Author, music journalist, photographer, punk vocalist. These are a few things that Morat is known for. We had a very entertaining and informative chat with him about his debut novel, tales from his time at Kerrang! magazine and his friendship with the much missed Lemmy and his love for Motorhead among many other things.
Your debut novel The Road To Fero City is available now, can you tell us a bit about it?
It’s been described as Sons Of Anarchy meets The Lord Of The Rings on drugs at a cage fight, which is a pretty accurate description. A lot of the reviews have also mentioned Terry Pratchett, which is very flattering, especially since I’ve read most of his books, but Fero City is a lot more ‘grown up’ in that it’s probably not the sort of thing you want your kids reading. There’s a lot of sex and drugs and violence! I grew up reading a lot of sci-fi/fantasy books, and a lot of biker pulp, so it’s a cross between the two. I basically tried to write something that I’d want to read.
What sort of things inspired the book and its content? I’m specifically thinking about any musical influences you had when thinking about the content?
I listened to a lot of Clutch while I was writing it, and I got permission from them to reference their lyrics. They’re often my go-to band for writing because they have so many albums and different flavours, and because Neil Fallon tells stories with his lyrics. You’ll find a lot of Clutch references in the book, along with a bit of Kyuss and Motörhead, but sometimes I need silence to write, or I’ll just play one specific song to get the right mental picture. I always imagined Cancer Bats ‘Scared To Death’ being the soundtrack for the motorbike chase at the beginning of the book.
Was writing a book something you always wanted to do?
Yes! I actually started writing Fero City years ago, when I lived in squats in London, but I was always losing my stuff when we got evicted. I’d write everything by hand because I didn’t have a typewriter, short stories mostly, and I found the first rough chapter of Fero City in amongst all the junk that survived, which is what prompted me to have another go at it. I also found several chapters from a punk book I was trying to write, so I’ll be going back to that at some point. The weird thing is I don’t always enjoy writing, but I enjoy having written stuff, if that makes sense. If I could have picked a talent then it probably wouldn’t have been writing, but it was the only thing I was ever any good at.
Have you got any plans to do a follow up?
Yes, I’m about three quarters done with the second one and it’ll be out later this year. It’s been a little easier than the first one, partly because I’ve already got most of the characters, but it’s still a long process. It’s nice when you get on a roll, almost like it’s writing itself and I’m just following along to find out what they’ll do next. But I don’t write particularity fast, and sometimes the last thing I want to do after a big feature for a magazine is more writing. I get spurts of enthusiasm and I try to get as much done as possible while they last. It’s also very encouraging that I’ve got some people into reading. Some of my friends had never read a book and they got it just to be supportive, but now they’re getting bookshelves and discovering a whole new world of reading, which makes it all worthwhile.
I used to buy Kerrang! every week when I was a teenager and always looked forward to your articles and interviews and that in turn made me want to pursue music journalism so thanks for that! How did you start at the magazine?
Oh God, I’m sorry! I would never encourage anyone into music journalism, because the pay is terrible! Ha ha! You have to be really obsessed with music and not mind being broke all the time! I started at Kerrang! almost by accident; I was a motorcycle messenger in London and I met their art director, Krusher, at a Motörhead show. We started hanging out, getting drunk together, and I met the other people at Kerrang! through him. I wrote a review of GBH at the George Robey and they ran it and just started giving me work. I was like, “hang on, I get paid to go to gigs that I was going to anyway and I get in free? I’m in!”
You were always reviewing all the best punk, hardcore and metal bands at the magazine but you were also always recommending some pretty open minded stuff like The Prodigy and some of the harder techno/gabber stuff. Did you get any flak from the more close minded end of the rock community for that?
Yes, I got death threats for getting the Prodigy in Kerrang! so it’s cool to see them headlining festivals like Download, and people being more open minded about it. Even stuff like Ministry and Rage Against The Machine pissed people off when I first started writing about them! I basically just tried to write about things I liked, and it’s always cool turning people on to new stuff. What some people forget is that a writer you hate can be just as useful or informative as a writer you love, where music is concerned. There was a guy called Dave Reynolds at Kerrang! who was into all the big hair, glam stuff, and if he hated a record then it was pretty much guaranteed that I’d like it. The first Discharge record I bought was because of a terrible review that said it sounded like a road drill and made the UK Subs sound like a male voice choir. To me, it’s all about trusting someone’s musical taste; if they have the same taste then you’ll probably like it too!
