Kevin Morby's gradual evolution has been something to behold.
First emerging as bass player in DIY titans Woods and a member of noise pop outfit The Babies, the songwriter's own work patiently came into focus.
2016 full length 'Singing Saw' was a breakthrough of sorts, a hazy West Coast phantasmagoria that filtered a deeply personal viewpoint through some gorgeous songwriting.
New album 'City Music' is incoming, and it presents yet another side to this multi-faceted talent.
Clash sneaked backstage at Field Day to catch up with Kevin Morby over a plate of paella…
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How is life as a touring musician treating you?
I like it! I’ve been doing it for over two years now. I’m pretty used to it. It’s almost a weirder lifestyle when I’m not doing it.
How has your music gone down with European audiences?
Good. I seem to do a little bit better here than in America. I don’t know why – but it’s cool. I wish I could put my finger on it but I have no clue. And I love it. It’s almost cooler to do better over here than in America.
How do mean?
It’s more surreal. Like, you leave home and suddenly all these people so far away are interested in what you do. It’s kind of a mind-fuck, but it’s cool.
Did you write ‘City Music’ with an audience in mind?
It was just songs. No, I wasn’t anticipating an audience, really. Just make the songs and go from there.
How long did it take to put together?
I probably wrote it over a two, three month period. And recorded it in two weeks.
That’s incredibly quick.
It seemed pretty quick. I mean, I was focussed, so that’s why it happened quick.
The relationship you had with the producer must have been vital.
Richard Swift, yeah. He’s great. Amazing, really talented man.
Can you write on the road? Have you done anything today, for instance?
It’s kind of more that you get a bunch of ideas when you’re on the road. There are seeds, and then you get home and grow those seeds.
Do you have a home set up?
Yeah. A lot of times I’ll even record stuff right into my phone.
How has travelling impacted on your writing?
I think it’s good. It opens your mind up. You’re always in a state of being in-between places, and you’re never here nor there. It opens your mind up to the universe in a specific way. It’s really nice.
Are you disciplined as a songwriter? Would you sit down for a few hours each day, for example?
In a way. But it’s more that I enjoy doing it so it doesn’t feel like that. It’s just kind of what I do as a hobby. It’s not like ‘oh, I’ve got to get to work’. It’s like an unforced thing.
The last record, ‘Singing Saw’, felt very West Coast.
Oh totally. Very West Coast. And this new one is a very East Coast record.
What’s the different there, to you?
A lot of electric guitars on the new one. Recorded with a live band, as opposed to studio musicians. A different texture, really.
Is there a difference in atmosphere?
Yeah. Incredibly different.
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Where was the new record written?
In LA. But I had just moved from New York, so it was all in there still.
Where were you in New York?
In Brooklyn. I mean, it’s changed a lot – I wouldn’t want to live there but it’s nice to go back and visit. A lot of places are pretty much closed down at this point, that I remember.
How does Los Angeles differ?
Oh it’s incredibly different, but it’s nice. It’s very – quote/unquote – chill. It’s nice. I bought a house, and I’ve been spending more time there. So that’s been really nice. I love going back home.
Have you explored the industry side of Los Angeles?
I mean, that kind of thing comes your way just from being in LA. But it’s not like I’ve been in any movies or anything but there’s a few things. I sang songs for TV shows. One I did recently was for a show called Man In The High Castle. Not too many. It’s not like I’m in the movies. I mean, that does exist out there, and a lot of songwriters move to LA and it happens for them.
Do you think you’re too focussed on your own material to explore that?
Yeah. And a lot of songwriters who move out there end up doing a lot of commercial work, which I can see at some point but not right now.
Where does that focus come from, do you think?
It’s the independence. I’m just interested in working on my own craft, rather than something else.
Do you see music as a craft?
Absolutely. And the hope is that you get better. I absolutely see it as an artform and a craft. What do you hone in on? It’s more lyricism, actually. To get better at lyrics. It’s always different for me, but it’s pretty quick. When it happens, it happens quick. It just kind of comes out. I don’t edit too much, I just let it take its shape.
Is that something you’d had to learn to do?
I’ve learned it a little bit more over time but I’ve always kind of been that way. Maybe once or twice right at the beginning of making music I made that mistake of over-editing, but then I never did it again.
Does the label help with that?
It’s an independent label, so it’s not that too much is at stake. And I’ve been fortunate enough to make a living off music for a long time, so I don’t have to go do a job, or something.
Will the experiences you’ve had over the last 12 months be part of the new record?
Yeah. Definitely. They can’t not, y’know? Because you just write what you know, so what happens will always inform that.
You’re an observational songwriter in that sense.
Oh totally. It’s being a storyteller – you’re observing, and then making a song out of it.
What’s the most important aspect of songwriting?
I think being true to yourself. And creating a feeling, a general feeling, that people can relate to.
Are you a harsh critic of your own work?
No, that doesn’t really bother me. I think my standard is to have no rules. Don’t be afraid of something that’s naturally coming to you.
You can make one record that sounds like a West Coast record, but don’t be afraid if the next record sounds like an East Coast record.
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Kevin Morby's 'City Music' is released on June 16th via Dead Oceans.
Photography: Ben McQuaide