I once had the pleasure of sitting down for a few drinks with Nate Morton, drummer for the houseband(s), Rockstar: INXS and Rockstar: Supernova.
After ordering our cocktails, we began talking about drummers and tossing out names, landing on one of my personal favorites, Mike Portnoy of Dream Theater and how he met him. That, sparked and began our interview. Below is the transcription…
NM: So one of the cool things about the show, speaking of Mike Portnoy, was that I actually got to meet a lot of great drummers. Basically by them seeing the show and them going, “Oh! This is not a bad band!” Then I’d get an email. “Hey Nate! Dig the show! You sound really cool. Nice job man. – Mike” And then the email address I notice is from Mike Portnoy. And I’d be like…”Uh…” So I’d write back and be typing, “Is this the Mike Portnoy?” [ Laughs ]
Ya know? So yeah, we kind of met through that. Then he happened to be out in LA and said “Hey I’m going to be around, can you get us tickets?” And I said “Yeah of course!” So he came. Mike Portnoy is one of a few really cool drummers and really cool guys that I got to meet through the show.
AF: Yeah I met him a few times. He’s real laid back.
AF: He doesn’t act like “the rockstar” and uh…
NM: Yeah. Not at all. He’s a good guy man, a really good guy. You know what man? I’d be hard pressed to think of a drummer, that I know personally that’s a jerk.
NM: Like drummers, dude. We’re some pretty cool dudes sometimes. Really. Not to be a jerk about it or to be silly about it, but people have remarked several times. You don’t see a lot of other instruments where you’ll get 500 you know… violinists in a room for a violin clinic so that, that person can talk about what they do, how they developed what they do and exchange ideas, share teaching philosophies and so on. You don’t have that too often. But drummers, we love our clinics. We love getting together and showing people stuff. If somebody says, “Hey man how’d you play that one lick?” Suddenly it becomes like a half-hour drum lesson. You know, you’re like “Well its like this. Its ‘a pat-a-ta-fla-fla!” You know, it’s awesome!
AF: Now how in the hell am I supposed to transcribe that?!
NM: [Laughs] A-pat-a-ta-fla-fla? ![Laughs] Probably about as well as I can play it!
AF: Now man, I was watching some of your videos and I’ve seen you on the show (Rockstar: INXS/Supernova) and you’re tight dude.
AF: The thing I like about your style is you can rock out, but you also have a lot of groove and a lot of flow to your playing.
AF: You know, you have some drummers that are all chops.
AF: You got the chops, but you also have the style and the flow.
NM: [Laughs ] Well its debatable that I have any of those, but thanks!
AF: So let me ask some silly questions. I’ll try to think of something. I didn’t prepare any of my questions with you before the interview. I wanted to have more of a “conversation” with you.
NM: You’re making up these now?! What are you new?! [Laughs]
AF: [Laughs] Clearly! I’m just a dude with a website! [Both laugh] Okay..so here’s a standard question of mine.
AF: Favorite IHOP or Wafflehouse that you’ve been to while on tour…
NM: There’s a Wafflehouse outside of Bokoshe , OK .
AF: You need to choose something different. I can’t spell that [Bokoshei]. [ laughs ]
NM: Okay…okay. If I could name the place I would. I was then with an artist called Trish Murphy. And she’s from Austin , TX . So we spent a lot of time in Texas and I became very familiar with the various Wafflehouses. Um…but there’s one in Lubick , TX .
AF: I can spell that.
NM: If I could think of this place…ugh! We’ll come back to it. It’s sort of like an old Western ghost town.
NM: Yes. There was nothing there except our hotel, the place we were playing and the Wafflehouse. Actually…I think we were playing at the Wafflehouse.
AF: Okay…lets see. Just for the sake of my readers. Give me a quick rundown of who you toured with.
AF: You toured with Poe right?
NM: Poe was one of my favorite tours ever. She’s one of my favorite artists ever.
AF: Yeah she’s awesome.
