Cut the kids in half

Published: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 2:33 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 19, 2005 at 2:33 p.m.

The men and woman of Morningbell have schedules that make finding time for the band difficult and extensive touring out of the question.

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Sun file photo

Eric Atria is getting ready to take the bar, Masatoshi Enomoto: music instructor, Travis Atria: getting a masters in journalism, Stacie Thrushman: in medical school.

However, Eric and Masa were able to find time to meet up with me at the Java Lounge on University Ave. for about a half-hour to talk:

What have you been listening to the most lately?

Masa Enomoto: Wow. It's so different. Each one of us listens to different things. I've been listening to a lot of jazz and a lot of female singers lately.

Eric Atria: Travis has been listening to a lot of old, old jazz records. He's the guy that writes all the stuff. I've been listening to The Shins. We were just listening to The Postal Service on the way here.

Masa: Your law recordings.

Eric: Yeah. I've been listening to legal education tapes lately. It's not exciting. I'm studying for the Bar. So that's what I've been listening to. But for music, that's pretty much the music we've been listening to.

Masa: Stacie's probably the same as you, right?

Eric: She's been listening to Björk lately.

How would you describe your band's sound?

Masa: Honestly, I can't.

Eric: I know it's kind of become cliché for bands to be like "Oh, it's hard to describe us." So we've kind of been forced to describe something. People just started calling us psychedelic pop-rock just because it's kind of out there and we use a lot of lights when we play and a lot of visual stuff. So, I guess that works.

What are your influences?

Masa: It depends. Travis does most of the writing, at least most of the stuff we've had so far. So he's probably the most influenced by what's in the music.

Eric: You can always tell what he's been listening to when he makes new songs. You can always be like, "Oh he's been listening to the Beach Boys." I'd say mostly the Beatles for him; Flaming Lips to some extent.

How would you describe your live show?

Masa: Entertaining.

Eric: It's tough to just play music and stand there and try to get people. So we just always try to do something to make it interesting depending on what I can find at Lowe's in the lighting section or Christmas lights or anything we try to do to make it more visually interesting. When we first started we tried to be really serious and really like, "Those guys are real. They look serious." But it doesn't work, especially when you fu** up because when you fu** up you're like, "S**t!" So if you start out with a sense of humor about it then you mess up and make a joke about it, it becomes more light. We try to make it humorous as well as musical.

Is there anything else besides the lighting that makes it entertaining?

Masa: We just have fun. I think by us having fun and just kind of going how things go along it kind of makes it more interesting and entertaining to the crowd. I tend to act like a fool. That's my little gimmick.

Eric: Recently we really just try to do something different every show. Once, Masa brought a vibraphone. I brought a Theremin; you know the old Beach Boys sound. We just try to do different instrumentation.

Masa: We try to give a reason for people to come see us at least more than once. If you come see us for a show, you're going to get your moneys worth; you're going to get entertained. We always try to give something different every time that we do play.

Eric: Once when Masa couldn't make it we just videotaped him playing the drums and played it on the TV set and put the drum sound through the house system on one of the songs.

How does the band's songwriting process work?

Masa: It changes. Right now it's changing. We're still working on new material, but a good amount of the material Travis spent a lot of time writing. He has an idea or he comes in with a general song or he writes lyrics.

So most of the time, not all of it, he'll come in with an idea of how he wants the song to be, and we'll play it and work with that. Some of the songs we've had, it's just an idea and then we all add things or somebody starts an idea. It's like jamming together - here's an idea and let's kind of go with it and see where it goes.

What was the recording process like?

Eric: Our recording doesn't work unless Travis is motivated. He'll sit down at the Mac and several hours later we'll have 20 tracks down, just an insane amount of work. Then I'll usually tidy it up. I'll make sure it lines up because we don't have very good timing. Masa does, but we don't. So we have to go back and edit it so we all hit on one and it doesn't sound like a big garbled mess. So that's kind of cheating, but you have to tidy it up. Lots of hours in front of a computer.

I don't know if you've read it anywhere on our site or anything but I actually deleted the masters after a year of work. A solid year's worth of work and I accidentally deleted it with the touch of one button one day. It was really painful. We had a backup that was two weeks old, and we decided it was good enough and we were just going to stick with it.

