Kyle Morton of Typhoon on Nabokov, inspiration and Tender Loving Empire
Founded in Salem, Oregon, in 2005, Typhoon (due tonight at the hi-dive, with Lord Huron and Sour Boy Bitter Girl) started out as a recording project but quickly evolved into a sprawling live affair with over ten members. Two years into its time together, the act essentially went on hiatus before being coaxed back into activity by the people at the Portland imprint Tender Loving Empire.
Typhoon's songs are a fascinating example of economic songwriting. Despite having a wide array of sounds at its disposal, the band doesn't use them gratuitously, but only insofar as they contribute to the overall mood of a song in expressing layers of meaning. Singer Kyle Morton's literary approach to his lyrics shines through, enhanced and fully realized by the orchestral beauty of the band. We recently spoke with Morton and had a chat about Nabokov, his songwriting inspiration and the Tender Loving Empire connection.
Westword: When was it that you experienced that typhoon in Japan, and what part of Japan were you in?
Kyle Morton: We didn't actually experience it, but it was happening while we were in the southern part of the island and that was happening up north. That wasn't exactly where we came up with the name, but it was an interesting coincidence. The origins are a little hazy, but we kind of came up with it one night in Japan while discussing the difference between a typhoon and a hurricane with a Japanese man, and it became the working title for this recording project we worked on the following year. Everyone else joined in, and the name sort of stuck. For a long time, I actually didn't like the name, but it grew on me, as names often do.
How did you meet Jared Mees and come to be affiliated with Tender Loving Empire?
Tyler Ferrin did an internship over there for a while. So he was kind of our ambassador to Tender Loving Empire. They were fans of our music, and we played with some of their bands before, including Jared Meese and the Grown Children, Finn Riggins, etc. Then they approached us about putting out a record. We'd been on hiatus for about a year. I'm not exactly sure what informed them to try to put out a record by a band that wasn't even active, but it was sweet of them, and it looks like it's starting to pay off.
In a great interview with Verbicide Magazine in 2010, you mentioned that the way Nabokov used structure and form was an influence on your own songwriting. What parallels do you see between his work and your own, or where might you identify his influence on one of your songs?
Yeah. There's one passage in a Nabokov book that killed me, it was so good, and I've been trying to do my own version of it for years since I read it. It's in the book Pnin. It's in describing sort of the process of his flashing back to his past. The way he does it, he likens it to a drowning man re-experiencing his baptism and every subsequent submersion after that.
The way he wrote that one passage, I was so taken with it, I decided to capture my life like that would be my lifelong goal -- to get anywhere close to as beautiful as he put it in that two-page passage. It's a beautiful book. It's not one of his more well-known works. Obviously, Pale Fire, Lolita...
How did it come about that you did a split seven-inch with LAKE?
That was a long time ago! We met a lot of the people in the Olympia music scene playing in Kickball. We played with them in Eugene and in Dojo. And we all fell in love together. Adam [Oelsner] from Kickball was also in LAKE, and we played a show with them in Olympia when we did a mini-tour up in that direction.
That was like four years ago. We did some recordings with them where the both of us recorded on some songs they were working on that they recorded via eight-track cassette recorder. They re-released it on vinyl recently as Cassette. We're all on that. Then we recorded that seven-inch with them. Devin [Gallagher] recorded both sides of that.
What are the biggest challenges to playing music with and touring with eleven other people, and what are the biggest rewards?
The rewards, I think, are pretty self-evident. Having that many people doing one thing together is cathartic and communal. When we do it right -- and more and more we're doing it right, playing our parts right and playing in harmony together -- it's really something. You've really got to see it.
The drawbacks of it are probably pretty obvious, too. Though we seem to get a lot of people who are shocked that we travel around with so many of us, it's really not all that much different from traveling with a few people. It's just we've got to take a little longer time on bathroom breaks.
When you did that interview with Dave Allen, did you know who he was?
Oh, yeah, that was about a year and a half ago. I knew Dave Allen; he's a pretty vocal pundit in the Portland scene, and I also knew his work with Gang of Four. We were doing a soundcheck at the Wonder Ballroom for the Tender Loving Empire birthday party, and he was there, and he just wanted to talk to me for a little bit. It was flattering.
Did you have any creative input on the videos that Matthew Thomas Ross directed?
Yes. Not a ton. Him and I sort of brainstormed those. The one for "Starting Over," he had all the ideas for. The video for "CPR," I think, was Tyler's idea. The footage is from Tyler's family's Super-8 film recorder. The "Honest Truth" video -- I wrote in the baseball bat and the devil being in the basement. The rest is Matt. [laughs]
Your music reminds me a little bit of Black Heart Procession and Red Pony Clock because it's well-crafted pop with some soul and intensity behind it. Are there particular, for lack of a better word, muses in your life that have informed and inspired your songwriting in the past and now?
It just tends to happen if I spend any time waiting. It's sort of a salutary effect of...I tend to write more when I have more time to reflect. So generally it tends to be inspired by me recovering things from the past or putting two things together.
Your next date after Denver is at the Visual Arts Collective in Boise, Idaho, with Finn Riggins and Dark Swallows. Do you know Finn Riggins, and if so, did you meet, and what do you think of their music?
The first time I met them I was in the first band I was in with Devin [Gallagher] and Dave [Hall] of Typhoon called The Black Black Black, and we played a show with Finn Riggins at a venue in Salem, Oregon, called the Icebox. That was the first time I saw them, and I was pretty blown away by the amount of things they were doing with three people. They always put us up when we come through Boise.
That promo picture on your website makes the band look like a group picture for the film version of a John Irving novel. Where was that taken, and were you going for any particular mood or imagery in that photo?
Are you talking about the one with all of us sitting on a bench against a green background? Yeah, that was at an island in Portland that has really beautiful scenery. We were going for something quasi-religious. They had a cool little altar, but we ended up going with a picture of us on a park bench.
It also reminds me of a scene out of a Wes Anderson film.
Definitely. Our manager actually took that photo, and I think she took a really good one.