Hear It: John Statz on Recording With Morphine Drummer Billy Conway

John Statz has released a new single.EXPAND
John Statz has released a new single.
Kimberly Crist
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Singer-songwriter John Statz, who moved to Denver from Wisconsin a decade ago, says his forthcoming album, Early Riser, feels very 2019. There are a number of references in the lyrics about things that happened last year, such as Brexit and the Notre Dame fire.

And he wrote the album’s lead single, “What Would You Call That?," after President Donald Trump tweeted last July, “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came?” in reference to Democratic congresswomen Rasheeda Tlaib, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley.

“[It] was just such an obvious racist thing,” Statz says. “That song references that specifically in the lyrics.”

"What Would You Call That?" will be released digitally on Friday, April 10. Statz plans to release Early Riser in late April.

Elsewhere on the album, Statz’s ninth, is “Rainy Days in the UK"; he wrote the song while touring in England last September and included Brexit in the lyrics. He says that when he sang the song over there, he could hear people in the audience arguing over the issue.

“It was right before the Brexit was going to happen, which they did prolong like one more time,” Statz says. “But I was driving around on the highways over there, and the electronic display like billboards above the highway would say, ‘Truckers have papers in order, changes coming November 1.’ It was just very ominous. I wouldn't have voted for Brexit if I had lived in the U.K. It seemed like a terrible idea, and it's just seemed like they were all incredibly stressed.”

When it came time to record Early Riser, Statz knew he wanted a great rhythm section, so he recruited former Morphine drummer Billy Conway and bassist Jeremy Moses Curtis, both of whom have worked with Wisconsin singer-songwriter Jeffrey Foucault, who produced an album for Statz in 2015. The two musicians came to Denver late last year to work on Early Riser, which was engineered by John Macy at Mighty Fine Studios. Local keyboardist Kate Hannington sang and wrote horn parts for the album; she also co-produced it with Statz, Conway and Curtis.

Statz says he’s gotten to know Conway well over the years and that the drummer was in good health last December when he was in Denver to record. But a few weeks after that, Statz heard that Conway, who just released his first solo album, had been diagnosed with stage four liver cancer.

Statz says he's been a longtime fan of Morphine, whose frontman, Mark Sandman, died of a heart attack on stage in 1999. He'd sometimes forget his fandom while hanging out with Conway because he was such a "regular guy."

But other times, he says, "You're like, ‘Oh, my God, I just, like, made a record with the guy that played drums on those Morphine records I love.'”

Listen to “What Would You Call That?" and more favorites from Westword writers on our Westword Staff Picks playlist.

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