White Sea Talks ‘In Cold Blood’, Kate Bush Comparisons & The Influence Of Cinema: Idolator Q&A
Morgan Kibby has pretty much done it all — fronted a band (The Romanovs), scored an episode of Girls, toured with M83 and even remixed a Britney Spears‘ song — but it took a particularly gut-wrenching break-up for the multi-talented 30-year-old to work up the courage to record an album of her very own (under the moniker White Sea).
I caught up with the Los Angeles-based diva to talk about her beautifully dense and multi-layered debut LP In Cold Blood and she opened up about her inspiration for the record, the influence of filmmakers like Terrence Malick on her unique sound and the flattering comparisons with British pop icon Kate Bush. Get to know, and inevitably fall in love with, White Sea after the jump.
Why you chose to release music under “White Sea” instead of your own name? There is something anonymous about having a project name, and I think because I do so many different things — whether it’s writing pop music or remixing or producing for other bands — I think it allows me a lot of maneuverability, a lot of flexibility. Whereas operating under “Morgan Kibby,” it felt bland in comparison to choosing like a project name, a moniker.
Why “White Sea”? I’m pretty terrible with band names and song names, so I got really frustrated trying to think of what I was going to call the project. So I ended up just going to a baby dictionary online, and apparently “Morgan” kept coming up as “a woman who dwells by the sea” or “white sea dweller,” and I was like “Oh perfect! White Sea.”
It’s funny that you said that there’s a degree of anonymity about having a nom de plume because the album is so personal. I read that many of the songs were inspired by a bad break-up. Yeah. I mean it was a very classic getting hurt situation, and things got very, very ugly. It was like all of a sudden I found myself living in this soap opera. More than anything, it was just sad and I just had to get it out. I thought that was a bunch of bullshit before I actually lived through something that forced me to emote through my art, and, frankly, it was the first time I was honest in my art. I’m sad that the impetus for that had to be something that was blue, but I’m very happy that it resulted in songs that I can stand behind.
That answers another question that I wanted to ask. You’ve done so much, and you’ve been involved in some amazing things, but it took a long time to go it alone. I just think I was a shitty writer. Up until recently, I don’t think I’ve written anything that’s worth listening to. I think that a smart person is able to acknowledge that it takes time to develop good taste, and I’ve been in some questionable projects in the past, you know, that can teeter on being a bit maudlin and a bit dramatic. I’m never going to lose some part of myself that’s like that. I come from a theater background.
But up until starting to flesh out some of these songs for this record, I don’t think I had ever written anything I was proud of, and this record, though I can listen to some songs now and say ‘Oh, I would’ve done things differently,’ there are at least two or three on there that I can fully 100 percent stand behind and say ‘I am proud of this. This is a proper reflection of how I’m growing as an artist.’
One of the things that I found interesting about the album, starting with the title, is that it’s very literary and visual. And when I read you were a fan of Terrence Malick, that kind of made sense to me because his aesthetic is reflected in your music. I think it’s very interesting that we like to box people in, and not just artists, but people in general where it’s like, somehow, once you choose to do one thing in particular and have that be your focus, somehow it precludes you from being interested or inspired or even gifted sometimes in other things. I started out in theater, television and film, so I’m very inspired by those mediums.
I continue to be inspired by them, particularly filmmakers like Terrence Malick who really paint these beautiful pictures. I love his work because it requires very little dialogue for him to tell his story. With this record, I would watch his stuff in the background while I was composing sometimes. In seeing his visuals, I was able to contextualize them in my own personal way, and it would help me create metaphors and ways of talking about my experiences that was visceral. So, it helped me turn my emotional experiences into words.
I don’t know, it was just very helpful. You know, like when you see a cityscape, and all of a sudden it’s like ‘Oh god, that reminds me of when I was back in New York, and I had this experience, and I’m looking at this building.’ So now I can kind of begin to talk about that building, but I’m turning it into my own experience.
Can we talk about the European city names because you’ve got tracks called “Warsaw” and “Prague” on the album? Like I said, I’m very bad with song titles. I’m very bad with band names. For me, when I start demos, and I start a lot of them on the road, I would save them as the city I started them in. So, if I found myself in Prague, and I started a demo in Prague, I was like ‘Alright, well, Prague!’
As someone who has kind of done a bit of everything — you’ve done remixes, you’ve done vocals for other people and you’ve written for other people. So, you probably have a very thorough view of the music scene right now. Where do you think your sound fits in into the broader spectrum of popular music circa 2014? I say this without any understanding of whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I don’t really know. I don’t know that it fits into anything. I’m not making purely electronic music. I’m not making bedroom pop. I don’t fit into some niche/genre, or even, you know, if you really want to get specific, I don’t know if I am a, quote unquote, like a “Rolling Stone artist” or a “Pitchfork artist”, which is how a lot of people quantify bands these days.
