By Philip Runco.
Greta Morgan likes asking questions more than answering them.
It’s not that she minds fielding inquiries. It’s that her curiosity is insatiable.
“How’s it going?” she’ll ask with genuine interest.
“How are you?” she’ll wonder when she’s tired of talking about herself. “How has your whole life been?”
“Are you figuring things out professionally, personally, emotionally, mentally?” she’ll want to explore later. “How important is your career to your overall perception of yourself?”
Morgan seems like the type of person who falls into deep conversations wherever she goes.
In fact, she’ll readily admit as much.
“I just want people to tell me everything,” she shares. “If I wasn’t doing music full-time, I would want to be a therapist.”
On this afternoon in early January, she’s coming from an organic coffee shop in Joshua Tree, California, where, unsurprisingly, she’s just had a heart-to-heart with the thirtysomething gentleman behind the counter.
“This is a small, calm town, so I asked him why he lives here,” she recounts. “And he’s like, ‘All I really want to do is hike. Working in the coffee shop is fun, but it’s just a job that allows me to hike.’”
The conversation sticks with her. “I thought, ‘Man, that’s actually really beautiful. I can imagine some parents might be disappointed that their son has only amounted to being a person who works in coffee shop and enjoys his hobbies, but maybe that’s a beautiful life.’”
Morgan is living in the sleepy community for a month with boyfriend Eddie O’Keefe. She recently moved out of her house in L.A., and since her latest project Springtime Carnivore has at least two months of touring on the horizon, it doesn’t make sense to take root permanently anywhere for now.
“I am officially 100% homeless,” she jokes. “We’re kinda taking it one month at time. It’s nice to catch-up on sleep.”
Taking into account previous bands the Hush Sound and Gold Motel, Morgan has been on the go often over the past decade. But with last year’s self-titled Springtime Carnivore debut – a swirling and infectious mixture of ’60s pop and synthetic textures – she’s settled into a sound that’s all her own.
How long she stays there is anyone’s guess.
Why did you keep Springtime Carnivore anonymous and somewhat mysterious at first?
I wanted to reclaim all of the good things about my relationship with music – what that relationship was when I was a teenager. There are things that change when you start playing music for a living. As an artist, you have expectations, because you’re trying to support yourself. And the audience has expectations, because they have a context from the music that you’ve made. Naturally, they’re anticipating what the next thing will be. Whether you exceed or disappoint their expectations depends on all sorts of things – the record, the mood of the listener. I just didn’t want to have to feel responsible to answer to anything that I had made before.
I heard that in Japan, a painter is allowed to change their name one time in their life. It’s at the point where they feel that they’ve made a piece of work that is most truly theirs. When they’ve finally stopped imitating other people and found their own voice, they’re allowed to change their name and become that person for the rest of their life. Maybe it sounds dramatic, but in some way, I felt like I found that with this project. I found a very natural version of my voice, and I had recorded most of it by myself. It felt like this very pure, natural thing, and I didn’t want it to be tied to everything else that I had made, which goes back to when I was 15 and started my first band.
I was listening to St. Vincent on “The Marc Maron Show” yesterday and she said what I think is one of the most brilliant things I’ve heard someone say about the internet: “The internet is a cemetery except nothing dies.” The internet is, like, these demoes that you wrote when you were 16, and these press photos that you never approved but got leaked and are the first thing that comes up.
Everyone’s identity is so fluid and changing all the time, but the people you know hold you in the fixed position of whenever they saw you last. I’m not just talking about in music and art. And I’m guilty of it too. I still imagine the kid who was the complete turd in high school as the same person; I might not recognize that now he’s feeding the homeless and in med school. So, I didn’t want to have any of that. I didn’t want to have to walk through, “Here’s my old stuff, and here’s my stuff.” I just wanted to be like, “Here’s this brand new thing.”
Does this brand new thing feel like a culmination of everything you’ve done?
Man, it’s hard to say. On an artistic level, so many things have come in through the wavelength of this project that I had always hoped for. For example, the Zombies – who are one of my all time favorite bands – invited me to open for them as Springtime Carnivore. It was one of those things where I was like, “What is going on? How are these weird teenage dreams starting to come through?” Another big one was being able to work with Richard Swift. He’s another person who I had been a huge fan of forever.
So, artistically, Springtime Carnivore does feel like a huge step forward, and all of these dreams are coming true, but as far as exposure goes, my other projects had more. In terms of connectivity to listeners, it’s just one step in my personal communications with the world.
Springtime Carnivore draws from the pop and girl groups of the late 1960s and early 70s – you singled out the Zombies. When did you develop an affection for the music of that era? What’s the draw to it?
I am constantly exhausting myself with the mental contradictions that I have. One side of me does not want to be a kickback artist. It’s so cringeworthy to assume, “Oh music was so much better back then. I’m just gonna do it like it was done before.” I think it was [Edgar] Degas would said, “All artists are either plagiarists or revolutionaries.” When you think about that, yeah, I’m a plagiarist; I’m not a revolutionary. There are maybe ten revolutionaries who pop up every few years in the world of music.
But at the same time, I don’t want to be leaning very easily on things that have been done in the past, because that’s boring. I want to make things that are very modern. I think that I use very modern textures. Some things [on the record] are very synthetic. The synth bass on “Sun Went Black” is a very modern, super dark, hip-hop bass tone put into a pop song.
