Kevin Morby is looking for an answer. The Kansas City native has been creating music since the mid-2000s with such indie-rock darlings as Woods and The Babies, his band with Vivian Girls’ Cassie Ramone. But after striking out for his own solo career in 2013, he has been releasing fantastic folk-based records that have paid service to the poetry of the human condition with songs that channel the still, contemplative moments when the world is catching up to the sun.
His newest record, “Oh My God,” finds Morby creating narratives using religious imagery in a way that frames concepts like “heaven” and “God” as beginnings and endings to life’s journey, rather than using them to preach or inject any true judgmental fire and brimstone. For Morby, these are just universal themes of finding redemption after falling into darkness.
“It’s pretty hard to find something that is not talking about God in one thing to another,” – Kevin Morby
“For me, it’s still a part of our vocabulary,” explains Morby over the phone from his home in Kansas City. “I think that no matter where you’re from, there’s religion as a part of your environment in some way, shape or form, and certainly where I’m from it is very much a part of it. A question I get asked a lot with this record is, what other religious music do I like? Or, was I listening to a lot of religious music when I made this album. The answer is ‘no’ but it’s also kind of ‘yes’ in that everything is just sort of religious. Like, everything. It’s pretty hard to find something that is not talking about God in one thing to another. And so for me when I’ve used this vocabulary and I’ve used certain imagery throughout my whole career, I never thought anything of it and I never thought that it would come off as sounding like religious music or something. But people would always sort of bring it up. So I kind of made this album as a way to just get it all out on the table and have something that really follows that wordplay, but in doing so kind of show that they’re just tools to tell a story.”
The tone of the record is very gospel in nature, with a warm, cavernous riverbed mix of piano lead songs and a female choir assisting Morby’s relaxed conversational voice as he tells stories of heartache, life and death. You get the sense that Morby spends a lot of his time pondering the questions we have never been able to answer about our existence. These are questions worth asking, and he has no problem using the language he knows to tell the story.
“There’s a Leonard Cohen where he says, ‘Every song is political,’ and I want to agree with that,” Morby says. “I mean, that’s true but I also think that every song is religious in some way. And yeah, as I said, this is just a good way to kind of really explore that. It’s almost one of those things where people think that. like, when it is religious, I think maybe a natural reaction for a lot of people would be to stop doing that. But I really wanted to go deeper with it.”
On one of the album’s standout moments, “I Want to Be Clean,” Morby wonders if the only true way to be absolved from the harm you have done to others is to either accelerate toward the end of life or revert back to the purity you had once you were born. “Just to think one day we were just strangers,” he sings. “Oh, how I’ve ruined you. And oh, how you’ve ruined me, too.”
“Life is messy,” says Morby. “You’re going to have interactions on this Earth and you’re going to hurt people in the process, and you’re going to get hurt by people in the process. So there’s really no returning to that sort of instant youth, which is what that song is sort of about. Like, just a feeling of — it’s like a person who gets an addiction, like a drug addiction or an alcohol addiction, and then they get clean. That’s a beautiful, wonderful thing, but you’ll never be able to reach that point in you that was sort of before the storm. You can find this clarity after the storm in a lot of things. You’re more clear-headed than you were before because you’ve gone through something. That song is really just about wanting to not hurt anyone or anything just by being alive. It’s something that is part of the human condition.”
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