Get to Know Morly

Born and raised between the twin towns of Minneapolis and St Paul’s, Katie, aka, Morly is now feeling a sense of belonging as she resides in the heart of London. 

Inspired by the classical stars of Nina Simone, Arthur Russell and finding a special connection with Bob Dylan whilst in college. Morly has gone from her well-established four-track EP ‘Something More Holy’ back in 2016 to her most devoted work within ’till i start speaking’. As she holds on to experiences, only she can boast about, from working alongside the musical project Gayngs to amassing over eight million streams, there’s still a sense that Morly wants more. 

Though admitting to being a slow burner into the music scene and routing a different path of studying Painting & Neuroscience at Colgate University in upstate New York; Morly found clarity in music as sadness loomed over whilst reading ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith as she travelled the USA in 90 days with her best friend. Whilst being grateful for her experiences and studies, Morly was ready to kick off her music ventures. 

Followed on from her eye-opener and making a name of herself across the indie-folk music scene, Morly past year hasn’t been easy of journeys. Stunted by the diagnosis of Lyme Disease, not seeing her family for many months, and feeling like a foreigner, Morly imbued herself and delved into the art of music with her debut album. Admitting to us that she devoted too much of herself to the project, Morly noted: “I’m so glad I moved here in a way because I feel this is where people are hearing my music and really listening to it and appreciating it.” 

In the end, we spoke to the rising artist about her long-awaited debut album, ’till i start speaking’, her transition from Minneapolis to London, her first musical experiences with Gayngs and everything in between. 

Formerly from America and now residing in the UK, how did Morly kick off, and what was that first moment you realised you wanted to work in the music industry?

It was a slow burn. I subconsciously wanted to do it always. I sang compulsively, and I wrote bad songs whilst growing up. I played a lot of different instruments. So, I’ve always loved music and wanted to be a part of it. And I had like a burning, pining desire to do it. But when I was at university studying something else, Neuroscience. The moment I decided to take the plunge was on a 90-day road trip across the US with my best friend living out of my station waggon. We were in Yosemite National Park, sleeping in the back of my car. I was reading Patti Smith “Just Kids”, and I was struck with this image of myself as a young kid. I got so sad as if I completely betrayed young Katie. And I just knew I had to start doing music. It was like the most clarity I’d ever had about it, and that’s when it kicked off. 

Out of everywhere, why did you decide London, and how has it changed your artistry perspective? 

 Hmm. It’s really interesting. I was just listening to a Mark Ronson podcast. And he was talking about who basically he’s like, all of my favourite musicians got signed in the UK first before America would accept them. I was thinking about it, even the Rolling Stones and The Beatles had to give us back Black Rock and Roll music before America would accept it. In a way, I didn’t come here because I came here because I was doing four years long distance with my partner. And he was going to move to LA, and I just realised I didn’t want to live in LA. I love London so much. And I have a lot of friends here. I love the people here. I love the feeling here. I feel more creative and freer.

Do you think you feel more belong here compared to America?

Sometimes in some ways. Absolutely. In some ways, I feel like I have my people are here. And even in America, a lot of my friends in LA were Canadian, Australian. My partner is British. But I also do feel foreign here sometimes. But I’ve always felt a bit foreign. Like, my whole life. Writers and artists often feel that. And my family is really far away. So, the pandemic really brought that home as well. You know, there is no way of getting to them.

Growing up between the twin towns of Minnesota and Minneapolis, what are some of your earliest memories of music you hold onto?

Dancing with my dad, both my parents love music, singing Phantom of the Opera with him, really loved musicals as a child. I had an incredible saxophone teacher when I was young. I loved playing the saxophone. I think I started when I was about eight or nine. And did it until I was about 14. My teacher was one of those teachers who filled you up with so much enthusiasm. And you get good because you love it so much kind of feel.

From being influenced by the likes of Arthur Russell and Nina Simone, what was that number one influence you always looked up to and has that changed over time? 

One of my number one all-time ones is Aretha Franklin. When I was about 12, I bought the best-of compilation. And I came home and just listened to it on repeat, desperately trying to sing like her obviously, I will never think like Aretha but especially not at 12. But it was just this feeling of music is everything kind of feeling. She was definitely a guiding voice. Bonnie Raitt. Probably my dad because he loved her. Like, Cat Stevens, my mom loved him. And then it was in college that I started listening to Bob Dylan, and he revved everything up, and he took over my life. It was kind of like I fell in love with someone who lived 50 years ago.

Speaking about your experiences, you went from studying neuroscience to painting throughout university – how did this transition happen and looking back at it, would you have pursued music at an earlier stage? 

Hmm, think about that a lot Ross. Especially, because there’s something about being a teenager doing music that you have nothing else, right. There’s no pressure, and money-wise, there’s nothing to lose – you can be so free in it. But I am really grateful that I studied. I feel like a more expansive person than if I was only a singer or something. Does that make sense? But I do wish I had studied it more. Because I’m also very, like, I want to learn everything about a subject. Otherwise, I don’t feel like I get it – I need to learn everything. And I feel like I have breaks in my musical knowledge because I kept going back to it but didn’t fully devote myself to it. So, I would have liked to pursued it more linearly, if that makes sense.

