Born out of a dream, Springtime Carnivore’s second album, Midnight Room, offers a surrealistic view of pop musi — a world where people collect comets in their hair, and emotional instability dictates natural disaster.
Sonically, Midnight Room reads like a glittering blanket: at once both familiar and bizarre; intimate and estranged. The fine line between real and imagined is one that Greta Morgan — the artist behind Springtime Carnivore and previous lead singer for Gold Motel and The Hush Sound — walks well. “So much of the record feels like it’s from that headspace of being between dreaming and waking,” Morgan tells me over the phone. “[It’s] that place where you’re not totally sure what is imagined and what’s real.”
Since its release in early October, Midnight Room has most often been read as a breakup album. But out of the ashes of a failed relationship, another theme emerges: home. “Just after making the album,” Morgan says, “my friend gave me a book on the poetic space of architecture, like the way that people share common spaces, or the way that they create their own space. And I am really interested in that.” The recording of Midnight Room took place in two homes: that of Morgan’s, in central LA, and a small cottage off of the Sunset Sound studio lot, where producer Chris Coady (Beach House, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Future Islands) recorded the album. Morgan’s home, also a cottage, is tucked behind palm trees and wrapped in pink paint. Most of the songs on Midnight Room were written within that house, and “even though it’s in the middle of the city, there’s a freeing sense of privacy, and it feels like a very safe space,” Morgan says. “I think that a lot of the songs were birthed in this very safe, private place where it was OK to express whatever I wanted to express.
“I’m just very aware that your environment has a strong effect on your emotions and your creativity and your energy, in the same way that your creativity, emotions, and energy affect your environment,” Morgan notes. “I think that in the same way you buy an instrument and feel like there are songs inside of it — I’ve bought a guitar and written songs and felt almost like the guitar was responsible for it — I feel like a similar thing can happen with spaces.” The spaces responsible for Midnight Room are imbued with history and feeling. On the same Sunset Sound lot that Morgan recorded, The Doors, Neil Young, and Whitney Houston created some of their seminal works. But during recording Morgan didn’t feel weighted by the studio’s musical spectres — rather, in the studio’s cottage, Morgan says, “we were able to get a very high-quality studio sound, but the whole thing felt very private.”
In those private spaces, Morgan's second solo album bloomed. She has been performing since 2004, first in bands, and then solo as Springtime Carnivore. Recently, Morgan also collaborated on an album with Katy Goodman of La Sera — a punk cover album (Take it, It’s Yours), which directly influenced the way that Morgan approached songwriting on Midnight Room. “After doing that record,” she says, “I gave myself a little more permission to play with simplicity and not feel the need to layer up a feeling with all sorts of unnecessary language.” She tells me about an influential English teacher of hers, who failed students if they used cliche phrases in essays or over-relied on simple verbs like “get.” But working on Take it, It’s Yours changed the way that Morgan thinks about cliche. “Sometimes it is more challenging to say a really simple idea and have it feel like a unique phrase, and that’s something that punk songs do,” she says. Morgan looks for simplicity in more than her lyrics: She tells me that she’s always striving to write a perfect three-chord song.
In addition to shuffling lyrical cards, Morgan keeps a secret tumblr, where she stores inspirational video clips, poems, photos, and images. When Morgan comes across a song she particularly likes, she learns it on all of her instruments, and then manipulates it: “maybe I’ll take the chords and put them in a different order, or take the chord progression and do it backwards, or play the song backwards, or take just the drum piece from one song and the chord progression from another and turn it into it’s own thing,” she explains. “I feel like it’s constantly a game of musical collaging, and one idea leads to another idea.” She also has a process she calls “poem parties,” was integral to the making of Midnight Room. In the exercise, Morgan writes phrases on small index cards, and then rearranges them to find new and interesting combinations. “When I play games with myself,” Morgan says, “I try to explore places that I might not otherwise explore. The index card game is a great way of triggering emotions and ideas that I might not have happened upon on my own, if I were working in a linear way. It just shuffles the deck for me.”
What results is a growing pile of influences, which Morgan picks through to create her work. “Usually there are just ideas floating around that feel very vague,” Morgan says, “and then something will happen in my life which will activate my understanding of those ideas in a way that I can unlock [them], and then I can write a song very quickly.” Influences specific to Midnight Room include Springsteen’s Nebraska, R.E.M., Hank Williams, solo Stevie Nicks, and conspiracy theories. In a conversation with Morgan, it becomes clear just how much art she consumes: During our talk, she mentions she's listened to three new albums that morning.
Yet as many different influences as Morgan collects, she always goes back to the “essence” of each song. “My favorite records,” Morgan says, “feel very much like they were created with a purity of intention and a desire and need to express [...] that’s more important than what the final result will be.” On tour, Morgan’s desire for purity of intention translates to a dynamic live set. “It’s almost like the recording is a blueprint,” she says, “and then when you play it live that’s a living, breathing thing.” She notes that many of the songs on the album are altered during the live set: “I feel like it really elevates the songs we play into a place that we didn’t go. It’s a new place that’s even more exciting, and more fun to play.”
More than anything, Morgan clearly loves to play music. “I think the cyclical, kind of seasonal nature of all of this stuff is what really appeals to me,” she says. “For example, I love touring, from month to month, and then am excited to get in the studio and start making a record. And then when I’m in the studio making a record, towards the end of it I start getting excited about going back on a tour. And [similarly], I’ll collaborate with other people, and it will be really fun and really exciting, and then towards the end I’ll think, ‘OK, I’m kind of excited to make something alone.’" And always, Morgan says, she’s thinking about “what the next song, or record, or project will be.”
Springtime Carnivore, La Sera
Swedish American Hall
November 4, 2016
P.S. Want more show recommendations, ticket giveaways, and music news? Sign up for our biweekly newsletter!Tags: Springtime Carnivore