Band of the Day: Morag Tong

Way back, in the mirky expanse of time (2016), Moshville Times team member Sheggs reviewed the debut release of Morag Tong, marking the EP as sounding as if it were “full of passion”. Now, the band are on the cusp of releasing their first full-length album, Last Knell of Om, and we were lucky enough to catch up with guitarist Alex Clarke, who told us a little bit more about the band.

Where are you guys from?

The depths of Croydon, a beautiful vista of urban sprawl. It used to be part of Surrey so you know we’re posh.

How did you meet?

Alex, Adam and James (and our previous bassist, Sam) were all at school together. Lewis is the weirdo outsider: he cooked too many burgers at Bloodstock ’09 and, as the closest strangers at the time, we were obliged to help him out of his predicament. We’ve been great friends ever since.

How long have you been playing as a band?

Lewis and Alex wrote a couple of riffs together in the summer of 2014. Shortly after, we started jamming around in Adam’s shed, and Morag Tong was born. After our Through Clouded Time EP in 2016, our bassist, Sam, moved to Wales and James stepped up to the plate.

Where does the band name come from?

The Morag Tong are a guild of assassins in the Elder Scrolls universe. Our first song “The Eyes Of Men” was based on the story of the guild but we dropped any fantasy theme after that. Now it’s just a cool sounding name. It’s nice when people who get the reference talk to us about video games though.

What are your influences?

Our influences are pretty wide ranging. We tend to bring in elements of post rock, doom, drone, shoegaze, and noise in our songs. We’ve been compared to Explosions in The Sky, Electric Wizard, Melvins, and Hawkwind for our live shows. I think we’ve surprised ourselves in how varied we can be.

Describe your music. What makes you unique?

In the current scene for heavy music, the words “fuzz” and “groove” are thrown around a lot. We’ve been described as “grooveless” and “anti-doom”. For sure, we have a good dose of fuzzy distortion, but [we] try to come at it from a slightly different angle than a lot of other bands. For us, it tends to be about sonic texture rather than memorable riffs.

Do you have any particular lyrical themes?

We don’t necessarily have any overarching theme, but general awe for the universe and the natural world tend to pervade our songs.  Mankind’s place in the natural order of things, and the futility of extending beyond that place is a favorite concept of ours.

What’s your live show like? How many shows have you played?

We’ve played about 40 gigs. We try to keep a balance between playing live and writing new material, but we’ve been pretty busy touring recently in preparation for our album release. We turn up as loud as we can. We have been known to annoy sound techs in that way… A lot of our music is slow and expansive, so we want to rumble people’s eyes out of their sockets if we can.

What’s the wildest thing you’ve seen or done at a live show?

To be honest, most people watching us are baked so it tends to be pretty chilled. One time there was a weird old man who sat on stage with us and played cards with himself, then made a little plasticine man during our set. He thanked us for the show afterwards, so that was nice!

What kit do you use/ guitars do you play/ etc.?

Lewis: My main guitar is a mid-seventies Yamaha SG700 which I plug into a Laney LH50R. All my gain sound comes from driving the valves as it’s a twin channel amp. I’m not one for fuzz pedals really. The pedals I do use are mainly tone shaping stuff (phaser, ring mod, and a delay) which I use liberally for a big wall of sound kind of approach; loud with loads of low end saturation.

Alex: I play a Gibson Explorer into a Laney GH100L. It’s a single-channel amp, so I keep the gain setting low and use the guitar volume and tone controls to shape the sound. My pedalboard is split into two sections for different gain sounds: one side is just a gain booster, the other is a ProCo Rat into an EHX Big Muff. That all goes into a Boss DD-3 set to a short delay time and a Boss RV-5 that’s on pretty much all the time. We both use E-bows too.

James: I play a Rickenbacker 4003 directly through an Ampeg SVT Classic. I’ve experimented with a few pedals but I haven’t found much that improves my tone beyond what I can achieve with the controls on my bass, my amp, and by varying my play style. It is quite satisfying to be finished setting up my gear in the time it takes to throw a tuning pedal down onto the stage and plug my bass into it.

Adam: I play a Hayman Big Sound reissue. I played Sam Thredder’s (Slabdragger) one when we recorded Last Knell of Om with him and it sounded beastly. They’re mad cheap too. I play one up, one down, and have a stripped back cymbal set up. I use bog standard 14” ZIldjan ZXT hihats, nice and jangly, with 2 rides, a 21” Sabian AAX and a 21” Zildjan ZXT. My snare is a bongy as fuck old drum I got years back. It sounds like a bin with snares stuck on it. Nice.

We’ve also used a Korg Monotron Delay on the album. Those things are so much fun to play around with and they make sick old school psychedelic sweeps. Insanely cheap too, if you’re reading this, pick one up for under £30.

What, if anything are you plugging/promoting at the moment?

Our debut full length Last Knell of Om releases on 18th May. We’re playing a release show at the Black Heart in Camden on the 16th to celebrate, with support from Elephant Tree and Wychhound – it’s going to be a fantastic night! The album is available for pre-order on CD, LP, and digital download, so stick it in your ears! We’ve worked really hard on it for the last 2 years, and let our sound develop since our first EP. From the songwriting to the production and the artwork, we have something to be massively proud of.

If you were second on a three-band bill, which band would you love to be supporting and which band would you choose to open for you?

One of our major influences is Boris, and we’ve all seen them whenever they’ve been in the UK. Supporting them would be insane, and we would go down well with Boris’ crowd! We’ve recently been on tour with Tuskar, and they blew us away every single night. Heavy as fuck and they’re top mates too. They would be our opener, but they’re a tough act to follow!

If a Norse God had to take over from one band member what god will it be, what position would they be filling?

We’d go for Jormungandr, the world snake that bites its own tail. If we replaced Adam we’d just be an instrumental band from now on. Or have really muffled, tail-y vocals, I guess.

Being in a band can be as much of curse as a source of enjoyment and satisfaction. What keeps you going when things get tough?

The huge stacks of dollars we rack up from gigs, merch sales, and radio play. Admittedly we do incur expenses from buying new trousers with super large pockets to hold all the coinage. We certainly don’t blow tons on equipment and rarely get paid. Who told you that?

If you could join any band on stage for one song, who would it be and what track would you play?

“Hocus Pocus” by Focus because we’re all great at yodelling. We’ve been practicing in the shower (not together of course…)


Last Knell of Om is out May 18th and is available to pre-order here.

Morag Tong: facebook | twitter | instagram | bandcamp

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