Well-crafted Kid: The joys in the work for Andrew Morgan as he prepares to tour the U.K. with Carl Newman
When I called Andrew Morgan one afternoon last week, he was hanging out in a studio working on logic problems — you know, those puzzles in which four friends go out to dinner and one has to figure out which one wore the yellow tie and which one had the duck confit.
Morgan, you see, is a Musician of Very Big Brain. He graduated from Harvard Divinity School. He talks about Nietzsche. If this were the Hundred Acre Wood, he’d be Christopher Robin.
The boyish, 30-year-old, Lawrence-based singer-songwriter (who was the subject of a December 2008 Pitch music feature, “Stealing Harvard”) is clever enough to release albums in Australia, Japan and the U.K. and tour in the latter two.
Come Tuesday, May 19, he’ll be back in London, beginning a tour opening for A.C. (Carl) Newman, lauded solo artist and co-leader of Canadian indie-pop supertroop the New Pornographers.
On the five-concert tour, Morgan will open for Newman at three of the shows and play in Newman’s backup band at all five. It’s a big deal for a musician from these parts. When I called to ask how he got it, I expected him to be shrewd about how this tour might boost his profile.
But that kind of business is the last thing on his mind.
“I’m going to go over there, have a good time, have fun, see some cities, do good on my set,” he says. “I’m not thinking about record sales or publicity or becoming A.C. Newman’s best friend or getting signed to Matador. That ruins the whole experience of having fun and going to England. This tour is not any kind of ladder-climbing thing for me.”
Morgan’s mantra: The joy is in the work.
“In the interest of preserving my love for making music,” he says, “I’ve tried to totally isolate any frustrations I might have with the business side of music.”
So far, the business side has treated him rather well.
In fact, the reason that folks in Kansas City might not have heard of Morgan is that he received interest from an international label before he had time to establish his name locally.
In 2003, reps from the British label Broken Horse (Newman’s U.K. home, hence the upcoming tour) were sniffing around on Lawrence.com for the goods on Matt Suggs, leader of Butterglory. The local site had just done a blurb on Morgan about the release of his debut album, Misadventures in Radiology. Broken Horse requested a copy, and a contract followed.
The next year found Morgan pimping his record in England and hobnobbing with a hero of his, Damon Gough of Badly Drawn Boy. And at a concert by ex-Stone Roses guitarist John Squire, he got yelled at by Liam Gallagher, who saw Morgan plugging his ears with his fingers during a deafening rendition of “Waterfall.” (“What’re you fookin’ doin’, mate? It’s the fookin’ Stone Roses!” Morgan says, adopting Gallagher’s Manchester accent.)
Now, Broken Horse is preparing to release Morgan’s second album, Please Kid, Remember. Currently available in the United States via iTunes (and in Japan in a slightly different form as Andrew Morgan), the album is a pretty, meditative, rainy-afternoon record.
Morgan’s sound is characterized by lush string-and-piano arrangements and clean electric and acoustic guitars, topped off by Morgan’s breathy, multitracked vocals, which have earned him — for better or worse — repeated comparisons to Elliott Smith. The fact that initial sessions for Radiology were recorded in Smith’s New Monkey studio in Los Angeles has played a role in that, but there’s a difference.
Morgan’s lyrics lack the Smithian heartbreak and despair, and his compositional abilities are top-shelf, resulting in brilliantly conceived instrumental arrangements that turn his light indie-pop tunes into radiant, ballroom-filling waltzes. I could easily see Morgan following in the footsteps of Badly Drawn Boy or Randy Newman in scoring a film — particularly one by Wes Anderson.
Please Kid is remarkably consistent, given the circumstances that surrounded its recording. Morgan began writing the album while still recovering from hearing loss, caused by a brush with a tornado in 2003 and worsened by a subsequent plane trip, and culminated in his offending Liam Gallagher. Shortly after that, Morgan suffered three months of vocal-cord paralysis due to a “toxic allergic reaction,” according to his bio.
The recording for Kid began in a Chicago warehouse, but Morgan scrapped most of that material because it didn’t measure up to the quality of Radiology. The album was finally finished in the summer of 2007 at Lawrence’s Mixtape Soundlab, where Morgan spends a lot of his downtime nowadays, writing songs and cracking logic puzzles.
In fact, he has written a whole new album, but he lacks the funds to bring it to life.
“If you know any rich people … ,” Morgan jokes.
Maybe Liam Gallagher could be brought around.