NM: Love her. Extremely creative. Cool to work with. Um, Paul Stanley at one point. Natalie Cole prior to the show. Vanessa Carlton.
AF: You did Leno with her didn’t you?
NM: Yeah. A few times actually. I played in her band with Sasha for about 10 months. Almost a year we were on tour with Vanessa. This is one of those questions people ask me and I can never think of anything. Chaka Kahn awhile back. Um…that’s enough yeah?
AF: Sure! And you did some TV show. [ laughs ]
NM: Yeah, and some TV show. You know the funny thing is…that is the best and most rewarding and in the same time, the hardest and most challenging thing I’ve ever done.
AF: How did you prepare for that?
NM: Well, it’s funny. I was totally fine until I got an email about half-way through season one that said something to the effect of, “Hey Nate. Love what you’re doing on the show. You sound great. Just know, that a community of millions of drummers are behind ya man!” I was like, “Oh my GOD!” So then I started freakin’ out. I’d be playing the show, and like, cause the thing is, we’d be taping the show in a studio that seats about 400 maybe 500 people. Even though on television it looks huge like we’re playing a stadium. It really only feels like you’re playing a club of 400 people. That’s kind of the mindset I was in until I realized frickin’ millions of drummers are watching. And I was like, “Oooooooooooh my gosh!” I’d also get emails like this, “Hey Nate. Great show last night man. Hey? Did you drop a stick during such-and-such song because I Tivo’d it and watched it like, 17 times. In one shot, it looks like you have it and in the next you don’t but then you have a stick again.” And I’d be like…”Yes…I dropped a stick!” [Laughs]
AF: Yeah! You’re a drummer…IT HAPPENS!
NM: Yeah exactly! I think someone once emailed about some lick I played in the 2 nd verse of some song. And they explained to me that they had watched it like 30 times on Tivo and still couldn’t figure it out. So asked if I’d transcribe it and send it to them. So I was like, “Thank you.” And then was like in the same thought, “What are you doing watching what I play 30 times on Tivo!? That’s nerve-racking!” [Laughs!]
AF: Yeah no pressure or anything man!
NM: But you know, the thing is, there’s no where on Earth that I feel more comfortable than sitting behind a drumkit, ya know?
AF: Yeah. Of course.
NM: Its like my home. I feel more comfortable sitting behind a drumkit than anywhere. And it is sort of my “gig” itswhat I do! So when I start to get into my own head and start to psych myself out, I have to tell myself, “Yo man. This is what you do! This is your gig.” It’s the same thing I used to tell myself as a kid where I’d go to these jazz jam sessions in Baltimore where I was growing up at the time. And there’d be one incredible drummer after the next playing. Then my name is on this list to sit in, and after some frickin’ ridiculious cat. There was a drummer, at the time, and if you print this someone may know who he is. He’s in New York now I think. His name is George Grey.
AF: George Gray.
NM: Yeah. So George would play and it’s just ridiculous! And he’s since played with George Duke and all these people. So, he’ll play, and then they go…”Nathanial. Nathanial Morton, come and play drums!” And I’m like, “Oh my God.” At the time I was about 17. And I got to go play. I would just sit there and say to myself, “Hey listen man. Do what you do. If this is what you want to do you gotta get up there behind the kit and do it.” So that’s kind of the same way I approached doing the TV show.
AF: What about these drummers that want to do this for a living. Say that got the talent, and they got the chops, how do they make a living doing that? How would you suggest anyway?
NM: The first thing that you do, is depending on where you live, you either get into your car and drive far west until you land in LA. Or go to the far east and land in New York City . That’s a big deal. Because you know, I get a few emails from people that say, “Nate, I’m doing all the biggest gigs in… Duluth . But I don’t know how to get to the next level.” And the first thing I say is, “You have got to be willing to leave. You have to put your income and life and career on the line and move to LA, New York or Nashville or at the very least move to the nearest big city.” Maybe that big City is Chicago . But that’s a big deal ya know? It separates people from obscurity from doing well-known gigs. You have to move to where the arts are. I always tell people, the gigs aren’t going to come find you. You have to go to them. Music is unfortunately like that.
