Unedited: An Interview with Morgan Kibby of M83 and White Sea
March 14, 2011 § 1 Comment
Morgan Kibby is no wallflower. The versatile keyboardist and background vocalist of M83 is stepping into the spotlight and charting her own musical territory with her new band White Sea. Their first release, This Frontier EP, is a five-song teaser of her eclectic taste and ever growing songwriting ability. Most notably reviewed by Pitchfork, the album ranges from cinematic highs to pounding dance floor beats. We sat down with Morgan Kibby at the Casbah Cafe in Silverlake and talked about her new project, the pressure of playing in LA, and most importantly, the new season of The Bachelor.
The138: What was your inspiration for White Sea?
Morgan Kibby: Well, I got off tour with M83 and I knew it was going to be a while before we started working on new material, so I wanted to keep myself busy and try things on my own. I started remixing and branching out [by] doing other projects. Over this last year I’ve been trying to find my sound. I really didn’t know on my own what I was doing so I spent a lot of time learning how to produce, record, engineer and find things that were musically inspiring.
The138: How has your time with M83 influenced White Sea?
MK: It has taught me so much. Before I was playing with M83, I was basically just a classical pianist singing and doing my own thing. It was all very stripped down; uninfluenced by much modern music but rather jazz and classical. I learned a lot from Anthony by watching his writing process, which was really inspiring. All of a sudden I got thrown into this whole new universe of Shoegaze and Electronic [music]. As a result I started gravitating towards synthesizers, which I learned how to use.
The138: It seems like you were able to explore a new musical world with M83.
MK: Absolutely. I was on the road with Anthony for about two years. Whether it was playing festivals with acts I had never seen before or collaborating with him, I was introduced to new instruments and writing structures. He writes longer, more epic odysseys as opposed to [using] a classic pop structure. I learned a lot about experimentation from him.
The138: You can really hear that on This Frontiers EP. There is a real strong ebb and flow to the music. Some of it is seems very cinematic where as some parts are more danceable. Do you do whatever comes to you as a writer or do you try to balance your music?
MK: I found that if I concentrated too closely on trying to stay with a genre or certain set of instruments that I would be uninspired. I would feel very constrained by trying to fit myself into a box. I knew that it might be challenging for people who listen to White Sea because all of the tracks are so different, but kinda was just like, “Fuck it.” (laughs) Why not. I might as well just do what comes naturally. I’ll worry about trying to refine the vision for the LP and I’ll let the EP be what it is. So you have the “Indie Pop” vibe on one song, and it gets more danceable with “Ladykiller.” It’s a little all over the map.
The138: I’ve read that you are classically trained. How does that influence your songwriting?
MK: I gravitate towards really beautiful things. I grew up playing classical music which ingrained an appreciation for lyrical beauty. It’s the way that I approach things. It can also be really challenging when I want to break out and do something different. That is what I was trying to do with “Ladykiller.” I was tired of making really pretty music. I just wanted to dance and have fun. I am trying to break away from my instincts to make everything pretty all of the time.
The138: Speaking of “Ladykiller,” is there a story behind that song?
MK: (Laughs) No. I’m such a stream-of-consciousness writer when it comes to lyrics. I don’t sit down and try to tell you a story, that’s not really my forte. I was in the studio one morning with my fiance and my girlfriend and we were just hanging out. She was filming us and as we were working on the track we just progressively got drunk (laughs). The next things I knew we had the hook for “Ladykiller.”
The138: On first listen it reminded me of Shakira’s “She Wolf.” It sounds like a female empowerment anthem.
MK: It definitely ended up being this female empowerment thing but that was not the goal. It just kinda seemed to work.
The138: Are you guys working on any future releases?
MK: Over the last few months I’ve been working a bunch on remixes. I really love producing and working on other people’s projects. Remixing is such a pleasure because a band is basically trusting you to put your stamp on their vision. It’s such a great way to collaborate. I recently did a remix for Junip which I am really happy with. I have also done remixes for other local bands. Now that all of those are done we are starting to write new material. I find myself coming up against the same hurdles. What do I focus on? Do I want to write a dance record? Maybe something more cinematic? I just don’t know yet. Now that I am working more with my collaborator Ray I think we are just going to write forty different ideas and pick the best ones.
The138: I’ve heard playing in LA is hard. Many good acts come through town and the crowds are really tough. Is it ever difficult to try and present a very experimental project here?
MK: Yeah, I feel like I have a little bit of a toehold because of M83. People are a little more prone to listen to White Sea, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are going to give us the time of day. It’s really difficult starting things here and figuring out where you fit in and finding the right bands to play with.
I think there is a great community of musicians here in LA. A lot of people talk about how there isn’t, but, within the artist community, if you hook up with one band then you end hooking up with another. It’s very supportive in that way.
The crowds are difficult though. You spend a lot of time trying to convince them until they are on your side. It’s really rewarding when you win them over though.
The138: I am reminded of the old adage about New York that if you can make it there you can make it anywhere.
MK: Yeah, I mean you’re always trying to stay genuine to what you’re trying to create. It’s difficult because I am not clear what my vision for the music is yet in regards to long term trajectory. [My vision] is not “play what’s ‘happening.’” That’s not how I feel I should go about making music.
The138: What songs have had the best reaction so far?
MK: It’s been all across the board because of how different all the songs are. Some people gravitate towards “Ladykiller” because it’s fun. You just wanna shake your ass (laughs). There are people who really like “Mountaineer” because it’s so emotional and epic. It’s funny, everyone has their own favorite song.
The138: How do you plan on balancing M83 and White Sea?
MK: I have no idea. White Sea is in the beginning stages and we are not touring yet. I don’t think it would take precedent over working with Anthony, whom I’ve learn so much from. It’s really good for me to be in the creative process with him; making music and touring. I’m just taking it one day at a time.
The138: What can we expect from the new M83 album?
MK: I think it’s brilliant but I am biased. The album is definitely a combination of everything that he has done before. It’s epic. It’s gonna be a longer album.
The138: How did you initially meet Anthony Gonzales?
MK: Well, I went to a French school, so I speak French fluently. I moved to LA because I was working in film and television at the time; music was more of a hobby. I met a French director through the AFI, and when she graduated, she had Anthony do the score for her first feature. She wanted to involve me somehow because were friends, so she sent some of my music to Anthony and suggested I sing in the score. He told her that my voice might not work for the score, but that he was making a new album and it would be really cool to send me some demos. At first I thought it was a joke because I was a huge M83 fan. I thought someone was pranking me; there was no way Anthony Gonzales from M83 was emailing me at my Earthlink account (laughs). He sent me demos and I recorded little ideas and sent them back to him and next thing I knew I was recording albums with him.
The138: Do you ever find that you culture-clash with Anthony?
MK: Oh my God no, he’s like my brother. It’s an interesting combination because he is a French person obsessed with American culture and I am an American who grew up with French people. All my friends were French growing up. We come from such different background but we just understand each other you know?
The138: We follow you on Twitter and noted that you tweet about The Bachelor. Would you consider that a guilty pleasure?
MK: Nah, it’s just a pleasure (laughs). I don’t feel guilty. I am obsessed with The Bachelor. I don’t know why. This is the first season I have ever watched it. I want to make a montage of every time someone says “I’m not gonna cry!” It has good comedic value.
This Frontier EP by White Sea is available now on Itunes.
Interview conducted by Samuel Santos and Phillip Domfeh, Staff Journalists.