After a conversation with morgxn it is clear that is he just like his music: honest and open, interesting and entertaining. Released in 2018, morgxn’s debut album Vital is unforgettable in its vulnerability and grandeur. It’s a cathartic and empowering dance party, a place that is very distinctly morgxn’s own, but also somewhere where everybody can belong. With music like this it’s no surprise he’s been gathering attention, with a recent TV debut performance on Jimmy Kimmel and opening for Robert Delong on the See You In The Future Tour. During their stop in Toronto we caught up with morgxn and talked very early musical beginnings, vulnerability, and working with Walk The Moon.
ZOE FROM MELODIC MAGAZINE: You’ve been singing forever, what was the first instrument you picked up to go along with that?
MORGXN: Great question! Okay so I feel like my mom would be mad if I didn’t mention this, she always said that I could sing before I could talk. Like before I was making sentences I was singing. And there’s this picture above the piano that I played growing up, it must have been a preschool activity that was like ‘draw what you want to be when you grow up’. It’s a really bad 3 year old crayon drawing, but there’s definitely a person and a microphone and the teacher must have gone around and been like ‘what did you draw’ because in adult letters it says ‘when I get bigger I want to be a singer.’ So I must of said that when I was 3 that I wanted to be a singer. Which is crazy.
I did take piano when I was maybe 6 but it was a really strict piano teacher that I really didn’t like because it wasn’t fun. I had to have fun. And then I don’t know why on earth, maybe because I was really good at the recorder, but I played the trombone, which is crazy. And then my dad, in his wisdom was like, ‘you sing, you should do an instrument that is not also using your mouth, you should take piano.’ And I was like, well I don’t like it, because I didn’t like the teacher, and he was like, well what if we found you someone different? And I think he may have been like if you can learn this one song I’ll give you five dollars, you know as some sort of incentive.
MM: What song was it?
MORGXN: It was Angel Eyes, an all piano piece by someone named Jim Brickman. And I’ll never forget it because, I talk a lot about this, but my dad passed away, and on tour like a year ago I was at this random piano and I was just like, I wonder if my hands will remember the song. I hadn’t played it in years, and I just sat down at the piano and I didn’t even have to look at my hands. I knew exactly what to play and it had been years.
But the teacher that I found in Nashville was this teacher who didn’t teach me how to read notes, he taught me how to play chords. Which to me was fun because then I could hear any song on the radio and be like I want to play that and he’d be like ‘cool let’s do it”. So, I was 9, and it was kind of like taking piano but it was really giving me the tools to be able to write which was ultimately what I wanted to do.
MM: So did the writing come with starting to play the piano?
MORGXN: I would say writing came in two parts of my life. It came then because he gave me the tools to be able to do it. Back then I was writing songs about heartache but I wasn’t even old enough to have experienced it. And it was like I was writing songs, but I didn’t even really know that that was what I was doing. And then my life sort of took a different turn when I was doing more theatre or more other people’s music. I sort of let my writing go. It wasn’t until I hit kind of a wall in my life and was like, I feel like there’s something I’m trying to say and I don’t know how to say it- that’s when writing came back in.
There’s a Bob Dylan Autobiography called the Chronicles Volume One of which there is only one volume which is kind of funny- he’s a funny guy like that. And it resonated with me because he was like, when you’re a singer who can sing any song it’s fine and there are many songs to sing. Until some point, in his words, you want to peel back the curtain. And that’s exactly what happened for me. I had plenty of songs to sing but I had sort of hit a point where I was like, I don’t even know what I’m saying. Just because you can sing doesn’t mean you have something to say, and to me it was all about what am I trying to communicate? What is vital? Who am I? Who am I in this world? And that’s when I started putting pen to paper and was just like, I’m gonna make music.
MM: One of my favorite things about your music is how vulnerable you’re willing to be in your songs. Is that something you had to find or is that something that was in your songs from the beginning?
