Hailing from New Mexico, the quartet that make up Great States have big plans for 2016. Having just released their debut album, Gatsby, named after the work by F. Scott Fitzgerald, and with high hopes to keep touring throughout the rest of the year, front-man and guitarist Morgan Ching chatted to PopWrapped about the creation and development of the band as well as their future ambitions.
PW: How do you know each other?
Morgan Ching: We all know each other from school in some way and formed Great States while attending the University of New Mexico. Eric and I met back in high school band and have been doing music together in some fashion ever since. I met Sean in the fall of 2010; he ended up being my randomly assigned dorm mate our freshman year in college and Ryan ended up being in the same jazz band as Eric the next year during their freshman year in college.
PW: What would you say makes you different from all the other bands around today?
MC: Being from New Mexico definitely separates us from the crowd a bit. We’re weird. We think a little differently. People assume that we need passports to get to their home-town. In all seriousness though, there are a lot of culturally significant things going on out here that people elsewhere don’t pick up on because of how isolated we are from the rest of the country. I think a lot of that translates into the food, art, and in our case, music.
PW: Growing up, which bands and artists were you most influenced by and have those influences changed over the years?
MC: In the beginning, I think we all start off with the music found in our parents’ record collections. For me, these were bands and artists like Don McLean, Led Zeppelin, ELO, James Taylor, Bon Jovi, The Doors, Elton John, Bruce Springsteen, Boston, The Knack, John Fogerty and CCR, Queen, The Who, Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys, The Rolling Stones, Simon and Garfunkel, The Eagles, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, etc. – the list goes on and on. These influences end up being the meat and potatoes for your song-writing and artistry – it’s your musical history. Everything that you discover on your own – after learning that you can think for yourself – ends up developing your personal style as an artist.
PW: Is there one particular band you think you're most similar to or do you make a concerted effort to be unique?
MC: I don’t think there’s any one particular band that we sound similar to. We have been compared to bands like Radiohead, Coldplay, Death Cab for Cutie, etc. before though. We all have pretty distinct musical influences, so the combined result usually ends up being pretty unique as well.
PW: Who or what most influences your song-writing?
MC: Nostalgia. Not necessarily just for “what was” or “what could have been,” but also for the present moment and all the things that make us who we are. I tend to write about the things that have affected me personally in the hopes that there are others out there that have had similar experiences.
PW: How easy or hard do you find the song-writing process and are some subject matters easier to write about than others?
MC: Song-writing is a spectrum in every sense. The process can either be quick and painless, and/or incredibly challenging depending on the situation, content, inspiration, etc. I would say that any songs where you personally take a stance or position are the most difficult kind to write – they demand greater care and attention to detail.
PW: Which, in your opinion, is the greatest song ever written and why?
MC: I’m going to be honest and say that this question is impossible for me to answer. There have been so many songs that have deeply impacted my life and inspired me as a person, that can’t just pick one and ostracize the rest!
PW: What, to you, makes a good, or great, song?
MC: To me, a great song comes from a place of truth and honesty – everything else usually follows naturally.
PW: Your debut album Gatsby is out now. What can fans expect when they listen to it?
MC: We wanted Gatsby to feel more like a storytelling, so you can expect a very sonically diverse album – no two songs are alike. There are plenty of transitions between songs, which help weave each of the different narratives together into one complete idea.
PW: Is there a story behind the title?
MC: The title is a not-so-subtle head nod to Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. There are several songs on the album that were inspired by different aspects of the book. I would use it to reflect on my own experiences as a young adult, which ended up translating into my song-writing.
PW: Could you pick a favorite track?
MC: They’re all very special to me, but for now I’ll pick “Carraway.” It’s a very raw, no-frills type of song that fully embraces the pain associated with love and loss.
PW: What are your tour and performance plans for the album?
MC: We’re hoping to tour as much as possible this year following our album release – one-off shows, festivals, small tour runs, supporting tour runs etc. are all on the table!
PW: If you could share a stage with three other bands or artists who can be living or dead, who would you choose and where would you play?
MC: The King of Rock n’ Roll, The Godfather of Soul, and the King of Pop at Madison Square Garden.
PW: You get to play one venue for the rest of your career - which is it and why?
MC: The Crosby Theatre here in Santa Fe, NM. It’s easily one of the coolest looking outdoor venues here in the US. Unfortunately, it only hosts classical and opera events, but in this hypothetical Great States is now playing there for life!
PW: How has social media helped in terms of introducing you to an audience? Would you agree it’s a necessary tool for bands and artists today?
MC: Today, everything is online, so building a social media presence is one of the more important steps that a band needs to take. For us, social media gives us a platform to share our music with people beyond our local scene; this is especially important considering how isolated Albuquerque is from the rest of the US.
PW: What does the rest of 2016 have in store for you?
MC: Other than filling our schedule with one-off shows, festivals, and tours, we’ll also be working hard on creating new Gatsby-related content - live videos, acoustic versions, remixes, etc. – and writing new material for LP 2. It’s going to be an eventful year!
PW: Finally, what are your ultimate ambitions as a band? Where would you like to see yourselves five years from now?
MC: Ultimately, we’d like to see our music connect with people – music is a shared experience for us. So in five years, we’re hoping to see a whole lot more you coming along for the ride. It’s not nearly as fun without you!