Morella’s Forest (Tooth and Nail Records)
by guest writer Chris Colbert
‘Super Deluxe’ was the debut album from the Dayton, Ohio band Morella’s Forest, which was active from 1992–2002. I reached out to Christopher Colbert, who co-produced and engineered the album (and many other Christian indie rock records of the era) to get his thoughts as he looked back on it 20 years later.
For much of 2015, Colbert has been on tour with Leon Bridges and I sent him the album to revisit. This is what he had to say. — AP
I have no way to express how hectic life is in the Leon Bridges camp. Fortunately I had a 16-hour flight to Australia last night. Kind of a fantastic environment to give Super Deluxe a listen.
In my fairly messed-up mind, Super Deluxe is part of the first group of records for Tooth & Nail that Steve [Hindalong] and I did together — all in 1995: Morella’s Forest, Luxury, and Joe Christmas. To me, these records are very connected. The bands were mutual fans of each other, did shows together, and did their first records with Steve and myself.
Steve and I met at a session for a Lifesavers record — a terrible, recorded-all-in-one-night thing. I think he liked that I nailed the drum kit to a bare wood floor. I started using Neverland Studio quite a bit, and he started calling me for stuff that Derri [Daugherty] didn’t want to do.
I don’t think I’ve listened to any of those 1995 records through since I mixed them, until recently when Luxury asked me about doing something for their 20th anniversary. I don’t usually revisit records I work on. I don’t look back much, and I’m usually afraid that I probably ruined a record somehow.
After giving Super Deluxe a listen, I gotta say I’m pretty thrilled. What a weird, noisy mess. This was pre-digital; there are no edits, no manipulation, every thing in there was performed. I recall spending a lot of time crawling on the floor, setting up guitar pedals in long, confused chains, and Shawn [Johnson, the band’s guitarist] and I both having to stomp multiple pedals from verse to chorus. Mistakes were made, and I was delighted to hear those mistakes 20 years later.
All the noise would not have been music in the end if Sydney [Rentz]and Steve didn’t do such a bang-up job with the vocals. In the end, it’s Sydney that brought the humanity to the racket. The harmony and counter-melody that Steve added with Sydney is the real magic that makes the guitars make sense. Steve’s percussion also defines the rhythm when all coulda been lost in guitar static. He was brilliant at letting me go way out there sonically and not losing sight of the song.
The band was prepared to record. Shawn was basically the band music director and knew the vibe he wanted. Steve and I just ran with it. They had been touring a lot, and were pretty hot to record. As I recall, we had very little time to make this record. Same with Luxury and Joe Christmas. I think that kind of urgency helped. Decisions were made quickly, mistakes were left in, and there was no time or budget for the label to second guess anything.
We recorded and mixed 15 songs in less than two weeks, or however long we spent on it. The other tunes from the sessions came out as the Hang Out EP. I remember a killer American Music Club cover on it (“Art of Love”).
After the record, I did sound for them on a couple short tours, they were really fun to hang with. I hired Sydney for sessions on occasion, as well; great singer, super-smart woman.
In the early 2000s, I recorded a few tunes for a possible solo thing for Sydney. The label that was interested just wouldn’t give her the kind of deal she wanted: some ownership, all the publishing, perfectly reasonable things. They wouldn’t budge, so she walked. She was right. I guess it’s hard for a lot of men to treat a petite, soft-spoken, pretty girl as an intelligent business woman.
Chris Colbert has been an audio engineer for decades and worked on dozens of classic Christian indie rock records. His own band and album was featured on Chrindie ’95 earlier this year: Fluffy’s ‘Sugar Pistol’.