Fayetteville rockers The Inner Party are readying the release of their second full-length LP, “Darker,” and will host a corresponding release party for the record on Friday at Smoke & Barrel.
“Darker” is the band’s first album since 2015 and a lot has happened in the interim to make this record happen. The band’s bassist and co-songwriter, Dave Morris, sat down with Shindig to talk about the writing process behind the album, the band itself, influences, and music in general.
Fellow Fayetteville rockers Crash Blossom and White Mansion (who are also releasing their new EP “Everything In This Room Falls”) will open the show Friday. Admission is $5. In the meantime, make sure to check out the band’s new remix collection, “Weimar Mixes One,” and their ripping new single, the Jello Biafra-approved “Djingo Unchained,” on Bandcamp!
Well, let’s get right to it. You’re set to debut The Inner Party’s sophomore record, “Darker,” at Smoke & Barrel Friday. How excited are you guys about finishing up the album and launching it there?
We are relieved beyond belief to finally be finished with it and have it out. Our last record came out in March of 2015 and we’ve essentially been actively working on making it for the entirety of the interceding time. The concept for the record actually dates back to around 2010, and about half of the songs were written before some of the songs on The Inner Party Makes A Mess and even Degenerate Era. “To Be A Star” was actually demoed before the band even existed, but it’s drastically different now than the original demo. I kind of think of it as our “True Love Waits” (look it up if you’re not a Radiohead fan). We’ve been carrying this stuff around with us for an eternity, and the process of making this record has been difficult and painful, but the end result is worth everything it took to get. There aren’t a lot of venue options right now in NWA for rock bands. Smoke & Barrel, alongside George’s, is as good as it gets and it’s been quite a while since we last played S&B, so we’re thrilled to celebrate the release there. We are also delighted to be working with Emerg Entertainment for this show.
Crash Blossom and White Mansion will open that show. What’s your opinion on those bands?
They’re our bros for sure, though we actually haven’t played with either band before, so it’s nice to finally get to do so. We think they’re two of the best bands in NWA right now, and even if we weren’t friends, they’re the two most logical bands for us to have done this show with. It’s a good situation all around. Jacob from Crash Blossom is of course also our drummer, so yeah we’re a little partial, but we think they’ll absolutely turn some heads that night.
Tell us a little about how the band formed, the current lineup and how you guys make your sound differ from the other projects you work on.
Keith and I have been working together in some form since 1999. We met at a restaurant called Stoby’s where we both worked, and right after we met we went to Memphis to see Ween and Queens of the Stone Age play at the Apocalypse. That night we decided we were going to do some music together and here we are. At the time Keith had a band called The Proles (another 1984 reference). I was very, and I mean very, briefly a member of the Proles and that band was the precursor to the Inner Party. Most of the early Inner Party songs were also Proles songs. The current lineup came together largely because of the Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase in 2017. When we got in, we hadn’t played live in months and were very far into pre-production for this album, so when we got the nod we had to get a live band back together. I had just met Bob because of my appreciation of some of the Let’s Talk Figures stuff. His band Youth Pastor was also in the Showcase, but they got eliminated in the semi-finals and when we made it to the finals we asked him if he wanted to sit in with us and maybe get a little revenge. He’s been around ever since and being involved with him introduce us to a ton of new people, and that eventually led us to Jacob and Sean John.
What led you to music? Was there a defining moment in your life that made you realize you wanted to play music?
I think music is one of those things that a ton of people like the idea of – the whole cliche of playing to party and get laid or whatever. But more often than not the reality is a lot of not glamorous hard work and struggle, and for me that help set apart the people that truly just have to do it because it’s part of who they are from the people just trying to do it to be a rock star. We’re people that just have to do it. What set me personally on this path to ruin was getting introduced to Nirvana when Nevermind came out and later reading Michael Azerrad’s book Come As You Are – The Story of Nirvana. Kurt died shortly after I finished the book and I think that sealed my fate.
You take your band’s name from the George Orwell classic dystopian novel “Nineteen Eighty-Four,” where the Inner Party represents the top 2 percent of the political class. There is obviously a testy political climate in the United States right now. How much does politics play a role in your songwriting — both musically and lyrically?
