Kevin Morby’s River Walk
What was the timeline like with regard to the songwriting? Were you on the road with Woods, or at a certain point did you just sit down and say, “I need to start writing some songs?”
I wrote a lot of songs. I have so many. Sometimes it’s a problem, but it’s a good problem. With this first record it was important for me to get out old songs that I had around for a long time that weren’t appropriate for The Babies, so I felt the opportunity to use them. It’s funny because I was moving out of New York, and using songs that were specific to New York and about my time there. Before I could get into writing new songs I had to use the old ones because I didn’t want them to just go unheard. I wrote the oldest one when I was 19, one of them when I was 20, two when I was 23. I think the latest one I wrote like 6 months before I went in to record.
Who were some of the major influences that inspired the songs on Harlem River ?
As with any record, there are a million influences. If I had to pick a couple, there’s definitely a Bob Dylan Highway 61 influence. We tracked it all live, in the same room, at the same time. None of it was isolated; it was just everyone going. I’m also a huge, huge fan of Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska and that was definitely an influence on it. I also listened to a lot of Jandek around that time. He has an album called You Walk Alone. It sounds nothing like Harlem River, but aesthetically it’s similar. I was listening to that like crazy when we were recording, but it’s a little harder to tell.
What inspired you to move away from New York?
The Babies came out [to LA] in 2011 and at the end of our tour and we found a sublet, so the band stayed out here for that winter. With no real purpose, we were kind of like, “We’ll stay out here and play some West Coast shows and won’t be in the cold for a couple months.” I made a ton of good friends while doing that. The next year we came out here around the same time to record The Babies album, Our House on the Hill, and it only seemed natural that I’d make another album in my downtime. And that’s what I did.
New York and my schedule there was so chaotic—touring so much and social life and what not. New York just wasn’t appealing to me because I knew it was more of that. I felt like I’d be going out just as much as I was on tour and I’d have to struggle finding a room. I felt like I had a foot in Los Angeles, so I made the move. It’s funny, a lot of my friends didn’t even know I was making the move. One day I came back on the way home from tour, I flew from London to LA, and then a week later I signed a lease on an apartment.
I guess you don’t have too many possessions that you have to move around.
Yeah, no. Not that much at all.
One of the things that I noticed on the album is a sense of moving and the distance that you’ve covered and places you’ve been. It listens almost like a travelogue. Obviously you did move, and the road was a big part of your life for the last 7 or 8 years. Was that a central theme on your mind when you were recording—moving and relocating—or is that just a part of who you are?
It is part of my character, I moved a lot growing up and sometimes I feel like that may had something to do with it. We moved around the Midwest a lot and I got used to that—always starting new schools and new homes. We moved around about every three years. Growing up, I was used to moving, but I’d never gotten out of the Midwest proper. I had never seen the ocean or anything. So I feel like once I left the Midwest, I was free and wanted to explore. Moving is inspiring to me. My brain works really well whether I’m walking around, or in a car, or on a train it keeps my gears in motion. I really like moving.
What was the reason behind all the moving during your childhood?
My dad’s job. He worked for General Motors.
I think it was Hemingway who said that if you are ever stuck on a problem you should go for a walk. Subconsciously, your brain will work out the problem while you are distracted by other things.
Yeah, I completely agree with that. I have a really hard time sitting still. That was one of my favorite parts about living in New York, just all the walking you can get done on any day. I always love walking.
That’s one of the main themes that stood out to me: moving, and not being in the same position for any period of time. What would you say are some other themes that you deal with in your songwriting or on the album?
A heavy theme of addiction, which is not something I really deal with personally, but I’ve always been sort of attracted to that—tragedy, and rooting for the underdog or something. Those are the people I associate with.
It’s nice to see you developing your own project. It’s very much the story of the underdog—seeing the bass player who’s not even a full-time member of the band grow to become to a full-fledged solo act.
Yeah, it really is. It’s really nice. I started out as a sideman, then co-fronting a band, and now it’s just my band.
In general, how has life been as a solo musician for the past few months?
Life’s been good. I’m really enjoying it. I mean, there’s nothing crazy happening. I really like it here. I’ve recorded a lot at home and I’ve made a lot of future plans. I’m getting ready to go back into the studio next month. I just did my first solo tour opening up for Cate Le Bon. I’m really enjoying the freedom of it—of not always having a set band or set thing. For example, we went on that tour with Cate and we played the same songs every night, and that was a lot of fun. But recently Justin [from The Babies] and I played a set with different songs. It was completely different and I’m really enjoying the freedom to stretch out like that.