Western soul group the Mobros to play Aztec
FARMINGTON – Anyone who wonders about the eclectic musical preferences of brothers Kelly and Patrick Morris — better known as the group the Mobros — need look no further than their parents, who filled their sons’ ears with a wide variety of sounds and styles during their childhood in Camden, S.C.
Elvis Presley. The Rev. Al Green. Paul Simon. Michael Jackson. Jackie Wilson. The Buena Vista Social Club. George Jones. Glen Campbell. It was a who’s who of musical artists who specialized in genres ranging from rock ‘n’ roll, blues, soul, R&B and pop to Latin, country and singer-songwriter. The two young boys soaked it all up, along with a healthy dose of Frank Sinatra and Broadway show tunes from their grandfather.
Later, the Morris brothers would find their own way to such acts as The Band, the Beatles, Marvin Gaye and Eric Clapton. Encouraged by their parents to pick up an instrument, Kelly chose the guitar while Patrick gravitated toward the drums. Before long, inspired by the seminal artists they were listening to, the boys had formed their own combo and were using an old tape recorder to capture their versions of songs by all the aforementioned performers.
While the scratchy sound quality of those early recordings was probably forgettable, the performances were not. The Morris brothers quickly became proficient well beyond their years on their respective instruments, as they cultivated complex, layered techniques that borrowed a bit here and there from all the notable acts they already had been exposed to. Even better, their rich, tightly woven harmonies perfectly complemented their music, and it came as no surprise to anyone when they blew the competition off the stage at their high school talent show while still in their early teens, laying claim to a $100 first prize and reveling in their first taste of stardom.
Eight years later, the Morris brothers giggled at that memory of cheerleaders chanting their names as they roused themselves for another day on the road in the midst of their first tour of the western United States, a foray that will bring them to Crash Music in Aztec this weekend. As they have made their way down the Left Coast over the past few weeks, from Sacramento to Oakland to Santa Barbara to Los Angeles to San Diego, and found a surprisingly large audience for their music, they can’t help but feel a little bit like they’re back in high school and getting their first bit of attention from the hottest girl in class, the one who previously couldn’t have distinguished them from wallpaper.
So they’re enjoying this little bout of attention, even as they remind themselves how fleeting those feel-good moments can be. Still in their early twenties, the Mobros already are a veteran, well-established act that regularly plays a broad circuit from Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Austin, Texas, charming drunken, spring break partiers in the open-air, beach-front bars of the former and winning over the skeptical, musically erudite hipsters, hippies and cowboys of the latter.
Now, it’s the folks in California who are getting a taste of the Mobros, and they seem to be digging it.
“People have told us they don’t get this kind of music here,” Kelly Morris said by phone last week from San Diego. “Out here, it’s mostly indie rock, surf and rap. Our sound is more blues-rock, or western soul, as we call it.”
Western soul? Well, the Mobros sound relies heavily on a Memphis groove, Kelly explained, and when you live in South Carolina, that’s way out toward where the sun sets.
“We’re so far east, we think Memphis is west,” he said.
Having trouble following that line of reasoning? Kelly tried to describe it in another, more humorous way. He said he and his brother have started with that Stax Records kind of sound, with the distinctive, funky undertow it evokes, and paired it with the reserved, suave approach you might associate with a movie cowboy. Think actor Cleavon Little’s velvety Sheriff Bart character in the Mel Brooks comedy “Blazing Saddles,” he said, and you begin to get the picture.
But don’t be fooled into thinking the Mobros are simply smirking their way up the musical food chain. Their first release, 2014’s “Walking With a Different Stride,” is a mature, sophisticated and yet relaxed piece of work that should open as many doors as the Morris brothers care to walk through. Their work already has drawn the attention of music industry types all over the East Coast, who quickly took to whispering promises to the boys of how they could take them to the next level, if only the Mobros were willing to cede a little creative control.
Wisely, the brothers didn’t get in a hurry. They remained true to their instincts and rejected those entreaties, enticing as some of them had to be. They have opted to go about building a coast-to-coast audience, and developing a greater network of contacts and supporters. They know this is their opportunity to explore every musical avenue that interests them while compiling experiences that will inform their decisions for years to come.
Those prolonged van tours can be a grind, particularly when you start out with just $100 in cash in your pocket and have to have faith there will be enough left over to make it to the next city, as Patrick Morris acknowledged. But that kind of seasoning is invaluable, and when new doors swing open to you, as many of them have on this trip, those instances have a way of starting to feel like destiny.
“Even when we were going to L.A. for the first time, we weren’t going to play — we were going to see a friend’s band from Chicago,” Patrick said. “But when we got there, one of the bands had backed out, and the promoter met us and threw us on the bill. We played for free, but because we were willing to do that, he booked three other shows for us. I’m not sure how many bands from South Carolina could come out here and do that.”
Experiences like that have taught the Mobros the value of building personal relationships.
“Your decisions really shape your future,” Kelly said. “Now, we have this guy who believes in us, who is going to book us for as many shows in LA. As he can. And we do it with a handshake. This is what it should be like.”
Next up for the Mobros is another album, for which they are now compiling material. The brothers have made a habit until now of crafting their songs together — one starts out with an idea or a lyric and brings it to the other, who then provides a melody. But Kelly said he and his brother are making a point of working independently for now and seeing if that change in dynamic takes them places as individuals that they haven’t managed to get to as a pair.
Still, as Patrick said, laughing, “It’s hard to write anything in a van.”
While they don’t rule out the possibility of bringing in a producer to oversee their next disc, which they hope to record before summer, the Mobros are content for now to keep their own musical counsel.
“We have a real hands-on approach,” Patrick said. “But we’ve met a lot of bands who have worked with producers, and they were really happy with it. They felt like that producer was able to pull something out of them that they really wanted. So we’re always open to that idea.”
It’s a matter of waiting until the timing is obviously right, Kelly said.
“Until somebody introduces an idea that causes us to go, ‘Wow, that’s crazy; that really impresses us,” he’s not inclined to bring someone else into the band’s decision-making process, he said. “So far, we’ve stuck to this path. I’m not sure we have to do anything different.”
The local trio Old Dog Tre opens this weekend’s show.
Mike Easterling is the A&E editor of The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4610.
If you go
What: The Mobros in concert with Old Dog Tre opening
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 5
Where: Crash Music at the Aztec Theater, 104 N. Main Ave. in Aztec
Tickets: $15 available online at crashmusicaztec.com, by phone at 505-427-6748 or at the door
For more information: themobros.com