“Here is what matters to me. Connection and understanding. Learning about myself. Being awake.” This is what Stephanie Morgan told me as our conversation veered away from a discussion of her new album (and the pre-release show at Isis on Friday, April 28) and into somewhat more metaphysical territory.
Still, to say we were off topic wouldn’t be accurate. The truth is that when it comes to Stephanie Morgan’s music, for her, it is about so much more than her albums or songs or concerts.
“The pursuit of music. The writing of the song. The having a concentration. The reason to have a show at all. All of that is just a vehicle for experimenting and learning about myself. And learning about other humans because we are all connected and it is about more than just me.”
That universal feeling is on full display on her new solo album, Chrysalism. Named after a word that a friend of her’s (Patrick Armitage of Jon Stickley Trio) had shared with her, it means the feeling of being safe with thunderstorms all around you.
Following an intensely public breakup of her previous band, Stephaniesid, Morgan found herself navigating her way through quite a few storms of her own the last couple of years. Still, speaking to her you can see that her confidence and her inner compass never have never wavered.
“One of the significant things about the name (Chrysalism) is that there is this time where the caterpillar is completely broken down and it is all just equal homogenous matter. Then one cell takes the lead and a butterfly is formed. That’s how it has felt for me over the last period,” Morgan explains.
“Given the things going on in my life, it was time to find the next creative edge,” she continues. “I had gotten really comfortable and this made me look at things differently… like could I go record with musicians I didn’t even know?”
She went for it. After having recorded nearly all of her work with the same band members and producer, Morgan made plans to record her new album at Spacebomb Studios in Richmond, Va. There, she had Matthew E. White produce her work for the very first time.
“I literally did not meet the musicians until the day I showed up to record,” she laughs. “It was scary and it was crazy… I had to play the follow which isn’t a role I step into very often. Luckily Matthew was just a fantastic leader. He was always including me and it was a great working relationship.”
While most of the songs on the album were actually worked up in jam sessions with members of her previous band, White’s influence is clear from nearly the opening notes to the final bars. There’s the subtlety of the horns, the soulfulness that he brings out through the engineering, the way her voice is often featured as more of an instrument than a vocal. The entire album resonates with a maturity and understated excellence.
Still, none of this music makes sense without Morgan’s haunting and often unorthodox vocals. Her straddling the line between singing and speaking make songs like Bones and Stardust special while her cheeky, emotive sound gives depth to poppier tunes such as Bounce and Send Nobody Up.
The album as a whole feels like an opium dream – sensual, fragrant, and peaceful, poignant and comforting at the same time. Friday will be an opportunity to experience her energy live, an energy which, even after merely an hour interview, I was personally floored by.
Stephanie Morgan’s album pre-release show is at Isis Music Hall this Friday, April 28. Doors open at 9pm and the show is $10 in advance and $12 DOS.
Caleb Calhoun studied writing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and music at a plethora of clubs and bars across the southeast. He is the author and publisher of Rosman City Blues and currently resides outside of Asheville with his dog and best friend, Dr. Gonzo.