At this point it’s kind of a mixed bag. Our music could always be described as “political” and we’ve talked in interviews before how we think we have a lot of protest songs that are at least spiritual ancestors of guys like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, even if superficially they don’t sound like it. But I think more often than not we’re making observations about society and culture than we are specifically talking about politics, though there are of course obvious exceptions. The songs “Djingo Unchained” and “Weimar” are specifically about Donald Trump, but other than that the songs on Darker are a lot more personal than our previous work, though a lot of that is kind of couched in imagery about space and sci-fi stuff, but we’ve done that the whole time, too. I feel like we’re maybe moving away from doing a ton of overtly topical songs and into more impressionistic/abstract territory, but we would never want to completely lose that ability to write commentary about what we see in society, and we’ll always write about something we feel strongly about.
How does the writing process work? Do you do most of it, or does everyone contribute?
It’s evolved over time, and if the band continues past this it will evolve some more. When we first started, Keith was the songwriter, full stop. I really learned how to write songs from him, and as I got better at it, we started playing some of my songs and started collaborating on some songs. At this point the dynamic has shifted and right now I guess I’m the main songwriter, but I know Keith has a lot of great stuff he’s working on and I’m excited at the prospect of us playing it. After our experience recording “Darker” and playing with this lineup, we also really want to try writing songs together as a band for the first time. It will be interesting to see how that works out.
How have you evolved as songwriters over the years? What’s the same? What’s different?
We’ve gotten better? I think questions like this are maybe better suited to third parties writing criticism, reviews, biographies, etc. I will say that for me personally I feel like my songs have gotten more complex musically over time, though I’d like to take a step back from that. I was the copy editor of my high school literary magazine and for better or for worse that experience has always colored how I write. Maybe it’s just my OCD, but I’m very disciplined in my use of true rhyme schemes in a style I liken to Dr. Seuss and to a lesser extent Shakespeare, though I’m obviously not as good as either of them. In the future I want to experiment a lot more with slant rhymes or having lyrics that don’t really rhyme at all or at least don’t follow a traditional rhyme scheme like ABAB or AABB.
What roadblocks do you experience when it comes to songwriting?
It’s feast or famine these days. I would say about 80% of this record was easy to write at the various stages we were working on it, and 20% of it was VERY difficult to plow through. Everyone has writer’s block at one point or another. When we were recording it I felt like this album marked the end for me as a songwriter, like I’d said everything I absolutely had to say and I didn’t have a lot left in me. Now I feel like I could easily crank out another record, so there are peaks and valleys to it.
Talk a little about the recording process. You guys went out of state to Fuse Recording in Lincoln, NE, for quite some time to write and record. What was that like?
It was a protracted nightmare, to be perfectly honest, but getting through it is probably the thing I’m most proud of doing in my life. We actually worked on this record in five different studios. We did almost all of The Inner Party Makes A Mess at FUSE with Matty Sanders and he also mixed it. We have a great relationship with him and we have a lot of friends in Lincoln, so we went back for round two. At this point Bob was a member of the band and we were working with Let’s Talk Figures, so the plan was always to record some extra stuff at the LTF studio, but that snowballed over time. We also recorded a lot of stuff in Keith’s home studio. We wanted to mix the record in Fayetteville, because between having tracks from three different studios and having a 75 minute record with dozens of instruments and players, we had a complicated mess on our hands and we had to mix it with someone we knew and trusted. We’ve done something with Chris Moore at East Hall for every professional we’ve ever done, and he had his work cut out for him in mixing this album. We think he did an amazing job and we really appreciate his patience throughout the process. We always try to do something “bigger” for each record, and this time around we wanted to get it mastered by a “big” name at a “big” studio. NWA ex-pat and Spirit Adrift front man Nate Garrett is one of my best friends and he suggested we see about doing it at the Blasting Room in Fort Collins, CO by Jason Livermore. The Blasting Room is owned by Bill Stevenson (Descendents, Black Flag) who is a certified legend, and I’ve also always been a big fan of Jason Livermore’s work. He recorded our old friends Dreamfast for their No Coast EP way back when. Anyway, I e-mailed the Blasting Room to just suss out the situation, and like 20 minutes later I got an e-mail from Bill himself. That was surreal. We talked about what we needed, etc. for a little bit and came up with a plan and a schedule to move forward. I can’t stress enough how cool it’s been working with everyone at the Blasting Room. Bill cut us a very generous break and this record wouldn’t be what it is without that studio’s involvement. Working with professionals of this caliber is literally a dream come true.
Let’s talk a little bit about Djingo Unchained, the leadoff single from the new album. I love this song. It’s a fun, churning, upbeat punk tune with great lyrical imagery. What’s this one about?
