Music is more than a collection of melodies strung together and spliced with a collection of lyrical ramblings. It takes a unique and talented mind to think up a tune, play the instruments, know the notes, compile the lyrics and put it all together in a seamless performance. But more than that, music has the ability to transport you, take you to a distant memory, evoke imagery of wonderlands and magic, make you laugh or cry, even heal us.
MT WARNING grew from unconventional seeds. Where most bands come from a collaboration of individual artists, a gathering of like-minds or from the garages of suburbia borne on the wings of youthful enthusiasm and friendships, MT WARNING’s roots, essentially, lay in film. Band co-founder, Mikey ‘M. Jack’ Bee has had an independent music career of his own for many years. Bashing out tunes since forever, it was under the moniker of M. Jack Bee that he really taking a hold on the local and national music scene. Layering and looping vocals, drums and guitars, Mikey wove a rich tapestry, creating a sound steeped in emotion and profoundly deeper than you would expect of a single musician.
It was at a hometown gig that a chance meeting with Taylor Steele, a Californian surf filmmaker who had freshly emigrated to the Shire, would lay the foundations of the MT WARNING collaboration. Taylor heard his set and struck up conversation after the show. Over a few beers, the pair discussed the possibilities of the creation of music through visuals.
“I was playing a show and Taylor had just moved to town,” Mikey recalls of their first meeting. “I was just rambling away as I do and we just started drinking beers after the show. He’s a super-inquisitive person and was asking me about how I create. He asked me, ‘if I gave you a visual, could you create a song to it?’ Not like a soundtrack, but a visual idea.”
A man is drowning, his boat is wrecked beyond all hope, his life is ebbing away but still he fights his impending and inevitable fate. This was the visual premise of the pair’s first collaboration. Musicians create soundtracks to film, audibly reflecting the imagery onscreen, but what Mikey and Taylor embarked on was something very different. Taylor has no musical background, he doesn’t play and instrument and he certainly can’t read or write music. What he does instead is convey his musical ideas through visuals – an argument here, a dancing girl there, perhaps the crescendo of a dawn sunrise, and Mikey interprets these images through his instruments.
“Instead of the song forming a nice arc,” says Mikey, “Taylor will say, ‘no, we need a car crash here’, and boom! The guitars go crazy, the drums will kick in – more in a film editing way, I guess. I’ve found it an incredible way to bring more emotion into my songs.
“I’ve spent a lot of time traveling the world but never take cameras – I just hear places. There’s always a melody or something that connects me back to Asia or Africa or wherever. I don’t need photos, it’e either a song I’ve written or a melody I hear and that’s how I see the world – I hear the world. So when me and Taylor started working together, it was like, ‘wow, this is what I do!’ I didn’t realise it until that point, so it solidified that process for me.”
What has transpired is more akin to story telling than music – Mikey’s rich and raw guitar and vocals married with Taylor’s filmmaking screenplay to produce what Mikey describes as cinematic rock. Many songs tell stories or convey messages through the inspiration of their creation, but with MT WARNING it is the story that actually creates the music, guiding every nuance, every rise and fall, every snare and strum, to produce the sense of living through the story, invoking the entire experience in the listener through sound alone.
In the recording studio, this can all be created by Mikey alone, layering guitar, vocals, piano and drums to produce the finished piece. But one man can only do so much, and this process can’t be replicated in a live act. MT WARNING live brings other musicians to the stage, including Tori Lee on vocals and drummer Grant Gerathy to fill in the parts that Mikey cannot accomplish alone. But there is another trick up his sleeve to complete the songs’ numerous elements.
“We can play dingy pubs as a three-piece with the sound bouncing off the walls and have a killer night, but we also have a video show for certain gigs. I get my friend who’s an AV DJ to play live images of me. If we’re bringing in other samples from the record, he’ll project a video of me playing the other parts, whether its piano or another keyline that comes in or some second drums or something and jam with us in realtime. This 20-foot version of me comes up on screen playing it. So the audience is like, ‘no-one’s playing that,’ and then they look up and you see the recording of me playing it. It’s kind of an exercise in visual narcissism!”
Narcissistic or not, this allows the possibility of a far richer performance, multi-layered and much larger than just the three musicians alone can provide and it further unifies the very visual aspect of MT WARNING’s songwriting.
MT WARNING’s first full album, to be released later this year, tells a story. The album has a beginning, a middle and an end, each song a new chapter in the tale being woven. This inaugural release, although supported by film clips that reflect the songs’ themes, will be, for want of a better word, conventional, the songs released for digital download or on vinyl. But already a plan is being formulated for a second album.
“For the next one, we’ve devised a pretty cool plan,” explains Mikey. “We’re trying to figure out how the hell we’re going to do it, but it will be some sort of filmic audio package. We know how we’re going to make it – we just don’t know how we’re going to release it. We want to keep building this concept until we clearly define how we marry film and music in the most ‘consumable’ form I guess.”
Whatever may transpire from this fusion of sound and imagery, given Mikey’s strong, blues-rock style and Taylor’s superb lensmanship, will be exciting to say the least. But where this partnership may take them is anyone’s guess, including their own.
For info on gig dates, album releases and videos, visit mtwarningmusic.com
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Jan 22, 2014