An Interview With Actor and Musician ROB MORROW On His Newest Music, His Current PledgeMusic Campaign, The Benefit Playing For Change and Much More!
Posted On 25 Sep 2018
While Rob Morrow may be known for his nuanced acting on hit shows Northern Exposure (which garnered him three Golden Globe and two Emmy Award nominations), Numb3rs, Billions, Entourage, American Crime Story: The People Vs O.J. Simpson, and Designated Survivor, and films including Mother, Flint, The Bucket List, and the Academy-Award nominated Quiz Show, he is also a talented musician. Earlier this month on September 14th, he released “Tyranny of Beauty,” the second single from Rob Morrow Band, featuring Carlos Calvo.
Tyranny is the follow-up to the band’s debut single, “The New, New Face,” which acclaimed Music Connection journalist Jonathan Widran championed, “a dreamy-mystical folk-rock number with a spirited organic beat and lush vocal harmonies.”
The two songs represent a taste of the forthcoming debut album by Rob Morrow Band, featuring Carlos Calvo, which is available for pre-order now via PledgeMusic. Currently, supporters have access to an exciting mix of exclusives, VIP experiences and rare collectibles including some one-of-a-kind items from Northern Exposure.
Morrow is looking forward to the journey ahead, “Making music is a salvation for me and I can’t wait to get into the studio to make this record! I’m hoping you’ll be a part of this adventure.”
In early 2017, Morrow formed a band with guitarist Carlos Calvo, a Hollywood Film & TV Coach who’s taught Adam Levine, David Duchovny, Ambyr Childers, Gethin Anthony, Marg Helgenberger, David Oyelowo, and many others, to play guitar. The pair had already been co-writing songs for several years. Writing music as an unencumbered way to express himself with, “no studios, no networks, and no negotiations,” Rob fell in love with the infinite simplicity of the song form, “You can see the beginning, middle and end on one page.”
In Calvo, Rob found a simpatico collaborator with many gifts as the two work seamlessly together to create the band’s original songs. The duo connected with producer Steve Postell, known for his work with Jackson Browne, Richard Thompson, and David Crosby, to enlist rock icons Bob Glaub, bassist for Steve Nicks and Journey, and Tom Petty-drummer Steve Ferrone, to lay the groundwork for what would become a bold modern record with a classic sound.
In addition to Calvo, Rob Morrow Band members include bassist Carlos Costa, drummer Marc Slutsky, and keyboardist Jason Libs. Over the last twelve months, RMB has built a loyal following in LA with spirited shows at The Mint, Viper Room, Bogie’s, Molly Malone’s, Santa Monica Playhouse, Venice Art Walk, ALS Association’s SoCal Ride to Defeat ALS, and The CMO Club conference, which brings together hundreds of Chief Marketing Officers and Senior Marketing Executives from Fortune 1000 companies. They were also tapped to play the 35th Annual Eyes To The Skies Festival in Lisle, IL, in suburban Chicago, where they rocked the main stage on a weekend bill that included Cassadee Pope, Foghat and Reverend Horton Heat. Sounds of Timeless Jazz praised “the band’s use of various textures and tonality which revealed their mastery and skills on their respective instruments.”
In celebration of the release of the single, Rob Morrow Band, featuring Carlos Calvo, played a special hometown show at Molly Malone’s on September 15. The evening supported “Playing For Change Day,” an annual event held in more than 400 locations worldwide to help unite the global community through the power of music. Funds raised on PFC Day help provide free classes in dance, instruments, languages, and music theory for children, instructed by qualified local teachers across 11 countries.
Connect With Rob Morrow Here:
Thank you very much for your time today. So let’s talk about this year and how this 2018 has been treating you and your career.
Let’s see, 2018, we’re coming to the end. It’s been great. Let’s see, I’m always doing stuff as an actor and a director and a producer. I have a number of projects, some of which I can talk about, some of which I can’t. I do this recurring thing on the show Billions, which has been really fun. Let’s see, I just guest starred on something called Chicago PD. And a number of projects in development.
And music has been my main kind of focus. It’s kinda taken over my life, and in a great way. Because for my entire career I’ve been searching for a kind of creative autonomy, not in that I’m not interested in collaboration, but so often when you’re an actor or director and you’re hired on to something, you have to kind of do the bidding of either that show or the idea of what’s behind that show. You can bring something to it, but it’s not from you. Every time I’m working on something I always wanna contribute. And oftentimes I find myself in situations where I can. But just as many times, they don’t wanna hear from me. They hire me for a specific reason and they’re not interested in what I have to say.
When I started writing music, it just became this kind of gusher of passion. I’d written for years screenplays and a little bit of prose, but mainly screenplays. So I was comfortable with the idea of expression on paper. But the song form was new to me. I’ve only been doing it for I think it’s coming on about 10 years, I guess.
Was music always a big part of your life growing up? Or did it kinda take a backseat to acting?
