Music » Music Features

Ben Morey scales back and settles down

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Ben Morey recorded his debut album with the backing band known as The Eyes in 2017 under the vaulted ceiling of the South Wedge Mission on Caroline Street with an ensemble of more than 30 musicians. The 11-track “Mt. Doom” was a sprawling blend of rock, folk, country, and singer-songwriter tropes.

It was a grandiose project by any measure, especially when compared to Ben Morey & The Eyes’ second album, “Still Life,” which is to be released on Nov. 13 via Dadstache Records on vinyl and cassette tape.

Here, Morey scaled things way back. For one thing, the group was reduced to a quintet. For another, the entire album was recorded in his old South Wedge apartment.

The paring down in “Still Life” was a metaphor of sorts for Morey’s own life. In the three years since he recorded his first album with The Eyes, Morey married, bought a new home, and opened a music school. At 33, he has settled down.

“My feeling right now is that the simpler thing is the better thing, and that I want to only say as much with as little as possible, and get to the simple heart of the matter,” he says.
Ben Morey & The Eyes. From left to right, Katie Morey, Joe Parker, Ben Morey, Cammy Enaharo, and Mikaela Davis. - PHOTO BY MIKE TURZANSKI
  • PHOTO BY MIKE TURZANSKI
  • Ben Morey & The Eyes. From left to right, Katie Morey, Joe Parker, Ben Morey, Cammy Enaharo, and Mikaela Davis.
Morey and his wife, the former Katie Preston, who is the band’s keyboardist and whom he calls his “co-producer in all things,” bought a house on South Clinton Avenue in Brighton that doubled as a dentist’s office and from which they now operate The Submarine School of Music. (Katie has been a contributing writer at CITY.)

Bassist Cammy Enaharo, drummer Joe Parker, and vocalist Mikaela Davis round out the band, with Morey as the guitarist and primary songwriter.



The stylistic signifiers of “Mt. Doom” are present in “Still Life,” but, like Morey, have evolved.
For instance, the 12-bar blues that drove the retro-rocker “Been Gone” on the former album has become a more balanced infusion of blues and rock on the latter.

A case in point is the track “Down in a Hole” — a grungy, guitar-fueled romp that oscillates between evocations of Bob Dylan’s “Bringing It Back Home” and “Highway 61 Revisited” and punk energy.

The classic twang of the pedal steel guitar that sold the bittersweet “New Life” as a modern country ballad with old-school roots on “Mt. Doom” returns on the new album, this time on “Ghosts in the Attic.” But the song achieves a more authentic honky-tonk sound — so much so that Davis’s lilting vocals give it the feel of a long-lost Dolly Parton tune.

“This album has a little bit of that country twang in it, and I think he found that voice very comforting, and a good way to get his stories out,” Parker says.

“In the Shade of the Mountain,” the closing track on “Mt. Doom,” featured Morey’s indie sensibility, with a wistful piano-guitar tandem providing a dreamy blend of melodic hook and chords. That combination shows up again on the “Still Life” track “Negative Space,” which initially appeared on Morey’s 2018 solo album “With Birds,” but was recorded this time around with a trio of backing voices.
“His mission is to write the perfect song,” says guitarist Justin Pulver, a “Mt. Doom” musician who also played with Morey in the bands Howlo and Dumb Angel.
Ben Morey. - PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
  • Ben Morey.
That may explain why, on “Still Life,” Morey revisited older songs he had written for those two groups. There is “Vacuum,” originally played by Dumb Angel, and “Deja Vu,” a Howlo Song. Pulver says that in the case of “Vacuum” in particular, Morey wanted to see if he could cast the song in a different light.

“It sounds like music you’ve been listening to your entire life, but also it takes turns that surprise you in places,” Pulver says of Morey’s songs.

Morey admits that the new Eyes album is sharper and more streamlined compared with its predecessor. “I wanted to do something that was kind of the polar opposite of what ‘Mt. Doom’ was,” he says.

The Eyes’ new scaled-back sound is centered around the three-part harmony of Katie Morey, Enaharo, and Davis, whose combined voice is the most vital instrument featured on the album, Ben Morey says.

“Still Life” and its dozen songs hinge on a more minimalist and immediate sound than “Mt. Doom” did — a change Morey made in order to better connect with listeners and himself.

“I think as I’ve grown older, I’ve pared down to what is essential and important to me, and I think that I’ve done the same thing in my music,” he says.

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at dkushner@rochester-citynews.com.