Morgan King is a Grammy award winning, English singer, writer, record producer and photographer. Morgan’s musical career began in 1979 as drummer for Manchester band Illustration. His musical direction changed considerably with the advent of house music in the late 1980s. He had a varied musical career up until 1994/1995, when he took a break from the music scene.
In 2003 Morgan resurfaced to co-write Trybe’s “Sarah Said” with Fragma. In 2007 he opened his Accidental Music label so he could make his archive available in the digital realm for the first time and to collaborate on new dance projects. To date, he is still working as a solo artist recording and playing live, plus in 2012 he joined Lene Lovich as part of her band.
In recent years he has decided to work on vocal projects as well as support Lene. In 2016 Morgan released the album Grains & Grams and his most recent album is called Old Skin. After writing a review of the album, I wanted to catch up with Morgan and find out more regarding his new release.
Good afternoon, Morgan and a pleasure to meet up with you again. How are you?
Morgan: I’m good. Thank you, John. Thank you.
Morgan: I’m not too sure. I was just writing. And the idea of old skin came to me because I thought it was about time to reflect on my age and being comfortable in my skin. And I thought it would be nice to say, actually, maybe I’m the best I’m ever going to be. And now, at this point in life, the question is “When am I ready?” When I was younger, when I was a punk, you’re young and you have no voice. And when you’re old, you have no voice. And I thought, well, I just want to speak up; I like getting older. I like what it gives me. It takes things away. I’m not trying to hold onto the things that it takes away. And so, I wanted to celebrate my skin and say “Thank you!” You know, I’m alive. People I know died. A lot of people that I know died over the years and didn’t make it. So I need to value my life and say thank you to my old skin.
So were there specifically a number of tracks that you wanted to make in order to hold the project together?
Morgan: No, no, not at all. I didn’t think about a number of tracks. Maybe I could do more than Grains & Grams or less. Then I thought maybe three EPs. And then put 12 tracks together at the end of the year off the EPs. Then I was thinking maybe I could try that in the future, but on this one I’m going to continue writing until it makes sense to me. And that’s it. So there was no real plan. It was just: Write something until it feels right!
You were grateful that I mentioned the album appeared genre-less. Can you explain what that means to you?
Morgan: It just means that you picked up on the fact that I was free from, I suppose, pigeon-holing myself. As I explained earlier, the thought of writing a 4/4 beat every time I write a song is mind-numbing and I just want to blow my brains out to think that I’m going to be restricted in that way. I start the song. It has a birth. And as I start to work, the song grows. And I do what I call “honouring the song”. And I go where the song leads me. And I listen as much as possible to where it wants to take me and work with it, rather than trying to, kind of, take control of the whole process. Of course, I have to put chords together and ideas. But if I listen to a song, it usually informs me of where to go.
There is a lot of organic tracks really on that album.
Morgan: Yes. I mean, it was interesting. We used, I think it was a calor gas tank. Giulio and I recorded it. And I slapped it. And I thought it sounded nice in the countryside and in the studio. And the only problem we had was the birds and we de-tuned it and used it as a kick on “Retrospective”. Nothing new about that process, really. But it was just, kind of, let’s get back into this playfulness. Let’s have fun. It’s a deep song, but let’s have fun to make some sounds and see where it leads. And so, that was the kind of start of the change, I think.
We were also chatting on Facebook. I mentioned I wondered how close I got to understanding you and the album just by listening to the music. You said “very” and I would explain those points.
Morgan: Really, it was just the fact that you did notice, you kind of went with it. And at the end, you made the statement about it. You said that it was punky, that it went across the genres. You said that the fact that “Old Skin” came last was maybe the point, that I was comfortable enough to do what I wanted to do rather than, kind of, stick with any kind of format or any genre. So, yes, that’s how I think you really connected it together, which was nice to see.
How have things developed for you musically since Grains & Grams?
