KevinMorby_DusdinCondren3(photo: Dusdin Condren)

In one of the best scenes from Bojack Horseman, the excellent Netflix comedy that a few weeks ago released its tremendous third season, the titular character lies dissatisfied in the aftermath of setting fire to his surroundings in another of his misguided attempts to find warmth. His former biographer, and now fellow lost cause Diane, responds to Bojack’s disappointment with life by asking him, “When’s the last time you were actually happy?” Subsequently, we are thrown to Bojack driving his disheveled car, eyes transfixed on the road as he heads to find the place he last remembers contentment. Alongside his journey, we cut to those whom he’s repeatedly hurt, hoping for him to arrive and make things right.

All this is set to a backdrop of twinkling pianos, chest-heavy drums, and a mildly-twanged guitar, with a rising brass motif reinforcing the existing tragedy, but also suggesting reason to be optimistic. As we get a glimpse of what it is that Bojack is searching for the credits suddenly roll and a robust, double-tracked voice crashes in to offer spiritual well-wishing that sums of the theme of the episode, and truly the entire show: “If you come to find out who you are / May you find out, may you find out who you are / And if you come to search for what is lost / Then may you find it, may you find it at any cost.”

The song is “Parade,” a highlight from Kevin Morby’s second studio album Still Life. The 28-year-old, Kansas City-raised songwriter — who is performing this Saturday at Outside Lands — isn’t quite the self-destructive narcissist that Bojack is. But throughout his solo discography, you can trace a similar character: One that's equally disillusioned, drifting, and waiting to find something greater as he goes. Anyone familiar with the show will find the parallels awfully in tune between Bojack’s apathetic attachment to romance and the opening lines of Morby’s “Destroyer,” off his latest and best album Singing Saw: “Have you seen my lover / With the long blonde hair/ Everything we did just went so wrong / Last time that I saw her/ She was standing there / Now I've come to wonder where she's gone.”

I’m not trying to make this a portrait of Bojack through Morby’s lyrics — in fact quite the opposite — but the latter does spiritually inform the former. In much the same way, I’ve found myself frequently applying Morby’s words to my own unsettled condition. His music is meditative, but not through the usual channels of hypnotic repetition (although the epic nine-minute “Harlem River” does so to powerful effect). Instead the songs are soft-focused, oscillating tides — imbued with a deep gravity, yet gentle in their push and pull. They provide reverberating canvases for Morby to paint metaphorical self-portraits, such as the nostalgic romantic of “Dancer” or the delirious outsider of “Drunk On A Star.”

There’s a wistful detachment that’s become increasingly evident across Morby’s still-young catalog. On his first solo release Harlem River (which followed stints as a bass player for the Brooklyn folk-rock ensemble Woods, and then subsequently as the co-songwriter alongside Cassie Ramone in The Babies), Morby was internally justifying himself against external perceptions: “If you knew just how far I traveled / Maybe then I wouldn't seem so odd,” (“Miles, Miles, Miles”). Three years later, he’s still holding an apprehensive relationship with those around him: “I never asked for their names and they never asked for mine” (“Water”). Yet despite the social unease, there’s a relaxed mysticism to his observations, and an excitement for all the places he’s yet to wander that Bojack yearns to feel: “But I was warm like a fire / For I was full of desire to hold on, to not let go.”

Raised in Kansas City, Morby's early view of the world didn’t stretch wide. “Growing up, I never went to the coast or on vacation,” Morby told me over the phone as he now traversed the West Coast on tour. Throughout much of his youth the edges of the map were considered “unattainable,” and he felt as if he “couldn’t do anything outside of [his] small town.” This impression shifted when he started living in New York, and 'unattainable' soon transformed to 'accessible.' “Once I got there, it was like, ‘Oh you can travel the world, you can live an alternative lifestyle — you just have to be willing to do it.’”

Morby put up a lot to lead the big city life. Here’s a list of the odd-jobs he worked before songwriting became profitable: inventory at a warehouse, busing at an Indian buffet, bike delivery, babysitting, working at a café, and providing moving service. But he didn’t view this time as slaving away in pursuit of the dream: “I was doing jobs to get by because that’s what everyone did and that’s what you had to do. I was never like, ‘I’m just doing this for now and at some point I’ll make enough money to make music.’ My thoughts didn’t really go that far. My thoughts never went past the day that I was in.”

Thankfully, however, his music did take off. But not right away. Morby has noted in the past that he’s grateful the first record he released as a lead songwriter (in The Babies) received negative reviews. As he explains it: “It puts you at this crossroads where you could give up or you could take what people have said and live with that and just move on. It’s a good experience to go through, because maybe if it happened on the second album after your first album was praised you wouldn’t know how to deal with it.” Essentially, as he summed it up a bit more succinctly, “You learn how to take the punch.”

He’s been knocked down quite a few times over the course of a tumultuous career in music, but Morby never sounds defensive or guarded on record. If he’s learned how to take a punch, the lesson is in how to get on your feet again, not how to swing back. His songs aren’t exactly sensitive, but they are filled with longing — at the heart of each album is a wounded soul seeking his way home. Yet for Morby, the journey seemingly provides more comfort than the destination ever could, as it’s in the process of searching that he finds himself belonging. His outlook comes from a restlessness, and so do his songs.

“I very idly just sort of always have a guitar in my hands and things find their way out. It’s almost like being hypnotized,” Morby said. “I like to go into this entrancement where my hands are busy and my mouth is spitting out words to fit what my hands are doing and suddenly I have a song.”

He continued excitedly: “It’s basically a channeling of a feeling, whether that feeling is political or about love or any number of different things. It’s just like an actual, real sort of raw, unfiltered feeling that I’ll get in any number of ways. It’s all trying to get to this feeling, it’s all trying to get to this same place.” Based on his affinity for roaming, you almost get the sense that he hopes never to find it.

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