Ben Morrison is no stranger to the life of a touring musician. Having traveled the world for over a decade as lead singer of modern bluegrass sensation The Brothers Comatose, Ben has taken a turn to try out some different genres and instruments. But don’t worry original fans, California-grown band The Brothers Comatose is in no way planning on ending their streak.
The Ben Morrison Band released their new album, Old Technology, on Aug. 31, sporting 10 new songs ranging from the rock ‘n’ roll “Feels like the Devil,” to country vibes in “Sugar Please,” to the heartfelt singer-songwriter ballad of “Simple Life.”
Booked for Tiny Porch Concerts’ 11th episode, the Ben Morrison Band parked their tour van outside of Moonshine’s world headquarters on Aug. 2. Clothed in vintage band tees, jeans, retro sunglasses, and statement hats, the band strolled up to our front door with a confident yet unpretentious swagger, as if to say, “We’re not here for a long time, but we’re here for a good time.” All smiles and high fives, the band introduced themselves and started unloading their various instruments to set up shop for what they do best: play amazing, American music.
Sound check has never been quite so fun on a Tiny Porch set before. Perhaps it was the band’s care-free demeanor and quippy banter, or maybe their extended introduction making up names for what the band should be called: Ben Morrison and the Somebodies, Ben Morrison and the Full Bladder Boys, Ben Morrison and the Motorboat Boys, etc. Because in reality, as with every new project, they still haven’t quite figured out what to call themselves. Whatever it was, the air about them was nothing but fun, easy, and somewhat youthful.
Joining lead singer and guitarist Ben Morrison were guitarist John Courage with his unforgettable curly hair and cowboy boots, drummer Cody Rhodes, and bassist Francesco Echo, sporting a full mullet. The band jammed to John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and, as if they wrote it, Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” then played two original songs, “Old Technology” and “Let Me Be.”
After recording the songs and walking the band down to Dark Horse Coffee Roasters to see what kind of B-roll we could come up with, I got to sit down by the river with Ben and pick his brain. We talked about his success with The Brothers Comatose, his hopes for the Ben Morrison Band, a song he wrote about a long-time stalker who finally let him go, and so much more.
Check out Ben Morrison’s upcoming show: Oct. 11 at Crystal Bay Casino
Take us through your relationship with music. Have you always been a musician? What was that initial journey like for you?
I guess it started when I was a kid. My mom was in a band and they were like these two dudes, two women, folk, four-part harmony kind of thing — cool Crosby Stills and Nash kinda stuff. And they used to rehearse around the house when we were kids, and that was normal to me and I was just enthralled with that. I would always watch them and see them rehearse. It just kinda seeps itself into your veins, you know? I think I always loved it and wanted to do that, but I think it started when there was this party that my parents took me to. I think I was 12 or 13 years old. It was a party at this recording studio in Cotati, California called Prairie Sun Records, and it was a Christmas party. And all these people showed up to jam. And I didn’t know anything about “jamming” … I saw all these people show up and make a band on the spot and play music together. That was like magic to me and I wanted to do that from that point on. I wanted to make that my thing and be able to do that whenever possible.
You’re obviously involved with The Brothers Comatose as the lead singer and you guys have been quite successful doing your thing. When did you decide to record a solo album?
I’ve been in this band a long time and I love playing with The Brothers Comatose. It’s super fun. But I guess it can be limiting with instrumentation (which can be a good thing) because it’s bluegrass instruments — you can only do so much. And I love drums, and I love more rock-type music, and you can’t quite get there with banjos and acoustic guitar and stuff like that. So, a little over a year ago, two of the guys in the band quit the band, and the rest of us were like, ‘Well, shit, what the fuck are we gonna do?’ Wait, can I swear on this? (I told him yes — art is all about authenticity, no?) Do we keep this band going? Is it time to stop for a while? Do we take a hiatus and figure it out later?
And we had just decided to chill for a few. We had been touring nonstop for almost 10 years, and so we just decided to hang out at home and see our ladies and stuff, and be normal for a little bit. It was only a few months, but we were like, this is fun, it’s so fun and we’ve been doing it for so long, and we’ve built up something as a band, whatever that is. People pay to come and see our shows, and that’s like the greatest thing ever; that’s so hard to do. And we all wanted to continue doing it. But we decided to take a little time between and wanted to take our time in finding new band members. So, I had an opportunity in that break to step out of that bluegrass genre and do whatever I wanted to do. And that is super freeing, you know, like, I don’t give a shit, let’s just mess around.
