The Man Who Puts Autumn Into Words

Some people document their life by keeping a diary, others capture their lives in photographs; Andrew Morgan writes sweeping, dramatic film score-like pop songs to chart his own path.
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Morgan, Kansas born but hard to pin down anywhere for long, has recently released his third album, Grey Light of the Season, which, like its predecessor Please Kid Remember, contains the most richly orchestrated pop this side of Scott Walker’s first four solo records. The achingly beautiful strings which adorn his work are unsurprising given that his stated aim is to capture the essence of autumn in music. It’s a trick he manages to pull off seemingly effortlessly; if scientists were able to insert probes into trees and record the actual sound of leaves turning from green to gold in autumn, then those recordings would form the basis for Andrew Morgan’s songs. “I can’t exactly put what it is about autumn into words, but it’s something like the lyric ‘when you cycled by, it began all my dreams’ from the Smiths’ song Back to the Old House. Autumn is a portal.”

Morgan’s albums also have a very cinematic feel. Not just in the music, which given the orchestration is kind of self evident, but in the way he pieces them together using short instrumental pieces and repeated themes with different arrangements, giving the albums the structure of a film soundtrack. Morgan confesses that this is a conscious act: “Absolutely. Mood, narrative, pacing, and sequencing all factor heavily. Song writing is an intuitive process for me, but conscious cinematic aims definitely enter the picture when it comes to production and arrangements. God is in the details, right? It’s what I love about the films of Wes Anderson and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.”

This cinematic feel is evident in all of his work but is brought into sharper focus on Morgan’s latest album by his decision to omit drums from the record. He states though that this was less about creating a film-score sound and more about pushing the limits of his sound and taking a few risks. “I think of what Radiohead did with OK Computer. They probably could have made The Bends ten times over, but they choose to be brave and make something radically different. For me, I wanted to make something without any regard for my previous work. I can’t imagine drums being on any of the songs. I thought about it a lot, but it just didn’t feel right.”

Shying away from standard love songs, Morgan’s lyrics evoke weighty novels through their discussion of light, weather and place. Roses From Todnauberg from the new album being a prime example. Morgan readily admits that what he reads finds its way into his work. “Perhaps I’m imagining that I’m scoring an adaptation of a book. When I wrote this album it was a bleak, fraught time, and I was reading a lot of bleak, fraught stuff – Freud, Nietzsche, Dostoevsky, Sartre, Heidegger, World War I memoirs, and more.”

It’s more than clear that Morgan sees himself as a composer as much as a songwriter.

The sense of geography – mostly cities and street names- which is evident across Morgan’s albums to date stems from his wanderlust. “I’ve moved around so much, and am constantly writing, so the instrumentals are often titled after the name of the street I was living on when I wrote them. Granville is in Chicago, Cadet and University are in Lawrence, Kansas, and Laurel is in Somerville, Massachusetts. It’s funny, the only reason Daegu Nights has its name is because I can’t read Korean and didn’t know what street I was living on when I wrote it. Partly, the titles are memory cues – like the notes Guy Pearce’s character leaves for himself in the film Memento.”

And with that quote we’re back to cinema. Having already had five of his songs featured in Something Better Somewhere Else, a film directed by Ron Lazzeretti Morgan is desperate to extend his work in this area. “I’m dying for a chance to score a film. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for ages.” Asked who his dream collaboration would be with, Morgan quickly rattles off his wish list: “I’d love to work with Jean Pierre Jeunet. His film Amelie has had a lasting influence on me. I’d also be elated beyond belief to work with Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Sophia Coppola, David Cronenberg, and Andrew Niccol. I watch so many movies, it’s hard for me to find something I haven’t seen to rent, and I watch my favourite movies over and over and over again.”

It’s more than clear that Morgan sees himself as a composer as much as a songwriter. Last year he spent time living in Lyon, France and while there wrote a suite of instrumental pieces inspired by the city which he plans to record this summer. This will be the score to the movie in his memory and won’t, he hopes be the last. The man is steeped in the music of cinema.

“For my birthday my sister took me to a concert in Lyon at which an orchestra and two choirs played along to the entirety of The Fellowship of the Ring. It was unbelievable. Music and movies – there’s nothing better.”

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