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20 years on from the release of their seminal 'Among Majestic Ruins', Comrade Aleks talks to founder member Jeremy Peto about the history of Morgion.

Interview with Morgion.
"I started this interview in late 2017, as twenty years ago (well, 21 now) one of the most significant Death Doom works of the '90s was released - Morgion's 'Amongst Majestic Ruins'. Maybe it wasn't as gorgeous as the follow-up 'Solinari', but for sure it was (and still is) an important album, a new chapter for the American scene. Europe had its Peaceville Three, but without the dedicated support of a similar label it was difficult for Morgion: still, they managed good results during the first seven years of existence, with not only three minor releases but also their first full-length work. 'Amongst Majestic Ruins' was recorded by Rhett Davis (drums), Dwayne Boardman (guitars), Jeremy Peto (vocals, bass), Bobby Thomas (guitars) and Ed Parker (keyboards). Yes, an official keyboard player in the band guaranteed an atmospheric sound, as two guitars usually provide enough heaviness and melody. However, the Death Metal elements played a big role in Morgion back then, so the band did sound really extreme when necessary. The album wasn't a perfect example of Doom Death, though it left its mark on the dusty pages of Doom Metal history. I love the opportunities which the internet grants, where you can sometimes find the right person to tell you about periods in the scene's history which you didn't previously know. I contacted Jeremy Peto himself, and as a result we have this in-depth retrospective interview. Welcome to Morgion's dark realm!"

Talking to Aleks today: Jeremy Peto.

Hi Jeremy! Twenty years ago Relapse Records released Morgion's full-length debut 'Among Majestic Ruins', what do you feel concerning this record? Have your feelings towards it changed through the years?

Hello. Well when A. M. R. was recorded it was recorded as a promo demo at the time. It wasn't until a short time after it was recorded Relapse had gotten a hold of it and contacted me and wanted to release it as it was as our first official release. At the time we were all on board with it to get it out. For the cost to record it, it wasn't a bad recording at all. But.. even still to this day myself personally I hate(d) the guitar sound. It was NOT our sound. If it had the guitar of Solinari I would liked it even more. But as for the songs, I think it still holds up even now.

What was on your mind when you created Morgion? What kind of qualities did you want to see in your band, and can you say that every element of this vision was fulfilled in 'Among Majestic Ruins'?

When we started we were heavily influenced by Autopsy, Entombed, Paradise Lost etc. I think we all had the same idea of wanting to be more like the euro death metal bands. They made more of an impact on us the most US death metal with the big exception of Autopsy. But coming into a different phase from the demos and 7'ep we started wanting to have more of DOOM mix into our sound than previously even though early on there was still traces there. Just needed to hone that in a lot more, adding more dreary harmonies and the addition of keyboards to bring the depth out.

So to answer your question did we fulfill the elements we wanted achieve? Well.. I think we were on our way to do so.

Morgion: 'Among Majestic Ruins' line-up.

How did you search for this proper sound in the studio, working on Morgion's first song? Did you feel some kind of responsibility? Was it a task to one day make a record of a higher level?

Well the proper sound started in our rehearsal room and in the process of writing those songs finding the right studio and engineer to help project our sound onto the recording was the task and with Solinari I think we were very pleased.

It's said that the album was actually recorded and mixed at Jim Barnes Audio Productions in July 1994: why did it take three more years to finally have it in physical format?

Yes it was recorded in mid '94 and I was saying previously we recorded it as a promo demo to shop to labels to try and get picked up. It was a while before relapse heard it and wanted to release it as is as under a licensing deal we had not signed any contracts other than to license the release of A.M.R at that point. So then they had to work on fitting it in to a release date schedule and get the art work prepared so they could send of to be pressed and printed.

Morgion full-length discography: 'Rabid Decay' (Wild Rags, 1991), 'Among Majestic Ruins' (Relapse, 1997), 'Solinari' (Relapse, 1999), 'Cloaked By Ages, Crowned In Earth' (Dark Symphonies, 2004).

Relapse was already a big label back then - how did you work with them? Did you feel that you'd entered the professional Metal scene?

Yes Relapse was quite big then, they definitely helped push us. In hindsight the were not the best label for us. I think we needed to be pushed more to the European market they were all a great bunch of people to work with, but I think they had a lot of other releases and bands they were more focused on at the time.

The album was released in 1997, yet you already had two demos and the EP 'Travesty' in Morgion's discography. How did you spend those first seven years as the band? Did you get recognition after the release of 'Among Majestic Ruins', or was the band already well known by then?

