Back in 2008, LA singer Morgan Kibby was summoned to the legendary Rockfield Studios in Wales (everyone from Queen to Oasis to Coldplay has done time there), to be the voice of the fifth album by French cult electronic act M83. Before long she was veritably inducted into the band, and was a major creative force on 2011’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, which rocketed them to international stardom—even securing them a Grammy nomination.
Some personal tragedies caused her, as they will, to retreat to a place of more intimate artistic exploration. The resultant musical catharsis, In Cold Blood, is released this week under the ethereal nom de guerre White Sea—and while the confessions are deeply personal, the soundscapes are as widescreen as one might easily expect from a pivotal member of Camp M83…especially first single “They Don’t Know.”
The music indeed soars with emotional desperation, aesthetically calling on the Gods of synth-pop, classic R&B and prog rock pomposity; it all somehow coalesces into an album of remarkable visceral wallop. At her best, Kibby has all the fire of Kate Bush, yet is possessed of an alchemist’s way with sonic exploration.
Outside of M83, Kibby has carried on quite the peripatetic career, working in film, remixing tracks by School of Seven Bells, Imagine Dragons and Demi Lovato, and even acting as musical accomplice to fashion house Proenza Schouler. But In Cold Blood is her shining moment, a chilling but uplifting act of soul-baring on the level of such unashamed soul-barers as Antony or Lykke Li.
On her recent visit to NYC, BlackBook had the privilege of a tête-à-tête with Ms. Kibby amidst the endless buzz of the W New York – Union Square hotel.
How did you come to join M83?
“Anthony Gonzalez heard my voice and loved it; so I flew to London, met him at St. Pancras Station, and then we went off to Wales to record the album. I thought I was just going to be the vocalist, but I ended up writing on the record and then going out on tour.”
For an electronic act, there’s something very rustic about M83’s music.
“Well, Anthony grew up in Antibes, which is the countryside—so he’s very connected to nature. In Wales there were horses and cows, and we recorded on this old ‘70’s console, very anachronistic.”
What was it like doing The Grammys as genuine outsiders?
“The Grammys are just a lot of gloss; we so didn’t feel like we belonged there. But, then, to be a cult band and to be recognized for your work…it’s definitely something. It was much more exciting to be headlining festivals and such. Coachella was a moment for us, there were people literally spilling out of the tent.”
For your solo endeavor, why the name White Sea?
“I’m not good coming up with names. So I just looked up the meaning of the name Morgan, and it means ‘white sea dweller’.”
What was the impetus for the record?
“I went through an extremely traumatic breakup. And it was the first time during my artistic life when I had experienced something so emotionally violent. So I didn’t have any choice but to write about it. I just had to do it.”
David Bowie told me once that he sometimes writes down his thoughts and ideas, and then rejects them once they’re written—it’s kind of a way of clearing out the mind and soul.
“That’s incredibly perceptive. When I think about some of the things I wrote for this record, I realize I was in such a desperate place. And I look back on it and realize that I just don’t believe some of it anymore.”
You’re certainly not making what you might call fashionable music.
“There was an aesthetic I was trying to pinpoint with this record. And I just embraced the fact that I love big, dramatic 80’s synth pop.”
And especially in these times when hipster bands are all trying to sound, well, Amish…
“You mean ‘Suspender Rock?’”
Yes! Those sorts lazily talk about electronic instrumentation as somehow being less…authentic. But all instruments are made and played by human beings, after all.
“To me that conversation is so boring and so uneducated. It’s like, grow the fuck up, huh? Synthesizers have redefined the way we hear music.”
And in opposition to all that zeitgeisty twee folkishness, there’s an unapologetic Wagnerian grandiosity about this album.
“Oh, I’m a classical musician. I played classical piano, I took up the cello when I was a teenager…I have a penchant for drama and flair. I love things that are extremely visceral; and this record had to be a grand statement. It’s a love letter and a ‘fuck you.’”
Indeed, production wise, it’s enormous. You self produced it?
“I had two days in the studio with [Sia and Lily Allen producer] Greg Kurtsin, and he helped me with some of the production on ‘New York’ and ‘Flash’. And Mark Ronson programmed the beat for ‘Future Husbands.’ The rest I did myself.”
Ronson certainly seems to show up in all the right places.
“He is an amazing curator of talent, and a really great guy.”
You’ve got a major tour coming up with The Naked And Famous. It seems like it would be a nightmare to reproduce this music in a live setting.
“You would think. But to be honest, I’m just not that precious about replacing real strings with tracks when playing live.”