Chuck Morris of Lotus on Nunchuck, his new project, and the importance of rhythmic drums
Chuck Morris, percussionist for the jam-tronic band Lotus, has started a new project with Anthony Fugate called Nunchuck. Since rejoining Lotus, Morris wanted to find new outlets to experiment with sounds, rhythms and beats, which prompted him to get back behind the drum kit. In advance of Nunchuck's set at the Westword Music Showcase this weekend, we caught up with Morris and talked complex drum beats and the paradigm shift from bluegrass to electronic dance music.
Westword: I wanted to talk about Nunchuck, your new project, and learn a little bit more about this solo project you've got going on. What exactly is Nunchuck?
Chuck Morris: It's been coming together for a few months, but I don't think I started playing out live until May. My first show was on 4/20 on Shakedown Street, but since having Anthony Fugate join, we've only had one performance together, so we are really excited about this project coming at us as something that we haven't done since we've known each other, but always wanted to do.
Does this put Lotus on hold at all?
It's a good way for me to practice and use my other skills and styles that I wouldn't normally use in a Lotus show. It's stuff that is fun for me to play that I like to play in my spare time.
How do you classify your style? I don't want you to put yourself in a box, but what other styles are you talking about?
I'm trying to mix, like, an ambient style with a crunk style. That's not a serious answer, but I don't really know, exactly.
What are you trying to do with this solo project, then?
I've always really enjoyed playing drums, and the only way to compliment a rock and roll show is to play a sort of chilled out vibe, which is something that I've always wanted to do. It may not be the most acceptable form for the mainstream yet.
What do you think is acceptable in the mainstream?
I'm thinking stuff that is a little less rhythmic. It really has to do with drumbeats, I believe, and melody. It's not so much a guitar track.
Is there a want to educate in that aspect by showing people the complexities? It seems as the more popular dance music gets, the simpler it gets. Are you trying to branch out of that and show the world there is more rhythm?
I'm playing the drums, so I think it needs to be focused on rhythms that exemplify the snare drum. A lot of times those tracks will be at 128 bpms, so this is more complex rhythmically, and incorporating percussion is good. Anthony Fugate has joined me for one show, but we really enjoy playing together.
Will he be joining you this weekend?
Yes, he will. He did a lot of vocals, and plays some percussion, but has a real stage presence and vocal presence.
I'm thinking back to when you were playing with J.Wail, which seemed a bit more experimental, so will this project be like that, or do you like having the control to create what you want?
I had a lot of fun with [Jonah Lipsky] and have a lot of respect for the heart he puts into his music. It came out as being something that was improvisational, so I had a lot of fun getting back on a drum kit and warming up, and we made dance music. It enabled me to approach electronic music in my own way. I am thankful for that experience of being on the road with him.
What are you listen to now to hear electronic dance music with a different ear? What are you currently playing on your iPod?
I'm spending more time listening to interesting, out there, groups that don't seem to be really popular in America. Also, I'm not really well acquainted with pop-culture. I suppose I only have time to listen to so much. I've been listening to stuff from the early 2000s, like Plaid and the Orb. The Orb is much more popular, but Plaid is one of my favorite groups. They played the Bluebird Theater recently, and I missed the chance to see them. They have a hard time touring the States, which is weird. They are really unknown here.
Why do you suppose that is? That sort of leads into what's popular here versus what's not popular here.
That's a really interesting question and something that I've been thinking about for a long time: What makes popular music popular can be several elements that are simple in nature, but I suppose are too complex rhythmically.
What do you mean by that?
A lot of time drumbeats will be across the board, so basically, a lot of the same drum beats. I started enjoying making dance music coming from a jazz background. What makes this music popular is changing rapidly since we have such a bigger understanding of what's "cool."
I think it's only a matter of time before people will get into these smaller labels with these personal producers -- these sort of ambient producers who create these jam-friendly grooves that are a good resource, for me at least, that take the jam into an electronic realm in an easier way.
Do you feel that Denver is a great introduction point for a lot of these artists?
It is a perfect place for it! I'm in disbelief about the music scene that went from bluegrass to electronic music. It's something of a culture shock here. I remember when there were bluegrass bands headlining the Fillmore for a couple nights on New Year's Eve, and there's been this cultural shift.
What are your thoughts on why that is?
I guess that's where the disbelief comes in. When a sound changes so quickly from bluegrass to crunking for the same age group, I can't be anything but bewildered about how that happens.