Typhoon: From Bite to “White Lighter” | Q&A

It started with a "giant bug monster."

Only it wasn't giant. It was a tick that bit Kyle Morton when he was a child. The bite would launch Morton into years of battling an illness that nearly killed him and end with the formation of Typhoon.

With 11 members, Typhoon is, in many ways, a family. The band crafts joyful, well-orchestrated pieces of music. And while their music leaves you singing along (as loud as you can) to hopeful lines such as, "I will be good though my body be broken," an examination of the band's lyrics reveals the torment, sadness and guilt felt by Morton during childhood and his years battling Lyme disease.

Typhoon’s most recent album, White Lighter, touches on subjects Morton has written about in the past: struggles with mortality, reexamining love and the idea of home, but it also tells a story of Morton's childhood from the beginning. It reflects his experiences and how they have shaped the way he views the world.

Tonight, Typhoon will play at The Waiting Room with Portland’s Radiation City.

Hear Nebraska: How’s the tour been so far? It’s been awhile since you guys have been on the road together, right?

Kyle Morton: Yeah, we’ve only been on the road for a few days; it feels like a million years already, but we’ve played four shows. So five days. It’s been since November, so almost a year. We pretty much took the whole year to work on this record, and there was a little bit of a grace period before it came out.

HN: And how’s the new van from the Kickstarter campaign?

KM: It’s great! We have a new sprinter van. Thanks to everyone who supported our Kickstarter. It’s much safer and much more comfortable, so that’s making things a little more pleasant.

HN: Have you guys ever been to Nebraska?

KM: I’ve never been to Nebraska. You guys always get like electrical storms and tornados and stuff, right? I always cross my fingers for that weather because the weather is pretty mild in Portland.

HN: Well, it hasn’t been too stormy lately. But there’s always the possibility.

So easy question first; could you talk a little bit about how Typhoon came to be?

KM: I met a couple of the guys from Typhoon in high school, and we played in kind of rock and punk bands in Salem and made friends with other local, pop rock musicians down there. At one point, we decided to grow up a little bit and start this big recording project around the time we graduated.

We incorporated all of our friends' bands and our band into this project with no intention of playing live, but then a friend booked a show and we had to figure out how to play everything live. Some of the members have changed over the years from the beginning. We still have about half the original members and have incorporated several new ones.

HN: What’s the songwriting process like for you guys? How do you orchestrate so many instruments?

KM: It’s messy. I’ve always wanted to be a more systematic person in my writing, because then I would know there’s a way it works and a way it doesn’t, but I’m not. The way it usually happens is I’ll be like brushing my teeth or something and a thought will pop in my head, and sometimes it’s not even musical, it’s like a concept or a phrase and that starts a snowball effect. The beginning of “Common Sentiments” actually happened when I was brushing my teeth.

From there, I take it to the band, or sometimes I’ll do my own demoing on it. I recorded White Lighter in my house before so I could give people an idea of what I wanted. Once I bring it to the band, it goes from 2D to 3D — it pops. Everyone adds their touches and makes it different. With some songs, the music comes first, and with some the lyrics come first. “Morton’s Fork” I literally wrote like 10 times over the course of a couple years. What’s on the record is actually the eighth version because we recorded two more after that and then realized that the eighth was the one.

HN: I’ve read that the White Lighter album is a semi-chronological story, and that a lot of it has to do with when you were sick as a kid, as does a lot of Typhoon’s past music. Why do you think that part of your life plays such an important role in your music?

KM: On this record in particular, I wanted to write from my own experience because it’s the only experience I really know. I do think it’s applicable to other people’s experiences, too. I write about this illness that kind of came to me when I was a kid, but I also write about my love life as a teenager and how all of these things sort of intersected and caused a lot of complications.

It just played a big role in how I viewed myself. And when you’re young, this idea of self-image is both important or ethereal and unsubstantial. Basically, I wanted to write about that and what actually happened to me and how it made me how I am today.

So the whole first part of the record is basically childhood: illness, feelings of fear, love for family, beginnings of romantic relationships. The second half is kind of reinterpreting those. For example, the song “The Lake” was about first getting ill with the Lyme disease, but that’s not exactly what it’s about; it’s about how it affected the way I loved people. It also kind of touches on, you know, early romance in that song… it was the idea that once I became sick, “Who is going to love me?” With the song “Prosthetic Love,” I’m sort of reexamining that, how love actually works.

HN: I could be wrong on this, but I feel like there were a lot of things linking the Hunger and Thirst album to A New Kind of Home EP, and that White Lighter is kind of in a different category, but still fits in with the other albums at the same time. So I’m curious to see how you think everything fits together, and how they’re all different, at the same time.

KM: No, you’re exactly right on that. The first two are easy because A New Kind of House is sort of the addendum or the appendix to Hunger and Thirst. There are songs I thought were companion pieces; like how “Claws, Pt. 1” is the prequel to “Claws, Pt. 2,” and it has to do with homes and what feels like home and the loss of home. I thought it was — it has a very complete linkage.

With White Lighter, I was applying a lot of the things I always do when I write. Musically, I think it goes way beyond what we’ve done before, and I also just wanted to get a clean start; to quote one of our songs, “to start over.” With White Lighter, I like this idea of continuity and coherence, and the idea that I’m refining ideas as I go. On the other hand, it sort of starts out in its own universe.

Musically, it’s different. There’s new themes that come in. There are even musical elements between the first two records that connect and are the same. We started with a very new set of music for White Lighter. I name one of the songs after that first record. “The Lake” talks about what I like to call the “giant bug monster” that comes up in the other albums.


HN: That’s interesting. I was actually pretty curious about how “Hunger and Thirst” the song related to the album, if it was somewhat more important or something.

KM: Yeah, “Hunger and Thirst” kind of brings us up to speed on how I started writing the new record. Kind of doing the same thing over again until you get it right. I like to think that we’re getting it “righter” every time. It’s not there yet, but I’m very proud of this record, and I think it’s the best thing we’ve done so far.

HN: I’ve heard this a lot, and I think this is what I really appreciate about Typhoon’s music, but you guys seem to talk about some really dark things that are very universal and human, but you present it in a very hopeful way. Is that something that’s intentional, or just how it kind of happened?

KM: I don’t mean to just wallow in the shit because I don’t think that does anybody any good. I think that darkness is indispensable to an understanding. You don’t really get a clear picture of what you’re like.

On the other hand, I’m aware that I’m giving this to an audience, and I don’t mean to leave everyone with these really insoluble pancakes. And I try to live it as well and be happy. On that note, the record ends with this almost naive idea that’s like, “Well, go back to being in love, put yourself to the idea of loving someone and that’s probably the best you can do.”

Bridget McQuillan is a Hear Nebraska contributor. As of today, she’s listened to Typhoon’s new album 31 times. It’s that good, you guys. You can reach her at bridgetm@hearnebraska.org.