At the time of starting to create music in your bedroom and working where to go forward, you ended up being part of your friend’s project Gayngs – what was that experience like, and what is your fondest memory from it? 

The experience for me was one of just like, ah, and it was also the first time I came into contact with working musicians. And in that way, it made this dream of being in love with Bob Dylan, and I’m wishing I’d lived in like, the 1960s be real, and see, like, Oh, this is how you can actually do this. And those people believing in me because I was very timid, scared to sing. And they’re like, no, you have a good voice, you should do this more – it was life-changing. And my favourite experience, oh man, I mean, recording at Justin Vernon April Base recording studio in Wisconsin with a bunch of friends and brilliant artists. It was beyond me. I was such a baby compared to all these established musicians. I absorbed everything like a little sponge.

In other news, congratulations on the release of your debut album ’til i start speaking’ – how would you describe the past month, and what does this project mean to you? 

How do you describe this past month? There’s been so many highs and lows because it’s like your baby going out into the world, which is really scary. But I’ve had so many wonderful messages coming back, which makes it worthwhile. It doesn’t feel like you’re just working in a vacuum. Honestly, my reception in the UK has felt so wonderful. I’m so glad I moved here in a way because I feel this is where people are hearing my music and really listening to it and appreciating it.

This project is everything. Too much. I have devoted too much of my life energy and my wellbeing to it. I was thinking about it the other day because I went home in July, and it was the first time I’d really felt like this person who woke up in a college listening to Bob Dylan. And this person who I was before that, it’s the first time they aligned. And it felt like it due to putting out this album, this piece of art that represents me and imbued myself with. I’ve been meeting new people in London since it’s opened up a bit, who’s listened to my music, and it makes me feel like I don’t have to explain myself. 

Bringing your inner world to life and becoming more real in the real world, what inspired you to delve into this element and how did ’till i start speaking’ come together? 

I was thinking the other day that it would be so scary if you became famous because you lose your anonymity. And I loved that so much. And what drives you? I think it’s all about the connection and feelings. I think because I felt like an outsider so much of my life, if not all of my life. I think there’s this yearning to turn yourself inside out and try to make people understand and see you and connect. I also think it even goes back to Bob Dylan himself. 

I felt like an album is such a statement more than just releasing singles and EPs – it’s a body that lives. I’ve always wanted to see if I can do that and see what would come out if I did do that. It was interesting because I did it over a period of being ill. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease and was struggling with a lot of fatigue issues. But in some ways, it was the worst time to do it, but also the thing that got me through. 

From the hit single ‘Dance to You’ to ‘Twain Harte’, how did you approach the creative process compared to previous projects? 

I guess both of those were songs that I kind of had chords I loved. I had a melody that came with the chords. And then, suddenly, they were both about a feeling I had, but I didn’t know the feeling until maybe a little bit later. The words came up, and I always think melody, when you have a feeling lyric when you understand. Both sounds poured out as soon as I really understood what was going on. But also, the writing of the songs helped me understand what was going on. For example, I wrote ‘Twain Harte’ when I realised, I was in love with someone. I didn’t want to tell him yet because I knew he loved me too. But I knew he was scared to say it, and the song is the way I’m telling you this. That’s probably too much information, aha. 

I also bought and invited more collaborators in this time. And I also think I brought it back to my roots of loving Aretha Franklin and Bob Dylan and more of the classic songs. It’s less electronic. It’s less dependent on soundscapes and more just trying to bring out the essence of the song.

Out of the ten tracks, what is your favourite and why? 

What is my favourite? I think it changes. Now my favourite is ‘Jazz Angel (Bill)’. It’s fun to play on the piano. And I think it’s not about me at all – it’s about my love of my mentor and piano teacher. It’s basically about him getting me out of a dark place and renewing my love for music. Every time I play it, it’s like re-experiencing a renewing of my love for music. 

Previously speaking about painting, the album is accompanied by a booklet of art painted by yourself. What is the reason behind this, and do you believe this brings a different element of your emotions and what you wanted to portray? 

I’m not sure if it’s a different element, but just a different way of expressing it. I’ve been a painter since forever. My mom is a painter. And in some ways, it’s my first artistic language. And I think I’ve always felt like I had to choose art or music. In fact, I’ve had many people advise me to choose one and ignore the other so that I can get good at one like the other will stand in your way. I did that for a while and neglected painting for a long time. And it just kind of feels like cauterising part of yourself. I was awful in it. I’ve since discovered that painting informs music, and music informs painting. Joni Mitchell calls it crop rotation. Where different creative modes help to renew your others. So, if you’re sick of doing music, you paint, and if you’re sick of painting, you do music. 

Finally, with already hosting a series of work. What have you learnt from your musical experiences, and what do you hope to bring into 2022? 

What have I learned from my musical experiences? I feel like I’ve learned that we’re all just children who are looking for connection and trying to feel good. Because even the hardest most professional person, I think music melts everyone and makes us all feel like there’s something more and restores humanity and compassion. I’ve learned my voice is worthwhile. It’s helped me become a more confident, stronger person. 

Going into 2022, I would like to bring, oh my gosh, so many things, though musically, I would love to play and record my music. I would absolutely love to. 

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Words: Ross Mondon