Catch up with Orange County-based alt-pop/singer-songwriter Morgan Mallory and check out his new single, "Larger Than This Life" off his forthcoming debut album, Manifesto.
What got you interested in music?
Morgan Mallory: I come from a very musical family - and when I say that I mean it was nonstop, all day, every day. My mom is a music teacher and taught out of our home, so she was constantly teaching voice from the moment I that got home from school to 8 or 9 at night. You couldn't escape it. Singing was always in the background no matter what you were doing; if I was watching Indiana Jones and eating a bucket of ice cream, there was someone singing opera in the background [laughs]. My brother was a trumpet player/band geek who later got his degree in vocal performance, and my dad is just a naturally gifted guy who plays piano like Elton John and plays guitar like James Taylor [laughs]. I was getting it at all ends, it is what I was immersed in.
Do you remember the first song you wrote?
I think around 11 years old is when I actually sat down and was like, 'I am going to write a song'. I had always messed around with different instruments we had lying around the house, coming up with little diddys, playing other people's music or learning piano when I was really tiny. I’d always wanted to do something myself, musically. One day the idea rolled into my head for this song that I've never actually released called "Don't Let It End This Way". For some reason, I had been listening to a lot of country music at the time [laughs] and I had a vague lyric idea. With the three or four guitar chords I had just learned, this country song started flowing out of me. The first verse depicts a guy going through a break up and sings the chorus 'Don’t let it end this way / just give me one more day / to right the things that I’ve done wrong…', in the 2nd verse he races off in anger and gets in a car accident - prompting the girl to rush to his aid and sing the chorus from her perspective, then the 3rd verse/chorus is from the point of view of the guy again, but in the afterlife. You see that a lot in country music, where the chorus takes on a slightly different meaning every time it’s repeated. It took about an hour or two to get the whole thing written, and I was just so weirded out. Like, "what just happened...what just came out of my brain??" [laughs], "I don't know what this means…but I gotta do that more, that was fun", and it just started me on this path. [Laughs]
Which musicians have you been influenced by?
Majorly influenced by the stuff my parents and my brother listened to. It was a lot of '70s funk from my mom, 'cause that's the music she played in touring bands back in the day, like Earth, Wind & Fire, Tower of Power, and some classic Motown stuff. The huge ones that really got me going were Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson. I remember listening to Michael Jackson on my cassette player on the school bus [laughs] at maybe 6 or 7 years old, just completely amazed; the amount of emotion that dude exhibited in a performance and his songwriting and just the vibe/groove of it. Then my dad introduced me to '70s rock and a lot of his favorite people from the '60s and ‘70s; Since he was a musical guy already and had a bit of classical training as a kid, he was always interested in virtuoso musicians like Emerson, Lake & Palmer - some of the most incredible keyboard work ever, and Jimi Hendrix - obviously a musician from outer space, and bands like Yes who were an early progressive rock band that painted these really weird, crazy, musical murals. The funk and soul stuff, with really thick/sticky rhythms, melded simultaneously in my mind with the theatrics and huge, crazy orchestrations of early prog rock.
Is there an artist you're hooked on now?
Right now, I have been obsessed with people like Kimbra and Lianne La Havas. I only recently, within the past couple of months, discovered Lianne La Havas and she is just blowing my mind 'cause she's all jazz, but she has these super funky, modern diva songs - yet she's so quiet and cute. She plays guitar and writes her own songs but has this Beyoncé-esque voice. t’s absolutely insane listening to her and imagining how she knew how to do that.
What words would you use to describe your own sound?