I have always been a fan of Jello Biafra-esque puns and the Dead Kennedys are a major influence on this band. Django Unchained is one of my favorite movies. We also have a kind of running mythology of using puns with the word “jingo” – see “JINGOSTAR” and “Bi-Jingo”. That originally came about from me listening to the Bowie song “After All” from The Man Who Sold the World and thinking about how the concept of jingoism is so relevant to what’s going on in our currently, highly polarized social climate, but it somehow hasn’t become one of the trending media buzz words. Anyway, mix all that together and you get “Djingo Unchained”. There’s also a strong nod to Bad Religion, like there is any many Inner Party songs. I’ve always loved the concept of thesaurus rock and I thought it would be funny to write a song about an illiterate moron with a bunch of so-called big words. Also, Jello Biafra has actually heard the song and likes it, so that’s pretty cool.
What makes “Darker” different from your previous releases?
Having 30+ people work on it other than Keith and me for sure. The collaborators evolved and improved our sound quite a bit. I feel like if you’re a fan of our previous work it’s not so different that you won’t also probably like this one, but it definitely feels like we stepped up to another level here. As far as the actual writing, there’s a lot more sorrow in the songs. The original idea behind the “Darker” concept was it would be a bit more matter of fact about the life cycle of the universe, then it was going to be more of an angry album than a sad one, but as the songs developed they became more melancholy and that’s just how it naturally worked out so we went with it.
Do you have a favorite track on the new album?
“Black Hole Era” is probably my favorite song I’ve ever written. I really like it when I can write things with multiple layers and levels of meaning for me and also the possibility of additional meanings for the listener. On the surface, it’s the most overt usage of the mythology/narrative from the popular science book “The Five Ages of the Universe” that informs the album and some of the other stuff we’ve done. It’s also specifically about me imagining what it would be like to have cancer. I wrote it while I was living in Milwaukee and attending Marquette University Law School and it’s also about my life at that time. I’m also very, very partial to “Supervoid” and “Demon-Haunted” though.
You guys just released a remix album from material from “Darker.” This is a different sound for you guys, but it’s really, really cool. What led to that? Is this just something to tide over the fans until the record is out, or was this planned as a supplemental piece to the album?
The title track “Weimar” is the only song that’s actually on Darker, and even then the album version isn’t on the maxi-single, but all of the tracks are from the same sessions. We’ve always wanted to do a remix collection in the spirit of stuff like The Cure’s Mixed Up, the Smashing Pumpkins 1979 Mixes single, and a host of things by Nine Inch Nails. There have always been electronic elements to this band, but “Weimar” is the first completely electro song we’ve done, so it made sense to use it as the catalyst for a remix collection. Plus, our involvement with Let’s Talk Figures has introduced us to a lot of vaporwave producers like PZA and Terror of Evil, and that made it easier to actually get remixes done. However, the main reason we put it out, or at least the main reason we put it out when we did with content beyond just remixes, was the desire to get the songs”Stay Together for the Cats” and “Still in the Mirror” properly released as soon as possible. They were the last two things written and recorded during the sessions, and at that point we already knew what songs we wanted on the album and it was already 75 minutes long, so we weren’t going to compromise the narrative flow and just slap them on the record. “Cats” is the most shamelessly honest and personal song I’ve ever written, and I simply needed to get it out. Also, I posted the demo online virtually right after it was recorded, and it got a lot of plays and positive responses, so I felt like maybe I was on to something with the song and needed to just get it out. So yeah it’s absolutely a supplemental piece to the album, but part of it was also having something to tide people over, since the album was already supposed to be out last November. The reason it’s called “Weimar Mixes One” is because hopefully there will be a “Weimar Mixes Two”. There are two other songs left over from the sessions that didn’t make the cut, and one of them would be perfect for a second remix collection, but we might do something else with them too.
Let’s talk influences. What musician, or group of musicians offer the most influence on the inner workings of The Inner Party?
As you might guess, there are a lot. For me personally as a songwriter I’ve been able to narrow down what I’m trying to do as something between Nirvana, Bad Religion, and Nine Inch Nails. Keith once said he’s trying to do a cross between Devo, Talking Heads, and Big Black. Then of course you have bands like the Cure and the Pixies that are very obvious influences on the band itself. We got a little bit off from this in the end, but one of the goals with this album was to make something that would have logically been released by Sire Records or maybe 4AD in the ’80s.
What are you currently spinning, music wise? Are there any new albums or artists that the Shindigmusic community should be on the lookout for?
Jacob has yet another new band. This one is called Luxembourg Trio and is led by our friend and collaborator Martin and they have a billion shows coming up and are really excited about what they’re doing. As far as what I’ve actually been listening to, I’ve been on a heavy Coheed and Cambria kick after their excellent performance at the AMP.
