning on touring in 09?

MM: I'd like to go back to Europe in the fall. We shall see.

C: Lots of bands I know prefer touring Europe to North America , what’s your prefrance and why?

MM: Europe. Why? More money, more castles (I’ve never actually seen a castle in Europe but I like the possibility that we might actually drive by one), better food and hospitality, accents and learning how to say “thank you” in 15 languages.

The only advantages that I see in touring North America is that we get to use our own amps and we have more friends to catch up with.

C: Do you personally and/or does Sightings as a group have any specific tour rituals/routines?

MM: Shitloads of coffee (the best coffee shop I've ever been to on tour is Phil's in the Mission in SF. Unbelievably fucking mindblowing stuff; even cheap ass Richard was willing to pony up 4 bucks for one cup).

We used to go to Cracker Barrel a lot until we got vibed out of one in Vicksburg, Mississippi.

C: What happened ?

MM: I kind of have no idea. After 15 or 20 minutes of no water, no waitress and no "hello", we just said "fuck it" and left. Also, I vaguely remember a few fellow customers (although, could we have been considered customers when no transaction between us and Cracker Barrel Inc. took place?) kind of staring at and checking us out which is utterly confusing because we’re just three dumb ass white guys in t-shirts and jeans. It wasn’t as if the Why Be Normal Brigade sat down and started loudly discussing the pros and cons of daily self administered enemas.

C: You were mentioning a few weeks ago that you guys are recording in March— what are the release plans??

MM: Oneida's label Brah stepped up to the plate but I'm not sure what the release plans are. We'll record in a few weeks and after that, I'm staring into the void of "no clue". Fall release at the earliest.

C: Do you have any other musical plans/ projects on the horizon?

MM :I have this other band called Key To Shame which is me and my buddy Pat. We both play guitar and just make it up as we go along each time we play. We've been doing it since the summer and I think we've recently achieved some kind of musical cohesion. Probably will get out a record at some point.

C: How do you feel about the future?

MM:The future of the of the music I'm involved with? I can't predict, just hope it continues to feel rewarding

The future of the world? It's probably going to suck. Hopefully they can save some electricity for us.

C: what inspires you?

MM: Women, communication (or lack thereof), good music and my own private idiocy.

C: Are you satisfied?

MM: I just took this test and this is what came out:

"Thanks for taking our quiz.
Unhappy people often score in this range. A score in this range means that changes are needed. If conditions are improving and the person is starting to meet his or her goals, this level of dissatisfaction may not last long or may not be of concern. However, scores in this range that persist over time often point to substantial unhappiness."

I think I'm making the changes that are needed though.


  1. I love that drawing, this interview, and the band. Thanks for doing this!

  2. i would like to know what 8 or 9 pedals that he has in his set-up.

  3. I like how you put links for everything. Now i'll have something to do when i go to SF. lol!

    Superbe job with this interview.

  4. Swell read. Sightings has the practice space right across the hall from us. I'm always scared to knock on the door and say hi. I've stood in the hall like a creepy dude and listened many a time.