Well in the beginning we recorded the Rabid Decay demo in '91 and then started playing a lot! And back then it was a different time. You didn't have the internet. Everything was done through the post. We along with all the bands back then would submit demos to fanzines and in trade would supposed to get a copy in return. And we would also make ads for our demo and stuff the envelopes when sending out tapes or writing to other bands or people in the scene and then they pass around the ads amongst others, so they'd circulate in the underground. That helped a lot, along with playing out as much as we could. But when A.M.R. was released we then started playing festivals which gave us more exposure and got the momentum going.

Morgion - 'In Ashen Tears (Thus I Cry)':

During that period the Peaceville Three already started to change their styles, trying new methods to express themselves. How would you describe the Death Doom scene in the US in the mid - late '90s?

It seems that back in that time the Doom/Death era was very small in the States. We payed more close attention to our peers abroad. I think I could recall only about four others that I knew of, not saying there wasn't more but that scene was way more popular in Europe than the states.

By the way, what do you think about the local scene growth and popularity? Was it possible to get wider exposure without a big label behind you? How often did you play tours having only 'Travesty' and 'Among Majestic Ruins' in stock?

Sadly as of now I don't attend as many gigs as I used to. I have kind of turned into a hermit these days, though I'd really like to force myself to go to gigs more often.

But back then we'd play a lot in the beginning and then tone it back for a while so people didn't get burned out on seeing us. We didn't get to tour as much as I'd have liked. Festivals were always fun you could fly in for a gig and go back home the next day and be able to play significantly further territories.

Were these festivals some big events? What are your memories of these shows?

We played the '97 and '99 Milwaukee metal fest along with '99 March metal meltdown in Asbury Park NJ. And in '00 November to Dismember Fest in California. Though in '99 when "Solinari" came out Relapse submitted us and a couple other bands for the Dynamo fest unfortunately the committee chose the other 2 bands. That was a very big let down for us as I recall because I think doing a European fest of that magnitude then quite possibly could have opened more doors for us into the European market and possibly other big festivals there.

It seems that Morgion's second album 'Solinari' only strengthened the band's positions on local scene. What was your goal when you entered the studio to record these songs? What were your requirements for the band's sound?

When we started working on Solinari I think we took the approach that we wanted this release to be extra special. As this was an album we wanted to hear that noone else had written. An emotional roller coaster with lots of climax and then into a dismal abyss. We worked a lot more on the dynamics of our playing volume control.

It helped a lot when found the guy we recorded it with. Schnebi. He was no stranger to recording heavier sounding bands such as The Melvins The Obsessed, St Vitus. Etc. So we had a good feeling we were going to get sound wise what we wanted this time opposed to Among. The guitar sound was crucial to achieve this time around.

Morgion - Live in Milwaukee, 1997:

What would you point to as your personal achievements on 'Solinari'? Were there any difficulties you faced in the studio?

From what I recall, that recording went rather smooth. There were no real problems to overcome. We all knew what needed to be done. And with the help of Schnebi things just really fell into place. From start to finish we had Solinari done in about 1 month.

What inspired you for writing these kinds of lyrics? What did you aim to express through it? I believe that if you ask any doomhead to describe Morgion with one word, he'll pick "majestic"…

The lyrics were mainly written by the drummer. I did embellish and add to when needed. I made them come alive. The lyrics were very Dungeons and Dragons, Fantasy inspired with grim and forlorn over tones tones. A hymnal to enlightenment and Woe...

Oh, well… Did you discuss it during the process of songwriting? I mean the situations when the whole band decides if this track better describes this or that story?

No. That was mainly between Rhett and I. We would discuss the literature. He would come in with some lyrics or some ideas and we would talk about how they might or might not fit the music. Then I would look at how I could phrase them and properly seat them in. Sometimes certain lyrics just would not work with the songs that were something that could not be forced. They had to flow.

Jeremy, you left the band in 2002: what was the main reason behind this decision? Did you regret it? Especially when the band committed to the European tour in 2003?

I did leave the band, but it wasn't by my decision. So around '99ish the drummer quit. Him and one of the guitarists Dwayne worked with each other and Dwayne and I lived together at the time. He came home and said Rhett quit and there was an email sent to me and if mind serves correctly one to Relapse notifying them that he was out. We then had spent the a great amount of time trying to find a proper replacement. Maybe we were way to picky but noone was fitting the way we wanted. In hindsight there were a couple guys I wish I had thought of. Anyhow, we went on hiatus and Gary later down the road made contact with Rhett and he expressed interest that he wanted to come back. I was open to the idea when we went to Dwayne he was not on board with the idea at all! Actually at that moment he quit which was on 9/11 actually.