AF: Now this question is going to be a complete surprise to you because it hasn’t been pre-discussed (Note: I joked about asking Nate this question prior to the interview ). If you weren’t a drummer, what would you be?
NM: [Pauses] Well…
AF: A Shepard?
NM: [Laughs] The interesting thing is the question that is usually posed to me is, “If you couldn’t be a drummer, what would you want to be?” And the answer to that would be, “Dead.” [ Both laugh ] I studied engineering. So arguably, I probably would have found myself in some sort of math or science related field. Um, but you know. Truth be told. At no point did I seriously consider myself wanting to be an engineer. It was something to fall back on. The thing about it is, if you’re plumber or electrician, even a brick layer, that’s what you “Do.” If you’re a musician, or artist, that’s what you “are.” So it’s not exactly like I could just switch and be something else. Not an easy question to answer.
AF: No its not. Some people are like, “Yeah I’d be a fireman!”
NM: Right, exactly.
AF: Um let’s see…your favorite movies?
NM: OH! Um, in no particular order. Pulp Fiction.
AF: I have to stop you right there.
NM: Uh oh!
AF: That, is my favorite movie of all time.
NM: Yeah, it’s right up there man. There are SO many great lines in that movie. How about the one where says, “Yeah she was in a pilot on TV.” And he goes, “I don’t watch TV.” Then he says, “Yes but you’re aware there is invention called a television? And on this invention, they show TV shows.” [ Both laugh ] Genius!
AF: I think my favorite is when they’re in the back of the car picking up brain. And he’s like, “I’m a mushroom cloud layin’ mother fucker, mother fucker!”
NM: Yeah! I love that!
AF: That has me rolling every time.
NM: Yeah that’s so genius. What about how he says, “Mmm! Now that’s a tasty burger!” [Laughs]
AF: Or how about that wallet?! My brother has that wallet.
NM: I know someone who has that too!
AF: His wife bought for him on eBay or something and I said, “Awe! I want that!”
NM: [ Laughs ] Yeah so that one is right up there. The Godfather is an all-time fave. Then I have some others, more obscure movies that if you’re readers want to check out. The Boondock Saints for one.
AF: LOVE that movie!
AF: Yeah that’s in my top 5.
NM: Now there’s an interesting follow-up to that called “ Overnight ”. About the director Troy Duffy. Have you seen that?
AF: Oh I know about that! I have yet to see it. The last time I was in LA, I actually had drinks with Troy Duffy.
NM: What?! Did you?!
NM: Was he a cool guy? AF: Yeah he was cool. But he was also kind of out of his element you know? I was here visiting a friend, and her friend went to college with him or something. Former roommate. So we went to her friend’s house. He had an apartment in West Hollywood I think. And her friend was like, “Oh my buddy Troy is coming over for a bit.” And I didn’t really think anything at the time, but then I saw him. Because he’s in the movie. And I was like, “Oh!” But I didn’t want to say anything then.
AF: And then her friend was like, “Yeah that’s the guy who directed Boondock Saints .” So anyway he brought his fiancé and we hung out but…you know…
NM: Yeah. See “ Overnight ” dude. You have to see it. It’s…crazy.
AF: Have you heard the record he recorded?
NM: No actually. It’s interesting watching that movie. It’s not even that its really all that “factually accurate.” It’s just fascinating to watch the ins and outs of “the biz” on screen as it plays out. Tell your readers I did air-quotes there. [Laughs]
Here’s one that I bet you haven’t seen. One of my all time favorite actors is in this movie, Tim Roth. He was in a movie called, Deceiver . Have you seen it?
AF: No. You got me. Haven’t seen this one.
NM: It’s like a play…on film. I say “play” because there’s only a couple of sets. A lot of it takes place in like a police interrogation room. Tim Roth, Michael Rooker, and Chris Penn, rest in peace. Tim Roth is incredible in this movie. My theme is kind of dark but sort of humorous in movies, ya know?