Morgan: Vastly, I think. Because when I did Grains & Grams, I was a man alone. And I met Giulio on tour with Lene. And when I did my first solo show, which I hadn’t done for years, in Genoa, I was invited out to do a show and we said “Ah, let’s maybe think about a project.” And he said “What are you doing?” Well, I was doing my album. And of course, I was going to be mixing it, producing the whole thing myself. And so, he joined me for “Grains & Grams”, which was the first single. And when that was finished, he said “Of course, I want to do the rest of the album with you.” And I was like, Wow! That’s a result, really, how lucky that is. Because maybe now I can focus on being a singer. And because the music was already done in the main, that was a huge difference. And now knowing, of course, that person is on board for the second album, when I did Old Skin, it made me think in a very different way where as before with Grains & Grams, it was like, how can I do this live? And if I’m going with a laptop, I have to keep it quite minimal. But this time I thought, well, I’m going to make the album that I want to make and then I’ll work out how to do it live. And I’ll face that when it comes to it. So it was a very different approach.
So what is it like to work with Lene Lovich and her also working with you?
Morgan: Fantastic! She’s a stellar human being and I have a rule that I won’t work with anybody that I don’t like. I don’t really care about history, names and people that way. And from the off, she was very gracious, very nice, very warm. And we only actually got together to do a one off show. I think in 2012, at the ‘Drop Dead Festival’ in Berlin. And we all had such a good time. She said “Why don’t we all stay together?” And here we are, getting into year 8 together. And I never thought I would be. I don’t think I’ve actually been in a band that long. And because we’re a good community, we’re a good family and help each other a lot when it comes to the creative process. It’s nice to talk to other people who have the same mindset.
Because I remember you talking, in theory, Lene and others, just of recent years have sort of expanded your own mind-set and ideas and thoughts?
Morgan: Yes, yes. Like in “Scarecrow”. I said “Nature doesn’t care”. And she just said “Well, how do you know?” And so, I changed it to a question: “Does she care?” Because I thought, well actually, yeah, I don’t know. And she had a good point when I was playing her the demo. And things like that. It then makes me question everything that I’m actually looking at and what I’m saying and coming across and what it is I believe. Those things are so important, because now I feel like “Yeah!”, when I sing it. And what seems to happen is, when I’m vocalising a song, if there’s a point where I lose power or lose energy when I’m singing, I now know it’s because the word doesn’t feel right. And then I look at the word. And I never had that before and I think that really comes from being in the company of Lene and the band.
And that means you’re really in tune with music as well?
Morgan: Yes, yes.
You know, the whole process?
Morgan: Yeah. I mean, it was Jude that encouraged me to, sort of, say it was OK to write a bad song. And it’s like, “Wow, God!” I always put myself under so much pressure to do something really good and I never thought of the concept, although a failure is an option always. Which is a bit of a relief in my life. I never, kind of, let myself off with music. There was still a bit of a stick to beat myself a little bit and that stick is smashed now.
So what do you think about making videos for the album?
Morgan: I love making videos. A lot of it is based on a woman that I saw that was photographing herself ageing. Or I think her sick husband, I can’t remember which way around it was now, it’s quite a while ago. And to document just how her body was changing. And I kind of had a difficulty at first to do videos. I thought, oh God, an old bloke doing a video, do I really want that? Then I thought, maybe it’s interesting to do that, to see myself as I am and then to gain acceptance to where I am in my life physically, how I look and to, kind of, become comfortable, actually. And because I look at old photographs from when I was younger, when I was thinking, oh, God, I don’t want to be seen. And now I look and think, actually, you were kind of okay. And maybe when I’m in another decade I’ll be looking back again, thinking I was okay. And so, I think doing the album called Old Skin is about facing uncomfortably as well. And saying: This is where I am! This is how I am. This is how I look. And I’m gonna be here now and fully embrace and fully accept that.
It’s like an alignment of everything in your life, in a way? It’s like everything has caught up with itself, musically and your own personal challenges and looking at life, it’s all just come together. It’s like a culmination of everything?
