So we are off again to the best venue in the area, Reflektor in Liège, Belgium. I won’t harp about it yet again, trust me, it is the perfect place. Tonight everyone is looking forward to see Kevin Morby play after the release of his third solo album “Singing Saw” (Dead Oceans) that for many already has secured a place in the top records of the year. Having a hectic tour schedule and not much time, I am very grateful that Kevin Morby took some time for an interview which you will find below. Here we go now with the Kevin Morby Interview And Gig Review – Support: Jess Williamson at Reflektor, Liège, Belgium, September 1st 2016.
BTW: Kevin Morby’s web appearances do not give away too much but what I just found now is a description of his life with and because of and despite of music in his own words which you should really read. It was published in The Line Of Best Fit.
Anticipating Meg Baird as support act, I was really, really looking forward to this double whammy of musicianship but alas, Meg Baird will be supporting only later in the year. But, boysohboysohboys, Jess Williamson from Austin, Texas, as support act was a revelation. Within seconds she had enthralled everyone with her amazing voice, only accompanied by some sparse guitar playing. Her songs are wide and high and full of yearning and wonder and heartbreak (and an awesome rendition of “Wicked Game”)
Have a wee listen here – Jess Williamson’s new album is coming out in November 2016.
After a sincere recommendation (“You are all in for a treat”) from Jess Williamson and a short break and not much hullaballoo, Kevin Morby and his touring band (Meg Duffy on guitar, Cyrus Gengras on bass and Justin Sullivan on drums) enter the stage and start rocking. Yep, rocking, swaying, hypnotising. If I wondered how the multiple layers of “Singing Saw” could be translated to a stage or if parts of the audience were expecting a quiet singer-songwriter set…that was soon blown away with this perfect set! My word, that is one tight band and one tight performance! Songs from all three solo albums featured (Harlem River, Still Life and Singing Saw), the latest of course making up the greater part. The band gave Kevin Morby space to sing, solo-guitar and dance. Some songs got a special longer, sometimes quieter, sometimes rougher treatment and the audience was raging. Kevin Morby thanked it by giving a couple of solo encores (one of which a beautiful Townes Van Zandt cover) and then the whole band came on for more. Afterwards no back room for the band, outside on the terrace it was, mixing with the fans, posing for photos, chatting away.
I expected a good concert, but same as the album, this gig has already made its way into the top ten of 2016…perfect!
There are many tour dates to come in Europe, so don’t miss your chance! You cannot describe the atmosphere in words, you need to be there.
Thank you very much Kevin Morby, all the band, Jess Williamson, Dead Oceans label and Bram De Keyzer (tour management) via Toutpartout and Reflektor, the venue for making this possible!
And here comes the interview (excerpts of which will feature on Kaleidoskop, Mondays, 5-6pm CET www.byte.fm and Offbeat, 8-10pm CET www.novumfm.de).
Interview with Kevin Morby
Offbeat Music: Thank you very much for taking the time, because you must obviously be dog-tired. from the touring and waiting around and doing loads of interviews as well. I was wondering: You moved a lot as a kid and you were probably bothered by it a bit or you did not like it very much. How do you find tour life?
Kevin Morby: It’s kind of the same. I actually didn’t mind it too much as a kid. I just kind of mind it as I get older. But because I am doing it for music and a career – I always have that in mind – it becomes bearable. But I like it. I like leaving a place and having a destination in front of me.
Offbeat Music: Well, you are going to all these places but isn’t it like being in a time capsule, like standing still?
Kevin Morby: Yeah, sort of. What’s funny about being on tour is, you have a routine. You have a very strict routine that you stick to every day. So it is almost harder for me to be at home without that routine. Then I don’t know what to do with myself. So in that way touring is good. It is so structured. You become like an animal. Maybe an animal is not the best word for it.
OBM: A robot?
KM: A robot, yes, exactly.
OBM: Your album “Singing Saw” was very well received. Congratulations on that. It is a beautiful album.
KM: Thank you!
OBM: It seems to be truly yourself now, distinguishing you from the musicians you were often compared to, Steve Gunn for instance or even Kurt Vile. Do you see it that way, that you found your own niche with that album?
KM: Yeah, I think I kind of am coming into it which comes from a lot of touring and continuing to make records. For any artist it gets to a point, if you do it, you inevitably start to create your own thing. You start to figure out who you are as you go along.
OBM: When you set out to do “Singing Saw”, what did you have in mind?
KM: Basically I wanted to create an atmosphere. I wanted to make a record that was very much its own atmosphere, that wasn’t too easy to find elsewhere. So if you wanted that sort of feeling, you’d have to listen to my album.
OBM: So did that work out for you or were there moments where you thought: No, that’s not it…I can’t get…it’s there but I can’t grab it.
