morgan grace
photo by pasha productions
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CoG Interviewed Morgan Grace August 31, 2006

It would be easy to compare Morgan Grace to other female fronted rock bands of the mid 90’s, however, this artist has proven she can stand on her own through her skillful combination of angsty moodiness and pop sensibility. Provocative lyrics delivered through sweet and sultry vocal melodies are what makes Morgan Grace stand apart from other rock goddesses of her genre. Her charm is memorable and captivating but do not be mistaken, Morgan isn’t an angelic acoustic crooner by any means - she is a rocker who demands your attention, respect and hell-yeahs. Church Of Girl had a chance to talk with this bright individual at Portland's rock 'n' roll downtown dive, Kelly's Olympian.

CoG: Icebreaker Question #1 : If your music could be represented by a fruit what would it be?

Morgan: In the fruit genre my music would be a pomegranate. Misunderstood, often looked over maybe unappealing to the layman but once opened a bountiful treasure of colors, textures and many pleasing thing to the palate.

CoG: Describe your music in only three words

Morgan: Swampy, shuffle, swing

CoG: Now we’re going to go to some more official questions. When I was reviewing your albums, The Rules of Dating, and The Sound of Something Breaking, I noticed that you have a couple of music styles you mess around with and some of them sound sort of jazzy. So I was wondering if you have any sort of musical background training?

Morgan: Academically, my instrument is classical guitar and I’ve been playing since I was 14. When I went to school at Mt Hood the whole world of jazz was completely opened up to me. When I got there I was 18 and I heard all these kids talking about jazz and being really into it and I was like, “Jazz?…My mom likes Jazz, you know, we’re kids we’re supposed to be listening to rock n roll. But then I started to DJ on Jazz KMHD, one of the only jazz stations in the country, and  I learned so much about jazz and I love it. Sam Henry has a real strong jazz background. His drum idol is Buddy Rich. I made this joke to Sam saying we’re both stuck in the middle.. We’re too jazz for rock n roll and kind of too rock n roll for jazz. So I think our two styles really complement each other and we have this jazz infused punk rock backbone. It is a driving swing with a punk rock aggression. I’ve definitely made it my life to study music and get a degree in music. It’s what I love.

CoG: Why do you think it’s important to have a basic understanding of how music works?

Morgan: I think when you love something you just want to know everything about it that you can. I really love music theory and I’ve learned a lot taking classes on music history. I love to perform but I also have this nerdy academic love for it as well.

CoG: On your website you have often referred to yourself as a nerd or dork so tell us about your ultimate achievement in dorkdom which was winning first place in the American Idol Underground songwriting contest. What possessed you to enter in the first place? Do you have a secret passion for the televised American Idol?

Morgan: I do. I watched every episode last season and when we were practicing I taped it. I was really , really hopeful about Elliot making it [She then delves into a 4 minute monologue describing her viewing pleasure of American Idol].

CoG: It seems like American Idol Underground is based more on the music as opposed to the TV show, American Idol, which seems to focus more on a squeaky clean image in a very mainstream sort of way. In the mainstream people don’t necessarily write their own songs but in this contest your original song was the one that won the grand prize of 10 Grand.

Morgan: In American Idol Proper there is a promise of mainstream accessibility, mainstream achievement, success, signing away your life and agreeing to maintain an image for television, for radio and a promise of mainstream label affiliation. What I liked about American Idol Underground is that it‘s not like that. It’s for people who are doing things on the independent track rather than a bunch of hopefuls who want to sign away their artistic privileges to someone who thinks they can mold them into something that the rest of America will buy. What I liked about American Idol Online songwriting contest there was no promise of major label affiliation. I don’t have any interest in signing to a major label. Zero.

CoG: Besides artists losing respect and control why wouldn’t you want the accessibility a major label can offer?