Is that the sort of stuff that you are still into?
Yeah, my taste in music is still quite varied, but, like most people, it revolves around the same few bands. I don’t really like labelling music, but to a certain extent you have to. No one walks into a record store and says, “I’d like to buy some music”. You need at least a rough idea of the genre. Even back in the day when you’d get records because they had a cool sleeve, you’d still know roughly what you were looking for.
What are you listening to at the moment?
After Lemmy died, it was pretty much nothing but Motörhead for several months, but I’ve got back into listening to other stuff again. I’ve recently discovered a couple of new bands, Dark Water Rebellion and Voodoo Kungfu, but it depends what I’m doing and what mood I’m in. I love the new Discharge and Slayer albums, but sometimes you need something mellow like Pink Floyd or Tricky. That’s probably why I listen to Clutch so much because they have elements of both.
What were some of your highlights when working at Kerrang!?
I worked there for 19 years so there were quite a few, mostly getting to see shows that I wouldn’t have seen otherwise. I used to keep a list of all the gigs I went to, which is pretty nerdy, but one year I went to over 300 gigs. I think some of the highlights were when I had an effect on the music, like hooking Biohazard up with the Prodigy and them doing Breathe together at the Astoria. Like I said, I enjoy turning people on to stuff so it was always cool when people paid attention and a band would start to get big because I was writing about them. I also got to travel a lot and go to places that I would never have seen otherwise, Poland, Hungary, Australia, the US. I’d never been further than France when I started writing for Kerrang! so I’m grateful for that.
What was the best interview that you ever did?
I’d like to hope that there were a few! The only time I ever got nervous or starstruck was interviewing Iggy Pop, but he was so laid back and cool that it went away immediately. That was a great interview. I’d have to say that my favourite was with Lemmy in Copenhagen, which he always said was his favourite too! Basically the brief was to try and keep up with him, drink when he drinks, snort when he snorts, and I failed dismally. I interviewed him three times in one night because I couldn’t remember doing the first two, and by the end of the night I was fucking hammered and he was still sober. Christ knows how he had the patience to deal with me! It was a horrible interview to transcribe because I had to listen to myself slurring through all these stupid questions, but it came out really well and I was laughing my ass off writing it.
And what about the worst?
There’s been a few of those too! I’ve fallen out with quite a few bands, mostly because I won’t take shit from them. As much as I’m obsessed with music, some of them seem to think they’re better than everyone else because they have that talent and they think it gives them a right to behave like dicks. They forget that without the fans they’d be broke and making music for no one. They also forget that nurses and firefighters and teachers have followed their vocation as well, and they don’t get all the adulation and awards for it. Probably the worst was Johnny Rotten. That was particularly difficult because he was kind of a hero of mine when I was a kid, and he was just such a gutless wanker, hiding behind his scary minder. That one still stings a bit because he was so disappointing, basically just playing the role of Johnny Rotten. The worst thing about when that happens is it takes away their music and leaves a bad taste every time your hear them. That’s one of the reasons I never listen to Tool either! Maynard was a fucking bellend!
What about the best or most memorable gig you ever covered?
There are far too many to just choose one! Off the top of my head I’d say Killing Joke at the Astoria, Ministry at Brixton Academy, the Prodigy and Soundgarden at the Big Day Out in Australia, Monster Magnet at the Underworld in London, Poison Idea at ULU… We’d be here for days if I listed them all. The best gigs are always the ones where you’re utterly absorbed in the music and not thinking about anything else, and not every band can do that successfully. It’s those gigs that leave you buzzing for weeks afterwards that are the best and there’s a lot of factors involved, like the venue and the audience as well as the band. The last couple of bands I saw who did that were Slayer and Uncle Acid and the Deadbeats.
Have you got any other crazy stories or memories from that time that you can share with us?
