“Right now, I’m at beautiful All Day Records in Carrboro, North Carolina, closing up the shop,” Montgomery Morris shares, setting the scene for our early evening conversation last Thursday. “Yeah, I get to hang out and listen to music and talk about records all the time,” he continues unprompted. “So that’s cool.”
Morris is the exactly the type of person you’d want to shoot the shit with in a record store. He’s gregarious, quick with an opinion, and can rattle off regional late ’50s R&B groups with complete nonchalance. He also speaks in a steady Southern drawl, which isn’t something you’re likely pick up listening to his band Flesh Wounds, where he’s usually less singing than foaming at the mouth.
It’s a little odd to think of the trio and its thrashy garage rock springing from Carrboro’s sleepy, progressive landscape. Flesh Wounds also stands out on the roster of Durham-based indie heavy Merge Records, who recently released the its ferociously awesome “Bitter Boy” 7-inch. But both homes make sense in the larger context: North Carolina’s Triangle region has a long-thriving punk and jagged rock scene, one whose roots stretch back to late 70s and whose story very much includes early Merge acts like Polvo, Superchunk, and Butterglory.
The story of Flesh Wounds itself is relatively short. Morris, drummer Laura King, and guitarist Dan Kinney began playing together in 2011, when all three were occupied with other bands and in need of a less straight-faced outlet. But as those other bands fell apart, and as they fell in love with the sound of Flesh Wounds, they double-downed on the splattered-spirited rock ‘n’ roll. They self-released a cassette, Abrasions, Abscesses, and Amputations in late 2012 – which subsequently “burned up the charts in a few zip codes,” per Morris – and continued to hone their tunes around the area. Somewhere along the line, they caught the ear of Merge founder Mac McCaughan, a significant break for any band, local or otherwise. Now it has a 7″ for the label and self-released LP on the way this summer.
As for Morris, he’s taking it all in stride: “Yeah, this is cool”
How would you describe the scene in Carrboro, and in the Triangle more generally?
The most popular sound here in Carrboro proper is sort of folky music, you know what I mean? We have a pretty liberal, left wing, hippie community that really likes folky stuff and bluegrass – that fusion of music. There aren’t too many garage or punk bands around Carrboro, per se. In fact, there’s only a few of us.
But in the Triangle as a whole, in Raleigh and Durham – especially in Raleigh – there are a lot of great bands and lot of great places to play. The Triangle is a really good place to play rock ‘n’ roll music.
How did you connect with Merge? Are most unsigned bands in that area secretly hoping that the label will scoop them up?
The whole Merge thing really took me by surprise. We were just playing our shows and having fun, and then Mac from Merge came to a few of them and really liked us. I wasn’t expecting that at all.
But, you know, Merge has really started going after rock ‘n’ bands again. They were doing sort of a really poppy thing for a while – putting out She & Him records and that kind of stuff – but within the last year, they’ve really been getting back to their roots. They’ve been putting out rock ‘n’ roll stuff, like the Mikal Cronin album and the Reigning Sound record that’s coming up soon. Our buddies in the Spider Bags are gonna put out an LP on Merge this fall. It’s nice that they’re picking up some really scrappy, basement rock ‘n’ roll type bands like us too. I was really happy for that.
I guess everybody sort of wants it. People keep coming up to me and congratulating me. And I’m like, “Hey, thanks, man. Yeah, this is cool.” [Laughs]
It’s helped us out a lot. Trying to book a tour on your own is really hard, but booking a tour with the guys from Merge making some phone calls for you is very helpful. We had a few holes in our schedule and they really helped us fill them, which was awesome. We would not have had that otherwise. I feel really grateful to them – not just for putting out the record, but for helping us out here and there.
What’s the history of Flesh Wounds? It started as a side project for all three of you, right?
That was exactly it. All three of us were in different bands, and we just started playing together for the fun of it. I didn’t even know Dan very well. We all just wanted to play in a louder and more aggressive band than what we were already doing, and so we did it and we really enjoyed it. It’s a lot of fun playing in our band. I enjoy it a lot. Then we started getting shows. Then we started opening up for some out of town bands. Then Lara’s band broke up and Dan’s band went on hiatus, and I left my band, so I was like, “We’re all doing Flesh Wounds first. We should make a record.”
