Destination far from nowhere

Mookie and The Loyalists bring buoyant grooves, melodic blues and an unwavering thirst for success with the release of their self-titled EP

Morris leans on The Loyalists for support onstage and off and dubs lead guitarist Mike Butlin (left) “the guru of the band.”
Morris leans on The Loyalists for support onstage and off and dubs lead guitarist Mike Butlin (left) “the guru of the band.”
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Yes, Mookie Morris was on Canadian Idol, but don’t hold it against him. Do yourself a favour and leave any notions of fabricated pop-stardom at the door.

Since the conclusion of the show’s sixth season in 2008, the Toronto native has been hard at work getting his footing in the music industry and solidifying the lineup and vision of his band, Mookie and The Loyalists.

“I always saw myself in a band and never as a solo artist,” Morris told me over the phone. “It’s still weird to me to have my name in the band name. I almost wish it could be ‘The Loyalists’.”

When he united with Queen’s alum and lead guitarist Mike Butlin (who Morris proclaims “the guru of the band”), keyboardist and guitarist Sean Fisher, bassist Mark Godfrey and drummer Lewis Spring, Morris said he knew he’d found the mates he’d been looking for.

“Having a loyal band, guys who are going to stick by me—even though essentially they didn’t write the songs—it’s still Mookie and The Loyalists.”

The band, comprised of Morris’ childhood friends and the other of Toronto musicians, released their self-titled EP last month.

“It was tough,” Morris said. “It took about a year and a half, almost two years of just writing on end trying to find the right songs that I was happy with and the label was happy putting out.”

Though being tucked under the wing of a major record label can be perceived as forefeiting creative control, Morris said he and his new business partners were on the same page.

“I never did see myself as one of those, you know … manufactured big-time pop stars and the guys at Sony Canada were also on board with that,” Morris said. “It’s almost a stereotype to say the label wanted better or more commercial songs almost, but I think most of the time that’s the case. It just took time to get to the right point.”

The right point for Morris seems to be in the driver’s seat. When it comes to evolving from what some may know from watching Idol, the proof may be measured in his melodies.

“A couple of the songs are definitely about driving away or escaping or wanting to move to another town or being in another environment overall,” Morris said. “[It] probably stems from having a cheesy rep on Idol.”

Teaming up with a slew of diverse talent from the far reaches of the Canadian sonic stage (including familiar faces from Saint Alvia and Jay Malinowksi of Bedouin Soundclash) gave Morris the tools to develop as a unique writer.

“[The label] didn’t go with your typical co-writers who’ve done Celine Dion and Kelly Clarkson or whatever,” he said. “I got to work with Ben Cook with the band Fucked Up … guys like that were honestly just so good for me with just developing and learning how to write songs in general and choosing good music and getting introduced to good music. Guys like Ben and Simon Wilcox … she was one of the writers who has done more pop stuff but is really cool.”

Things shifted into high gear when Morris coordinated with burgeoning producer Adam King.

“[Adam and I] were connected oddly through this guy Nate who I was writing with right after the show,” he said. “He knew this guy Adam King he used to work with who’s a drummer, producer and writer. From there, us three probably wrote a good 15 or 20 songs for the album … he seemed like the right guy to do the producing.”

Released on Oct. 12, the lively EP is one part bouncing rock, one part grooving vocals that bring to mind an infectious Fratellis, Beck and Strokes lovechild that beckons to be clapped along to. It’s tight and rich enough to satisfy rock-listeners, has a surprising bluesy ting that conjures crooners of decades past and has upbeat and dynamic melodies that will inevitably lend the group to pop fans alike.

Recorded in less than four weeks, Morris said the group spent many late nights testing the tolerance of their ears.

“To be honest, I can’t even listen to it,” he said. “Those three or four weeks in the studio you probably listen to each song a good hundred times.”

Forever engraining the songs in his head may not have been the worst thing, the benefits are clear given the fresh-faced band’s already established reputation for a fiery live show. When our phone chat was peppered with the occasional cough from Morris’ end, I inquired as to whether a sore throat might detract from belting out his best.

“I’m not going to lie,” he said. “I’m actually really nervous but we shall see.”

Something tells me tonsil turmoil won’t get in the way of this hungry band’s success. Their passion is clear from Morris’ discussion of their future gigs in Mont Tremblant in January to their plans for summer strumming at Canadian Music Week and festivals like North by Northeast and South by Southwest. Just look for the guy in the bow tie.

“I see it as unnecessary to show up in rags and wear what you wore last night to bed, treat it professionally. I think of it as going to work, so I’m suiting up, putting on my suit and going out there. It’s sacred,” he said with a laugh.

Mookie and The Loyalists played last night at Revolutions. Keep an eye on mookieandtheloyalists.com for upcoming tour dates.

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