Again, we could be here a while! I suppose the one that springs immediately to mind was when I got hit by a car one night when I was out with Queens Of The Stoneage. My friend Yan Spencer from Holy Cow Tattoo was tattooing Nick Oliveri backstage after their Brixton Academy show and there wasn’t enough time to finish it before we got kicked out of the venue, so we all piled into cabs and went to their hotel. On the way there was saw this car crashed into a post and the driver was trapped inside so we pulled over to help. As I was crossing the road I got hit by another car because the driver was busy looking at the accident, and I went flying right over the top and landed in the road, still clutching my drink. Luckily I was so drunk that I just bounced and didn’t get hurt. I was more concerned that he’d spilled my drink.
What other publications have you done work for?
I think it’s somewhere around 100 different publications now. Because of the nature of the job, you have to work constantly and sometimes it’s regular work, other times it’s a one off. Most of my work at the moment comes from Metal Hammer and Vive Le Rock, which are both great magazines, but I’ve also done stuff for everyone from Penthouse and Motorcycle Weekly to Custom Bike, Terrorizer, Bizarre… Obviously I prefer working for people who don’t edit too heavily. If they change my work too much then I don’t work for them again. What’s the point if they’re just going to fuck it up? They might as well do it themselves.
With the rise of the Internet and online publications, do you feel there is still a place for traditional print media?
Yes, because people like to collect things and you can’t collect web pages. I still have magazines from when I was a kid and there’s something about having a physical copy of something that’s special, particularly if it’s limited edition. Even though print media took a massive dump because of the internet, I think it will always be around. It’s the same with people buying books instead of digital versions on Kindle or whatever. Obviously you have to move with the times and a lot of my work comes from websites now, but it actually seems like there are more print magazines now, because it’s easier for people to do their own.
You are also a successful photographer, how did you end up getting into photography. Was that when you were at Kerrang!?
That was another happy accident. Basically I was asked to go on tour with Poison Idea and none of the photographers wanted the job because Poison Idea were nutters. Kerrang! asked me to get some pictures and I got paid more for that than I did for writing the feature. I’d always loved photography, but I could never afford a decent camera until then. I was really lucky in that I got commissioned work right from the start shooting live shows and other people spend years trying to get their foot in the door, but it was quite stressful at first because I didn’t really know what I was doing. It’s a lot easier now because everything is digital, but I used to waste a lot of film trying to learn how to get decent shots.
You do extensive work with your wife Masuimi Max, what is it like working together?
I think we make a good team and I’m kind of spoiled because she’s such a great model. I take that for granted a little bit sometimes until I have to work with someone else and I have to instruct them on every pose. It takes a lot more than being pretty or photogenic to be a good model, and I’ve learned a huge amount from her. It’s also very different shooting pin up or fetish stuff compared to rock stuff, so there was a lot of learning involved with that too, different lighting and so on. We shoot together all the time and my favourite pictures are usually with her.
Aside from your wife, who is the most memorable person you have ever photographed?
That kind of depends on how the pictures come out. If someone’s open to ideas and willing to work with you then it’s much easier than working with someone who’s not comfortable being photographed. Ozzy Osbourne was obviously memorable, but they weren’t my best pictures. That’s a difficult question to answer because memorable people don’t always make for memorable pictures, and some of my favourite pictures are live shots that don’t really involve interacting with the subject.
You were good friends with Lemmy and did a very moving piece at his funeral. How did you and the great man first come into contact?
The first time I met Lemmy was in 1981, but we became friends around ’84. I used to follow Motörhead tours around England on my bike, usually in the pissing rain in the middle of winter, and we got to know each other because of that. It probably helped that I always had a bag of speed on me! Ha ha. Lemmy became like a father to me, and in a way he was always adopting waifs and strays and setting them on the right path. It’s sounds cliched, but if not for him I’d be dead or in jail.
You must have a lot of good memories with Lemmy, what would be your favourite?
