On the day The Motion Poets released their new single ‘A Girl Like This’, we sat down with singer/guitarist Jonah Stead (JS) & bassist Morgan Smith (MS) to chat about songwriting, touring and chess. Here’s what went down.
Give me your origin story: where did you meet?
JS: In a field in São Paulo. It was dusk. Morgan rode up on horseback. He sold me one Cigarillo for 92 pesos, which aren’t the currency in São Paulo. This is what we had to work with. And thus the band was formed.
MS: The real story? We met on the music course at Edinburgh Napier, and the other three were together before I joined.
JS: You only were let out of the asylum at the end of those months.
Do you ever struggle with songwriting with four trained musicians all vying to be heard?
MS: For the first songs, I wasn’t there so I can’t comment.
JS: All of us have been improving the songs since then. They’ve all been chiselled. It’s only when we get very opposing views that it gets difficult.
You chisel away at songs , is there a point where a song is done, or is it always evolving?
JS: It’s never done.
MS: We’ll get to a point where we’re happy to play it live. A lot of people would define that as done, but you only really know how to improve the song when you play it live.
I mention it because I’ve seen your new single A Girl Like This evolve a lot. Now that its recorded do you think it’s going to change?
JS: I still don’t think it’s done.
MS: Really? Because I would say when we record it, it’s done.
JS: This is what we fight about.
Does the release of this single feel different to when you put out One Too Many?
MS: I’m more excited because this is more representative of what we do as a band. Also we’ve got a really sick music video.
I really like all the different elements: the live performance, the location, and the actors as well. What do they represent?
JS: The only meaning to the stairwell is that it’s our flat, so it was a useful location. There is more meaning to the girls. Makeup as war paint for strength. I was tempted to change the lyrics in the last chorus because I was concerned about the focus on “oh look it’s a pretty woman!” We tried to add more female power, hopefully that came across.
I think so. Morgan, you said you were happier with AGLT because of the direction you’re going in. Does the difference between AGLT and OTM represent natural growth or a deliberate shift?
MS: It’s not really changed. We’ve always been grungy, OTM is the exception to that.
JS: We thought if we want some attention, we should release the most poppy song. Maybe we should have gone obscure and stood on stage and shouted spoken word poetry over storm sounds.
You’ve put out two singles in just under a year. Will we get another single this year or a larger body of work?
JS: I think it’s going to be two singles, and then the EP. I don’t know when the next single will come out. We’ve recorded almost all of it, but it needs some touches.
Let’s talk live. You all have a good relationship on stage. Do you spend time crafting that or is it quite natural?
JS: You just share a bed before the gig and then your stage presence is better.
I’ve seen the photos. Literally.
MS: We don’t make a conscious effort. Because we’re all so close and we all really enjoy what we’re doing, it just comes naturally.
JS: We have pretty much all lived together. We know each other fairly well by this point.
Who’s sick of who the most?
JS: Sometimes you just really fucking can’t stand one of them, then it comes around and you’re alright again.
MS: Sometimes everybody hates you. But there’s never a point where everyone hates each other, because that would be the end of the band.
JS: We are all annoyed sometimes. But that’s usually if we’ve been working at something that’s not happening.
So you’re more annoyed at the idea of The Motion Poets at that point.
JS: The idea of The Motion Poets just riles me up inside. I can’t fucking stand it.
Moving on; do you prefer playing live or recording?
JS: Playing live.
MS: The first five hours of a recording session, I would go for any day. But from then onwards it becomes tedious and shite. Some gigs are really good and some are pretty bad, so it just depends.
JS: Euan’s tight so he lays it down pretty quickly. You’re really tight too. I like being on the other side of the recording process, behind the desk.
Would you like to go self produced?
JS: Yeah I would like to do that
MS: That would give us a lot more flexibility
You recently supported Lunatics Lost on tour. How was it playing in London compared to your home turf?
MS: There were loads of punters. I think you get that in Glasgow too, but in Edinburgh there’s a lot less. Everyone was really up for it down there.
JS: We got people dancing and they seemed to have a good time.
Any stories from the road?
MS: There was the guy I tried to fight in London.
JS: He’d been rather unpleasant to one of our band. We’d had strong words with him, Morgan decided more was necessary. In his drunken state, Morgan attempted to fight the guy but he had already walked off in the other direction so Morgan just ran into blank space.
If you could claim one song as a Motion Poets song, what would it be?
MS: ‘Pride‘ by Manchester Orchestra. That riff is so damn filthy. I think it would fit The Motion Poets as well. When we recorded AGLT, that was one of the songs we looked to as a reference.
JS: I wish we’d written ‘For Free‘ by Kendrick Lamar.
Jonah and Morgan have been playing chess this whole time because we’re at a board game themed coffee shop. So my last question is: which chess piece best represents you?
MS: Can we pick Euan and Struan’s pieces?
JS: Struan’s a good manager, he does all the work. He stares into space though. He’s a bishop for me.
MS: Yeah Struan’s a bishop.
JS: Euan’s a bit spicy.
MS: He’s a knight. He likes horses. I think I’m a pawn. I’m a bassist: dependable. I turn up and just do my job.
JS: You’re better than that. You’re a king. If the king falls we all fall. If the bass falls out of the track then everyone’s like where’s the bass gone?
MS: I’m gonna be the pawn, you can be the king.
JS: Nah I’m going to be a castle, a rook.
MS: You can run pretty fast, so: the queen?
JS: No the queen does too much, I’m not that powerful. The queen turns up anywhere it wants to, moves as far as it wants. I am late all the time. Maybe the king. One square at a time.
MS: I think the queen is the band as a collective. Invincible.
Who was a pawn?
So if Morgan makes progress, he becomes the queen. He has the potential to become something special. What a lovely note to end on.
‘A Girl Like This‘ is out now on all streaming channels and on bandcamp.