Morgan: Yes. And you know, maybe when I’m gone, my daughters can see it.
It’s definitely a legacy.
Do you have a favourite video?
Morgan: That’s a difficult one, because what I find interesting is judgement actually, what I have been carrying on now is judgment. When I pre-dated all this stuff and I did an EP, I did a song called “A Boy called George”. And I’ve always hated these videos where you get this guy who’s older and you get a woman in there who’s younger and blah, blah, blah. And a friend of mine produced it and she said we should have a ballerina. And all of a sudden I was this older man in the video with a younger ballerina. And I’m thinking, God, this is what I say I don’t like and here I am.
A complete cliche?
Morgan: Yeah. And really, it was my own judgement of other people. And life made me face that and it made me far less judgmental.
So you’ve had kind of wave after wave of having your life thrown back in your face sometimes?
So let’s talk about the videos that you’ve made for Old Skin. “Retrospective”, to start with. What was it like filming that particular video?
Morgan: That was difficult because it was suggested that in my mind I was going to sing, and it was suggested by Lene that maybe we could go with just being and not singing. And that was quite a terrifying moment, because I’m used to performing and playing up to the stage or the camera. That’s kind of what I know. And the thought of doing something that I didn’t know was quite challenging. But then my brain switched from “no, I’m going to sing” to “let’s do it somebody else’s way”. Let’s just see how that is and see what’s at the other end of it. And although I had many, many uncomfortable moments, it was great. It was great because I managed to get over myself. And I think that’s what most of what I do is, it’s about getting over myself.
And you allowed other people to intervene and take over?
Morgan: Absolutely yes; trust and learning trust, that I don’t always know best.
And the Sex Shop video was totally different?
Morgan: Yes, very different. I met a couple of guys when I was on tour. We were having a coffee and I said “So you know what I do. You have just seen this on stage yesterday. What are you up to in your lives?” And they said “Ah, we have a sex shop in Lille, called The Cube”, these two French guys. I was like, wow, I don’t have any friends with a sex shop, can we be friends, just being jokey. And they went “Yeah, come and see us some time.” And then, of course, I did and I saw their shop. They have the cruising downstairs and there were people down there in the dark. Nobody touched me. I walked around; there were men and women in their lunch break from work. And I was thinking, wow, God, what do these people have for lunch? Well I know what they have for lunch. But what do they have for dinner, more like. And what do they watch on TV? And I got totally fascinated. You know, in England we have sex shops where you buy toys. But in this place, there is a cruising place downstairs with toys upstairs. And a funny thing is, this was a community service. This is something that needs to exist because these people are expressing themselves in a way. And everyone’s comfortable. Nobody would touch you if you didn’t want to. It was a very respectful environment. And I thought there was more respect here than there is in a bloody church.
It’s often the way!
Not that I know, in either which way. So, I mean, what was it that actually came first? Was it seeing this shop that inspired you to make the song?
Morgan: Absolutely. Yeah. When I saw it, at first, as I say, it was a bit of fun. It was actually a couple of things. I was speaking to my youngest daughter and she said this thing about sex and I said “So when does sex stop?” And she said, “Well, when you’re forty”, to which I, kind of, laughed and that played on my mind as well. So quite a few things stood together. And with that in mind, I just thought I’m a lot older than 40 and I have desire and that desire is a part of me, and vital actually. And I want to be okay with that. And maybe, like when I was a punk and I was speaking to people who were my generation, maybe I can say “Look, I’m fifty-eight and here I am. Where are you?” You know, it’s still some form of rebellion. It’s not a rebellious song in the sense, but it’s just like I’m okay with where I am. It’s fine. And so there was a bit of frivolity in the chorus, but the verses are not at all. It’s more questioning, you know.
Experiencing and seeing?
Morgan: Yeah, yeah.
And actually understanding, as you said earlier, individuals that are frequenting these places to sort of get through their life or support their life?
