Morningbell is a prolific, inventive rock & roll band from Gainesville, Florida—a longtime hotbed of musical creativity (from Tom Petty to Hot Water Music to Hundred Waters and beyond).
The band is: brothers Travis and Eric Atria, Stacie Atria (married to Eric), and drummer Chris Hillman. Morningbell has performed at Bonnaroo and SXSW, and had songs featured on MTV’s The Real World and GQ.com.
Frontman Travis Atria also co-wrote Traveling Soul, the first comprehensive biography of soul-music icon Curtis Mayfield (written with Mayfield’s son Todd), released October 1, 2016 from Chicago Review Press. Boa Noite (“Good Night” in Portugese) is symphonic and grand in scope. Its musical influences range from Debussy, to Nas, to African field recordings, to Russian folk music, to Curtis Mayfield, Tom Waits, Brian Wilson, and beyond, with lyrics inspired by Argentine poet J.L. Borges, James Joyce,The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, Kurt Vonnegut, and more.
For “Boa Noite,” Morningbell threw in the kitchen sink, literally and figuratively. The album features a 20-piece orchestra, a chorus of pots and pans (“Listen!”), a bouncing basketball (“We Have Eyes As Well As Ears”), and of course, a rock and roll band.
On the album, Morningbell bridges the gap between their earlier, more cerebral work and the soulful sexuality of their lauded tour de force, Sincerely, Severely (2009), and its follow-up, Basso Profundo (2011). Five killer songs from those albums have also been remixed and remastered and are presented as a bonus EP, Gold Sounds.
Ghettoblaster recently caught up with Atria to discuss the book, the album and more.
When did you first begin writing the material for Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield?
I started researching the book in October 2009, after trying to buy a Mayfield bio and not finding one. I was shocked that such an important artist didn’t have a decent book on his life, so I figured I’d have to write one. It took me about two years to hook up with Todd Mayfield, and we spent some time hashing out a contract and then interviewing family members and friends. I started the actual writing in 2013. It takes a long time.
Before delving into Morningbell, what are your five favorite Mayfield songs?
There are the obvious ones, like “Superfly,” “Move On Up,” “People Get Ready,” etc. But I’m drawn more toward the deep cuts–songs like “Sweet Exorcist,” “Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey),” “Jesus,” “A Prayer,” “Do Do Wap is Strong in Here,” “The Girl I Find,” and so on.
Did you know right off the bat that you wanted to breathe new life into your 2013 release, Boa Noite?
I didn’t. While writing the book, I also studied how to produce/engineer music, and I began fooling with some old songs for practice–just learning to use compression, EQ, and that sort of thing. I realized that the songs began to take on a new life. They started sounding how I always imagined them sounding–I just never had the technical ability. Not that they sounded bad before, but there was just an extra element to them. I even heard things I forgot I had put in the songs because the EQing made everything so much clearer. So I decided the album had more life left in it.
We’re treated to a few Morningbell songs we’ve never heard before, thanks to the Oddities EP. Might there be a new Morningbell release in our future?
There might be. Half the band is busy with children right now, but I’ve got a bunch of songs cooking. Something will come of it, whether it’s Morningbell or another project.
All of this music is coming out on Gold Robot Records. How did you hook up with that label?
We have some good friends in a band called Conveyor who have worked with Gold Robot before and had a good experience. Morningbell has always been an independent band, but we heard such great things about Gold Robot, we figured we’d give it a shot.
Moving forward, do you consider yourself more of a musician or a writer?
Well, I’d like to be known as both. I’m having more success as a writer right now–I’m contracted for two more books at the moment. We’ll see what happens.
(Visit Morning Bell here: https://www.facebook.com/morningbellgvl.)