Indie-pop sweetheart and multi-instrumentalist Greta Morgan has spent a third of her life playing in a band.
Indie-pop sweetheart and multi-instrumentalist Greta Morgan has spent a third of her life playing in a band. She saw early success with The Hush Sound and toured with Panic! At The Disco and Fall Out Boy before she even graduated high school. With The Hush Sound, she released three records of impressive pop gold that was far beyond the band’s years before giving her side project full attention. Her first side project, Gold Motel, was an irresistible, sunshine-y, ‘60s influenced pop group, through which she released two records. Now, Morgan is doing things her way, making music under the curious moniker of Springtime Carnivore. Morgan’s debut, self-titled solo record greeted us this past November, and her solo songs are just as thoughtful, autumnal and blissfully profound as they come. Having just played the 7th Street Entry on March 7, we are pleased to feature Morgan as one of this issue’s two artist Q&As.
The Wake: Something that has always drawn me to your music is your penchant for writing playfully deceptive songs. A lot of your work is always upbeat and sweet sounding but then under the surface there’s a melancholy lyrical theme…
Greta Morgan: Yeah, like, The Smiths. Or the Cure.
The Wake: Exactly! Can you talk to me about that? What draws you to that?
GM: When I was in high school I learned about William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and of Experience. The counterpoint of dark and light is something that has always appealed to me and so I guess I just worked it into music because of that.
The Wake: I know that you lived in Minnesota for a little bit. Is their anything from Minnesota music-wise that’s influenced you?
GM: You know, I actually went to Summer Camp in Minnesota—that was what my Minnesota experience was. So if anything, that was like being introduced to songs like Joni Mitchell’s “The Circle Game” and “Winton’s Soldier.” A lot of those really classic folk-like campfire songs.
The Wake: You got to work with Richard Swift on this last album and it sounds like you guys really connected and worked well together. Is there anyone else on your list that you’re itching to collaborate with? Artists, producers, whatever?
GM: There’s a lot of musicians who I would really love to write songs with. Paul Westerburg from The Replacements is actually someone I would love to work with someday.
The Wake: Was your solo effort your first foray into production?
GM: Yeah I guess so! So fun! The whole record has been like an experiment. Like it’s all been unfolding as I go. I would go to my rehearsal space in the morning, no Internet, no phones allowed, concrete. Kind of like a concrete bomb shelter. A creative bomb shelter. And when I would close the door it would sort of be like, okay, it’s time to get lost for five or six hours. And I would just sit and write/record and write and record and write and record and then I would leave and go back the next day and kind of be like, what even happened yesterday? And I would listen and I would think, “Wow, there’s a song here! There’s a song! I recorded a song yesterday! How did that happen?” Many people have thought that Richard produced the whole record. I’m amazed and flattered that anyone thinks that my production ability is anywhere near his because he’s so extremely talented, but I think I managed to make the record sound as cohesive as I think I possibly could.
The Wake: Yeah! I can’t pick out the three songs that he produced, you know, so mission accomplished! Actually, Richard produced Tennis’ album. He worked on that and I think that it kind of sounds really similar. What you’re doing and their creative process. They had this creative ritual where they would do that; they would lock themselves in a room for hours and work on their album. I just thought of that as you were telling me about your process.
GM: Oh, cool! I don’t know their music as well. Richard played me that one song “Mean Streets” that he produced and I thought that was really cool.
The Wake: This was your first time doing a project on your own since you couldn’t find musicians who were interested in working on this with you, so how was it different doing it all by yourself?
GM: Oh, so liberating. Just so liberating! Like, the idea of being in a band appeals to me for the hypothetical future. There’s so many benefits to being in a band. But I think that this record allowed me to find my voice, artistically speaking. It helped me to find more of my perspective without feeling like I needed to butt heads with someone else about lyric choices or chord choices or arrangement or anything.
The Wake: On the subject of working with other people… a while ago, when The Hush Sound reunited and released “45,” you guys mentioned that you had like eight or nine demos that you were planning on recording and releasing in smaller bursts over time. Not gonna happen?
GM: Yeah, we listened back and we were just like, “These aren’t very good.” We feel like if we were going to make another record, it would need to be of the caliber that we would hold ourselves to for any individual releases. I think a lot of bands who have a big audience can fall back on the idea that their audience would like it no matter what, and we did not want to phone in a record. So it just felt like the stars did not align for us to release that material.
The Wake: Sad. You guys talked about how natural it was for you guys to come back together.
GM: That’s probably how it felt! That’s how it felt at the time. We’re always honest with ourselves every step of the way. But when it came time to actually putting out a record, we listened back to it, and it was like… we don’t have a record.
“There’s so many benefits to being in a band. But I think that this record allowed me to find my voice, artistically speaking. It helped me to find more of my perspective without feeling like I needed to butt heads with someone else about lyric choices or chord choices or arrangement or anything.”
The Wake: What about Gold Motel? Is that closed indefinitely?
GM: That’s been done for a while. Yes. Yeah, the hotel’s been shut down. We basically pretty much were done after we made the second record in 2011, so we were really only a band for like a year and a half or two years. But then we put the record out in 2012 and we played like five shows. I think as artists grow they tend to want to like, shed their skin. I’m really grateful for all the support that I’ve had in all these different projects. The encouragement from that has allowed me to feel even more excited about doing [Springtime Carnivore]. Part of the reason, though, I released this project anonymously, and I have been for like two years, is because I didn’t want to feel any expectations. Like I’m not writing this for fans of other bands. I certainly hope it reaches them, and I hope everybody can enjoy it, but I can never frame that mindset that I’m like, pandering to people. I’m just not that kind of person.
The Wake: With Springtime Carnivore you’ve really penned an alter-ego. Has writing through someone else or the idea of somebody else changed the creative process?
GM: I think people need to sometimes try on a disguise to be able to find their authentic voice. You try and disguise, disguise, disguise, disguise, and then you figure out what feels real about each one. It’s sort of the same thing when young writers are learning how to write. Your teachers will say, “Try to write a short story like Hemmingway. Now try to write one like Emily Bronte. Now try and write a poem like Robert Frost.” You start to feel what is natural. Like, “Oh, Robert Frost feels really good to me, why is that?”
The Wake: Can you tell me about your particular songwriting process, then? You’ve been doing many different projects and performing over the years. How has your songwriting process evolved?
GM: I think it’s sort of like collaging. I feel like I’ll be simultaneously reading a book or a piece of written work that’s an influence from which I’ll take a few words. And then I’ll be learning a bunch of records. Like for example, I’ll be learning, like… the John Lennon Mind Games, which was one I learned around the time of this record. And so some of those chord changes, some of the ideas, some feels would make their way into the new recording. A record is an influence, something written is an influence, maybe a movie, or like, an atmospheric energy, kind of like an atmospheric visual might be an influence. And then, something will sort of light the match and they’ll all line up. There will be a synchronistic moment and then it feels like collaging where it will be like, “Cool, that chord from the John Lennon thing, that word from the book I’m reading, this emotion that I’ve experienced, and then also, it should feel like Oregon sunshine,” or whatever! You know, it’ll be something like that.