Morgan: Yeah. I’m proud of my sensual life. I’m not gonna just put it down. Because, I think that’s a very vital point. And I think society wants you to, kind of, give up on that. Maybe I’m wrong? I don’t know. But that’s how it feels sometimes.
And I also understand that you used staff members and customers for the video?
Morgan: Oh, yes. I didn’t want to have sort of types that only look good on camera. I wanted real people in the video. And I think that happened. And the shop gave me free cruising passes for everybody who buys the CD.
Morgan: If they’re in Lille. But that in itself is worth 30 euros. Would you like one John?
This isn’t going in the interview, or maybe! And finally of course you’ve got your “Janet & John” video. And I gather that was shot in Greenwich?
Morgan: Yes. But that was actually quite interesting, because it was only afterwards I realised that it is about time, how much time we have before the clock stops. And we did it in Greenwich. I didn’t actually plan that. And the song was very much just descriptive, really. Just about the Janet and John books, as I grew up. And I couldn’t relate to them. I just couldn’t relate to that life or the picket fence or the perfect house and the perfect life. And as I’ve grown up, I’ve seen everyone get going for this point and always wishing that coulda, shoulda, woulda done this and done that. And they’ve always played it safe and stuff and all of it is too late for me. And I think, wow, that’s not where I want to be. That’s not making the judgment about that life, it’s just saying that that’s not for me. That’s what it’s about. But it was quite uncanny that afterwards we did it there. A bit like “Alien” from the first album. That was when I was younger in the song. You know, I moved to Manchester and I was an alien in a place, moving from London to a very small place. And when I did the video, I did it in a humorous way. And it was only after I realised, well, actually, that’s how I used to cope. I’d become the comedian. I became the Joker. And yet I dealt with that in that way, and it wasn’t planned. And so it is interesting for me to look at those things.
And of course, the tunnel was completely empty or appears to be empty?
Morgan: Mostly, yes. We just went from one end to the other. And if a lift came down and people came past, some people stopped and I think there’s one shot in there, where a bike shoots past, but mainly, yes. Nobody stopped us at all and everyone was quite happy we were doing it, including the wardens.
Do you have a favourite track on the album?
Morgan: At the moment, it changes all the time. And it goes from “Girl On The Screen” to “The Other Side”. And at the moment, it’s “The Other Side”. I like it because it’s very straight ahead. It’s very lyric driven. It’s, I suppose, story telling in some ways. And I, kind of, like the idea of “The Other Side”. It’s not just about losing someone in death. Sometimes we can be in a circumstance in a relationship when something just breaks and you could look at the person and think, well, you know, I love you, but I can’t be with you. There’s something that’s kind of broken, so people love each other and they just break up. Or just the thought of somebody jumping in the car, going to work and never coming home again, you know. I just like that sort of “one minute we’re here, one minute we’re gone”. One minute we’re in love. And just something breaks. And we’re looking at each other with love, but we just cannot be together and exist in the same space. And it can be so quick.
And you’ve been talking about the drums in that particular track as well.
Morgan: Yes. I’ve tried about five different forms of the song. And in the end, the one that works was just getting the straight-a-head drum machine. I work very visually, so I thought, okay, how does this work? I thought abut this relentless drumbeat on stage with a big, big guitar, just playing it, playing all of the music, just playing a big riff on the vocals, something very, very raw. And I thought, how do I portray that into the song? So it just meant it had to keep driving forward in a very, very simplistic way. And when I’d kind of done the basic track, Stan Greenwood from Skeletal Family came to stay, because we were going to attempt to write some songs together. He asked “What are you doing?”, I said “I’m just doing the new album.” He said “Well, maybe I can do some stuff on that so we can get to kinda know each other.” And he played some power chords and some arpeggios and put some twisted guitars at the end and I thought, wow, that’s it. I didn’t see that one coming. But it fit perfectly. And that wasn’t the plan. That wasn’t how I imagined it, but that track can’t live without it now. And that’s what the song wanted. And that’s what the song got. Even the sense of denial that you can have with death and at the end when all the metal gets twisted and the reality comes in, that actually this person is gone… and the whole mental construct… Stan got it. He nailed it!
