With his third album, former Woods’ bassist Kevin Morby really has leapt into the big league. It’s a tremendous set, as you may have already anticipated if you have heard – or seen the superb promo vidoes for – the singles ‘Dorothy’ (named for Morby’s guitar) or ‘I Have Been To The Mountain’. The affable Kansan took time out from his hectic schedule to talk to God Is In The TV…
Singing Saw is a very varied collection of songs, but it feels like something of a concept album – an OUTDOOR concept album, even. Is there a constant narrative, and what, if anything, would you say ties the tracks on the album together?
Yes, I think there IS a constant narrative, and a large part of that is where I’ve been living in a beautiful part of California called Mount Washington. For the first time ever, I had my own space and solitude, in this beautiful place with all this incredible nature, and I felt like I wanted to mimic – or at least mirror – the landscape, but at the same time keep everything sonically tense.
And you achieved that. After all, the title track is a dreamy, hypnotic number, but also thrillingly intense. How did you achieve that kind of nuance?
I don’t know, exactly. When I wrote that one, it was the most literal reflection of where I am living. We wanted to make it sound as cinematic as possible – the kind of thing you could score a film with. That’s something that my producer is really good at too, and if you got from it that it feels like a dream, then that’s pretty cool.
You’ve played in several bands, of course, most notably Woods and then The Babies before going solo. How do those experiences compare with each other?
Well, Woods taught me what it’s like to be a be a professional musician, how to communicate with a band and get along with each other on tour for great lengths of time. With The Babies, it was never meant to be a serious project, but I learnt how to be a frontperson. And of course, I took experience from living and performing with Cassie (Ramone, from The Vivian Girls). They were all great in their own way, but ultimately I prefer being a solo artist.
Because you can do whatever the hell you want now?
On your Wikipedia page, it cites Neil Young, Bob Dylan and Lou Reed as your major influences. From Singing Saw, I was also kind of picking up a JJ Cale vibe, maybe even some Leonard Cohen…
I can’t say I’ve been listening to a lot of JJ Cale, but Leonard Cohen is definitely an influence. I’ve also been listening to a lot of Nina Simone and those Ethiopiques discs. That and a lot of Nick Cave…
Nick Cave? I would never have guessed that! But actually, now you say it…
Ha ha, it happens a lot, that. Nobody ever seems to pick up on it, but as soon as I mention it, it makes perfect sense to people!
‘Dorothy‘, by contrast, feels like a cross between an upbeat Jesus And Mary Chain, Mikal Cronin and The Beach Boys as well as having a highly entertaining video…
That one, we DID want to be dreamlike. We wanted it to be liquidy, watery, surreal.
The guy who made the video – Christopher Good – is from my home town, and he’s really good at his own brand of the unexplainable. Lots of surreal images. What happens is what happens. It’s not really meant to represent anything other than being dreamlike.
You sound very laid back and contented throughout the album. What would you say makes you happy?
Um…well, the simple answer to that would be food! I don’t know though…maybe just feeling like I am a free will. My ideal day is being able to be aimless. No obligations, no need to do anything, just the feeling of being lost and happy.
Ever get writer’s block?
I’m knocking on wood here, as I say this, but no. You know, I’ve never just sat down at a desk to write or anything. I don’t have any songwriting rituals or anything. I don’t ever have to think about it too much; I just turn my brain on to Autopilot and things float in and out freely. I know I’m lucky and it’s kind of sacred, so I just kind of tap into that.
What’s the best thing that’s happened in your career?
When Bill Fay said he’d heard my version of his song ‘I Hear You Calling’ and talked about how much he loved it. That was a special moment.
Could anything surpass that?
Maybe if my home town officiated me with some big honour or something. I come from a small city originally, and if they gave me access to the city, that would just be the coolest!
And who knows? If Kevin continues to make albums as delicious as Singing Saw, maybe one day, it will become reality. I doubt if ANYONE would have too many qualms about that.
Singing Saw is released on 15th April 2016 through Dead Oceans