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Making A Big Noise Is Fun: Inside The Weird And Wonderful World Of HMS Morris

Wednesday, 26 September 2018 Written by Helen Payne

Let’s start with some advice from Heledd Watkins and Sam Roberts, who are the backbone of the Welsh-speaking, genre-melding psych-pop band HMS Morris: “Expect the unexpected.”

Their second album, ‘Inspirational Talks’ is out now, and the band, completed by drummer Alex Møller, are enjoying their time on the road after the usual bout of pre-release anticipation. So, what should listeners expect from a band with a surrealist streak a mile wide, and one that constantly seeks to rip apart and re-mould our ideas of what pop can be?

“There are a couple on the record that will blow your ears off if you stand too close to the speakers,” Roberts, who plays bass and keys and provides impossibly high backing vocals, notes from across a table outside Bristol’s Hy Brasil club. “Making a big noise is fun.” Vocalist and guitarist Watkins adds that the title track, which opens their set later in the evening, is the heaviest thing the LP has to offer. “We might scare people off, and they won’t come back,” she laughs.

In true HMS Morris style, the vibe on ‘Inspirational Talks’ is not totally consistent. It ranges from the aggressive, angular Morbid Mind through a solo piano piece called (Neutral) and some stunningly bright pop synths. It is everything you didn’t realise you needed. “I guess we’re going for how much variety you can get on one album, while still sounding vaguely like it’s the same,” Roberts says.

Something HMS Morris have done consistently since their formation in 2012 is cover heavy themes while remaining playful in their delivery. Roberts describes their debut, 2016’s ‘Interior Design’ as “relationshippy”, whereas ‘Inspirational Talks’ is more “body-imagey”. The new album delves deep into themes of the body, motherhood, and the collective strength of humanity. Tracks Corff and Cyrff, which translate to Body and Bodies respectively, are particularly personal to the singer.

“I go through likes and dislikes of my body, as everyone does,” she explains. “Cyrff is the pep-talk: you’re wonderful, everyone is wonderful. It’s positive, upbeat, trying just to realise that everything is fantastic even if it’s a little bit weird. Even if you’ve got a little bit of blubber, even if you’re stick thin. It’s all great.” Right on. From the other angle, Corff offers the other side of the coin “where sometimes you just hate your body.”

The video for their latest single, Mother, depicts each member of the band heavily pregnant while playing a show, then all giving birth during the middle eight. “It was so fun,” Watkins exclaims. “There’s a lot of concentration on women having babies while being freelancers, and sometimes men step up and do a lot of work as well. We wanted that to be obvious in the video, because we all have to deal with it.” She adds: “Women do have the tough bit at the start, but we’re all in it together in the end.”

Watkins and Roberts reveal that the initial inspiration for the song was a 13-year-old saxophonist whom they stumbled upon while on tour in Canada. “Oscar had an extremely grumpy face when he was playing, which was absolutely adorable in every single way,” Watkins says, adding: “If I was gonna have a kid, I would want my kid to be exactly like that. I was considering exploring options of how to smuggle him from Canada back to Cardiff.” Lo and behold, the track was born, spinning on the lyric “I want to be your mother, and I’ll smother you to death”  alongside choppy, heavy chords and Watkins’ distinctive, addictive voice.

HMS Morris join a healthy stream of off-kilter pop bands emerging from the Welsh capital in recent times. There’s been the meteoric rise of Boy Azooga, while Adwaith are touring with psych wizard and city centre mural star Gwenno Saunders. They also recently had their work remixed by Manic Street Preachers frontman James Dean Bradfield. On the confrontational-misfit-pop side of things, Estrons are developing a loyal fanbase too.

The size of the city helps, according to Watkins. “Everyone in that world knows each other,” she says. “It’s a nice melting pot for cross creativity.” The central hub of Womanby Street, home to a number of venues including the venerable Clwb Ifor Bach, has aided things too. When under threat last year, musicians and fans rallied around to save their creative space. “It was amazing seeing how many people were up for trying to protect it,” Roberts says.

So what’s next for the band? Naturally, they’re working on a musical theatre show in a similar vein to Gruff Rhys’s immersive, magical Candylion. Loosely based around the last track on the album, (On Our Way From) Earth, this uniquely HMS Morris production questions whether emigrating to another planet is the only way to save the human race.

Taking a dash of inpiration from the augmented 4th and vocal line in Led Zeppelin’s Immigrant Song, the musical will showcase a live band plus actors and host a narrative beat about a bear owned by Robert Plant getting shot into space. Of course it will. “We’d be in the band, but it will be quite fluid, moving from that position and doing other things as well,” Watkins says. “I’d love a choir.”

It’ll be a little while before we get to see what this new craziness looks like in person, but for now, HMS Morris’s eccentric, quirky, lovable music should be enough to keep you occupied when you feel the need to escape.

'Inspirational Talks' is out now.

HMS Morris play Swn Festival at Tiny Rebel, Cardiff on October 20 and WOW Festival at Chapter Arts on November 25.

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