MORGXN: I think I did it wrong at the start if I’m being honest. I think I thought the way to break through was to see how loud you could be and how much you could force people to listen. And I was also trying to make music that fit a certain… I’m from Nashville and a lot of people are like, this is how you make music and I think I sort of got lost in that. Someone once told me write what you know, but I wish I could go back and slap them because if you write what you know you’re preaching. But if you write what you don’t know then you’re trying to uncover something. You’re trying to explore the unexplored and that to me was the shift. And honestly I don’t know any other way. I only have one way of writing and that’s from my point of view. I could never write from any other point of view.
MM: Do you remember a certain moment when that shift took place?
MORGXN: Yeah I do. In 2013 I flew to London thinking that I could take a one way flight to London and sort of just figure it out. But don’t do that. Because you could end up in customs jail, which I did. So they put me in jail overnight.
MM: Well now I need to know the story behind the jail!
MORGXN: I went to London with a keyboard on my back. I went to London with a dream. I was just dreaming of writing songs and falling in love and I show up at customs and they are like ‘why are you here?’ and I was like, ‘I’m just here. I’m here to hang out.’ And they’re like, ‘why do you have a keyboard?’ And I’m like, ‘well I’m a musician.’ They’re like, ‘okay, well are you working?’ And at the time, was I working? I mean I had saved up money. I got a flight from like, reward points, and it was like 6 weeks in the smallest suitcase going across the world. And they were like, ‘okay, well we need to see if you have money to be here 6 weeks if you’re not working.’ So we walk over to the ATM and my card declined because I’m in another country and I hadn’t let my bank know. We go back and then the kicker is that I was staying with a friend that I had met online basically. She’s the sweetest person, we had connected on Twitter and then Skyped and she had an extra room so I was like great, I can’t afford anything, I’ll stay there for a little bit and figure it out. But then the guy at customs asked, ‘where are you staying?’ And I told him where I was staying. And he’s like, ‘how did you meet?’ And I thought it would be really weird to say we met online. So I told him we met in New York. Which is a lie.
MM: They don’t like that!
MORGXN: Even though online seems weirder! But I thought if I said we met online it would be an immediate ‘get out of here’. So they call that person, double check the story, it doesn’t check out. And then I am caught in a lie that I didn’t mean to make, but I made it. So there I am in a holding cell in Heathrow airport, by myself. I call my brother, because you get one phone call, and I was like ‘listen don’t tell mom and dad’… because the border is just an insane place. I’m lucky my experience was just an overnight and sent back but the truth is there are people who don’t have that situation. In this instance it was, so I called my brother and I was like ‘listen… I think i’m gonna end up coming back tomorrow because if there was a multiple choice test I answered every question wrong.’
They sent me back and luckily the flight landed in Philly, and my brother was living there at the time which was super synchronistic and gave me a place to land. I had sublet my place in LA, I was not going to go home to Nashville, I didn’t have money for a flight, I didn’t know what I was going to do. So I stayed at my brother’s for a few days and it was like, I can’t do anything in Philly, I might as well take a bus to New York. While I was on the bus there was a musical theatre composer by the name of Jason Robert Brown who I knew from years ago, who I didn’t even know knew me, and all of a sudden I had a friend request and a tweet from him. And I hadn’t done theatre in a long time, but he basically reached out and was like, ‘hey would you sing with me at this gig in New York?’ And I wasn’t even going to be in New York, I just happened to be on a bus and this guy reaches out and offers me a gig which means a little money.
So in that moment it was sort of the start of this really synchronistic journey. I think the way I made music after that point was maybe more urgent, a little more life or death. It was a little more, I’m not just writing songs to write songs about partying and good times, I’m trying to reflect a piece of my experience.
MM: Let’s get back to Vital- you mentioned before that you journal a lot. Do any songs start from the journals?
MORGXN: Often times what a journal is for me is a vomiting pad, just a place to spew my anxieties. I do a lot of word mapping, just writing words. And I do a lot of drawing too. But there is definitely sometimes where titles of songs or things will sort of happen. I had written morgxn with an X in a journal a long time ago before I had released the music. So when I stumbled across that I thought, ‘that looks like me.’ For the first time it was a name that felt like it captured sort of who I am. And vital as well was something I had written in a journal and that was a word I kept coming back to when I was naming the album.