My affinity for ’60s and ’70s stuff happened as kid. That’s just what my parents listened to. It has a very strong chord to my childhood and to a happy time – a time when my parents were still together and we were driving around in the convertible, listening to the radio. It’s just a very strong chord.
Writing and recording alone seems like something requires a lot of confidence. When you don’t have other people around to reaffirm what you’re doing, how do you know when you have a good idea on your hands?
Part of the reason that I started writing and recording alone is that I had this revelation when I listened to the songs that I had recorded with various bands. I realized, “Not only does that not feel like me, it doesn’t feel like my spirit is in there. It’s not voice. I’m singing a lyrics that someone else thought was cool.” I thought that maybe I hadn’t expressed my voice before, because I’ve always been surrounded by other people who have been injecting their own confidences onto what I did.
Now that I’m writing and recording alone all of the time, I wish that I could ask a million questions to the fifteen or twenty artist who I admire the most that do this too. With someone like Joanna Newsom – who I’m such a huge fan of – I would kill to ask, “What do you for five or six years between records? How often do you write? Do you only put a song down when you’re inspired or do you write a little every day?” To know that process would be so amazing.
For me, anything that I enjoy listening back to is something that sticks. When I listen back to something and it doesn’t feel right in my body, I’ll toss it. [Laughs]
Some of the reviews for the record overstate the level of Richard Swift’s involvement. They attribute the entirety of the production to him, when you actually produced the majority of the record. Is that something that raised an eyebrow of yours?
If anything, I’m flattered that people would consider my recordings to be consistent enough with a producer whose work I’ve admired for almost a decade. I mean, I’m brand new at this. This is the first stuff that I’ve ever recorded. But I’m not trying to present and further the image that he produced it. I just don’t want it to seem like a lie or something.
I went up there to record with Richard, and we recorded four songs in five days. It was supposed to be a trial run. We were like, “Let’s vibe out and see how it goes. If we like each other, we can make an album.” We immediately hit it off, which is what happens with a lot of people and him – I love Richard the way that most people want to be his best friend. He’s just the best. He’s such a unique creative spirit.
We kept trying to figure out when to finish the rest of the record, and then he said, “I’m joining the Black Keys, and if we wait to finish the record, it might not happen until late 2015.” At that point, I was like, “Uh, I’m going to have twenty new songs by then. I’d rather finish these myself and put this record out, and then we’ll go from there.”
Has bringing a band together to perform live changed your idea of what Springtime Carnivore could be?
That’s something that’s been on my mind. Everything that I do is a reaction to whatever I’ve done before. The reason that I started this totally solo project is because I was turned off and wounded by the emotional experience of being in bands. It was too much for me to handle. I just wanted to make music and hang out.
Now that I’ve spent enough time alone doing that, all of a sudden this curiosity creeps in, like, “Oh man, I wonder if there’s the perfect collaborator, or the perfect person to sing harmony, or the perfect drummer that would come up something that I wouldn’t think of.” That curiosity is already blooming.
I see Springtime Carnivore as a Sparklehorse or a friendly Of Montreal set-up, where there’s one main songwriter, but the rest of the band can be collaborative. I hope to have a touring band that is a regular group. So far I’ve been doing different legs of tours with different bandmates just because of availability, but that’s actually really cool, because I’ve played with, like, three different drummers and they all feel the songs differently. It makes me think a lot about who I would want to play on the next record.
I saw an interview where you said, “Every day, we human creatures either step toward being more alive and excited, or else toward becoming slowly numb, complacent, zombified versions of ourselves.” Have there been in times in your life when you’ve found yourself in that latter category?
Oh yeah. In retrospect, it was usually all of the times that I listened to someone else’s advice over my own intuition. I would have a personal check-in, like, “Weird, how did I get here? What happened that led to me feeling this way?” It’s like when you lose something in your house and you have retrace your steps to find it – there’s a mental retracing of your steps to figure out what happened.
You seem to find yourself engaged in conversation with strangers a lot.
You know, I love it. Whenever my boyfriend picks me up from the airport, I always say, “Oh my god, I sat next to this woman on the plane, and you would not believe her story!” And he’ll wonder, “How do you always sit next to these crazy interesting people?” It’s become a running joke.
But on the last plane ride that we took together, I sat down next to this girl who looked about my age, and I was like, “Hey, how’s it going?” And she said, “Good how are you?” And I was like, “Great. Do you live in Chicago or L.A.?” Then we started this conversation. And then Eddie looked at me, like, “Oh, I see. That’s how you do it. You just start asking questions.”
It’s not about who you sit next to; it’s about whether you choose to talk to them. Everyone is so fascinating. I’m so fascinated by what people’s motivations are, and what their point of view is, and the way that everyone gets through life, and the way that everyone copes with the similar, huge themes in our lives.
Do those sort of interactions bleed into your songwriting?
They totally do. Sometimes I find myself quoting another person flat-out, and then I’m like, “Wait, I can’t say that. That something that a person told me.”
I remember once that I overheard a conversation where a woman was like, “Well, what can I say? We’re just a bunch of jaded assholes waiting for something to blow our minds.” And I was sort of like, “Oh my god. I want to write that song!”
But I realized that’s actually not my voice. I don’t feel like we as a human race are a bunch of jaded assholes waiting for something to blow our minds. My perception of America might be something close to that, but that’s not how I feel.