You’re stranded on a desert island and can only take five albums with you: which ones do you take?
I’m legit OCD and a compulsive list maker a la High Fidelity, and I’ve made lists like this a million times, but they always change and/or I never feel like I get it right. For now we’ll go with Nirvana – Nevermind (the one constant), The Smashing Pumpkins – Mellon Collie & Thee Infinite Sadness, The Cure – Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Nine Inch Nails – Year Zero, and Bad Religion – Stranger Than Fiction.
Naturally, you guys have performed an abundance of shows over the last decade and have played alongside some huge acts like Lucero, Broncho and Little Rock alternative legends Ashtray Babyhead, just to name a few. You’ve played in small rooms and large rooms and have had some pretty high-pressure performances, like this year’s Arkansas Times Musicians Showcase. So the question is which do you prefer? Playing bigger shows in larger rooms, or more intimate settings with in a smaller room? I’m sure there is something advantageous to be said about both.
The only things I really care about when it comes to shows are having enough room on stage and decent sound, and that whoever actually is there is receptive enough to what we do that we have a chance to win them over. Of course we play much better to a larger crowd, especially if they’re into it, but I’ve always wanted to be one of those bands that can kill it no matter how many people are in attendance. The best bands can play to 10 people and still make it feel like you’re watching them headline the Rose Bowl. One of my favorite stories about something like this, though such stories are legion, is the so-called “gig that changed the world” aka the Sex Pistol’s first Lesser Free Trade Hall show in Manchester back in ’76 (and no, I wasn’t even born when it happened). Hardly anyone was actually there, but virtually everyone that did was so blown away that they started a band themselves. I don’t necessary care about inspiring people to start bands, though if we do that’s great, but I do really want to have that ability to have a consistently powerful live performance that is amazing for every crowd, no matter how small.
What about recording over performing live? Which do you prefer?
There are things I absolutely love and hate about both, but ultimate I prefer recording, if I have to pick. I consider myself a writer first, and the process that allows me to do that the most effectively is recording. We’ve never been a “jam on this riff and come up with a song” type band, either Keith or I or sometimes Keith and I together write songs and demo them and then work from there. I will however say that one of the reasons we think this album turned out so well is because we brought in so many outside, new players and just sometimes gave them loose directives and let them do what they want. It’s the David Bowie school of production. I read an interview one time with Mike Garson where he talked about how he still to this day gets asked about the “Aladdin Sane” piano solo in almost every interview and that it was a great example of why Bowie was the greatest record producer, he just let his people do what they do best. That’s what we tried to do on this record, and our songs are much better for it. Bob is probably the strongest example of it, since he’s actually a member of the band and contributes extensively to virtually every song, but just about all of the 30+ people who worked on this record did something important that makes it better.
How do you feel about the internet and streaming services and its current place in music?
I feel very torn. As a child of the Age of CDs and a lover of vinyl, I think something has possibly permanently been lost in the shift away from having a physical product with a mostly defined financial value. I think this shift has made music feel more disposable. On the other hand, it’s now much easier to create and release music through conventional means, and the financial barrier to listening to damn near anything you want is almost non-existent, so that’s great. Then again, you’re more likely than ever to have to sit through ads to listen to music, and that obviously sucks and probably isn’t great for the creative soul of society. I personally feel like in addition to being a technological trend, it’s also kind of a cultural/fashion trend, and I could easily see brick-and-mortar stores and specifically CDs making a big comeback eventually. I mean, we’ve already seen vinyl and to a lesser extent cassettes rebound, although I think those sales are fueled far more by being a collectible/souvenir than the media someone actually uses to listen to music. I will say though that I absolutely love that our entire professionally recorded catalog is nice and neatly organized and available on all the current major platforms and will exist in perpetuity. Digital doesn’t go out of print, and that means there’s always potential to reach an audience.
And finally, now that the album is set for release, what are The Inner Party’s plans for the future?
That’s definitely the question. At one point we were pretty firmly set on releasing this album, supporting it with shows as long as it logically made sense to, and then calling it a day for good. Now that it’s done and we’re very happy with how it turned out, we’re a lot more optimistic about the future. Having younger, hungry guys in the band now that are really into the music also helps a lot. We’re not going to make any firm plans until we see how this release show goes and how the album is received, but it would be nice if we supported this release with lots of shows/touring and followed up with another one, but that’s a tall order and is going to absolutely, 100% be dependent on the level of success this album receives. We’ll see.