It’s really interesting, isn’t it, how these concepts have just been taken over and become a life of their own?
Morgan: Yes. And I think that’s about trust. It’s about letting people express themselves. Back to “Janet & John”. When Danny Valentine did the guitars on it and he did that bouzouki kind of guitar in the middle, that’s actually like, wow, what is that? You know, that’s from nowhere. But it just sits perfectly with the whole thing and the mood. It’s just, you can’t make that up. It fits right. And for me, it’s unbelievable that somebody can get under the skin, literally, of what you’re doing. And it’s like, thank you, Lord. I want to say thank you for understanding that moment and that point and really understanding what’s going on, because to that end, I’ve been blessed.
And really speaking your driving home these images in your mind now to others?
Spreading this vision?
That understanding and your ideas. Hopefully, it’s going to connect with other people?
Morgan: Yes, I mean, I hope so. It’s a note to self, many, many times, because I feel as an individual. I learned something and I forget something. Then the same thing happens again. Then I go, oh yeah, I did learn this, maybe I didn’t learn it enough. And I think that’s how the songs are. And if there’s people out there and they, kind of, connect to that, that’s great.
So I noticed that you set up a Patreon account. Can you let people know what it is about and how they can join?
Morgan: Yes. You can just go to https://www.patreon.com/morganking and you’ll find me there to subscribe. I just love the idea of it. At first, I was a little bit hesitant. It was actually suggested by a friend and I was like “Erm?” And I looked at different ways, different platforms, pledges, and I thought, well, if I pledge, then I have to keep pledging. And I like the idea that somebody could just subscribe to me for a little bit or more, as they wish. Or if a new project’s coming up, they can say, well actually, I can have this. And I started to think that I could do more music. It actually facilitates me, because if people are supporting me in that way, I could then ask an audience, for example, what four songs they’d like on acoustic. And I think that’s actually great, because that’s a real challenge for me. And then as soon as I was doing that, I thought it was actually making me more creative, just thinking about Patreon in that sense. Because I’m really connecting with people, and that’s what it’s all about.
So you are also hoping perhaps it’s more of an interactive environment?
Morgan: Oh, absolutely.
You want to connect more with people listening to your music and you can have their input?
Morgan: Yes, I do. All of the time. If somebody buys an album and anything like that, I speak to them directly if I can. Sometimes I send them an email to ask if they want it signed before I send it. They, kind of, shyly write back with “Oh, yes, please.” I want to be as much as possible on the ball to respond to people who are supporting my music. Yeah.
Did you think you’d get to a level where you actually could, because you’re changing in some way in a lot of ways here? Do you think you’d find that you’d even allow some of these people to give you ideas?
Morgan: Yes, I already put those things out there. I did ask several people how they felt as music buyers, people who bought my albums. I asked them as people who were music fans, not just of me but many artists, as music lovers. I asked how they’d like to connect. Quite a few came back and said they liked the idea of Patreon, where they can have a direct access and get stuff that other people are not getting. They were very positive. Several actually said “I’ve kind of got a budget for that for sure.” And I was actually quite surprised because I think, why not ask? I don’t want to be this kind of person who’s sitting on his pride, that’s not what it’s about. It’s about making music and speaking honestly to people and asking your advice. How do you feel about it? What do you think? Is it a shitty idea? It is a bad idea? And just seeing how it comes across, rather than, sort of, making a judgment. We’re back to the judgment again; rather than judge something, actually, experience it and see what it’s like. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Doesn’t matter. Failure is an option.
And what about if they ask for one of them cards?
Morgan: If they ask for a free cruising card, it will probably be a positive yes.
So before we wrap this interview up, is there anything else you would like to add?