KM: I had moments like that. But in the end when I was sitting with it and it was all finished, ready to be turned in, I felt good.
OBM: You felt happy with it?
KM: Yeah, for sure!
OBM: Your lyrics: Are they autobiographical or do you take on a persona or are they totally abstract?
KM: They are a mix of both. It’s kind of how I figure people who write fiction novels must go about it where it kind of starts autobiographical and then it takes on a character or it starts as a character and then you introduce elements of your own life into it. So that’s how I work. Nothing is one hundred per cent autobiographical and nothing is one hundred per cent a character.
OBM: Also maybe to make it accessible to everyone?
KM: Sure, yeah. I guess I don’t really have that in mind but maybe just accessible for myself often. You know, I am not much different from other people. That then makes it accessible to others.
OBM: In how far has your Kansas background influenced you?
KM: I think more just in the cadence of the music. I don’t really sing or write songs about Kansas or about the Midwest. Since I grew up there, it is just sort of in me – that sort of mannerisms and that sort of mindset: Those make themselves into my music.
OBM: More subconsciously?
OBM: You said somewhere that your new album is more like a room people can retreat to. I find that with its variety in styles and multi-layered textures, it is more like a house.
KM: I like that!
OBM: How do you find that? What kind of atmosphere are people going to find there?
KM: That’s what I was saying with creating a feeling, like a specific feeling for the record. I just wanted to create something that is like – how do I say that…the reason I called it “Singing Saw” is because a singing saw produces a sound that is beautiful but also eerie. I wanted to create something like that. I like you saying that it is like a house because there are different feelings and elements to the record – it is not just one. I wanted the overlying feeling to be something that is beautiful but also melancholic…and eerie if that makes sense.
OBM: Did the label make that possible that you could take your time and really develop a sound that you liked and repeat it with other instruments and put more layers in it or was that be essentially the new Kevin Morby anyway?
KM: I think the label had a lot to do with it just in terms of what they could offer me. It sounds sort of cheesy to say but since there was more money involved I was enabled to take more time. It just bought me some time. This is the first record that I wrote without other people. Usually I had written playing with a band or playing with the producer. But with this, I wrote the whole thing and sent it to a producer. Because I was able to create it all on my own, I didn’t really have any outside input. So I was able to break rules that I don’t think I would have broken had I made it with other people. Having that time and the space alone to really sit with my songs, allowed me to break my own rules and go into some uncomfortable territory and explore that.
OBM: You said it is a bit eerie and melancholic and beautiful as well. Other people said that it is like otherworldly, not connected to reality, travelling to a place where this space and time exists all the time.
KM: Uhuh, yeah, that is right back to wanting to create its own atmosphere, so I am glad that people said that. It is wanting to create its own life form which would be otherwordly. It is not something that you can necessarily find outside of music. I wanted to create something that was very dreamlike, like a seamless dream that had a lot of ups and downs.
OBM: Is there music from your past be it from Woods or Babies or from your first two albums that you cannot identify with anymore?
KM: I can identify with them. As I get further away from The Babies it seems like the band that I had when I was young. When I listen to some of those songs, I am proud of them but it feels very much like I was figuring out how to write songs or figuring out how to sing. And I am still figuring out those things but it is just each one more and more. But with Woods I was never part of the creative process – I was more in the live band. I’ve actually always been able to listen to Woods as a fan.
OBM: You have a tour band with you? Would you tell us something about them?
KM: Well, there is Justin Sullivan who plays drums and he also played drums in The Babies, so we have been playing music together for a long time. And there is Meg Duffy who plays guitar. She is very, very talented. And then there is Cyrus Gengras who plays bass – he is also very talented.
OBM: They didn’t play on the album, you just have them with you on tour now?
KM: The only person who played on the album was Justin. Justin Sullivan played on a couple of songs but the rest did not.
OBM: What would your perfect gig look like?
KM: My perfect gig, I think, it would start kind of early (laughs), probably in the Bowery Ballroom in New York. That’s my favourite venue. I think I’d be able to do with a big band, the horn players and back-up singers and all that. We’d have one opener and then we would play. That would be my perfect gig. And my parents would be sitting in the balcony.
OBM: Is there any question that you have never been asked in an interview and you’re sitting somewhere and thinking, oh, I’d like to be asked that!
KM: No, not really. You know, I always wish that people would ask more about specific lyrics. I think, sometimes people assume you don’t want to talk about specific lyrics. But with me it’s kind of fun when people ask me about those sorts of things because it is almost like I don’t have the answers to them and then I have to figure it out. If that makes any sense.
OBM: Because you have to go back there and think about it.
KM: Yeah, it puts you on the spot in a fun way.
OBM: Thank you very much for taking the time (Jess Williamson is starting her support act very soon and Dorothy, Kevin’s guitar needs to be tuned still).
KM: Thank you, great questions!