On the Road: Kevin Morby
Kevin Morby is far and away one of our favorite songwriters. His voice is reminiscent of Bob Dylan, his lyricism is right up there with Patti Smith, and much like Lou Reed—he’s able to tell a story about a place in a way that few others can. We caught up with him just after the release of his newest record Oh My God.
Where are you calling from?
I’m home in Kansas City. I’m getting ready to leave the day after tomorrow for a couple of weeks, but for the moment I’m safely on my sofa.
You relocated from Kansas City to New York City when you were young. Did that feel like a big move?
It was definitely a moment of stepping out on my own. My family and I moved around a lot, but I never really left the Midwest as a kid. So when I moved to New York, that was the first time I’d ever been near an ocean. I actually took an Amtrak train there, and I had a couple of stops along the way—Chicago and Cleveland.
My logic was that if I got too scared basically, I could just go back. At that point, I’d never been on my own, and I’d only ever been on a plane once as a kid. It was just too big of a concept for me to wrap my mind around: I could get on a plane and suddenly be in New York—this place I’d heard about my whole life. So I decided to go there slowly instead.
You’ve since traveled plenty. How do you stay inspired on tour? Do you write?
Yeah, especially if I’m touring alone. There’s a lot of downtime, and I’ll play guitar and work on songs in hotel rooms just to kill the time. When you’re alone, you definitely absorb the world a lot differently than when the band is traveling with you.
I know you shoot film. Is that something you do on tour too?
It comes in waves, but I definitely take a lot of film photos. I’m actually looking at a couple of disposable cameras I need to get developed. It’s so low key and so easy to just throw a disposable camera in your backpack when you’re at a gas station or something. It’s fun when you finally get them developed. It’s kind of like Christmas—you never know what’s going to be on them.
Are you still painting too?
Yeah, for sure. It’s funny you're asking me about all this stuff because I’m in my living room, and my painting easel and all my books are right here, so I’m just looking at them one by one. For me, painting is something that I can turn to when I need a creative outlet outside of music. It’s sort of the same with photography—I’ve got some records in the can, and I sometimes don’t feel the inclination to be writing. Once you kind of established a little bit of a name for yourself in one thing, it’s fun to draw upon other mediums.
What have you been reading or listening to?
I just actually re-watched both The Wire and The Sopranos, which is kind of embarrassing. It was a cold winter, so there wasn’t much to do. I read the autobiography of the character, Snoop from The Wire, Grace After Midnight— which is really crazy. I went to the Woody Guthrie museum in Oklahoma recently and I got a book about the dust bowl called Out of the Dust that’s really good.
Oh, and I’ve been reading this book called Digital Minimalism, which is all about how to be healthier about our digital use. That’s a book I would recommend to anybody. I just finished Bill Callahan’s book too. It’s called Letters to Emma Bowlcut. I’m actually holding a book of his poems in my hand that Eric Slick (drummer of Dr. Dog) gave me, we’re both huge fans of his.
When you’re on tour, is there anything you make a point to do when you’re not performing?
Definitely. I get really excited about spa culture. One specific thing my band does is try to get in the water as much as possible. It started when we went to Iceland to play the festival there, Iceland Airwaves. At one point we were all hungover and crazy, but we got to go to this natural hot spring, and it was so great, we were like, “you know what, let’s try to find spots like this everywhere.” And we totally did it. Ever since that day, we find something. I’ve been to spas and hot springs in San Francisco, Belgium, France, Spain—it's my favorite thing to do.
Is there a place that’s really surprised you?
You know, if I’m being honest, I think the place that has most surprised me is Kansas City. The past couple of years have shifted that. I kind of left here in a hurry when I was young, thinking I would never want anything else to do with this town ever again. But now, with all the traveling I do, I have found an appreciation for my hometown. I love being able to come back here and be surprised. I thought I’d learned everything there was to know about it, but I'm finding new things all the time.
Do you have some favorite spots in Kansas City that you’d recommend?
Yeah. There's a place called recordBar, which is cool, and then there’s another place called The Truman. There are some really good record stores—there’s one called Mills I like a lot. I was pretty surprised by that because when I used to live here as a kid, there wasn’t one record store. Now there’s probably 15. There are also a lot of amazing Jazz clubs like the Green Lady Lounge, which is an awesome bar.
You’ve lived in cities like New York and LA. How do you like living on the coasts versus your home in Kansas City? How does that different creative energy affect your art?
Well, yeah your location definitely makes a difference. No matter where you go or what you’re doing, your surroundings are always going to influence your work—good or bad. Obviously, New York has its own flavor and LA has its own, different flavor, and Kansas City is the exact same thing, in that it has its own unique flavor. I've written a lot out here, and a lot of it is far different than anything else I’ve written.