Morgan: I think I would like to say thank you for those who have supported me so far, because it matters. You know, sometimes it’s nice to know that although I write as a reflection of my life, to connect with people is a very nice thing and helps on those days when you’re lacking a little bit of courage to carry on. You remember that person who said thank you or nice things. You know there’s a pool to draw upon that there’s more than myself.
So Old Skin really is sort of like it’s brought itself around, hasn’t it? It’s a project that’s, kind of, become a learning of yourself and an understanding of yourself?
And then it’s just transformed to becoming a beast of its own, that’s kind of become a weird evolvement?
Morgan: Yeah, I think so. If I listen to a lot of music, for instance, it’s going back to the genre based thing. It’s an individual, it’s not one colour, not one mood. And so if I hear music which has a mood, I think, well this too shall pass. So how could we be in one frame? My mood changes all the time and I want my music to reflect my ups, my downs, my in-betweens, my indifference, all of those things, because otherwise it doesn’t feel correct to me to be in one space because that’s not how we, or how I am, for sure.
And you’re taking people on this journey now?
Morgan: I think, if they want to join, yes.
I think if they listened to the album and they really get it. I think they will.
Morgan: Yes. I mean, in the past, I’ve confused some circumstances or some people or situations. I even ask some old friends if they didn’t know me from what I was doing now, how they would feel. And they just say they would be very cagey to how they approach me. And I was like, “really?” And I still don’t understand that. So I do, kind of, get that people want to put something into a box or say this is what it is. And now I know what it is, I can say whether it’s better or worse than something else. They need to categorise and I think that’s not a place where I necessarily want to be.
But I think you’ve reached an acceptance of where you are and who you are. It’s just a complete understanding of yourself and it’s like, if people approach you, you’re genuine, you are yourself.
I think we’ve touched on this earlier. People aren’t kind of connecting with that today; that kind of feeling as you say, that they have to be something else, other than themselves.
Morgan: Yeah. And that’s growing up doing music in Manchester. Actually, I grew up in London ’til I was 12. But I mean, I moved there and when I was doing music, I was about 17-18. I left my job actually 40 years ago this year. You know, if you sounded like Magazine or if you sound like A Certain Ratio or Joy Division, who were in the same building, you, kind of, thought that was their territory. We need to find our own space. But it does seem now it’s like that I want to, kind of, fit in with everything. And I’m not saying that I’m not wanting to fit in with stuff. I don’t actually think about it. I just do what I do and make music and people can decide how they feel about it. But intrinsically I have happiness about what I do and I release it and hopefully that kind of translates. It doesn’t matter if it’s a happy song or a sad song. It’s just that I’m actually happy to have expressed it. And so, yeah, apart from that, once it’s gone it’s not my responsibility.
Well it was wonderful to review the album. I really enjoyed it. As I said I do find it a genre-less album. I do encourage other people to listen to it and listen to it more than once, because I think that’s another thing with music today. I don’t think people spend enough time actually listening, if that makes sense?
I feel that with the likes of Spotify and places like this, people will perhaps tune in for 10 seconds, may dislike it, because they haven’t given it enough time to grow or evolve and therefore just knock it aside. There is a lot of music out there today. It doesn’t always give a chance to a new album at all. And I’m not sure if people actually listening to albums in the construction of an album even?
Morgan: Probably not. No. I mean when I did Grains & Grams album, I made it only for download and so, whether or not I, kind of, made a mistake with that one. I’m not releasing the new album in digital format until next year, because I want to focus on the physical recording this time. But I’m gonna make that available as a single download, because I have no control over what Spotify does, so there’s no point in even engaging. But if they get the album, that’s the way it was constructed by the artist, so they know how the artist feels. In this case, it was actually constructed by Giulio, my co-producer, because I, kind of, lost where I was with the structure, so I said please just put it the way that you see it and I’ll go with whatever you feel and I think he got the order right.
I firmly believe so. Thank you very much for your time Morgan.
Morgan: Thank you John. Cheers.
pics by Emile Mauger, Patrice Hoerner and Luc Luyten