Interview with Ross Morgan (Guitars/Drums/Vocals)
Michigan prog-metal outfit Holloway have recently reformed following a nearly six year hiatus, in the form of their latest album The Feeble Hearts Of Man. I interviewed their frontman regarding the rough recording process for the record, it's interesting artwork, and some book recommendations.
You’ve been out of the music scene for quite a long time, making this your first album in a while. But from what I’ve heard, it’s certainly not a rushed attempt. Tell me about your early days as an act, and how you got to this point.
No not a rushed attempt, in fact it took far to long. I put this band together around 2009 after the band I was singing in wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I had a stack of songs built up that I started recording with my brother Josh and that became the first Holloway record Illusions. We played a ton of shows and played with some big bands and sold a lot of copies of Illusions around the world via online retailers. We did some more recordings and video work, played more gigs, then started working on what would eventually become The Feeble Hearts of Man. In the middle of that recording is when things went south, so to speak. After a few year away form music I decided to get serious about finishing this album because I am just not a person to leave things unfinished, for better or worse.
For a self-released record, The Feeble Hearts Of Man sounds incredible. All of the instruments are discernible due to high production, and that really counts on such an experimental and creative disc as this one. What was the recording process like for the disc?
Thanks for saying that, we worked hard to try and have legit sonics. Josh mixed this one in his home mixing space so he deserves much of the credit in that department. The recording process for this album was, again, a difficult one. Most of it was recorded in our home studios at different times and kind of pieced together a little bit at a time, which is not a great way to work. We have a much better work flow put together now so future recordings should be a lot smoother.
Let’s talk lyrical matter. Most of the pieces here seem like veiled poetry regarding personal experiences. What inspired the title, The Feeble Hearts Of Man? Do you feel that personal experience might outweigh more fantastical topics taken from novels or movies?
Surprisingly little of the lyrical stuff is directly about me, at least to in my own mind. I guess an argument could be made about the subconscious or whatever, but mostly I am thinking about mood and characters and even just fun word play. I will say I was in a pretty dark place when I was writing the music and lyrics.
Generally I have a concept in mind for the lyrics of the album, and in this case I really wanted to delve into examining fear in its many facets. So some of the songs are about very external scary things like monsters and then others are more internal fears like insecurities and failures. Some of it has dual meanings in that regard. HP Lovecraft was a huge influence on this one.
I don’t remember exactly where the title came from, but most likely it is a reference to The Lord of the Rings, and just how deeply terrified and weak we are as a species. Plus, you know, it just sounds cool.
There’s a song called “Spirit Of The Depths” where it seems like you’re questioning God. What are your thoughts on belief, and how do they relate to the some of the material here?
Well again this is more of a character questioning God, not so much myself. I personally am not a religious person.
I had read this book about Satanism and Witchcraft and I was pretty fascinated by the thought process that, specifically, a woman would have to have to go through to actually become a “Witch”. This book was a few hundred years old and written in a very poetic and interesting way, and several of the songs are about this theme, most notably the Spirit tunes and Bride of Corinth.
I heard quite a bit of Dream Theater and even mid-era James Labrie on the disc, which isn’t something very easy to replicate. You consider lots of different influences here like Opeth, Katatonia, Metallica and even The Mars Volta. What are some of the records that you think were the biggest influences on this album?
The older I get the more picky I am about music, and so the bands I dig are less about genre and more about songs and production quality. Specifically for this album some of the bands I was coping were Megadeth, The Mars Volta, Muse, Symphony X, Mastodon, and of course all the usually suspects like Dream Theater and Tool. But hopefully it still sounds original and not exactly like any of those bands.
I’ve said before that this is the darkest record I have ever done and will almost certainly be the darkest I will ever do.
Let’s talk about the artwork as well. There are some really interesting, and some quite odd pieces in the booklet which help to illustrate every song. Who did you commission for the art and what are some of your favorite pieces utilized within it? You’ve even got a human catgirl hybrid thing, which is more up my alley when it comes to artistic ventures. I wouldn’t have expected to see that.
Very glad you picked up on some of the artwork. The artwork is done by my better-half Susan Van Sant. She is an extremely talented artist and is successful in her own right.
I usually give her a concept and maybe a few terrible sketches. Like the big direction on this one was to be all black and white charcoal drawings. I wish you could see the original drawings because some of them are truly fantastic. Then she will do a few smaller ones that I use in the layout for the lyric book. But the big pieces, I think there were maybe four, are truly astounding.
We work pretty hard to present the music with interesting and fantastic artwork accompaniment. So for anyone reading this make sure you go checkout the lyric book and susanvansant.com
Getting to the elephant in the room, what was the original incident that caused the band to break up or go on hiatus the first time? From what I’m hearing here, you’re all truly talented musicians, worthy of playing stages along with those very artists that inspired you. How were you able to pick up the pieces?
Well no one incident in particular I guess. We were working a lot on the new album and some people were contributing more than others. I had put a lot into the band and was getting frustrated. But really its just the same old story, people getting real jobs, myself included, moving on and starting families and shit. It just gets difficult to keep 4 or 5 people on the same page. I also had damaged my voice without really knowing it because I didn't have the same technical background that I do on drums and guitar, and singing hard into shitty PA’s for a few years took its toll. I did 2 years of opera lessons to recuperate and strengthen my technique. It doesn’t so much pay off on this record, but will on the next one.
Another thing to understand is on these recordings I play a lot of the stuff myself, drums, guitars, vocals, do a lot of the producing and everything too. So it also takes time for me to up my game in all those areas, and chop up and practice the parts. This time Kevin was able to contribute a ton more as a keyboardist and songwriter, and Josh took some of the drum responsibilities too. Everyone that works on these records is super talented but there is a lot of pressure on me as the main contributor. That said, there won’t be a 5 year wait until the next release this time out.
What are some of the things that you like to do when not playing music? What kinds of books or movies or games, exc. would you recommend?
Well professionally I am a graphic designer and web designer and marketing guy for a successful company, so that takes a lot of my time. And I do photography and work on videos and stuff too. My other hobby is collecting books. The book series I have been preaching the most over the last few years is The First Law by Joe Abercrombie. If you like Game of Thrones, check out this series, it is brutally funny and brutally violent and fiercely entertaining. The audio book versions are great too. As far as film that Holloway fans might like, check out a movie called “The Countess” from 2009.
Though the record has a purchase price for fans that want to donate, you’ve also offered the option for fans to download the entire work for free. Why did you decide to go with this option?
Well I guess it is just a new model of thinking in the music business. Most people are not really willing to pay for music anymore, so I guess I would rather just be able to control what people are getting and how we as a band present it with the art and everything. Then we ask people to make a contribution or buy the CD if they enjoy it, and they do. At this point I am more content just having people dig it and appreciate it than trying to make any actual money off of it. That said, if you dig it, please make a donation. Support any artist you love because its important and if no one pays for anything there will be no art left. Art, music, film, literature, these are the things that truly make a difference in our experience of the world, so don’t neglect them.
Thanks for crafting a wonderful record, which I hope gets more attention in the coming months. It’s a gem in the prog scene that I think just needs to attract the right ears. Sounds like hard work and definite skill to me.
Thanks for taking the time to listen to the record and asking such insightful questions. There’s more Holloway coming your way. Soon….