April 18 marked the eighth annual Record Store Day, highlighting nearly 1,400 independent record shops nationwide that still rock viable alternatives to iTunes and online music streaming. The event has also grown synonymous with a modern vinyl boom, as customers of all ages scrambled for new, limited edition LPs, 78s and 45s.
Utah's Eli Morrison totally gets the appeal. Records are rad and they can sound great—but they aren't for everyone. And, as a musician, he's not motivated by exclusivity.
"I think that realistically, only a very small minority have record players. I think that many people who are buying vinyl don't even use it—they 'collect' it and listen to the download card," he says. "Today, the CD format is the most accessible format for most people. Everyone has a home stereo, car stereo, TV, or even a toaster that will play a CD." With that in mind, Morrison and his current band, The Moths, have made an album for anyone who truly wants to hear the music, not just purchase a vinyl copy solely because it's ostensibly cool.
But don't mistake Morrison's pro-CD stance as a disregard for high-quality sound and aesthetics. The Moths dedicated a full year in the studio to recording Necromancy: Rock & Roll, available as both a standard edition disc-plus-booklet in paper cover and a limited-edition bonus disc of experimental music housed in velvet. Both editions are hand-stamped and numbered with wax-sealed envelopes. These external wrappings befit content whose subject matter is universally heavy. The Moths dig deep and only scratch the surface of its driving question: What is the nature of death?
Death, Morrison says, is the "drugs and rock & roll" of a familiar adage that starts with sex. It's the destructive compulsion to lust's creative compulsion, and "we seem hard-wired to swing between these two forces." The Moths addressed the sex equation on their self-titled 2013 EP before probing issues of decay on Necromancy. "When we focus on death, we can see beyond the fear, the blind survival instinct that keeps us dancing meaninglessly until we drop," Morrison says. "Reaching into death can provide a richer understanding of life as well; the 'is' and the 'is not,' and how to more successfully navigate both."
Morrison isn't so much kept awake at night by existential unknowns of the afterlife as he is fascinated by the physicality of death—the actual transformation of the body when we die. And he's curious about the ethereal space between here and there (wherever "there" might be), a sort of "beyond" he likes to channel through automatic writings (Necromancy's "Yours to Kill" is a product of this exercise).
But writing in general is just a small part of what makes The Moths' music so good. Morrison credits fellow band members Mike Sasich (guitar), Greg Midgely (keyboards), Josh Dickson (drums) and Weston Wulle (bass) for turning a "raw, uncarved block into a statue," he says, adding that they initially intended to produce a stripped-down rock album with basic rhythm-section tracking plus guitars, keys, vocals, tambourine and/or shaker. In the process, though, they identified additional elements that needed to be fleshed out through the addition of zils, cathedral bells, synthesizer, saxophones (Dan Nelson; Stephen Chai), handclaps and Death Rattles, an instrument created in conjunction with local artist Sri Whipple. "I've worked with Sri for many years now. When you work with him, you get much more than a piece of art," Morrison says. "I thought it would be a new twist for us to collaborate on an instrument that translates sound, rather than a painting or drawing, which translates light. Sri is very heavy in terms of bringing a concept through to full realization. The Death Rattles are the result of a successful experiment. They carry a very strong charge. They are used only on 'Spellbound' and nowhere else."
"Spellbound," a song about the spiritual experience of the Left-Hand Path, is a prime example of Necromancy's lush, layered production. It starts with a whisper, then launches into a relentless surge of foundational guitars, bass and drums, delaying climax until the 2:30 mark when a whirlwind of bells, whistles, Morrison's voice, female backup vocals (Lindsay Heath); saxophone (Nelson) and aforementioned Death Rattles kick in. It's intense and unsettling, but ultimately approachable. While the record deals with occult and philosophical themes, The Moths are exploring death—not death metal.
Morrison describes Necromancy as "a scorching rock and roll record" that should be filed with titles by The Rolling Stones, The Seeds, Joan Jett, Iggy Pop, Roky Erickson, The Velvet Underground, et al.
"There is an underlayer of occult spiritual information that is encoded both numerologically and symbolically within the musical arrangements and lyrics, as well as very blatantly in the artwork in the album's corresponding booklet," Morrison says, adding that a bonus disc of "Dark Abstract" experimental material is also available. "We have tried to produce an album that addresses issues that are common to all but will allow each listener to interpret this information in a way that has unique meaning for every individual," he says. "This album is a cathartic tool. It's visceral, bloody, and proud. We are peeling back the skin."