Merge asked us to do a 7”, but we were planning on recording anyway, so we recorded a whole record. Merge got three songs from those sessions, and the rest of the songs are gonna be on an LP that we’re putting out ourselves in August. I’m pretty stoked on it.
Where’d you record it?
We actually recorded all of the basic tracks – everything except the vocals – right here at All Day Records in beautiful Carrboro, North Carolina. We did all of the basic tracks in one night. We did all of the vocals the next night. And then we did the final mix thing in a third night over at Warrior Sound, which is a very nice studio a little ways outside of town. I would recommend that place to any band mixing their record there, because they have some very nice equipment.
These were all songs that we had been playing for a while. There are a handful of new songs that we made up just for the record, but it mostly songs that we’ve been playing over the course of the last few years and weren’t sick of yet. We just came in and did it. It was, like, three days for real. We just banged it out.
The production on the 7” is a lot cleaner than [the Abrasions, Abscesses, and Amputations cassette], but without being too clean. Were you trying to keep things a little grimy?
Oh, yeah. I don’t want it to sound too good, because that’s not what we sound like. [Laughs] We’re still playing basements, you know what I’m saying? We’re still playing house shows. I guess that I want my friends to like the record. I don’t think that it would sound like us if it sounded super crisp. In fact, I wanted to do it on four-track, but we ended up doing it on a computer. So, there’s a lot of cool stuff going on, but everything is pretty well blasted out in the red.
Speaking of being in red, the cover art for “Bitter Boy” is not fucking around. Who does your illustrations?
The art is done by this guy Darin Shuler, who lives up in the Seattle area. He lived down here for a couple of years while his girlfriend was going to grad school, and soon as she finished, they moved back to the Pacific Northwest, where they’re from. But while he was here for a couple of years, he was doing a lot of art. I just came across his work one day. He had done a ton of posters around town, and he did the cover art for a Last Year’s Men 7”.
I really love his style. He did the cover for the cassette, and so I asked him if he would do it for the 7”, and he said, “Yeah.” I sent him the songs and there’s that one “Kennel Cough”, and I guess he took that song and ran with it. He drew this bloody, anthropomorphic dog who’s just been seriously injured or has seriously injured someone else. It’s real sick. I like it.
What was your reaction when you first saw it?
When I first saw it, there wasn’t as much blood, so I asked for more blood. Imagine it being less bloody – that’s what it was originally like. But now it’s even bloodier. It’s like “Mortal Kombat”, where you could type in a code for extra blood. You gotta turn the blood code on for any kind of Flesh Wounds art work. I mean, our band is called Flesh Wounds, you know what I’m saying?
There’s a 2011 Kevin Sabo TV movie called “Flesh Wounds” too, and it’s currently beating you in a Google search. Have you seen it?
I have not seen it, but, man, I kinda want to see it now. Bummer. Man, it’s got a 3.0 on IMDB.com, so it must be really bad or really awesome.
We named our band after that freaking scene in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”. You know, because we’re just dorks.
I read that you have an affection for the rock ‘n’ roll of the 1950s. Who are your favorite acts from that era?
On our record, we do this song called “Jailbird”, which is by this duo El Pauling and Royal Abbit. El Pauling was the guitar payer and songwriter for this really good R&B group out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina called the “5” Royales. They’re probably most famous for doing this song “Dedicated to the One I Love”, which was covered by the Shirelles, and the Shirelles had a number one or number two hit with it. Anyway, the “5” Royales are awesome. They got good songs. El Pauling was a great guitar player, and I know a lot of people – like Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton and those kind of guys – said that they were listening to his leads on those “5” Royales songs and kind of copying his style when they were kids. I recommend the Five Royales to everyone on the planet.
Did you grow up listening to that music?
I grew up listening to pretty much only classic rock and country. But every since I was a little kid, my favorite band was the Rolling Stones, and I read this interview one time where Keith Richards said that when the Stones started out, he just wanted to be Jimmy Reed. That was it – they wanted to copy Jimmy Reed. And I was like, “I wonder who Jimmy Reed is,” so I found some stuff by him. This would have been when I was a late teenager. I was like, “Oh, yeah, this greatest thing ever.” Then I started finding out about all that other stuff going from there.