I called up some friends who play some instruments and I was like, ‘Let’s make a record.’ Called some friends and put this band together and turns out, it’s a fucking blast and super fun to play with. So now I’m just trying to do both things, which is really exciting because I think it also makes me a better musician to play with different people for when I go back to Brothers Comatose and say, ‘Cool I’ve been playing electric guitar with some other cool musicians and this is what I’m bringing to the table now.’ I’m a better guitar player than I was before, so that’s fun.
In that same vein, do you have a 10-year vision or goal of where you might be in either band or both?
Yeah, I definitely see them both working in conjunction with each other. Part of the continuation with Brothers Comatose was that we weren’t going to be touring as much as we have been in the past because, that shit’s just hard. Our fiddle player has two kids. It’s just hard to be away from family. I see the bands working together.
I get fans of Brothers Comatose coming out who don’t know what to expect — it’s way more rock ‘n’ roll or country or whatever it is than Brothers Comatose, but they still seem to enjoy it. But maybe the people who don’t enjoy it just don’t come up to me after the show and say anything. They’re like, ‘That fucking sucked, ha!’ Anyway …
Looking back at places that you’ve played — I’ve seen Brothers Comatose play at legendary San Francisco venues: The Fillmore, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass, Slim’s — do you have any highlights of some of the coolest venues or festivals you’ve played?
Hardly Strictly, by far, is the greatest time I’ve ever had on stage before. I mean, we’ve played that festival four times and that’s super fortunate, because they don’t give the local bands much love, so we’ve been lucky. We’ve gotten some really good slots too, in the middle of the afternoon looking out at 15- to 20-000. And I’m looking out in the crowd and I’m like, ‘Oh my God, that’s my kindergarten teacher there!’ or ‘I used to work with that guy at a brewery a couple years ago!’ Seeing all these people that I knew, who are out there to support you among a ton of other people, it was like the greatest moment in my musical life, I think. I’ve had a few. I also got to meet Huey Lewis who, I idolized as a child. Definitely top three in my musical life.
Well that leads me to my next question: I see you’re wearing a Doobie Brothers shirt. I’ve seen you in a Steve Poltz hat, “Poltzo for Prez,”— love that guy — do you have any musicians, dead or alive, past or present, that you really idolize in terms of music or even performance style?
Oh yeah. I mean, like I said, Huey Lewis has been such an inspiration. That guy, I remember I had tapes when I was a kid. I was 4 years old and I had cassette tapes and I had Huey Lewis and the News, a Weird Al Yankovic tape, and Stray Cats. Those were my first three tapes and I loved Huey Lewis. He was like this local legend. Well, actually he was this global legend that just happened to live in the San Francisco Bay Area. I love his voice, his songs are super cool, and then, a few years back, tying back into the Hardly Strictly thing, we were like, ‘Oh my God, how cool would it be if we got Huey Lewis to sit in with us at Hardly Strictly?’ And so, we recorded his song, “I Want a New Drug,” kind of bluegrassy style, and we sent it to him. Within 24 hours he emailed me back and said, ‘This is so awesome, I’m sending it to our social media people, we’re gonna post this video up, I hope that’s cool.’ Meanwhile, I’m like ‘What! Oh my god!’ And he’s like, ‘I’m so sorry, I’m not gonna be in town, I’ll be touring in Europe otherwise I’d be there.’ This was insane. That Huey Lewis even responded to my email within 24 hours and he’s stoked on our cover of his song.
So, I don’t know, that’s just one of those things, from a super early age — as long as I can ever remember loving music — this person that I idolized gives you some sort of support, affirmation — that’s a huge one.
