Can you talk to us more about your latest titled “Psychopaths & Sycophants”?
The title’s the paradigm of fascism–a charismatic psychopath at the helm, surrounded by his sycophants, who seek power themselves. IE, Trump is the psychopath, and the sycophants are the Mike Pences and Paul Ryans of the GOP–politicians who know better than to support Trump, but have decided to hitch their wagon to his in hopes of personal gain. You see this dynamic–psychopaths & sycophants–in every fascist regime.
The full title of the record is “Psychopaths & Sycophants: A Message From Charlottesville,” which is pretty much what this album’s all about. When Trump’s campaign gained traction in the summer of 2016, I became rather alarmed, and started writing warning songs about him.
I grew up in Georgia & Alabama, and saw the casual racism of the South. From an early age, it was appalling to me, and created great cognitive dissonance. We grew up in the Baptist church, and so I was surrounded by all these seemingly ‘good people’ who were racist as hell. How could these otherwise kind and well-intentioned people drop the “N-bomb” every other second? And with such disdain? So as I grew older, I made a study of the racism I saw–and realized the insidious way tradition, identity, groupthink and consensus work. In the deep south, you’re either “us” or “them.” “Us” being white southern “Christians,” and “them” being anyone else. I watched as the Lee Atwaters of the world tapped into white culture’s racism to manipulate voters. And of course, I saw it all around me. Just abject racism–cruel, deliberate, and ultimately pathetic.
Then in college, I spent a lot of time studying the rise of Hitler and WW2. So having an understanding of racism and fascism, I was horrified by what I heard from Trump during the campaign. I saw that they had tapped into what I feared–and that they were recklessly going to open pandora’s box of racism and xenophobia to get him elected.
I wrote songs for a year about it, and then in August of 2017, Neo-nazi’s and the KKK hit Charlottesville–the small town I’ve lived in for the last 20 years. This was Richard Spencer’s rally–of course, Spencer is close buddies with Stephen Miller, who’s one of Trump’s top political advisors, and a blatant and unapologetic racist. So the album is about the rise of Trump and Fascism in America, and the way it’s impacted not only America but my town and myself.
Any plans to release a video for any of the the singles on “Psychopaths & Sycophants”?
What songs come to mind when you think of a ‘single’ ?
“What Happened To Your Party”? “The Future” “Thousand Mile Stairs” and “67%/A Message From Charlottesville”.
I’d love to hear country radio pick up “Charlottesville By Name.” That’s a Tom House song–he’s a southerner through and through, and he knows exactly what he’s talking about when he describes the internal wasteland of the klan types. He shows no sympathy for them, but he does show empathy, and that’s what makes it such a great song.
It really is a great country song– Tim Magraw oughta cover it. There are a lotta good country folks out there who proudly call themselves ‘rednecks,’ but they aren’t racists, you know? They’d love that song, because they know those white-supremacist types…hell, they have them in their extended families. And everybody knows they’re fucked-up. That song is a portrait of their illness.”
How was the recording and writing process for you?
The writing process was inspired. Trump will do that for you. I wrote ‘67%’ the night of 8/12, after driving back from downtown after my friend Davina’s son (who’s black) went missing on the mall. I’m in the car with Davina, a thoroughly shook-up african-american mother, and Trump comes on the radio with his sick statements basically backing the Klan/Nazi’s. It was just disgusting. And the sick thing is that I just knew he was going to say it. Then a couple hours later, I heard that 67% of Republicans polled agreed with Trump. I flipped. It was fascism in our faces, and they were apparently winning. I wrote “67%/A Message From Charlottesville” from that anger. Took about 20 minutes. Later I went back and made some changes to articulate that rage a bit better, but yeah…that was written the night of the 12th. We went in the next day and recorded it. Made a video as soon as we could to get a response out there from Charlottesville, but by time we got it together, which was quick actually, the news cycle had turned.
We recorded with Stewart Myers out at White Star in Louisa again, but this time I was having all sorts of problems scheduling my band. So finally, Stewart said he’d call in some friends. Next day, I show up and there’s Daniel Clarke (kd lang; ryan adams), Stephen McCarthy (The Long Ryders; The Jayhawks), Charles Arthur (Slaid Cleaves), and Brian Jones (Agents of Good Roots) outside the studio as I drive up. Holy Shit! Those guys are all about as good as it gets. We just strapped in and took off–just wild creative energy and musical genius. All I did was sing.
What role does Charlottesville play in your writing, if any?
Before this, not that much. But certainly this record reflects what happened here. I mean, it’s a really nice small southern college town. The notion that we’re some hot bed of far-left dissent is silly. Those nazis swarmed the town, walking around with long rifles, intimidating people deliberately. And this was all over town. They were at grocery stores, scaring the hell outta people. That part of the story didnt get much attention in the press coverage.
How has Leonard Cohen influences your music?
Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan have been hugely influential. I’ve studied their craft for years through immersion in their songs. More than that,they are spirit guides, who’ve helped me through this untraditional life I lead….every step of the way.
What aspect of insanity and facism did you get to explore on this record?
Well, I suppose I have explored the effect of fascism’s insanity on the American public in 2017. As Mista Cohen said, I’m just holding the mirror. And as former president W. said, 2017 was “some dark shit,” indeed. And it continues. That’s the problem. We gotta kill it.
Any plans to hit the road?
I want to tour in the fall, yes. Maybe these songs can have an impact on the elections. We made this record, and I will continue to do my part. Scouts honor and all….
What else is happening next in Keith Morris’ world?
We recorded forty songs this past year, and I’m thrilled with them. We’ll be putting those out after this record. The music’s broken through to another level. It’s exciting where the writing’s at, where the musicianship’s at… and where this is all heading. We’re on it, you know? And that’s where I’ve been working to get to.