Artist Spotlight: Eric Morgan (Bornstellar / A Hero A Fake)

Hello, everyone. Welcome to the very first Artist Spotlight of the new year. we have been getting a large volume of requests for this series, and in the months ahead will be expanding its reach to include a variety of talent from all over the industry. If you have any questions regarding the content of this blog, or if you would like to learn more information about the services offered by Haulix, please email james@haulix.com and share your thoughts. We can also be found on Twitter and Facebook.

If you were to ask a teenage Eric Morgan what his dreams were for his future in music he probably would have confessed a deep-seeded desire to one day be signed to a top record label. If you were to post that same question to Eric Morgan today however, he would probably tell you he’s happy just being able to make music with his friends. He has spent the better part of the last decade on one of the largest independent labels in the world, and in that time seen the best and worst sides of the business, but in the fall of 2013 that project (A Hero A Fake) decided to call it quits. Now he’s returning to music with his new group, Bornstellar, and in the interview below he tells us about the lessons he’s learned along the way.

I first came into contact with Eric while covering A Hero A Fake debut album on Victory Records. At the time, I was merely a fan trying to learn more about a promising new bands, but in the years since I have been fortunate enough to know Eric on a more professional level. He’s a brilliant team player, but he also has the leadership qualities needed to hold a group of creative minds together. Further, he has the kind of always-positive outlook on things that one needs to survive the often turbulent waters of the music business, and it rubs off on everyone he meets. His future has yet to be written, but I am confident he has a long career ahead of him in the music business.

If you would like to learn more about Eric and his thoughts on the world we highly recommend following him on Twitter. If you want to learn more about Bornstellar, click here. Additional questions and comments can be left at the end of this post.

H: For the record, please state your name, job title, and the group you’re currently involved with:

E: My name is Eric Morgan and I play guitar for Bornstellar.

H: Thank you again for taking the time speak with us. We like to build these features from the ground up, so let’s dive in with a little bit about your history. When you think of a formative moments/experiences that lead you to a career in music, what comes to mind?

E: My fascination with music began fairly young. When I was seven years old, this traveling folk band came to my elementary school to perform in our auditorium. At some point they handed out all these different instruments to the students so we could play along with them. I ended up getting the spoons and it changed the course of my life (ha!). I completely lost myself in the music that day. We were supposed to stay in our seats but I HAD to get up and rock out. It was the first time I had ever played an instrument and the feeling of playing along with the band overwhelmed me. I actually ended up getting in trouble with my teacher for being too wild.

I still get that same feeling today when I go on stage. It would look 100x’s cooler if I picked a couple good poses and stuck to them but I just get so absorbed in the music that I have to jump around and go crazy.

H: Was music always present in your household growing up, or was it something you found later in life?

E: My father played guitar in a couple bands when he was younger and so we always had instruments laying around the house. When my brothers and I were young, he would sing us these songs with his acoustic before bed and would kind of just make up these silly lyrics that would have us all laughing. It was one of my favorite things as a kid and I would beg him to play me songs all day. He eventually taught me a few chords on guitar and from there I taught myself everything else.

H: What was the first album you purchased with your own money (and the format)?

E: The first album I purchased was All the Pain Money Can Buy by Fastball on CD. I had an older brother so initially I would just steal whatever he was listening to – Green Day, Butthole Surfers, Third Eye Blind etc. I also had this little boombox that I listened to the radio on while going to sleep. It had a cassette recorder and I would jump out of bed if a song I liked started playing to hit the record button.

H: The age of digital media has changed the buying habits of many consumers. Do you still buy a large volume of music? Do you prefer physical or digital releases?

E: I pay for an Rdio subscription and I love it. Before I had a streaming service, my music collection was growing quite stale – I wasn’t actively discovering new albums or artists. Being able to listen to new bands on the fly is great and it has definitely sparked my own creativity. It’s $10/mth so while it seems pretty cheap for an unlimited library of music, $120 a year is more than I was spending on CDs.

Physical releases have become more-or-less art pieces because logistically they just don’t make sense as a convenient medium. More and more bands are skipping CDs all together and releasing on vinyl with digital downloads. Vinyl’s collectability has proven valuable to fans and having great design can turn the larger vinyl covers into great pieces of art. I think this is where physical can still play an important role.

H: Onto your life in music. What can you tell us about the local scene where you grew up?

