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Q&A: Kevin Morby

Modern troubadour takes on Austin’s Mohawk

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The music of Kevin Morby exists in a cosmic-American place that’s neither clear nor elusive, but immediately heartfelt.

Last year’s mystical full-length album “Singing Saw” was vibrant with horns, glassy guitars, cavernous pianos and Morby’s Dylan-esque voice. Whereas “Singing Saw” evoked tranquil, rural landscapes, Morby’s latest record, “City Music,” is a collection of songs inspired by and devoted to the metropolitan experience across America. And so, the energy of the music reflects it.

Morby and his talented rock n’ roll band — which includes Meg Duffy of Hand Habits on guitar — are headed to Mohawk in Austin’s Red River district Saturday, Sept. 16. Tickets are general admission and $15, available here.

Hill Country News got the chance to catch up with Morby midway through their tour in Vermont, where he said it was already autumn. He also confessed to waking up five minutes before the interview.

Q: When you were 18, you got on a train and traveled to New York City. How was that experience? How did you gather up that courage at such a young age?

MORBY: I had never been there before. I dropped out of high school a year before that when I was 17. I don’t think I would have done it if I hadn’t had that experience. I had a year where I was working a s****y job and kind of doing nothing, I kind of saw what my future would look like if I didn’t get out of town. That really pushed me to want to do something and leave. I was super nervous. I took the train for the sole purpose that I could turn back at any time I would have that chance. I couldn’t take a flight, because once you’re on the flight you have to go wherever it’s going.

Once I got there it was really natural, I didn’t really go there with the purpose to start a music career. It happened slowly. I just met some other people and eventually began playing music with people. One thing led to another and eventually I met the guys in Woods and that was kind of the beginning of all of this.

Q: You’re living in Kansas City and you’re also living in LA. Does each city give you a unique mindset or vibe?

MORBY: I have a place in LA and a place in Kansas City. I spend a lot of time in New York too. At this point, LA is where I go if I want to be social and see all my friends. I don’t expect to get too much done, it’s kind of like a party. New York is a little bit of the same way, but it has a magic to it. Even though it’s really social when I go there, I still go to a lot of museums and movies or walk around and take it all in. Kansas City is where I go to achieve actual peace with no temptation for going out. It’s a place for me to work. It’s where I go to turn my brain off.

Q: So where did you write “City Music”?

MORBY: I wrote it in LA. I wanted to create the exact opposite of what came before it. Something that was more rockin’ and rollin’, with less space. “Singing Saw” was crafted from the ground up, if you look at the players on that album it’s pretty long. So I wanted to create something that was more like the live show. I went in with a three piece band and we knocked it out in a couple days.

Q: One our favorite songs of yours is "Beautiful Strangers," what went into the songwriting process for that song? What was going through your head?

MORBY: It sounds kind of cheesy, but at that time, I was going through personal heartbreak. I was thinking about how small that actually is in the scheme of things. For the past two years with the news it’s been pretty daunting, in a way where it’s kind of affected me very emotionally, in a way that it necessarily hasn’t done in the past. I was going through personal stuff, and I wanted to write a song that was hopeful, and about the heartache of the world. That’s what I ended up writing.

Q: You’re a huge Bob Dylan and Lou Reed fan, and their influence is apparent. Tell me a little bit about what those bands mean to you and their influence on your records.

MORBY: They’re two people who represent perfection in the way they made it and wore it really well. They created their own rules. Before getting into artists like that, you had to be technical singer or you had to be perfect. I started listening to people like them and I realized there’s no rules when you do it with your own twist on it. If you give it its own unique character you can pull it off. With my singing it comes natural, it comes from being inspired by them and Leonard Cohen. I never really knew how to sing and I took tips from other people who didn’t know how to sing and came up with their own style.

Q: What are you looking forward to coming back to Austin?

MORBY: So much, but definitely breakfast tacos and Lone Star.

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