Indie-psych-prog mastermind Tiger Merritt talks about painstakingly recording Salivating for Symbiosis with the help of pals from Modest Mouse, Cage the Elephant, and more.
It’s tricky to describe Morning Teleportation. Part indie, part progressive, and part psychedelic, the band hails from Bowling Green, Kentucky, yet Portland, Oregon, has been ground zero for much of its creative output. Though this year marks the release of just their second album, Salivating for Symbiosis, Morning Teleportation has shared stages with high-profile acts the group counts as friends. And while there are several core members, who is actually “in” Morning Teleportation at any given moment seems to be more about who’s available to hang out and write songs. Even with this cavalcade of seeming contradictions, Morning Teleportation excels at funneling all this creative inspiration and input into music that is simultaneously challenging, infectious, whimsical, and unhinged.
The band emerged when fellow Bowling Green natives Travis Goodwin (keyboards), Tres Coker (drums), and Paul Wilkerson (bass) collided with singer/guitarist/songwriter Tiger Merritt. Though birthed in the same town as their good friends Cage the Elephant, Morning Teleportation has also been welcomed into a scene of notable Northwest-based indie artists, including Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse. In fact, Modest Mouse frontman Isaac Brock produced Morning Teleportation’s debut album, 2011’s Expanding Anyway.
After touring relentlessly with the Flaming Lips and Primus to promote Expanding Anyway, and then dealing with several lineup changes, the band needed a good long break. A natural nomad, Merritt went back on the road to find inspiration writing music with friends and colleagues around the United States, and these travels inspired many of the songs that would become Salivating for Symbiosis. The album’s opening track, “Rise and Fall,” delivers echoes of the Northwest folk, rock, and indie bands Morning Teleportation consider friends and peers. And perhaps that should be no surprise, given the album was recorded at Ice Cream Party studios in Portland. But the musical performances by members of Cage the Elephant and contributions by both current and former members of Morning Teleportation allow Salivating for Symbiosis to strike out on its own path of jarring dynamic shifts, fuzzed-out guitar solos, and dramatic changes in musical direction.
Much of the creative energy that makes up Morning Teleportation can be directly attributed to the band’s frontman. Merritt is a unique blend of natural talent, free-wheeling spirit, and relentless diligence. In conversation, he comes off as a laid-back personality who would never rush a project. But dig a little deeper, and you’ll find an artist who is constantly on the move and isn’t happy unless he’s crafting new material with his heavyweight musician friends. When we caught up with Merritt, he was fresh off the band’s latest tour with Modest Mouse and already back to work building a studio and demoing new songs. Here he discusses his nonstop need to create, the tools he uses, and why his is a life on the road.
What initially drew you to music?
Oh, jeez. I guess my dad got me into music growing up. He would always mess with quadraphonic reel-to-reel tape machines, and he used to collect a lot of quadraphonic records. [ Editor’s note: Quadrophonic recordings were developed in the 1970s for playback on a surround-sound-like system with four speakers in a square arrangement. ] I also played saxophone in school a bit. Listening to music in high school—Built to Spill, Modest Mouse, and stuff like that—got me into playing. That and jamming with friends. Once I started playing guitar, I just figured that was probably what I was going to do somehow, someway.
With such a diverse musical upbringing, it’s no wonder Morning Teleportation sounds so wide ranging.
Yeah. We try not to take the same approach each time when we’re working on something. We follow whatever the idea is and wherever it goes.
It often goes to some incredibly progressive places—lots of dramatic shifts and a wide use of dynamics. Where does that inspiration come from?
I don’t know. Maybe Yes or [Chicago math-rock quartet] Ghosts and Vodka? I just like abrupt changes. You know how your brain darts around to different subjects and different things? It’s like that. I don’t know how to explain it. I just like the motion of it.
Jeremy Sherrer produced Salivating for Symbiosis, Morning Teleportation’s second album. “He works so hard—man, it’s crazy,” says the band’s cofounder Tiger Merritt. “He and I were basically living in the studio making this record.”
What’s the band’s typical writing process like, if there is such a thing?
If I write a song and take it to the band, it’s like, “Here’s this idea, and we can change it around, move it around, and make it something different.” It can start with anything. Maybe it’s a drum machine. Maybe it’s a drum beat or a bass line. I also like collaborating with a buddy and hashing up an idea. I always like using those little 4-track tape machines. They are really fun to get ideas down on. Sometimes that stuff ends up in the recordings, as well. If I’m writing and an idea stays in my head for a while, or I end up playing it quite a bit, it’ll probably be turned into something.
Do you handle all the songwriting or do the other guys in the band bring in complete songs?
Everyone will bring in riffs and ideas and we’ll work together to figure them out.
But it wasn’t only the core members of Morning Teleportation who worked on Salivating for Symbiosis. You had a lot of help from some good friends. Who else is featured on this album?
Paul [Wilkerson, the band’s original bassist] wrote on this one, as well as a lot of people who’ve been in the touring band over the past few years. Paul is an original—I love writing with him. This album was cool because we worked on it over a long period of time. So I was able to write with friends around the country, like our homies we’ve toured with and who’ve played in the band before. I mean, Nick [Bockrath, Cage the Elephant] was playing bass with us for a while too, and he wrote with us on this one.
With so much collaboration, do you see the band as more of a collective?
Well, recently it’s been Travis [Goodwin], Joe [Jones], and me on the last tour. But we’ve had such a good community of friends who have collaborated throughout the years that I look at it like … whoever is down to play and be a part of it.