Kevin Morby is one of those songwriters who work seems to attract reference points.
A lucid, deeply individual artist, his work twists the classicism of Dylan, The Band, or Leonard Cohen, say, into fresh, startling shapes.
New album 'Singing Saw' is a case in point. Out now, the songwriter's third solo effort samples the sepia tones of 'The Last Waltz' but adds a fresh, almost psychedelic, intensity.
Out now, 'Singing Saw' will be accompanied by a handful of UK shows. Ahead of this, Clash invited Kevin Morby to name some Influences.
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Ethiopiques VOL 21, Piano Solo: Emahoy Tsegue Maryam Guebrou
This album was heavily influential to me throughout writing Singing Saw. There's something in the way she plays, the way she rolls the notes... it comes off as both novice and masterful, and that's what I like so much about it. It feels spontaneous - like you're listening to a person write the song in front of you. Since I was trying my hand at piano for the first time ever on this album, this was my go to inspiration for doing so.
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Leonard Cohen - 'Live Songs London 1970'
I relate to Leonard Cohen's vocal range around this point in his career. It's limited, but he knows how to use it - to make it his, and only his. He works with what he's got and also has no fear about surrounding himself with incredible players and beautiful back up vocalists to really push him through.
And again, though everyone is a professional up on that stage with him in this recording there's a feeling of spontaneity, like they are learning the songs for the first time and anything could happen... it is very free. This was a huge reference point for me when going into the studio.
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Nina Simone - 'Silk & Soul'
Nina Simone seemed to follow me during the whole process of this album. I first really heard her the day after performing in 'The Last Waltz' with Sam Cohen (who went on to produce the album) the day before Thanksgiving. I was at a friends house, very much in some sort of heightened after-glow of having just been in a recreation of 'The Last Waltz', and she put this album on and though I've heard Nina Simone before I had never actually sat with a whole album, and it just blew me away.
Then when I met back up with Sam to start recording a few months later that Netflix Documentary had just come out about her - so she was everywhere we went. I would hear her music in bars and cafes, and then turns out Sam's daughter, Simone, was named after her. I then went deep, and started buying all her records and becoming a huge fan. She is very powerful, and something about listening to her music gives me incredible confidence.
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Nick Cave - 'The Boatman's Call'
This is Nick Cave's ballad album. All on piano, all very slow and moody. I knew I too was writing a mood piece - something that sort of cast darkness - but this album made me feel that that was OK. Not everything has to be uplifting, or sometimes to be uplifting you have to wander to the bottom first. Also, the fact that its all on piano was very inspiring. I figured: Nick Cave probably didn't grow up playing piano, and here he is bringing beautiful songs out of one... maybe I can too.
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The Microphones - 'The Glow Pt. 2'
This was one of my favourite albums in high school and I ended up revisiting it around the time I was demoing the songs that ended up becoming the album. I wanted to create a vibe similar to this album, which is to say - not that it would sound like this actual album - but that I could create something that felt very much only like itself the way this album also does.
There is also a stretching of melody here that is super beautiful and unique. He found creative, yet simple ways to make one melody last for 5 minutes at a time - usually by playing the same thing - but on different instruments at different points in the song. That became crucial information for me.
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Bill Callahan - 'Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle'
I am a recent huge fan of Bill Callahan and Smog. I really look up to him as an artist - I think he's made a very amazing career for himself as a songwriter and he is just someone that I admire very much.
A big thing for me going into this album was I knew I wouldn't ever really be able to re-create what I was doing in the studio on stage, and 'Sometimes I Wish We Were An Eagle' was inspiring to me in that it is full of a constant string section that is so very beautiful, but then I know that he will tour solo, or with a three piece band, or sometimes a bigger band, meaning the record sounds the way it does - and live it has a different personality.
Point being that you just have to create what is in your head - you have to document what you think represents you no matter how outlandish, weird, or otherwise. Bill Callahan is inspiring in that - as an artist and performer - he seems to have very little fear, and we all know by now that having no fear means being free.
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Kevin Morby's new album 'Singing Saw' is out now. Catch the songwriter live at the following shows:
4 London Rough Trade East
5 London Oslo (SOLD OUT)