Michael Morris is sharing a painful memory with the Ara Music Arts students while speaking about the finer points of touring.
The self-employed solo musician, recording artist and member of band the River Jesters is recalling a particular moment during a gig at a festival on the West Coast this month.
“We played to 7000 people, which was awesome, on a huge stage. I decided half way through a guitar solo on the last song that I was going to jump into the crowd, as you do, and I was surfing along while playing, shredding it up, and they dropped me about two meters onto the ground, on my head. My guitar luckily didn’t split but my glasses were somewhere on the ground. Disaster! In the end my huge big American friend pulled me out, along with the security guards, so that was fine.”
Morris is telling the story on the first day of his first solo tour of New Zealand of 16 venues starting at Blue Smoke. It’s a very kiwi rockstar story and Morris seems unperturbed by it, perhaps because he has eight years of touring experience since he graduated from Ara (then CPIT) with a degree in Music Arts, with big goals, a network of contacts and a healthy stock of reality checks.
He had determination in spades but the reality checks came courtesy of his tutors, who taught their students about the real world of professional music, and through his final year project.
“The project was one of the best things I have done because I had to find out what it was actually like at some point. You go out and do it and there is no safety net, if a tyre blows, you have to sort it out.”
That is the kind of detail Morris believes the current students need to hear before they head out into the vibrant, but slightly under-supported, national live music scene.
“I wanted to get through to students the finer details of going on tour. Because it can be quite a grand idea: ‘I want to go on tour; where do I start?’ You don’t actually know that you need to find someone to do the door sales; you need to find an hour a day of peace for yourself… So I was trying to show them the things that are unglamorous, the realities of what you have to do to make it a success.”
“My advice to students is just give it everything they have got and really immerse themselves and choose passion over anything else. If they really love it, just keep pushing and there will be hard moments but it is absolutely worth it.”
For Morris the rewards show up every day with “the thrill of playing all the time, the thrill of the adventure and the thrill of setting yourself this unbelievable goal and finally somehow achieving it”.
“I love playing with my band and the shared experience of working together. It is a feeling of us against the world in those situations where you are driving all day. You spend a lot of time with those people doing what you love doing, so it is all completely worth it to me.”
When Morris bumps into his tutors now it is on a professional level - touring with bands, playing festivals and checking out each other’s shows. After this tour however, Morris is heading to France to experience the larger venues and crowds there. New Zealand musicians are producing fantastic music, he says, but in a small country, the audience is somewhat limited. “Go to see live gigs!” he says.
He is grateful to his fellow students and tutors at Ara for helping him to channel his dream into a career: “Without my degree I would not be in the situation I am, because I was able to focus entirely on music and I was also be able to make mistakes, which I have learned from.”
Whether the crowd surfing was a mistake, let’s wait and see if he tries it again.