What does the album title `Learning by Musical Montage' mean?

Eric: The ninth track on here, Travis wrote in April of 2003, I think. He wrote it a long time ago and he recorded a real rough recording. It sounded like the music that accompanies a montage on Sesame Street or some old show where they have lights going and traffic driving at night or gears spinning or technology happening.

We always just said it would be cool to be able to learn something by a montage instead of actually having to put the hours in of studying or recording the album. It would be nice to have a minute's worth of footage and the whole thing's done and there's music going on in the background. That's essentially what that is. There's more information on it on our site, too.

What do the lyrics deal with?

Eric: The lyrics, Travis wrote for his girlfriend at the time who he had been going out with for like four years who was saying she didn't believe in an afterlife. It was kind of him giving some sort of response to her disbelief in it saying if there was one, this is what it would be like. It's pretty deep. He explains it. I'm not too good at explaining what he writes.

Why did you decide to make the move from Miami to Gainesville?

Eric: It wasn't really a decision consciously.

Masa: Well you guys were all going to school. That's the biggest thing. We were playing south Florida on and off but he [Eric] came up here for law school. Since he and Stacie were engaged, Stacie came up.

Then it was just Travis and I. Travis had graduated and he wasn't sure what he wanted to do at the time. I had been wanting to leave south Florida and I felt I had an idea and I had goals for the band. I saw it could go somewhere. So we actually all decided to move up here all because of him going to law school, and it went from there.

How has moving to Gainesville affected you and your music?

Masa: It's just more accessible. The scene in south Florida, as big as the community is and as many things as there are, it's a very difficult scene to work with. We weren't sure about Gainesville. We've changed a lot since we've been up here, but it has been very responsive and people actually check out the music.

Eric: That's the easy answer to it, but I think what I've been discovering a lot lately is it really made us try really, really hard because especially when you first move somewhere you're kind of intimidated by the scene and intimidated by what's going on. So you hear about these other bands and you hear, "How is that band so big? How are they so popular?"

So you just keep trying to get better yourself, trying to get better than them, before going out and realizing that most local shows don't really have that big of a crowd there and it's mostly just their friends talking about it. It made us strive to be bigger or appear bigger than what we were and end up getting our means to actually do that.

Was it difficult to adjust at all?

Eric: It's a really slow process.

Masa: Yeah, it's just slow. I don't know. I don't think it was difficult.

Eric: Yeah, I don't think so. It was very slow. I wouldn't say we were serious in town until a year ago today almost. Our first show last year in town was the 17th. Before that we played a couple shows in the fall semester of that year. So if you think about it, the whole last year is really what we did as a solid effort. Year and a half, I'd say. That's only half the time I've been up here.

Why did you decide to change the band's name from Future Feels Good to Morningbell?

Masa: There are a lot of different reasons. I think the biggest one is that as a group we were not happy with the old name. There were other situations. Some people thought it had religious connotations to it or something.

Eric: The old one we took from Our old drummer picked it, and we liked it because at that point we were all about being funky, like real spacey. We thought the future and spacemen were cool, funny, humorous things, but it didn't really come across as that. Especially up here, a lot of people thought it was religious for some reason.

And it just sounded dumb. Saying it to people was really embarrassing almost. So we decided we needed a neutral name that didn't mean anything that you couldn't really read into. I don't know if we did it or not, but it's better than the old one.

How did you decide on the new name?

Masa: It was rough. We threw out a lot of ideas, and it was kind of a voting process, like which one was the most popular in a sense. It took a while. At least two weeks nonstop. We threw out so many different names.

Eric: At first you're like, "That would be a cool name for a band but not necessarily our band." We came up with one The Green Beans and we had another one, The Drapes. But we wouldn't want our band to be called that. I went through all the CDs I owned and looked at song names and that was one on Radiohead's Kid A and Amnesiac and I just thought it was cool.

What does each of the members do outside of the band? Has any of it gotten in the way of the band?

Eric: I think it's always in the way of the band. It totally structures how we are as a band. There's no avoiding it.

Masa: Right. Stacie now is a med student so her life is based around that. I mean, it's not a negative thing, but she doesn't have as much time to work with the band and it's very constricted in a sense. He [Eric] was doing law school at the time and now he's studying for the Bar. All of us have different schedules on what time of day we run well and that kind of stuff. I'm a musician. I teach music and I play music. I'm freelancing so my hours are ridiculous and don't match with any of their hours.