Morgan: It’s just not for me. A couple of years ago we signed on with a manager and as our time with him progressed he didn’t think of me as a songwriter he thought of me as some rocker pin up doll that he could market and program. Suddenly I was some commodity that he could make money off of. He put us in the studio and we recorded this album that sounded like crap and all he wanted at the end of it was a product that he could sell. As a songwriter and the band leader I wanted a product that I could put my name on and feel good about. When we were finishing it and doing the mixing I realized the album sucked and I told him I wasn’t going to put my name on it. Then he told me that he had done so much for me and that I am really lucky that he didn’t ask me to suck his dick. That was the end of that involvement with him as a manager. I don’t ever want somebody telling me what I can and cannot put my name on. If the success of winning this contest leads me to a place where I have to consult with somebody else about what I can and cannot do is somewhere I don’t want to go at all. I’m really lucky that I won the contest. It has given me money and other prizes that allow me to continue what I’m doing as an independent artist with complete control over everything I do. One of the other prizes I won in the contest was a complete CD duplication package for 1,000 CD's. Just that the [additional] prize was included shows me that this is a contest that supports independent artists. For me, as someone who is very passionate about remaining independent, that is a concept I can feel good about entering. The American Idol affiliation is what it is. It can be perceived by some as being kind of corny but for me I won a contest that appreciates me as a songwriter and appreciates me as an independent artist.

photo by emBROWNLOWe for Church of Girl

CoG: The persona that comes across in your music is one of a very powerful woman. Do you consider yourself a feminist? Why or why not?.

That’s a good question… one that must be answered delicately. I took a class at Portland State taught by the wonderful, wonderful Sarah Dougher and that class changed my life completely. The textbook was She’s a Rebel: A History of Women in Rock N Roll. That book completely changed my life. I believe in women 100%. I want to support other women in rock in roll. I definitely write from the women’s perspective. My life has changed dramatically in the last two years cause I quit drinking two years ago and before that I was perceived as a drunken floozy in the local scene. A lot of the music on my two albums was written from that place. In the last two years a lot of things have changed for me and the music I’m writing now is coming from more of a place of feminist oriented idealism. It feels really good to come from that place. I can’t tell you how many times playing in a rock n roll band and the male stage manager or male bartender or the male sound guy talk to my band mates like they’re the band - cause they’re guys - and when I chime in they just look at me like a groupie band slut. I have definitely experiences a lot of disrespect from men in rock n roll and I would love to be someone who opens doors for other women to do whatever they want. I’m tired of playing in a music scene in a world where women are still perceived as novelty in rock n roll. I’m tired of being categorized as a “female musician” rather than a musician cause that’s what I am. We’re just musicians, goddammit! If my music appeals to women that’s awesome! That’s what I want. But if my music also appeals to men and makes them understand more about what women are going through even better. I don’t want to ostracize or alienate a potential fan because of who they are.

CoG: What is your experience with other feminists?

Morgan: There were a lot of feminists and lesbians in the women in rock n roll class I took and some of them were really mean (laughs)

CoG: Well you know, lesbians and feminists are always really uptight and mean. HA! I’m just kidding…

Morgan:Some of them are really scary! I mean, I just want to love women and support and come from a really nice and nurturing supportive place. Sometimes I feel really alienated by feminists because I’m not a lesbian. I’m sorry but I’m just not gay….but that doesn’t mean I can’t support gay culture or the gay community.

CoG: Well yeah, feminism isn’t about being a lesbian. I think that is what draws people away from feminism sometimes because there’s that stereotype. I mean, even men can be feminists!

Morgan: Oh yeah! Definitely! I’ve met some [male feminists]!

CoG: Feminism is based on equality yet some people go the extra mile and are rude to help themselves appear better than others which is kind of missing the point…and unproductive. Women shouldn’t be tearing other women down.

Morgan: That’s funny you’d say feminism is based on equality because a lot of people think feminism is based on superiority… that women are superior to men….and I’m not one to be an activist or have a political agenda or anything but…man, it’s really important to support something and I really believe in women. I don’t want to come across as a man-hater but I certainly prefer dealing with women. I’m really glad you’re a woman interviewing me and that Church of Girl is a female based website.

CoG: You mentioned you quit drinking two years ago…why did you decide to stop?

