The story behind the new Mice On Stilts album, Hope For A Mourning.
Verse Chorus Verse sees local artists break down the stories behind their music. For the latest in the series, we asked Ben Morley from Auckland outfit Mice On Stilts to tell us what went into the songwriting behind the band's new album, Hope For A Mourning.
We began working on Hope for a Mourning around two and a half years ago. Sam and Aaron used to live in a place on Deadwood, I remember there was a man that slept under the stairs in that house. We had a real community at that time. We were practicing, drinking cheap beer and spending a good amount of important time together in this house. This is the house where Hope for a Mourning started to grow.
After living with these eight songs for so long, I have finally been able to attach some meaning to them as a whole. At the time I wrote them, it was purely catharsis, which is important. The last 24 months have lead me to face some confronting feelings and emotions about who I am or who I want to be. What are my values? And, what the is right way to love people? This has, in retrospect, been incredibly life giving. I believe this is the overarching theme of Hope for a Mourning: If we embrace and own all of our feelings and emotions, we are in a better place to process then. I’m learning to embrace feeling like shit when it happens, not wrestling with it, but just letting it happen. Above all, these eight songs are a celebration of the gift of life and gratitude to God.
The opening track ‘Khandallah’, sort of wrote itself. Of all the eight tracks, this one is the ‘poppiest’ song on the album. Lyrically it’s about existing without expectation of each other, of acceptance and loving our fellow human. Khandallah is a suburb of Wellington. It means the ‘resting place of god’, a place I think a lot of us want to be close to. It made sense to call the song ‘Khandallah’. Plus, the word is so beautiful.
There is an accidental theme of death here. I’ve known a good amount of friends and family that have been suicidal. I’ve felt that way in the past before. I have some understanding of how that feels. It’s confrontational and even oppressive. Just deciding to delete yourself from existence. This is the premise for the song ‘The Hours’. I’m not trying to glorify or celebrate these things but they are part of some people’s lives. I think it’s important to acknowledge that. This is a very real thing facing people right now.
‘And We Saw His Needs Through The Casket’ is somewhat related to death. It’s a very angry song. A few years ago I was trawling through Wikipedia looking for something to read, bored out of my mind when I found an article called ‘Death of Kelly Thomas’. In 2011, a homeless and mentally unwell Kelly Thomas was beaten to death by three police officers after they were called out to investigate people vandalising cars in Fullerton, California. Everything about this is horrific. Police brutality is becoming more and more of a norm to the point that I’ve heard people defending it.
Something about this particular incident just made me so angry. Kelly Thomas was tasered five times, beaten for about 20 minutes by three officers as he repeatedly called out for his father. This man was so vulnerable. I’ve watched the footage, he did nothing to even justify a search. There are no positives to be taken from this. The officers kept their jobs, two parents lost a son but most importantly, a human being lost his life. It was just stripped away from him as though he never had a right to it.
Anger is an odd thing. We often associate it with negative connotations. Because in most cases it is negative. But I think there is a justified anger, one that we can hold on to, be proud to own and not be guilty of.
I grew up in a church, more intensely from the age of eight till about 20. I’ve met many great people within that community, but the opposite is true as well. Ultimately, I decided that this kind of spirituality wasn’t for me. I found that I was subject to a lot of internal guilt after making the choice to leave. On top of that, the security blanket of what I perceived at the time to be God’s love wasn’t there, and I didn’t want it to be there. I felt kind of alone. This was positive though as I learnt so much in that time and began connecting to myself, my whanau and friends and the environment around me. Ironically I’d never felt closer to God. Just without the bracket of religion.
I believe God exists in so many places. Within a church setting we limit what God is, we assign a gender to God and use God to fit our own needs. So, ‘YHWH’ is largely about some left over resentments I have towards to the Christian church. For many reasons, but that is one of them. The song ‘Orca’ also touches on this theme. ‘Orca’ is about a few different things but one of them is seeing a loved one put their faith into system followed by consistent disappointment.
They are just eight pop/rock songs, but there is a meaning attached to them that I perceive to be helpful. I hope it can be a blessing to someone else other than myself.
I love making music in Mice on Stilts and I’m grateful to be a part of it. I love the people In this band and those who have been part of this band in the past. I love the songwriting process, and finding new chords and phrasings. I love performing them with five of my friends.
For me it’s community and I hope we can continue to nurture it and see it grow.