That's always the hardest question to answer [laughs]. The really weird part, and this is why it's so difficult, is that my coming record is a compilation of songs that have been in the writing process for five years. This is my first release, so there's a lot of stuff that's been sitting around and was being developed during very different times in my own creative development. Some were being written when I was in rock/metal bands, some when I was teaching voice, some while I was off in LA filming for The Voice; they're all over the place. I've always paid attention to whether my melodies were “brain worms", like, is this going to be stuck in somebody's head for two or three months? I think, if there was a common thread through all of them, there's a clear importance on positive lyrics; having to do with asking yourself really difficult questions and trying to dig deep into developing yourself into a better person. Sometimes it digs up some really tough stuff, but they're important questions. Like, “Am I living my life to the fullest? Am I living to my potential? Is this person worth keeping in my life? This painful thing that I just went through, was it actually necessary and am I a better person for the experience?" Then, there's a track like "Live It Up" which is about partying through all the negative crap in life [laughs] you’re better than that! There's a line in there about repressed potential, ‘If you feel there is something you’ve left behind / a broken promise to yourself at the back of your mind / don't be afraid of the power you've held inside / ‘cause we’re all fighting for our chance to survive’. There's these little nuggets, these little life lessons peppered in.
What were your inspirations behind your new single, "Larger Than This Life"?
That can go as far as you want it to. At the surface, it's just this really positive, big, sun-coming-through-the-clouds sort of song, and is probably the most high energy rock band song I have on the record; it's like the opening of a movie. The first inspiration was a lyrical one. It was hard for me to write love songs for some reason at this time, so I was like, 'let me try to write the ultimate love song,’. What came out was this concept of, recognizing how unusually strong your bond is with somebody you just met. Perhaps you've been with them for a while and it never faded. What if you got this feeling that you fell in love with them in a previous life and you wondered how you knew them so well already? One of the lines is, 'wasn't it odd / feeling like our dreams were always coming true?’ like, have you thought about this as much as I have? Do you get the feeling that maybe we were meant to be together - not just in the cheesy sense - but literally as though the fabric of time and space depends on us being together? [Laughs] So it can be a question of the time space continuum, it can be a question of compatibility - whatever it is that you're feeling, that song should grab you if you're in love at all. It’ll play to the intensity to which you are feeling it.
Could you tell us more about your forthcoming album, Manifesto?
What I've heard from close friends and family that have listened to it is that, even though there are slight differences in genre from song to song, there seems to be a concept to it like you're following a story. It starts out with falling deeply in love and then everything in-between; Love, loss, breakup, geting-back-together, mid-life crisis - that sort of thing. It's a chronology of the past 5/6 years of my life through different relationships and existential struggles. At the very end there's a song called "Back To The Start”, that deals with just picking yourself back up when you fail, like, I get it, you're broken, let's start over, do it again, you'll get it [laughs].
Is there one song off the album that stands out to you?
Yes. I mean, "Larger Than This Life" is the one that everyone in the studio kept pointing out when I asked what they thought the single would be. Personally, I'm really excited about the next song that's going to be coming out in a couple months called "Would It Be Different". It bookends "Larger Than This Life”, which is obviously just being completely in the throes of mind-bending love, but then "Would It Be Different" is from the perspective of being left behind and wondering, how long have you been thinking this way? Would it be different if it was me who was leaving, and would you even miss me? It's probably the most stylistically 'now' track on the record, so I'm really excited to see what people do with that.
What do you hope listeners are able to take away from your music?
I hope they find themselves in it. Think back to the albums - not just songs - that really captured you when you were growing up; why? Was it because the lyrics were speaking to something you were going through at that exact moment? Sometimes you need the validation of hearing someone else put that into words and create the soundtrack to your life. Or maybe you just needed something to dance to and it made you feel good. What I really hope someone gets out of my stuff is that feeling of belonging, the validation that these feelings they've had are good. They're okay, they're worth it, and it's making you stronger.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I would say, to anyone that's reading this, that we've got a great schedule of material to release before the album even comes out. We have a tearjerker of a music video coming out for "Larger Than This Life” where we interviewed a ton of relationships and asked them to define what love is. We asked anyone that would be willing to answer on camera, so we got this wide range of interracial couples, old couples, best friends, LGBTQ couples, anything and everything. The responses we got were both hilarious and incredibly touching. The video itself is going to be really, really cool and should be coming out in the next month or so. If you dig what we’re doing, share it with everyone you know!