Morgan: I had a wonderful epiphany one morning - waking up drunk - that life is only going to get better when I started making decisions that took control of my life. Every moment provides you a new opportunity to make a new choice that can make your life better or worse. So I had this epiphany saying I know what I want: I want to have a life in music and a life in academia and a life that brings goodness to people and I can’t do that if I’m getting drunk every single day of the week . Luckily it really stuck. I’m really lucky. Now I think of all the time I wasted being kind of a hag drinking all the time, being selfish all the time, not thinking of other people and just being arrogant and egotistical and thinking “I’m so great” when maybe I’m the only one that thought that. [In regards to music, fans and promoters], if they are trying to believe in you and they perceive you as not believing in yourself it is going to stick in their minds as “maybe it’s not such a good idea for me to put this person out on the road with money I’m giving them to do whatever they want with.” It’s just really hard because I was starting to get this Courtney-Love type of reputation of just being out of control and wasted all the time. Now I feel like people take me more seriously and the only reason that is possible is because I started taking myself - and my life - seriously by not drinking anymore. It was just very, very necessary and I’m really glad that I did it and I’m really lucky that I’m able to continue to do it everyday.

CoG: What sort of themes are you addressing in your music now?

I’m definitely of writing of a place of more depth instead of writing the ‘breakup song‘, or the ‘I want you song’ or the ‘I got so drunk last nite’ song. I’m writing about things that have more bearings in life, more thought provoking than “I miss you so much” or “Why didn’t our relationship work out?”. I feel really good about the deeper sort of things I’m writing about now. I’ve always felt as your life progresses your art progresses and life is definitely progressing for me coming out of drinking, coming out of the twenties, coming out of being a kid. I’m going into my thirties and I’m writing about things that are important to me now.

CoG: A lot of your lyrics on the Rules of Dating or The Sound of Something Breaking seem to target individuals who have done you wrong and are very confrontational. Has anyone been so vain to assume a song was written about them?

Morgan: If in the process of creating art you can’t allow yourself to let other people’s approval effect what you’re creating. You have to just create whatever feels right and go to whatever place the inspiration takes you. I’m sorry but if people have a problem with what I’m doing because they’re close to me it’s not my problem - it’s their problem. So…sorry.

CoG: Care to name drop anyone who has had an influence on you musically?

Morgan: I grew up in a small town and there was no way for me to access music besides mainstream radio and MTV. So in the late 80s when I was getting into music as a kid hair metal was exploding all over the place so the first thing that grabbed me as a young aspiring musician was the butt rock. Man I loved Def Leppard and I loved Motely Crue and I loved Guns N Roses. I think it’s funny because what I’m doing now with music doesn’t even suggest that I would have this history. Later on I got into Liz Phair. Exile in Guyville is one of my favorite albums. I love the Violent Femmes and the Cure, the Go-Go’s, The Misfits, some riot grrrl stuff like Bikini Kill and Bratmobile and Heavens to Betsy. When I moved to Portland when I was 18 I started listening to a lot of jazz and was starting to get into Bosanova and I fell in love with Elliot Smith. It was a lot of really weird kind of contradicting artists but I just loved all of it.

CoG: Did you listen to the Wipers before you met Sam?

Morgan: No. Not at all. Which is kind of good because If I had known about the Wipers and Sam Henry when I was a teenager I think I would have been way too star struck to even talk to him. Because I love the Wipers. Getting to know their music has been amazing. I’m really lucky to be able to play with such an incredible drummer as Sam.

CoG: You mentioned you are graduating from Portland State University with a Bachelors in Music and Performance. What do you plan to do with these credentials?

Morgan: I would really love to teach. I have some ideas of doing some music theory workshops. I think it would be fun to get into the music department of a university and having a curriculum or maybe developing an ensemble….but the other half of me wants to live in a van for a year and play as many rock shows as possible. I’ve romanticized the two potential futures and either way as long as I am doing something with music whether it is performing or teaching or whatever a heavily music saturated life is a good life for me.


You can contact the fabulous Morgan Grace online:
By emBROWNLOWe + Church of Girl
Published 31 August 2006