I don’t really know where I fit in, and I don’t think people know where to fit me in either. It’s interesting seeing the response from the record. From the fans of my music it’s been overwhelmingly like ‘Oh, this touches me,’ which was the whole point, and I’m very excited about that. But, for music critics, I don’t think people know what to do with me, but that makes me excited because I’ve done something that’s challenging to listen to. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know, but I like that its making people think.
We’ve talked about artists in other kind of mediums. Who are the musical people that kind of inspire you? You know, I take a lot of inspiration from so many different genres and so many different eras. I mean, I’ve said many times, I love Prince. Prince is a huge inspiration for me, particularly Purple Rain Prince, like for most people. I just think that his songwriting is, he’s just brilliant. He’s Prince. He’s brilliant.
I love disco just because I love the sound of the drums, like the way the drums are produced and treated. I love how fun disco music is. And then, you know, I love hip-hop, and I love hip-hop production particularly, obviously with drums, with 808s and 909s and stuff like that. So there are all these different things that I take inspiration from.
I’m also a classical musician, so putting real strings and horns on my record was imperative to me. I wanted to give people something that they were excited about owning on vinyl, you know? This wasn’t like a shittily, overcompressed record that doesn’t physically effect you, you know?
I was getting Kate Bush vibes from the record… Totally. You know what? I’ve gotten that my whole life, and I didn’t know who Kate Bush was until I was 19 years old. And, of course, I was like ‘Okay, if one more person says I sound like Kate Bush, I’m going to go crazy. I need to go listen to her music.’ And, of course, I listened to it, and I think she’s just brilliant. Also an incredibly brilliant musician. Being compared to her is one of the most complementary, wonderful things. I love it when people hear that.
It is just a very natural thing that comes out of me. Maybe we draw inspiration from the same places? I don’t know. Might be the quality of our voices? She’s not a conscious person I go back to and say to myself ‘Oh, I’d like this to sound like a Kate Bush song.’ I think we just draw inspiration from the same places. I would venture to guess that we might pull from the same ethereal places, and that’s why there’s reflective moments in the record, and stuff like that.
We’ve talked about a couple of pop legends but who you really think are doing their thing right in 2014? I think Kanye West is amazing. I could give a shit about his personal life or who he is as a person, which people like to bring up. I don’t think it’s relevant. I think he’s a genius. I think that he consistently puts out music that makes me excited about music, so I’m a huge Kanye fan. I’m a big Bon Iver fan. I listen to Bon Iver a lot.
He puts out music that emotionally affects me a lot, and I love that. I’ve been listening a lot to Nils Frahm, the pianist. It’s just such brilliant music, and he teaches me so many lessons on restraint. He does that thing where he’ll draw out something for ever and ever and ever, and by the time the chord changes, you’re like ‘this is amazing!’ So, yeah, he’s been inspiring me a lot lately, and I’ve been listening to that.
You produced most of the record yourself but also collaborated with Mark Ronson and Greg Kurstin. What made you want to work with them? Well, I’ve always wanted to work with Greg Kurstin. I think he’s just brilliant. But I didn’t know how brilliant he was until I got into the studio with him. I mean, like I knew peripherally, obviously, because he works with a lot of people I respect, but it wasn’t until I got into the studio with him that I was like, ‘Oh my god. This guy. He’s one in a million.’
I’ve rarely met producers that are as gifted as him in terms of just being a player but then knowledge of gear, synths. He’s just so tasteful, and his production is so tasteful. And, I actually, originally, wanted him to produce my record, but there just wasn’t time, and so I ended up just doing it myself obviously. But the two days that I had with Greg were transformational for me. I learned a lot. And then, you know, after my break-up, I moved away. I needed to get away from Los Angeles, so I moved to London for about 9 months. I was staying there, you know, on and off between M83 tour.
I was working at the Tally Arts Studios, and I saw Mark Ronson just sitting there. Anyways, we ended up getting connected that day, and I was there, he was there, and he’s like ‘Great, well, come in. We’ll try to write a song together.’ So, we whipped out the LinnDrum, and I told him that I was like super inspired by Prince, obviously, and the LinnDrum is a huge feature on a lot of Prince songs. He programmed the beat, and I literally got behind a synthesizer, and wrote the song in like a half an hour.
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