Oh fuck, there are so many, and most of them are just hanging out somewhere or watching telly and having a few drinks at his apartment. I suppose one that means a lot to me is when he showed up for my photo exhibition in LA or when he’d show up for my birthday parties. That meant a lot to me, but he was just doing what friends do, it wasn’t a big deal to him. I suppose one of my favourite memories is when we went bar hopping in LA and ended up at the Key Club; it was just after they’d banned smoking in clubs, and Lemmy completely ignored the ban. Some bloke kept coming up to us with a cup of water and asking Lem to put his cigarette out, then the minute he turned his back he’d just light another one. It’s funny, people always expect these wild Lemmy stories, but we didn’t really do anything that we considered wild, we were just great friends.
What is your all time favourite Motörhead song?
I couldn’t even pick a favourite Motörhead album, let along a favourite song. The best I could do is narrow it down to about 30 songs. Overkill, Damage Case, Motörhead, Nothing Up My Sleeve, I Got Mine, We Are Motörhead, Sex And Death… Seriously, it would be easier to name the few Motörhead songs that I don’t like.
You were the vocalist with the punk band Soldiers Of Destruction in the early 80s. What are your memories of those days?
Mostly chaos, a lot of drugs and violence. There were some great times and great gigs, but some it’s not nice to think about. I lost a lot of friends to drugs, always heroin, never anything else, and there was constant hassle with skinheads. It’s cool that people are still into the band and discovering them because people have posted stuff on the internet, but we could have been a lot better and achieved a lot more if we’d had any clue what we were doing. In the end it just kind of fizzled out. We never actually split up.
Would you ever get back together with the band, even just for a one off gig?
Funny you should ask, but that nearly happened last year. Obviously it wouldn’t be the same band because two of them are dead, but people kept bringing it up and there was even a guy in San Diego making bootleg shirts. I got a really cool line up together in LA, but they were all in other bands and before we got the chance to do anything with it I moved to Vegas. It might still happen, but I’d want to do it right this time, get the sound right and have the songs be really tight.
You made a few appearances over the years, guesting with various bands. Which ones were your favourites?
Well, it was pretty cool getting to sing for Poison Idea, but my favourite was probably Machine Head, which, again, happened by accident. I was doing a feature with them for Kerrang! in Austria and they played Alan’s On Fire by Poison Idea during the soundcheck. I was just kind of singing along and Robb Flynn suggested getting up to sing it during their set, which I did. After the gig he asked if I’d do it again at Brixton Academy and it was kind of like, “Oh fuck! That place holds about 5,000 people!” I’d never been on stage in front of an audience that big. That was fun though, and I ended up singing for them one more time at the Astoria, but I was really drunk and we’d been doing ketamine, so that one wasn’t so great. Ha ha.
When did you initially get into punk and what was it that made you want to get involved?
I was still at school when I got into punk. In fact, I still remember it was a kid called Ed Garbett who got me into it, playing a Sex Pistols song on his ghetto blaster. I was hooked straight away, completely obsessed to the detriment of everything else. There wasn’t really any notion of not getting involved because everyone formed their own bands back then. I played my first gig when I was 14 years old and I was in another band who opened for the Damned when I was 15. They were both terrible covers bands, but it was great fun, and in some way I suppose it stopped me being the weird kid at school. I was the weird kid in a band.
What are your favourite punk albums of all time?
Again, there are far too many to choose from. We’ll be here all fucking day! The first Killing Joke album is brilliant, and the first three Damned albums, even Music For Pleasure which everyone seems to hate. Poison Idea’s Feel The Darkness is a work of genius, Mush by Leatherface, Discharge, Hear Nothing See Nothing Say Nothing, Ramones, It’s Alive, Gallows, Grey Britain, The Stranglers first album… It’s impossible to name them all.
What have you got coming up in the future?
Absolutely no idea, which is how I like it. The second book will be finished, hopefully in the next few months and I’ve got some gigs to go to, but I’ve never really had any plan. I’ve just moved to Vegas with my wife, so I’m having fun discovering a new city, everything’s still fresh, and we travel a lot together for her work, but I’d get bored if everything was too planned out or routine. The only time I ever had a ‘normal’ job was when I first left school and worked in a factory, and it drove me fucking crazy, I hated it. I’d like to get into shooting UFC fights and I’ve only done that once so far, but all the best stuff seems to come about by accident rather than by planning. I’m lucky to have made it this far so everything else is a bonus.