Eric: I guess also we have kind of grown out of it. It's not like we just go in to the garage and just jam, like "Let's just play this for a while." It's not the traditional college or free-musician feeling of playing. It's really business. I mean, I don't want it to sound like we don't enjoy it. But we go in the garage for 45 minutes, play the songs and we're done. We don't have time.

Masa: Yeah. We come in with a plan and have rehearsals planned out and have an idea. When we go in, we just kind of put it together instead of wasting three or four hours just to get one thing done.

Eric: Travis now does journalism. He's doing a masters in journalism. Before he wasn't he was just doing music and working part-time at a video store. Yeah. We can't tour. We just can't do it. We can't play on any day but a Friday or a Saturday.

Masa: Yeah. That's really it. Our play dates and where we can play.

How did you first get involved in making music together?

Eric: Well, Travis and I, we're brothers. We had a band when we were in high school. I think we could play about three songs because our drummer sucked. But we were always pretty good together. We always learned at the same pace. Then when I went to college [at the University of Miami] I met Masa. We lived together my sophomore year. We didn't really play music together, but I knew he was a drummer and when we kicked out our old drummer I just knew him. Stacie was my girlfriend and when we kicked out our keyboardist I knew she played the piano. It's kind of like a family. We're kind of like the Partridge Family in a cooler way I guess.

Masa: I'm the odd man out. It's like the whole family and then it's me.

Eric: And the Japanese guy.

Masa: Atria family and a Japanese guy.

I read on your Web site that Stacie has performed with Ricky Martin. How did that happen?

Eric: I guess when concerts come through town, they need performers. Ricky Martin can't tour with an orchestra, so what they do is they put out advertisements.

Masa: She plays viola. She doesn't play as much any more.

Eric: Yeah. She was in the orchestra at Miami. So was Masa. And they just put ads out like "Hey, we need orchestra players." And I guess you get paid X dollars. Usually they fake it. Usually they don't even play. A lot of Latin music they play a soundtrack to.

Masa: It depends.

Eric: She was on another thing where she was on TV on Telemundo or something where they showed a close-up on her face. But yeah. That's how that came about.

What do you have in store for the coming year?

Eric: We're trying to get a new album started.

Masa: Yeah. That's our biggest thing right now.

Eric: Like I said, it all depends on how motivated Travis is. A friend of ours who works in LA and has a lot of connections wants to make a video and try to get it to people. We'll see if that happens and if that does anything. That's pretty much it. We try not to plan more than six months in advance because it's too hard to do it.

Masa: Yeah. Making these large goals is kind of disappointing yourself. We're not taking this band as if this is our life, in a sense. We're doing it because we all enjoy playing together and making music. We all have very serious career goals and all that stuff.

Eric: So, I don't know. Ask us again in April.

Masa: Exactly.

Where do you see the band going in the long run?

Eric: When he [Masa] moved up we kind of set it out like every six months, if we're not better situated than we were, then we need to start reevaluating it. And so far it's worked well.

Masa: That's the reason why I came up. Basically, if it didn't work out, I was leaving.

Eric: We played like 37 shows last year. That's a lot of shows for a band who plays on the weekends and doesn't tour extensively. Last spring it was just us playing a lot and having the same 30-40 friends come out every time.

This past semester, in the fall, we had a lot of lucky breaks playing with other really good bands. We just finally started to have people we don't know coming to see us. So we'll see next semester. And we've been getting a lot of press. Maybe next semester will be bigger than that. I don't know. It's really hard to tell.

Is there anything else you'd like to add?

Eric: I like feedback. Lately I've been getting a lot of people e-mailing me like, "Are you going to play this song?" It's not necessarily even our songs. Somebody requested us to play Electric Six's "Danger! High Voltage." We've played it before as a joke. It's kind of cool to hear people say that. I like that.

Masa: Yeah. Feedback is always good. E-mail us.

Eric: If you're going to come and you like it, bring friends.

Morningbell will be performing Thursday at Orange and Brew on the University of Florida campus alongside March to May and The Fauxmones.

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