E: The scene in North Carolina, and Charlotte in particular, was booming when I was going through high school. Bands like Hopesfall, Between the Buried and Me, and all the Tragic Hero Records bands were starting to get national recognition and that helped churn out even more great local bands that went on to become national acts. Around 2005 when we started playing out with A Hero A Fake, it seemed like every weekend there was a local show that was packed. The scene died down a little around the end of that decade. However, in the last year or so there has been a resurgence of new and great sounding local bands that have started to pack out shows again and North Carolina in general is cycling back around to being a healthy music scene.

H: When did you first pick up a guitar, and how long was it until you started creating and/or participating in bands?

E: I started getting serious about guitar when I was around 12. It took a while for me to find other people that wanted to make music, my school wasn’t exactly the best place to find musicians. One of my neighborhood friends also took up guitar so I would always print out song tabs for us to learn. I would take them to school and hand them to him like homework. I don’t think he was as into it as I was…

H: You found a wealth of success with your efforts in A Hero A Fake, which we will get to in a moment, but I am curious about the bands that came before AHAF. What can you tell us about those groups?

E: Justin [Brown], also vocalist for Bornstellar, and I became best friends in high school and eventually met Lenin [Hernandez]. The three of us started writing music together and ended up spending everyday after school practicing. The first band we started was called Nothing Gold Can Stay and we recorded a six song demo that we passed around school. It sounded awful, the recording was garbage, but just having our own music on a disc was a dream for us at the time.

H: Onto the band that launched you into the national spotlight. When did A Hero A Fake form, and how long were you together before Victory Records came into the picture?

E: That core of Justin, Lenin, and I eventually became A Hero A Fake in 2005. The same year we recorded the Friends Are Family EP with drummer Evan [Kirkley] (who would rejoin the band in 2010) and shortly after added guitarist Patrick [Jeffers] and bassist Matt [Davis] to the band. In the fall of 2005, Justin and I went to college together at UNC and put the band on hold while Evan left to focus on his band Cambridge and later Seneca. In 2006 we got back together to record a new EP with Peter [Gwynne] on drums. Peter left soon after and that’s when Tim [Burgess] joined and would end up playing drums through our first two Victory releases. Justin, Lenin, Patrick, Tim, and I spent much of 2007 writing Volatile and in December of that year went to Jamie King to record our first full length.

A few months after submitting the album to labels, I was at work and got a call from Tony at Victory. It was one of those things that you daydream about but never really expect to happen. Many of my favorite bands were on Victory and at the time they were the biggest indie label around. We had a couple offers from smaller labels but this was the label we dreamed of being on and having the owner call me out of nowhere was one of my most surreal moments. We released Volatile at the end of 2008, graduated from college that spring, and then started touring full time.

H: You released a handful of albums while on Victory, but in the fall of 2013 A Hero A Fake decided to part ways. What can you tell us about the time leading up to the group’s decision to go your separate ways?

E: It’s incredibly difficult to keep a band together no matter what level of success they’re having. You give up so much to be on the road full time – money, relationships, a home – that eventually it wears you down. At the end of 2010 as we were coming off a tour with Texas In July and Like Moths To Flames, Justin and I weren’t seeing eye to eye on things, we both had issues outside the band that were stressing us, and then our van breaks down in Cleveland causing us to miss the last couple days of tour. We spent a few thousand dollars fixing our van, basically wiping away any money left in the band account. We drove all night back to North Carolina with this dark uncomfortable cloud over all of us and I remember thinking on ride down, “Did I just play my last show without even knowing?” Justin and I had been best friends for years but after that tour we didn’t talk for nearly six months.

H: During this transitional period, did you ever think your career in music was over? When did Bornstellar, your new effort, come into existence?

E: Right after that tour I definitely thought my music career was over. Evan had moved to Pennsylvania and it seemed like a long shot to try and get a band together again. However after several months of no communication, Justin sent me one of the nicest, most heart warming emails, and we ended up hashing it out and putting all the negative stuff behind us. It felt great having my best friend back.

We ended up talking about music and what style of songs we really wanted to write and how much we missed playing since we had stopped. Patrick and I then got together and started writing these new songs so we could test them out on the road. I ended up booking a DIY tour out to the west coast in December 2011 and we ended up having a blast so we decided to make a new album. That album was The Future Again and was the last one we put out as AHAF, though it has some of my favorite songs on it.