MM: Which song from Vital came together the quickest and which took the longest to write?
MORGXN: The quickest to write was Vital which is interesting. I wrote it in Nashville with a band called Basecamp, and they were the one band in Nashville that was doing something totally different than the Nashville thing. That was the first song we wrote together. Like we met and we wrote Vital.
Roots I wrote shortly after my dad passed, but I did honestly twenty different versions of that song. Ultimately after doing twenty versions of that song the version on the album is the demo. You can never know the journey that the song is going to take you.
MM: You recently did a new version of Home with Nick Petricca from Walk the Moon. Did working with him on that song change the meaning or anything about that song for you?
MORGXN: Yeah great question. When I sang Home it was before the song had been released and before I had even gone on this journey. And oftentimes that’s what it is. You work on something then release it and move and and make new stuff. With Home 2.0 I’ve already been able to sing the song all over the world and I’ve seen people connecting with it. When Nick joined the song I also re-sang the song too, and I feel like a kid sang the original and an adult sang this version. I’m constantly searching for a place where I belong and I think that that journey will ultimately never stop, but is ultimately true to who I am. I am always searching and I’m always trying to find that place. So to me this new version in a way feels closer to my heart. I am releasing a vinyl of Vital on record store day that is going to include that version which I am very excited about.
MM: You also recently released a new acoustic EP, can you tell me about the process of reinventing those songs and why you wanted to do that?
MORGXN: It was almost like a rediscovery of the songs because I think the album is one expression of it, but I think there are so many more shades to a song. I just believe songs are ultimately malleable. If you could release a record and also constantly tweak it I would. Because you’re never quite finished when you put out something. It’s almost like a snapshot and the songs that I chose for the acoustic one, I didn’t even choose them. That happened so naturally it was just like, there is definitely more to these songs. It was just I felt like there was more to say. And sometimes it takes artists like twenty years for them to come back and revisit a song but for me I felt like in order to book in the Vital chapter I wanted to touch the songs again.
MM: The last track on Vital is a cover of The Cure’s Boys Don’t Cry; what was the process of taking that song and making it your own?
MORGXN: That song has always been special to me. After my dad passed, the lyrics of the song just took on a whole new meaning. I never thought that I was going to put a cover on the album, that was not at all my intention. I wanted to write every single thing but sometimes a song won’t let you go and Boys Don’t Cry was one of those moments where it felt like it was there to help me heal in a very specific way. And I didn’t even know what we were doing when we recorded it because we didn’t know that it was going to turn into a thing. It was honestly a ‘let’s just throw down a guitar and let’s just sing it and see what happens’. We shut off the lights and I sang it and it was magical and we basically just kept it. We did it one more time and that was the record.
I’m in the middle of a whole new process of creating and I think the unexpected songs are always the best ones. A lot of times songs don’t even start in a journal for me, they just start in mid-air. And that is the process for me. The process is just being on the process.
MM: You recently performed on Jimmy Kimmel, is the experience of performing for TV different than that of your own shows?
MORGXN: I think I want all of my shows to feel inclusive and like a safe space and that was my goal with the Jimmy Kimmel performance. I had this guy in Seattle make the visuals and they went through the whole rainbow flag, trans flag, lesbian flag. I just wanted it to feel like a safe space and that’s what I want all my live shows to feel like. To me the fact it was on TV didn’t phase me at all. I was just excited to play it for more people.
MM: I heard that you have a deck of tarot cards, do you have a favorite tarot card?
MORGXN: My favorite tarot card is the death card because people get scared of it, but honestly I think change is both inevitable and doesn’t mean it’s negative. It just means that you’re growing and you’re shifting and some things are ending and some things are beginning.
See our photos from morgxn on the See You In The Future Tour.
Interview by Zoe Orion.
Cover photo by Ben Zucker.
Interview has been edited for clarity and length.