Re-Introducing: The Morning Benders
PHOTO BY BROOKE SHERIDAN
2008’s Talking Through Tin Cans may have put Berkeley’s The Morning Benders on the indie-rock map, but it is their sophomore LP, Big Echo, that has allowed the group to shed the confines of such a genre and create a sound that is distinctly all their own. Released in March on Rough Trade and co-produced by Grizzly Bear’s Chris Taylor, Big Echo features music that is significantly more experimental and complex than their previous album—richly layered, haunting melodies backing nostalgic lyrics that are significantly more mature than their previous effort. Amidst a busy touring schedule, Morning Benders’ singer, guitarist, and songwriter Christopher Chu spoke to me right before their two-night stint opening for The Black Keys at Central Park’s Summerstage.
WHAT’S YOUR HOMEBASE?: That’s kind of ambiguous these days. We moved to New York in January, but we lived here January and February then we left for tour in March and haven’t really had a chance to live anywhere since then. We like being here, so we’ll see. HOW DID YOU COME TOGETHER?: We’re all from California. I grew up in Southern California, but the band formed in San Francisco. I met Tim in Berkeley, when I was at school there. Julian grew up in Berkeley and everyone knows him there so I just kind of got introduced to him. Now Jonathan, my brother, is in the band, so obviously I knew him for a while. WHAT ARE YOUR INSPIRATIONS?: Mostly just the songs. They come out sort of spontaneously, so it’s hard to define what it was that inspired it. But, I’m really restless and after touring on the first album for a while and being with those songs, I really just felt like I needed to do something different. When I write songs, the one thing I do think about is trying not to say something I’ve already said or touch on something I’ve already done because it just feels redundant and I know it’ll get really boring when we have to play it all the time.
WHAT CHANGED YOUR SOUND BETWEEN TALKING THROUGH TIN CANS AND BIG ECHO?: We’re interested in music–a lot of different sounds and part of the inspiration behind the recording process and the sound was listening to different kinds of music. We’re in a very specific genre and era of music for the first album and focused on that, but on the second one, I think we got burnt out on it. So by the time Big Echo came around we were listening to things from all different eras. I got into all this stuff that I used to listen to that I hadn’t in so long. And that opened me up to a lot, like I started listening to a lot more R & B. WHAT’S ON YOUR iPOD RIGHT NOW?: I just discovered the St. Vincent album, Actor. I met her in Paris–we did a thing there for Blogotheque. St. Vincent came and sang a song–it’s really amazing. I don’t get into albums that often so it’s really exciting. We’ve been listening to Twin Sister a lot. In terms of the big stuff, the big albums, it’s Neil Young, Beach Boys. I’m consistently into Kate Bush and Talking Heads. HOW WAS TOURING IN EUROPE?: It was just kind of an eye-opening experience, one of those moments when you’re reminded of the fact that people are touched by your music. You go to a new place where you’ve never been and people show up and know the songs. It’s nice because it’s such a grueling lifestyle and you get caught up in the touring day after day. You try really hard to make it so it’s not routine and do something special every night, but then when we go to Europe, everything really is different very night. DID YOU CATCH WORLD CUP FEVER WHILE YOU WERE THERE?: Things timed out so perfectly. We were in the Netherlands when they won. We actually moved the time of our show there because it was during a match. WHO DID THE BEAUTIFUL COVER ART FOR THE ALBUM?: It’s our friend Hannah [Hooper] who’s from San Francisco, she’s an amazing artist. It just fit, too, really perfectly. It’s really nice to find something like that because it wasn’t done for the album, it was just a piece of hers. NEXT UP: I always want to record, especially in the midst of touring because the grass is always greener. I think we kind of have our year mapped out for us on tour. So we’re going to have a good time doing that, and next year just record as soon as possible.