So then Gary Rhett and myself started rehearsing and working on the beginning of what would be cloaked in ages. A few months in and Dwayne decided he wanted to play so he was welcomed back in. At that time my mother was going through some serious health issues and there were issues I did not care to discuss with the others. Maybe I should have, But it did cause my focus to be elsewhere other than the music. And ultimately got me removed from Morgion.

I was gutted and extremely pissed off for a very long time when just recently before others had quit and were allowed to return.

I felt that I had been stabbed in the back!

And even more so when I found out they were going over to Europe and I worked just as hard and just as many years on that band. It kinda was my Baby. I never gave up, frustrated yes... But never gave up.

Morgion - 'Nightfall Eternal':

Did you take part in composing some of the songs for 'Cloaked By Ages, Crowned In Earth'? Morgion always had a unique and truly recognizable sound - do you think that the band successfully kept it on this album?

As stated in the previous question.

I was there for the first song or two in the beginning of the cloaked writing. In all honesty even to this day I still have never listened to cloaked in its entirety. I have only heard one song and that was so long ago I cannot speak good nor bad of it at this moment. I've read quite a few reviews it seems it's just a matter of personal preference really, some say they like it a lot others say they didn't or they prefer Solinari or even Among Majestic Ruin.

Morgion should have played Maryland Doom Festival in 2013, but the show was cancelled because of your injury. I hope that you've recovered, so I'd like to ask if there's a chance that the band may return and play a few gigs on some occasion?

Haha, yes I have recovered I had at the time a torn rotator cuff and a severely pinched nerve in my neck/shoulder on the same side. It took about six months for me to fully get the feeling and use again of my Left arm. As for the Maryland Death fest, it would have been fun indeed and also a test for us to see if we could work past our differences and carry on with other select festivals. But sadly we could not work past our differences... While I was on the mend a meeting happened without me being present I later found out from Gary and Dwayne that someone had brought out the idea about me being replaced again, and from what I was told an argument happened and Dwayne backed out of the whole thing altogether. And some other things came into play afterwards that basically leaves the idea as a far fetched (nightmare).

Was this show the only reason why you reunited during these years? Did you ever discuss a chance to return to the studio together once more? Don't you feel the same urge which drove you to record 'Solinari'?

The discussion did arise. But for me we were way off from that point. I felt for myself that we needed to take baby steps it had been 10 years since we had been in a rehearsal room with eachother. If we could have gotten to the first gig (MDF) without any major issues then move on to the the 2nd gig and 3rd etc if we were still relevant and people still wanted to see and hear us?

After that I could have seen the distinct possibility of writing a new slab of misery.

At least out of this insanity a few of us remain on good terms.

Did you ever want to just start a new band to express the same emotions you created with Morgion? Or did any other bands invite you to record vocals for their albums?

Yes.. I tried a couple different times to start a new project, though over here trying to find the correct people to work with was very difficult, Meaning from the standpoint of understanding the approach that I wanted to take . Even in early days of Morgion when we lost guitar players or keyboardists it was very difficult to find someone who understood where we were coming from.

After the Morgion reunion died once again, Dwayne Gary and I and another drummer started rehearsing for a a while. But the drummer's beats he chose or the lack of made writing and making the riffs sound proper difficult so he decided to quit. That left just myself Gary and Dwayne. Not too much longer after Dwayne bowed out and was getting married and wanted to start his life with his wife which was admirable and we wished the best for him. So that left Gary and I. There was some material written a couple songs completed, some that was almost done and a lot of parts that hadn't been put together. Over a year ago Gary fell ill and has been spending this time trying to recuperate and get him self well again. It's hard to say whether he will be up for or totally able to play again...

As for recording on other bands releases. I've never been asked to do any vocals on any. I did help a friend's band after I left Morgion for about a year just to play bass. It was fun for a while. Then it was time to leave, it wasn't bad, but I had a different vision. A vision I still want to do this day.

I guess that a lot of doomheads agree that 'Among Majestic Ruin' and 'Solinari' are iconic albums in Death Doom history… Would you agree with that? How do you value the impact Morgion created with these two albums?

I'm not sure I am the person to answer that. We just wrote the music we wanted to hear. It does though make me happy that some people still remember our moments of released misery. I would hope that we impacted The Doom scene around the world in some shape or form as things with writing and recording those two releases I was a part of are there things that could have been done better in retrospect? Absolutely! But either way I am proud of those and happy we had our story to tell.

Thank you Aleksey for this interview. HAIL!!

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Visit the Morgion bandpage.

Interviewed on 2018-01-29 by Comrade Aleks Evdokimov.
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