After that album, we really wanted to keep pushing in a new direction but felt tied down by the AHAF name and that style of progressive metal that was expected from older fans. After our tour last spring with the UK band Fathoms, we immediately went into the studio with Drew Fulk and decided then we would start fresh as a new band so we would feel free to write songs exactly how we wanted.

H: We have spoken to a few people who have told us about getting burned out on a specific genre after working in that area for a couple years. While Bornstellar is no doubt a new band with a unique sound, it’s likely the group will be placed in the same ‘hard rock/metal’ field as AHAF. What is it about this area of music that keeps you coming back?

E: To me, music is all about the energy it creates. There is just so much vigor and passion in the alternative genres that make it appealing to me. I have a little studio at my apartment and I’ll write anything from pop/rock to dubstep when I get inspired but the heaviness of metal and hardcore sparks something within me and I crave that energy.

H: Can you see yourself creating music in other genres down the line? Does that even interest you at this point?

E: Definitely. I write songs in other genres already and so if I ever had the time and met the right people to start a different style project I totally would. I’d love to do some type of pop/rock in the future.

H: As someone who has been on and off a fairly recognizable label, what advice would you offer to aspiring musicians/groups dreaming of creating a lasting career in the industry?

E: A lot of people define success in music by being on a certain label or management group but in reality that alone will never make you last in this industry. No matter what label you are own, you will be the one promoting your band the hardest and if it is truly something special people will take notice. It’s also important to define what exactly success means for yourself i.e. Do you want to just get your music out there? Tour? Try to make a living through music? Every step you climb will lead you to another so at some point you have to say: Is this working or not? I think if you can find happiness in the process and be open minded about learning every part of the business then you will enjoy being in the industry. Enjoying what you do is so important because it makes you willfully work harder at your craft and that is one of the keys to being successful.

H: What would you say is the biggest lesson you learned from your time in A Hero A Fake, and how has that changed your approach to Bornstellar?

E: The biggest lesson I learned from my time in AHAF was to be patient. I’m a pretty anxious person in general and tend to get pushy about having everything happen as quick as possible but that often isn’t the best tactic. With Bornstellar we took our time writing the songs, getting things right in the studio, working on our branding, and made sure we were presenting ourselves exactly how we wanted when we finally announced. You want to try and get your music out there as fast as you can once its recorded but it really does make a difference if you take your time and plan everything out in all the other areas (social media, publicity, artwork, etc) so that when you do get it out there it makes the biggest possible impact.

H: Piracy has been in the news a lot of as late, but we both know it has been a hot button topic for years. How has your career been impacted, for better or worse, by music piracy over the years?

E: I don’t think my career has been affected by piracy all that much. Maybe if we were selling 100k+ in albums it would come into play but even then the effect would be minimal. If you’re on a label, you’re not going to be making your money through royalties – even the biggest artist make nearly all their revenue on the road. With how easy it is to stream with services like Rdio and Spotify, I think it’s even less of an issue moving forward.

H: You have a new band and a new album prepped for release. Looking beyond 2014, what are your career goals at this point in life?

E: Bornstellar is all DIY for now and so we’re trying to build the band up carefully and take our time doing things the right way. The EP will most likely be self-released in the spring and I’m actually quite excited about that as we’ll directly see the results of all our efforts. Looking past the EP, my goal is to be able to fund a full length by the end of the year. I don’t think signing with a label is necessarily the only way forward, we are just working to make this project self-sustaining and put ourselves in a situation where we can balance life and music.

H: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be?

E: The music business, like all industries, can be cliquey at times. It can make it hard for talented younger bands to get out there if they don’t know the right people. I’ve built a lot of relationship from my years on a label and from touring so I have a lot of advantages now that I’m starting this new project but at the same time it’s disheartening to see how fraternizing it can be.

H: We’ve reached the end! Before I let you go, do you have any final thoughts or observations you would like to share with our readers?

E: First, I really appreciate what Haulix is doing. I’ve read a lot of the interviews through your Tumblr page and it’s fascinating to hear all these different experiences from within the industry. Bornstellar’s first single “Wake the World” comes out Tuesday, January 21st so please go check it out, we’ve worked so hard on the EP and I can’t wait to show it to everyone!

James Shotwell

James Shotwell is the Director of Customer Engagement at Haulix and host of the company's podcast, Inside Music. He is also a public speaker known for promoting careers in the entertainment industry, as well as an entertainment journalist with over a decade of experience. His bylines include Rolling Stone, Alternative Press, Substream Magazine, Nu Sound, and Under The Gun Review, among other popular outlets.