Steve Poltz, honestly, you mentioned him and I honestly would’ve said his name anyway because that guy is a legend and I love him. Like, I truly love that guy. He’s one of the most joyous entertainers I’ve ever come across. Like there’s just nothing like that man — you never know what’s going to happen, you never know if like everyone in the crowd is gonna end up pants-less. And like, he might be crowd surfing in a crowd of like, 30 people. He’s a one-man band. He’s been super sweet and supportive of The Brothers Comatose and also this solo thing, too. He texts me every once in a while. [He] texted me at the beginning of this tour wishing us luck and I called him my musical Yoda, because he gives me great advice and I really appreciate all that.
Because it’s hard. I’m not trying to complain, but like, touring, it’s not an easy life. It seems like it from the outside because when you post on Instagram, you’re just posting parties and shows and everything like that, but it can be a grind. You’re gone constantly. Your relationships can suffer, romantic and friendship-wise and familial, and you get to be with friends out on the road, which is amazing, but your friends back at home assume you’re gone all the time. And it’s a bummer when your friends at home stop calling you for things, just ‘cause they assume you’re gone. So yeah, it can be hard but it’s nice to hear from people who have done it a lot and know how to do it and how it can be. It really is fulfilling. I can imagine doing nothing else. But yeah, anyway, I love Steve Poltz. What else can I say?
From your new album, what is one of your favorite songs to play?
I have a bunch that I like to play, but this one that we did here for Tiny Porch, it’s called “Let Me Be.” It’s fun because it’s kind of like upbeat, old school, kind of like throwback R&B-ish, old school rock ‘n’ roll vibes. That one’s super fun to play. There’s another one that’s called “I Hope You’re Not Sorry” that’s fun to play too, but that one’s more fun because I get to tell the story behind it.
That was going to be my follow up question: How did that song come to be; how did that scenario even happen? It’s a hilarious song.
Ha, oh shit. Yeah, well, I had a stalker for a long time. It went on for at least a few years. And, you know, it was kind of funny. I laughed it off for a while. Then she like started driving by my house all the time — like, a lot. And like, slowly and creepily. Then I started telling people about it and they were like, ‘Oh man, that’s pretty weird.’ And I was like, ‘Oh is it? Yeah, I guess so.’ ‘Maybe you should report that to the police, man.’ ‘Oh, damn. OK.’
So I reported her to the police and people were kinda trying to warn me about her. I was never really worried that it was an issue, or that anything bad was gonna happen. And some weird stuff happened on social media and stuff like that, I don’t wanna get into it, and then one day she stopped coming to shows. And I would look out into the crowd looking for her. And it was funny because part of me was like, ‘What did I do wrong?’ I don’t know, you start to get bummed out and think, ‘Was it me? It’s gotta be me.’ It was kind of a bummer, it’s like getting dumped and you go into this depression and start asking all these questions like, ‘What did I do to end this relationship?’
And then I went out on tour to the other side of the world, this is 100% true, by the way. To back up before this tour thing, I started writing this song and thought, ‘Oh it’d be kind of funny to write this song about a stalker that stops stalking you,’ like a true story of this thing that happened to me.
Then we go on tour to this place, on the other side of the world, and we’re hanging out after this festival with all these musicians at a bar, and became quick buddies with this guy who was playing and he was like, ‘Oh man, we should be friends on Facebook,’ and I was like, ‘Ok, cool.’ We get out our phones and he types in Ben Morrison and he said, ‘Oh my God, we have a mutual friend.’ And it was my ex-stalker and he was like, ‘I have to show you something.’
He starts flicking through all these messages that she had sent him. And so, it perfectly coincided: She had moved on — this is like the new boyfriend, you know? She started stalking this guy instead of me and I thought, ‘Well at least he’s cool, you know? At least the new boyfriend’s a cool dude. You guys have fun with your new relationship!’ And I told him, I’m like, ‘Dude I’ve been working on this song about this thing, and now I’ve got the bridge to my song, this is so fucking perfect.’
And so, it kinda worked out. The story makes the song, but I worry that she’s going to hear it and either be bummed out or maybe start stalking me again. I don’t know how it’s gonna be taken. I’m not sure. So, anyway, that’s the story behind that song.
Those are all the questions I have. Is there anything else you want to add?
Well, this river is pretty damn beautiful.
FEATURE IMAGE: Ben Morrison and John Courage from The Ben Morrison band grace our stage in Tiny Porch episode 11. Photo by Wade Snider