Well, it was always a part of my life in that I started playing the drums when I was really young, probably 5, 6, 7, in there. That became, I think, the kind of the core, the touchstone of everything I did thereafter even before I was conscious of it. But in terms of acting, in terms of writing, in terms of directing, everything came down to rhythm. So that became the basis. So music is really important to me. When I was working as an actor, it was always trying to find the music in something.
And then I started playing guitar in my 20s, mainly to facilitate my joy of singing. I needed a way to accompany myself, and also I had a lot of time … You know, actors, even in success, have a lot of time on their hands. And somehow I had the insight to know that I had a choice of becoming an alcoholic or I could do something creative. I studied photography for a number of years at The New School, which actually became the foundation for directing. And then I studied guitar in New York City. Then basically would take a guitar with me everywhere I went. So always on location in my trailer there was a guitar. And it was just a more just to kinda … either to have people sing … We’d get people and we’d sit around and goof around and sing.
The thing that kinda changed everything was I was on a show called The Whole Truth. I was co-starring with Maura Tierney. It was on ABC. It was a Jerry Bruckheimer thing. This was in 2010. It wasn’t doing well. They had six of them on the air or so, and it wasn’t doing well. I don’t know if it was any good. It was one of the few things I’ve done that I never watched. It was around that time that Conan O’Brien came onto the Warner Bros. lot with his new show on PBS. And to do kind of a promotional thing, they were offering anyone who was on the Warner Bros. lot with a show or a movie, they would give them five or ten minutes airtime on their website. So they put a camera in Conan’s lobby, and you could sign up and do something.
The PR people of my show came to me and said, “You gotta go do something.” And I was like, “Okay, what do you want me to do?” And they always saw me with a guitar, so they were like, “Well, why don’t you write a song?” I was like, “All right.” I’d never written a song, right. And they said, “And we need it in two hours.” I said, “Well, okay,” just trying to be game. I went to my trailer and I took a basic blues progression and wrote lyrics apropos to the show. And it worked. It’s on YouTube, you can see it. It’s not great or anything, but it worked. It totally was solid. My assistant was with cue cards, standing there holding it ’cause I didn’t have time to learn it. And a light bulb went off, and I went “Fuck, I wrote a song.” That started me on a journey of about 10 years now of learning how to write songs.
I started writing, and they started coming out of me. And they weren’t good. They were fine. I’m musical, and I’m smart so they weren’t terrible. But they weren’t anything … Musically, they weren’t that interesting. And yet I knew I had to kinda go through this process of learning what worked. So I started to go out to the LA places that I could get into. You know, The Mint or this place called … The main place I went to was in Venice. Shoot, what was it called? Now I’m blanking on the name. On Lincoln Boulevard. Oh, God, I can’t believe I’m blanking.
It was like my home for a couple years. I’ll remember it before I get off the phone. They let me go on. And I said I wanna go on, which they never heard, I said I wanna go on the earliest slot where there’s nobody in the audience. So they give me the 7:00 p.m. slot where they were basically setting up the restaurant. And there’d be two or three barflies in there who weren’t listening. I kinda started playing my stuff, and it sucked. I didn’t know what I was doing. It sucked, and I knew it. And I also would get recognized here and there, so it was really doubly kind of humbling. And yet I knew I had to go through this process.
So I went through it. At the same time, I was kind of stepping up my technique guitar-wise with this guy named Carlos Calvo. Carlos and I became friends. At a certain point we started writing. Because he has such a great wealth of knowledge, I mean an encyclopedia of music, songs took on a whole sophistication. I think my storytelling and my sense of language coupled with his sense of knowledge created this cool symbiosis. And the songs started to become really interesting.
So then he and I went out. We would go out and play these places, and we got a lot of enthusiasm. Eventually we put together a whole band. We started going out, still with no agenda which was kind of great ’cause it was pure. We just started playing around. And eventually we started to make demos. Then when we felt … We had written a lot of songs at this point. We thought it was time to start recording, and then we started recording. And now we’re about to make our first LP.
Well, how did you get involved with the Playing for Change benefit? What drew you to that organization?
Well, Rob Evanoff, who’s handling PR for the band, brought it to my attention. It just sounded great. I mean, my whole line is that music is my salvation. And I mean it. It’s a spiritual kind of expression that is … It gives me such joy and something bigger than myself. It connects to something larger. It’s hard to put in words. But the idea of helping to spread that and to give that power to people that are either marginalized or don’t have access to information or to instruments, it’s a no-brainer for me. As soon as I heard it, I was like, “Yeah, no problem.” I love what they’re doing, and I’m glad to be a part of it.
Certainly even more now, right, with this trying and politically charged time we’re in? Things like this are even more important, right?
Yeah, I mean, I am obsessed. I’m literally reading the Bob Woodward book all morning. And actually we wrote our first political song, which no one’s really heard yet. But it’s called “What Have We Become.” So yeah, I think, anything and … Aside from that, aside from the … Just the idea of offering a salve, anything to not have to wallow in the incredible kinda just awful times. It just blows my mind the way our president behaves. It’s mind boggling. And if you read this book and you get the … Even though we know so much of it, the deep specificity of his venomous nature is just shocking.
