- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2002

Richard Morel has spent the past few years in a quiet basement studio in Takoma Park adding spice to New Order and dance floorbeats to Tina Turner's music. He even topped the Billboard dance singles chart with remixes of the Pet Shop Boys and Depeche Mode.
Using the moniker Morel, he's now stepping out from behind the mixing board to release his debut album, "Queen of the Highway." He recorded it in that same basement space, dubbed Pink Noise studios.
Mr. Morel plays guitar and sings with his band, which includes John Allen (guitar), Rob Black (drums), Pat Flood (bass) and Dwayne Tyree (percussion and backup vocals), tonight at the Velvet Lounge.
He started writing songs in his teens and played in a number of bands in college. He tried to meld his literary influences (such as William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway) with his musical ones (from disco and David Bowie to Led Zeppelin). Spending so much time with various bands in the studio taught him about the production side of things.
"If you pay attention, you pick it up," he says, sitting leisurely between a wall of keyboards in his work space.
Deep Dish, the local deejay duo who gained attention for their remix of Madonna tracks, gave him his break when he asked if he could try a remix of some Pet Shop Boys songs on which they were working. They liked one of his mixes so much that they included it on their album, and that single song snowballed into a lucrative career.
"You want to do a mix that will be more club-friendly," Mr. Morel says of his technique. "I always try to get what the core of the song is. I like to maintain the vocal integrity."
Several high-profile remixes later, Mr. Morel has financed a comfortable basement studio that has allowed him to launch his own project.
"Now I'm focused on just doing the band," he says. "It's a very narrow focus."
Clubgoers may recognize one of the songs on his debut, "True," a number that ignited controversy after it was released as a single several years ago because of its frank and ironic denunciation of hate. While sometimes tempted to hold his tongue to sidestep controversy, he says he avoids these impulses.
"The one thing I try never to do is edit myself," he says.
That makes for rather confessional music on "Queen of the Highway," a record that moves with a steady flow, from down-tempo disco beats to brisk, Brit-pop numbers that would do Depeche Mode proud. With his sometimes distorted, often husky voice, Mr. Morel has been compared to famed troubadour Leonard Cohen.
The songs tend to be slice-of-life, focusing on vocals over the electronics, yet still moving with a club beat, such as on "Over," for which he sings "One o'clock in the morning/You call me up without warning/telling me/all of my dreams of love and affection are over."
The often sinister quality of Mr. Morel's delivery sometimes masks the heartbreak and emotion his lyrics reflect. The club nature of the album should lend itself well to a live setting.
"It's very much like the record," Mr. Morel says of the live show, "but it's also funkier, more in your face."

WHAT: Morel, with the District Basement Collective opening the show
WHERE: Velvet Lounge, 915 U St. NW
WHEN: 8 tonight
TICKETS: $7
PHONE: 202/462-3213



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