“Oh we love New Zealand dude. I am not kidding. This’ll sound silly, but we’re just the biggest Lord Of The Rings fans. I’m fucking serious man. We love that shit. Seriously! We just are so in love with New Zealand because of that, we got to get there man. And yeah, it’ll be cool to play there too. We hear you guys like music…”
This is how the interview begins. These are Pedro Yanowitz’ first words. The bass-playing co-songwriter of fresh new things, Morningwood – a post-grunge/post-new-wave power-poppin’ rock combo from New York – is amped. Understandably. The group’s self-titled debut was released recently (January) in America and is now on the shelves here in Middle Earth.
“Yeah so like we’re just doing a whole bunch of press,” Yanowitz excitedly yaps. “We’re in L.A soon to launch a 38-date tour with The Sounds. And then we’re off to Europe, you know…” The wheels are fully in motion. But Morningwood are no overnight success. The launch of the album comes after what Yanowitz is convinced was “five years of incredibly hard work.”
Yanowitz was, in a former musical life, a drummer to the stars. A member of The Wallflowers, Pedro also toured and recorded with Money Mark and “all sorts of really amazing, talented people – like Natalie Merchant.” His father was a jazz pianist and composer. And he reckons that he “always wanted to move in the direction of writing songs, eventually.” At the risk of sounding both pompous and pious, Yanowitz credits September 11, 2001 as the catalyst for his change. He’s aware of the enormity of the claim but reckons that “it was just a surreal feeling [post 9/11] and you know, I just decided I wanted to do something for myself. We have limited time on this planet and all of that, so…” I interrupt, and suggest that he must have been involved with other instruments besides drums and moving towards writing and forming a band the whole time?
“Nah, you know what dude, it all pretty much just happened. I literally did just decide I was through with the drums and wanted to write songs, play guitar, play bass and make a band. So I did.”
That’s Yanowitz’ story. Then there’s Morningwood’s lead singer and co-writer, sassy Chantal Claret, who at just 23 manages to straddle the infectious pop-fun of Gwen Stefani, the dedicated grunge of L7 and Liz Phair at their finest and the art-rock pretensions of Karen O.
“Well I met Chantal in 2004,” Yanowitz recalls, acknowledging the band’s dream ‘only-in-New-York’ press-release. “Yeah, we did meet at a friend’s birthday party. And it went from there.” That friend was one Sean Lennon. “I had done some playing with Sean,” Yanowitz adds, “so yeah, I knew him from there. I really don’t know how Chantal knew him, but she did. She was at the party. Anyways, Sean asked us all to take turns singing him a song, there’s maybe 15 or 20 of us? And when it gets to Chantal she announces that she’s not a musician – but that she wrote a song when she was 15 and she, like, sings it in the shower or whatever…and she proceeded to sing this song. And I was floored. We hooked up – made a connection – right then and there. And started working together.”
Yanowitz isn’t quick to describe the sound of the band’s songs, nor the influences. He tells me that they’re “as influenced by film, literature and comedians as we are by music.” He tells me that they “love Bill Hicks!” He does announce that they like to think they “make music that is influenced by the 1900s.” Cute. But when I suggest purloined Pixies bass riffs and re-writes of Groove Armada (‘Take Off Your Clothes’ being Morningwood’s ‘I See You Baby’), Yanowitz is happy enough with my dissection. “Yeah, you know, there’s a lot of music that we love – and sure, we like those bands. We just wanted to write music and we wrote a heap of songs and we were really conscious to not choose a direction, we, you know, wanted the direction to choose us.” Another cute line. But fair enough.
Yanowitz and Claret are – as far as Pedro is concerned, for now – the band. “We’ve got a quartet for the road, four of us, including a really great drummer who I know from my days with Money Mark, he’s an ex-percussionist for the Beastie Boys, but as far as the writing and direction it’s me and Chantal.” He likes the way that works. “She’s very quick; I’m more obsessive with things. I tend to write music, she writes the lyrics. I have a vast band background, working with others. This is her first group. My whole background is music – playing. Hers is art-school. We have different strengths.” Cue third cute-for-interview line: “being in a band, for us, is kinda, you know, like being in a football team – we all have different strengths but we play together and it works, hopefully, for the good of the team.”
Cute lines aside, it seems to be working for Morningwood.