Singer-songwriter/producer Morgan Kibby, whose talents can be heard on M83’s Saturdays = Youth and Grammy-nominated Hurry Up We’re Dreaming, released her first solo EP as White Sea in 2010. Since releasing the EP This Frontier, she has been busy writing more with Anthony Gonzalez, touring non-stop, and remixing everyone from The Naked and Famous to Britney Spears. Itching to hear more, I asked Morgan about finding her voice, collaborating with M83, and what’s in store for White Sea.
JAY WADLEY: Congrats on the Grammy nomination for M83. You worked on both Saturdays = Youth and Hurry Up We’re Dreaming. How did you meet Anthony, and what was the creative process behind those collaborations?
MORGAN KIBBY: First off, thank you! To say we are very very excited would be a slight understatement.
Meeting Anthony (M83) was a rollout of some of the most kismet events of my life. When I was 19, I was still focused on acting: I grew up in the theater (as well as musical theater) and eventually found myself auditioning for TV, film, etc. as a teenager. I moved to L.A. to pursue acting as a career and managed to do ok for myself, booking a regular part on a TV show as well as several guest roles. Part of staying busy and challenged however between projects and auditions included throwing my headshot and resume into a pool that the student directors at the American Film Institute pulled from for their cycle projects. I ended up being called in to audition for one of the students’ films, and while I was sitting in an empty hallway at the AFI building going over my lines, a woman (Eva Husson) walked by me and kind of stared at me the length of her journey down the corridor. The next thing I knew, she asked the director I came in to audition for if he was going to use me. He said no, and I was cast for her film. It was the beginning of a decade-long friendship and creative partnership. I acted in three of her short films and was a kind of muse for her while she studied.
Eventually, Eva graduated from her MFA program at the AFI and prepared to direct her first feature that she wrote herself (as well as being a fantastic director, Eva is a very gifted writer). The film was never released, but in the process of making the film she asked Anthony Gonzalez of M83 to compose the film score. The script didn’t ultimately have a role for me, and though I had stopped acting and started focusing more on music, Eva felt bad that she didn’t have a way to include me in her process after we had collaborated on so many projects while she was in school. She showed Anthony some of my initial demos to see if he could maybe use my voice for the score. That didn’t work out obviously, but the next thing I knew, in 2007, I had an email from one of my heroes in my inbox asking me politely if I would be interested in contributing my time to the next M83 album. Needless to say, I was jumping up and down after I realized the email wasn’t a prank, and Anthony and I ended up exchanging demos for several of the songs on Saturdays = Youth. I found myself on a plane to Wales to record the next M83 record for three weeks. I was terrified. I had no recording experience aside from my own bedroom writings and a couple vocal sessions for trailers under my belt, and I had never met the man aside from one or two nervous phone calls in French (I went to the Lycée Francais and thank god had at least a language in common with Anthony and Loic Maurin, his drummer). I arrived at the St. Pancras train station and went off to Rockfield Studios in Wales. Initially I was only supposed to contribute vocals to Saturdays, but I ended up co-writing four songs (“Kim and Jessie,” “Up!,” “Skin of the Night” and “Too Late”). It was a dream. I got my sea legs and felt completely at ease with our collaboration. Our references are very similar and we both have a penchant for the dramatic (in my case admittedly it can border on cheesy — which I’m not ashamed of!).
When Anthony ended up moving to L.A., ironically, I didn’t contribute as much to the new record as I had to the previous one. However, I do have a stamp on it that I’m proud of. I co-wrote three songs on Hurry Up We’re Dreaming (“Intro,” “Midnight City” and “Reunion”) and composed some vocal arrangements, which is one of my favorite things to do. For Saturdays = Youth, Anthony would talk to me about themes depending on the song, and I would then disappear for a couple hours to try and find the right narrative. For songs like “Skin of the Night,” we sat in the live room and sang melodies back and forth to one another until we found the right ones. For HUWD I did most of my work in my own studio. Anthony would send me demos and I would write over them on my own. We both work very visually, so I decided to create electronic mood boards each time I sent him a lyric idea — collages I felt would help put him in the right headspace to digest the story I was trying to tell verbally. I love that about working with Anthony; he gives me a lot of creative free reign. We’ve developed a strong trust.
JAY WADLEY: How have your experiences with M83 influenced the way you approach your solo project, White Sea? What was the transition from performing to writing music like?
MORGAN KIBBY: The bonus of starting my career in music as a member of M83 is that I’ve seen the possibilities, the mistakes, and the potential of, particularly, a live show. I’ve been making music with Anthony for going on 6 years now; I’ve seen it grow from a van tour to two buses, a truck and a 14 person crew. So in terms of understanding how to craft a live vision, I’ve been in the trenches and I know how I want to approach my next endeavor. I’m lucky enough to have spent the necessary time learning how to tour on a project that I didn’t have a lot of risk in as it wasn’t something I could completely call “mine.” I love to perform live and I look forward to doing it with White Sea after all my time spent with M83.
The actual process of refining my vision as a writer however has been my biggest challenge over the last 5 years. While I felt confident as a performer, I was equally shaky as a songwriter. I spent a full year teaching myself how to produce and engineer in Pro Tools after the S=Y campaign. I knew I didn’t want to write at my main instrument, the piano, as it held so many clichés for me as female musician. I wanted to learn to program. I felt songs emerge as I understood how to mix and layer, how to coax an original
patch after 30 minutes of fiddling with my Juno-60. It was painstaking but awesome, because ultimately it led to me being very self-contained and creative in a way I couldn’t have been before. The more tools I had at my disposal, the more I felt my vision expand. I ended up focusing on remixing after finishing my first EP, and before I knew it I had 13 under my belt and had gently and unknowingly developed my sound through re-interpreting other people’s work. All of a sudden, people were coming to me specifically for the WS aesthetic on their remixes. Case in point: I’ve never been asked to do a dance remix. I’m the oddball remix on a remix EP, the one that you hopefully sit back and take a deep breath to. Last year it kind of hit me that I had finally found my voice as a producer because of the exploration I was allowed to pursue while remixing. That’s when I realized I was ready to start writing my first album.
JAY WADLEY: What’s the strangest thing that’s happened to you while on tour?
MORGAN KIBBY: So many answers to this question… On one of the most frustrating tours, our bus kept breaking down. The best was in the middle of winter in Poland, several hours outside of Warsaw. We were convinced we were going to freeze to death in the deserted icy back roads! Instead, two Sprinter vans showed up several hours later (after I stuck the white wine in the snow for good measure) and we all piled in and had the most hilarious three hour journey in Sprinter vans that were falling apart with no seat belts, techno music blaring all the way to Warsaw. I slept like a baby that night, and I’m pretty sure that bottle of wine is still lodged in the ice somewhere.
JAY WADLEY: What are you working on now? When can we expect some new White Sea?
MORGAN KIBBY: The first White Sea album is coming this year. I’m really excited about it. Now that the M83 tour is finally finished, I can focus on developing the tracks I’ve demoed so far for my record. It’s where all my attention is right now and I’m thrilled to feel so inspired; I had a bit of a dry spell the last couple years and was really in a dark place because of it. It’s the chicken and the egg however: I couldn’t write because I wasn’t happy, wasn’t happy because I couldn’t write… I’m overflowing with ideas though at the moment. Some of which are ridiculous, some of which I’m excited about, some of which I hate, but at least the ideas are appearing. The record isn’t the only exciting part of this year however. I have some very creative ideas that will accompany the music and I’m really quite excited to develop them. I think for the first time I’m not afraid to really commit to who I am artistically without any shame. It’s risky and it feels very powerful.