AF: Very much like Pulp Fiction .
NM: Exactly! And Boondock Saints for that matter. And I got to say it, The Matrix . Got to say it. That first one. The editing is undeniable.
AF: Oh yeah…
NM: The editing and the story in that film plus the special effects are undeniable. So many movies since that film, have tried to be what that film was.
AF: That movie, like you said, set a lot of trends. The only movie, since then that I think started a new trend, graphically anyway, was Sin City .
NM: Yeah! True. But story wise, it wasn’t anything near The Matrix.
AF: No. No it wasn’t.
NM: Oh here’s another. It’s a classic. Anyone who doesn’t have it, has to go buy it immediately. In fact, you have to go buy three copies to make up for the fact that you don’t already have it. Ready?
NM: Natalie Portman. 11 years old. The Professional.
AF: Ah yes! Yes!
NM: How classic is that dude?! Freakin’ creepy scary, Gary Oldman.
AF: Speaking of creepy dude, I just watched “What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?”
NM: Which I don’t think I’ve ever seen.
AF: It’s from like ‘67.
NM: Is it a scary movie? What is it?
AF: It’s twisted. Two sisters that got into acting like in the 1900’s. One became more famous than the other so there was a lot of jealousy and animosity there. The more famous sister became crippled. I’m not going to tell you how. I’ve already said too much.
NM: Yeah, yeah. Stop there. I wanna see it. Oh! Just thought of another. Mulholland Drive.
NM: Oh. My God. Dude. That movie I watched, top to bottom. I was on tour with uh…hmm. Who was I on tour with? Maybe the American Idol tour so a few years ago. I was sitting in the back lounge. It freaked me out. At the end I was like, “This is so abstract and so obsure. I don’t get it.” So I just immediately put it on from the top. And then it made perfect sense!
AF: Oh yeah. You can’t watch that movie just once.
NM: No no. I realized, it’s really not that abstract. It’s very concrete. Another one. V for Vendetta .
AF: Yes! I LOVE V for Vendetta!
NM: That’s another one where it’s like out there and sci-fi. But really, no. It’s so concrete.
AF: Yeah. Well the first time through you’re just trying to figure it out and put the pieces together. But then when you watch it again, you can focus on the plot and details.
NM: Yeah! You can tell you’ve touched on one of my hot issues. I’m a movie guy. The other one is cars. Or even chess too. If we get into cars or chess, we’re going to be here all day. [ Laughs ]
AF: I’m a car lover.
NM: Are ya?
AF: Yeah. My dream car would be a 69 Chevelle Supersport. Kind of a cliché thing to say.
NM: No, no dude!
AF: Let’s do some more favorites. How about some of your favorite bands.
NM: I’ll be brief because unfortunately I’m running out of time. But…there’s a band I’m really into right now called Karnivool. They’re from Australia . Anyone who’s a fan of rock and incredible musicianship, cool songs, get it! The record is called, Themata.
AF: I just got into a band not long ago called 3. Actually they’re going on tour with Opeth and Dream Theater this April. I saw them when I did the interview with Gavin Harrison. They’re awesome. Out of New York. You know how a lot of prog bands have that “prog sound”?
AF: Yeah. Like they’re trying to be like Dream Theater or whatever. These guys have their own thing goin’.
NM: So does Karnivool. They have a prog element just because of the musicianship.
AF: Not like the, “Hey look how many notes I can play!” type band right?
NM: No. Not at all.
AF: I’m not going to name names.
AF: Not Dream Theater for the record. They’re one of my favorite bands. But…Other bands.
NM: Yeah. You don’t have to cover yourself. I’m not doing the interview, you are! You can take all your bad stuff out of it and take all the bad stuff I say and print in bold! [ Both laugh ]
AF: Cool man. Well hey, you need to get out of here. Its time for dinner.
NM: Yeah I gotta run, but listen, if you come up with more questions, just call me and we’ll get together.