Having been critically lauded by The Guardian, Uncut and 6 Music, the Norwich singer-songwriter Jess Morgan’s immersive, observational and fantastic fourth album Edison Gloriette will be released on vinyl on the 22nd of April for Record Store Day. In the run up to its physical release, we had a chat with her about storytelling, influences, making her own vinyl and more.
How do you feel your music has developed since your last record?
I’ve released records quite close together really so it’s hard to see what the big developments are sometimes. I would say that of the smaller, more subtle differences between albums have come from learning about myself – what I want to write about and what I really sound like, how I play and how to get the best out of myself as an artist in a recording context. I think it’s really tempting to try to be all things to all people and I’d admit to having tried in the past to do just that. I think with Langa Langa in 2014 I hit upon the beginnings of a sound that felt very right – for the right reasons (if that makes any sense!) It was a record that felt like, although it had its influences, it drove itself. And since then, it’s been a case of cutting out the crap, just serving the songs and trying to stay true to that. For me one of the biggest developments from then to now has been getting better at feeling out that careful balance between being open minded (again, in a recording context) while trusting my own instincts.
Your tours take you all over the world to all manner of places, has there been anywhere that you feel has had a lasting effect on your music in any way?
Sure. Everywhere I go I seem to catalogue the information somehow. Kind of like a filing cabinet. Sometimes I’ll be walking about and I will get the feeling that I’m going back to this scene, or this feeling somehow. I do make notes when I feel like that, take photographs, record a demo if it’s a sound thing. It doesn’t even have to be anything interesting! Just yesterday I was in Leipzig and I saw this really old fashioned tram go past. I wanted to see if I could take a photo of it so I grabbed a spot to sit and wait for it to come around again. I waited for about half an hour with a coffee in the sun, but it was very peaceful and kind of borderland between a couple of different types of feelings. I made notes because I was sure I’d want to come back to it. And sure enough, the tram did come around again too.
A lot of the time though the images just get called up when I’m working on a chord sequence or a melody. I think in the last year I’ve really got used to this being the way I work and have felt more inclined to trust it. Some of my best moments, days songwriting that I’ve enjoyed the most have been just trusting the strength of an image or a feeling or skeleton of a story as is aligns itself against something musical.
Stories are a big part of your work, but who are your favourite non-musical storytellers?
I’m always drawn to artists who can tell a story in a portrait. For the last record I made in particular I was really moved by Edward Hoppers Nighthawks era paintings – his portraits of people and also corners of cities that are at one moment bleak but then fit to burst with story. I’m a huge fan of Hockney and in particular his portraits and his colours – the way he uses colour reminds me of the way a writer might just switch point of view, or tell a story introspectively or add a detail that just shifts the mood slightly and changes the experience. My favourite poet is Elizabeth Bishop, creating moods, worlds, shifting all the time and I haven’t got a clue how she does it… and I think I even like it better that way! I’ve been singing a Fleetwood Mac cover on this tour and I really hit me, though it is musical…just how expressive a singer’s voice can be – like Stevie Nicks in Seven Wonders. For me there is just no better performance that I can think of.
Are there any influences in your music which we might not at first expect?
A lot of people have been surprised to hear that Come To The Opera With Me, Loretta is actually written as an unofficial love theme to the film Moonstruck. I didn’t do it with any intention that was just what came to mind one day when I was playing the piano. The emotions it brought about were strong not simply in my memory of the movie or because I happen to really love the movie but because it holds a special place in heart and in the collective heart of my family. The movie and that whole era when power ballads were on the radio and I was a little Cher super-fan is synonymous with good time and music being in our house growing up. I think that’s why I had to just go with the idea. I think that’s the song on the record I’m proudest of.
Can you tell us about how your vinyl making process and how it all started?
It started with me just wanting to put a release out on Vinyl. It’s expensive if you’re independent and no matter which way I worked the numbers it was always going to be too much of a stretch. So I started looking at other ways and I saw some guys on the internet having some success with liquid plastics. So I had a go – tried out a lot of different mixes and methods, ways to make them look and feel interesting and eventually found ways to get them to sound better too. It was frustrating but addictive! I’ve been making the things for about eighteen months now and I think I’ve breathed in enough fumes and ruined enough of our furniture now… so the last run for the time being will be available on Record Store day – and exclusively from Relevant Records in Cambridge.
You’re also quite creative visually, making linocuts and videos as well as dong some photography, what do you think drives this desire to create?
I’ve always been a maker – I come from a family of makers too. Growing up it was a huge bit of luck to actually be encouraged to be creative. Not everyone gets that. I’m not really sure what the driving force is, but the desire to want to note things down, capture things, make new things or just make something to hang on a wall hasn’t every really gone away. I love images, photography, fonts… I think I’m just a massive nerd.