Oh, Witzend, that’s the name of the place I played a lot. W-i-t-z … It’s not there anymore, but it was a great place on Lincoln Boulevard. That’s where I kinda … Was my little home for a couple years.
So what can people expect from this show you’re talking about at Molly Malone’s coming up?
Well, we’re gonna do an hour set. It’s all originals and one Jack White cover, who I saw recently at Lollapalooza. I mean, I love him, but he was just another level than everyone else at that. So we’re gonna do a Jack White cover. But it’s all originals. A couple new songs that nobody’s heard yet. And a good time. I think our shows are fun. And we’re helping a good cause. It’s gonna be also on alerttheglobe.com, so it’s gonna go out around the world. I’m looking forward to it.
Now I know that you’ve got an album coming out. Is that later this month? Or next month? Or later this fall?
The album doesn’t have a release date yet. We’re still recording.
How do you think your already released songs prepare listeners for more music from you guys? How do they compare to the rest of your forthcoming album?
Well, it’s hard to say. We call it soulful rock, funky pop. It’s accessible. It’s melodic. There’s a narrative component to them. They’re fun to listen to. I’m not sure thematically what’s going on yet, but we haven’t necessarily chosen which songs are exactly on it. The writer in me likes to think thematically and what’s the through line. So I’ll be kind of keying in on that. And, you know, how it’s interesting with writing, as you probably know since you’re a writer, when you get distance on it, you start to see these kind of motifs that you weren’t necessarily conscious of. But when I kinda step back and listen to the songs as a whole, I’ll start to say, “Oh, here’s this idea going into that song and this song.” So maybe that will put an umbrella around the whole thing. That said, I don’t think it needs to have a thematic sense. It just has to be good.
Yeah, exactly. Definitely. And I love the PledgeMusic campaign that you’ve recently launched. You know, giving acting lessons, opportunity for you to direct a music video, and a bunch of Northern Exposure memorabilia. That’s really neat. Did you come up with that?
Yeah, I just put up yesterday. Actually on Friday we’re putting up … I don’t know if you’re a fan of that show, but for people who are a fan of the show will probably dig this. I wore a ring, Joel Fleischman who I played on the show, Dr. Joel Fleischman, went to Columbia medical school. And so when the show started, they got me an actual graduation ring from Columbia medical school and had it inscribed inside “Dr. Joel Fleischman.” I wore it in every episode. It’s been sitting in my jewelry box, and I thought, “I’m gonna put it up there.” So we’re putting that up there on Friday. There’s all kinds of cool little stuff that I’ve picked up over the years. I’m gonna put up some scripts from Numbers that have my personal notes in them when I was working on them. So it’s fun.
The Pledge campaign is a way to kinda create and find our larger audience and also to take the burden off of me who’s been financing this. At a certain point, now that it’s a real entity, it’s like I just can’t do it.
Yeah, of course. Definitely. And this is a great opportunity for fans of the show to get some cool stuff, too. Why not?
Absolutely. And all this stuff, it’s funny because … It’s interesting the way life works. I’ve collected like … I used to give gifts to the crew and the cast on the shows I’m starring in. It’s something nominal, but something fun. Like Northern Exposure, I’d make up socks and have them embroidered with the year and the name of the show or something, cool winter socks or something. Or hats, or t-shirts. And ended up always with, because I didn’t wanna miss anyone, I’d end up with 30 or 40 extra every season. So I just shoved them in a box, and then here we are years and years later and there’s a perfect use for them.
Yeah, that’s amazing. Now you mentioned that you really enjoy Jack White. Is there any musician out there today that you would absolutely love to perform with?
Oh, boy. Yeah. Jesus, I don’t even know where to begin. Well, I mean, Mick Jagger would be probably high on my list. That said, Jack White for sure. Let’s see. Springsteen, of course. You know who I’d like to perform with I think maybe more than anyone? I’d love to sing “Wasted Time” with the Eagles, which is a great ballad of theirs that I just have always loved. Van Morrison was a giant influence. My friend produces Jimmy Kimmel so I was over the other day, and Dave Matthews performed. He’d be fun to play with. I could go on and on.
And my final question that I like to ask all musicians is, at the end of the day, what do you hope people take away from your music?
Well, I mean, more than anything, the goal for me has to be entertaining. I have to just give people some joy. And then after that, possibly an insight. I wouldn’t want to get too pretentious with it, but I think if you look at my lyrics, there are potentially interesting philosophical insights or spiritual insights and metaphysical notions that I would love to … None of which are my original ideas, they’re just ones I’ve glommed on to. But I’d love to spread the good word. I’d love to open hearts and make people feel good. If I can do that, then that’s a lot.
(all photography provided by 1888 Media)