Neal Morgan Chats

Posted by Miss Ess, October 20, 2009 02:13pm | Post a Comment
Drummer Neal Morgan's bold, multi-layered record, To the Breathing World, with songs created from vocals and drums only, comes out today, October 20! An entire album consisting of drums and vocals may sound simple, but Neal has created something that's complex, layered and not short on melody to boot!

You may know Neal from his status as a member of the Ys Street Band -- he was on the road with Joanna Newsom for Ys playing drums and singing backing vocals. His first solo release is something new and creative to behold -- the tracks are kind of like tiny symphonies of vocal layering, and the lyrics often reference the natural surroundings Neal grew up around in his hometown of Nevada City/Grass Valley.

Read on for our chat about the creative crock pot that is Nevada City, his new album, touring with Joanna Newsom, and more, and check out Neal's other chat with our own, ever-so-witty Job O Brother; the two are long time friends.

neal morgan to the breathing world

Miss Ess: How did you pick up playing the drums? What is it that drew you to them so strongly?

Neal Morgan: I began playing when I was 9; my dad had a cover band called Sons of Boogie that would practice in the garage. I think I must have sat down at the drumkit and something clicked. I can't say why I was drawn strongly -- I was a cautious kind of kid, so maybe banging on drums was a good contrast. I don't know.
neal morgan
ME: Who are your favorite drummers?

NM: Two close friends of mine stand out:

Zach Hill - he's mind-blowingly exciting as a drummer, of course, but he's an endlessly inspiring artist. No one works harder and very few people have the kind of dedication and commitment to really exploring what's possible in musical expression in the way Zach does.

John Niekrasz - of all the incredible drummers in Portland, I feel like I have the most to learn from John. He's in my favorite Portland band, Why I Must Be Careful, who I try to play with as much as I can.

ME: This record is a gutsy idea -- what made you want to create a drum and voice album?

NM: That's all I do artistically. Drumming and singing is what I love. That's how I want to express myself. So, it's the most natural record in the world for me to make. I guess, like everyone else, I always wanted to make a record that was mine; where it felt like my own territory. It took a while for me to realize that this was the kind of music-making -- and the kind of record -- that would be that for me. It had to be exclusively drumming and singing, it just took a long time for me to see it. Once I got a glimpse that this would be possible, it was the most freeing experience I've ever felt. This is a special debut for me.

ME: When and how did you begin writing these songs?

NM: In early 2007, I was making recordings back home in Grass Valley in between Joanna tours that were almost entirely drumming and singing, just hints of other instruments. Then Joanna opened two shows for Bjork in May. I hadn't listened to Bjork's music beforeneal morgan, so I got all her albums and fell in love. I had very selective hearing with those records, because of where my head was regarding my own music, so I heard her music almost solely for the interplay between the percussion and her voice. Her albums gave me confidence. Then in June, I opened a show for Marnie Stern just singing from behind the drumkit for the first time. By July I was writing "Love Me World."

How did you make the arrangements? Were they all there in your mind, with all their many parts, waiting to get out?

No, not at all. The vast majority of the performances you hear on this record are first-take first impulses. I built and sculpted those impulses and re-recorded accordingly as the piece took shape and revealed where it wanted to go. It was almost like I remember paintings being made when I was making visual art: start somewhere, add something, gauge what that does to the whole and the other things around it -- subtract, add, push, pull, etc.

What kind of technology did you use to record the album? How did you shape the various sounds?

"Love Me World" was recorded on a cassette 8-track. "Salamanders" was recorded using the internal mic on my laptop into Garageband. Other songs are mixtures of those two methods. Beyond that, the shaping of the sounds is just how close I would stand to the mic or how far away from the drumkit I'd put the computer and the acoustics ofjoanna newsom neal morgan the living room I was in. There's no EQ or post-production work or anything. I don't know how to do any of that stuff and I don't want to know.

I feel the influence of Nevada City in your words and creativity. What affect do you feel growing up there had on you and your work?

I'm fortunate in that I've had an incredible community of musician friends from very early on. Many of my friends have worked very hard and pushed themselves to be really expansive, adventurous musicians. We inspire and support each other. It's a beautiful place as well -- certainly many of the lyrics on this record are inspired by my home: friends, family, the river.

Now on to your new town: What affect do you feel Portland has on your work and creative output?

I'm just starting on the next drum and voice record in the basement, so we'll see! I'm inspired by many of the good bands here, and get to see a good show almost any night of the week, so being a part of this community is an honor. I moved to Portland in part because I've always wanted to hang out with other drummers but it seemed like all my good drummer friends lived in other states or other countries. But I have such a great group of drummer friends in Portland. One of those friends, Jose Medeles (The Breeders), opened Revival Drum Shop, which has been like Cheers for drummers, basically. We have drummer BBQs and go see each other play and hang out at the shop all the time. Bless him.

Tell me about your tour plans and how you are going to bring this record to life on stage! You have a female singer who will be joining you?

The immediate tour plan is to do one west coast tour each of the next three months. I do have a female singer, Damaris Peterson, performing with me. We perform reductions of the vocal arrangements live -- there is something very exciting about paring things down to two vothem hillsices. But the larger goal is to add three more female singers and perform the record live proper. I start looking for singers next month.

What have you been listening to lately?

My sister gave me a Michachu album and a Fleet Foxes album; I've been listening to those. A little Kate Bush. Karl Blau's new album Zebra. Them Hills have made a cool new album. White Hinterland is working on new music and it's great.

What is your most prized piece of musical gear?

I have an old tambourine -- 8" in diameter, double-row of cymbals -- that my friend Joe Meade gave me in late 2006. It's a beautiful instrument. And I've used it during every Joanna show I've played -- it feels like an old friend or something. It's gained heirloom status, I think.

What song best describes your life right now?

A song on the record called "I Wantzach hill astrological straits So Many Things Now" describes things rather well.

Name a record you love that you think more people should listen to.

Zach Hill's solo record Astrological Straits.

What's next for you?

Work on the next drum and voice record. Find three female singers who want to perform these songs with Damaris and I.

What's been your best find at Amoeba?

I've had some great finds, but I want to use this opportunity to prime the pump. I always go straight to the Moore Brothers section, hoping to grab Thumb of the Maid or Spitting Songs, but I'm foiled every time. I hope to get lucky on my next trip.

Thank you for your time!

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To The Breathing World (1), Joanna Newsom (36), Neal Morgan (5), Interview (341), Nevada City (25)