Exclusive Interview: Mortal Chains talk writing and recording their self titled debut EP!
After the thing of beauty that was last weeks first interview with guitarist and vocalist Martin Elliot from Mortal Chains, it’s time for the sequel. Unlike the kind of nonsense that Hollywood might have us paying big bucks to watch at the cinema, this summer blockbuster is worth it’s weight in gold as we discuss everything from gear to Rocking Horse Studios and cover songs. What more could you possibly want? Well… an ice cream is always nice! [unless you’re lactose intolerant ~ Ed]
How did your previous experiences writing and recording help to smooth the path for your self titled EP? “In terms of writing, everything except the drum parts of these songs was written before I formed the band. My initial experience was in cowriting songs with my previous band. When that came to an end I had the riffs I’d contributed but no complete songs, so I arranged riffs I’d written for that band into the first couple of Mortal Chains songs and went on from there. One of those songs being These Mortal Chains from the self titled EP, the other will be on our next EP. In specific relationship to the EP, having lived with these songs for quite a while means I had a very clear vision of how they should sound and feel. I’d recorded guitar and vocal demos at home but that was a world apart from the studio recording, which I had no previous experience of. Ross had no recording experience either and Alex’s previous experience was very different to the EP session. The songs were very well rehearsed prior to recording though which made a huge difference on the day.
We filled in at short notice for bands hit by covid a couple of times – the EP recording took place directly in between our second and third gigs. In fact I went all out on the vocals leaving nothing to spare, knowing we didn’t have a gig coming up, then got a message the next day asking if we could fill in at a gig four days later! I went through a LOT of honey that week but got my voice back in time for the gig!”
How does the writing process of a new track start? Melody, riff or rhythm first? How does it evolve from there before you consider it the finished article? “A new song starts with an initial riff, usually it’ll either be the intro or the first verse. I’ll come across a riff during practise at home. If I’m still playing it a week later it’s probably worth keeping! (The one exception really being the intro of Prophet’s Eyes which started life as an expression of grief when my dog died – I think of her every time I play it) I transcribe the riff, figure out parts for second guitar and bass and then keep playing it until I find the next riff. And so on until the music’s complete. I was writing lyrics years before I started writing music so once the song’s complete musically I go through my saved lyrics until I find the right one. I make changes so the lyrics fit the music (never the other way round) and… that’s it! I then record a guitar and vocal demo at home which Alex will use to work out his parts”
You recorded the EP with Neil Combstock at Rocking Horse Studios. What was it like working with him and how did you come to choose him for the role in the first instance? “We rehearse at Rocking Horse Rehearsal Rooms in Durham which is run by Neil and Rich Combstock. They’re always great to deal with so recording there was always a probability! We found the rehearsal demo recording enjoyable enough which sealed the deal. Neil’s production experience is extensive, taking in everything from death metal bands to orchestras so we were absolutely confident in trusting in his direction. Alex was in one of the rehearsal rooms, Ross and I were in the control booth with a CCTV feed and talkback mics for communication. The setup was great – we essentially played “live” but were able to hear ourselves and each other clearly without headphones. Neil tells us that every band he records wonders why every studio doesn’t work this way! We got most of the songs down in one or two takes. Neil was always on hand but never made us feel pressured. We were well rehearsed and comfortable so the whole process was easy and enjoyable. I’d recommend Neil to anyone!”
How did letting bassist Ross handle the lead vocal parts on “The Bringers of Despair”? “Ross first took lead vocal on a cover of Behemoth’s “Ov Fire and the Void” we rehearsed a few times with the first Mortal Chains line-up, and from there he took a few verses on different songs. With The Bringers of Despair centring on the bassline it seemed fitting that he take lead vocal on the song. His vocals are elsewhere on the EP too but our voices have a similar dynamic so it might not be obvious to outsiders. Actually, Ross has stopped doing vocals since for one reason and another so I’m on sole vocal duty. That being said it’s great that he has his vocals on this EP for posterity”
For us gear nerds out there, can you tell us what you’re using gear wise (pedals, strings, drums etc) to get your sound? “Who doesn’t love talking gear? Here we go…
He borrowed a snare from the studio for the recording but doesn’t recall the brand!
Yamaha BB235 5 bass
Darkglass Electronics Alpha Omega
Ashdown Little Giant 350 amp (DI into studio console)
Martin (deep breath…):
Jackson Pro Series RR24Q Rhoads Laney Ironheart IRT120H Amp (rhythm tone comes solely from the amp, no distortion pedals used) Laney Ironheart IRT412 Cab D’Addario NYXL Strings 10-52 D’Addario/Planet Waves Cables Dunlop Jazz III Picks
Front of amp: TC Electronic Polytune 3 Jim Dunlop Cry Baby Classic Wah GCB95F TC Electronic Spark Booster KMA Machines Fuzzly Bear Fuzz
Effects loop: TC Electronic Iron Curtain Noise Gate Greenhouse Effects Sonic Orb Phaser Electro-Harmonix Canyon Delay DigiTech Polara Reverb
All of the pedals are powered by two T-Rex Fuel Tank Jr, on a Pedaltrain Classic Pro. It’s a big board but I’m no good at tapdancing especially while screaming at people so I like a spacious board or I’m constantly stomping two pedals instead of one!”
What difference would it make to you as a band if you could land an endorsement from a gear manufacturer? “I suppose the difference would depend on the nature of the deal! If the opportunity came up it’s definitely something I’d consider. I’ve been playing Jacksons for the last 17 years and absolutely love them. The Ironheart just sounds beautiful for metal, I completely fell in love with the tone the first time I played through it. I stand by all of the equipment I use. Ross and Alex feel the same about the brands they use. So it’s definitely something we’d be open to”
“Self Titled” by Mortal Chains is out now and available over at bandcamp.