Neal Morgan sits in his garage behind a scaled-back kit and an array of mics, warming up his arms and voice while our crew crams between file cabinets and stray furniture, ancient speakers and ghetto blasters, stacked drums and clutter etcetera.
Outside in the driveway a pad of moss grows from under the left taillight of a Subaru. The cloud is above and it’s just barely drizzling. Leafy winter edibles row the backyard garden.
It's fitting to listen to the performance from here, where the separation between sound and its origin subtly corresponds to the abstractions presented by Morgan's music: part melismatic lyrical impression, part narrative percussion, each half compensates for the expressive limitations of its counterpart.
The result reads like a man exhausted by a long math problem, out on a walkabout and suddenly struck with the profundity of his everyday, solid world. The lucid captivity of the percussion-- the anxious naturalism in the words-- is something Morgan's worked on for a while now.
“I started wanting to make my own music [during high school] and thought in order to do that I would have to learn how to play guitar and piano, and so I did that,” explains Morgan. “But then, after several years of doing that-- making songs on a four-track, playing guitar or something, which it's really weird to think back now that I ever actually played guitar-- I started becoming aware of the possibility that maybe I could just drum and sing and make songs that way. It was around that time that I was deciding to be a drummer, first and foremost.”
Like Morgan says, instead of sticking with traditional pop instruments, he discovered his innate creative language to be that of drum and voice, and in the mid-2000s decided to work in that native pallet.
Not long after, Morgan was contacted by Joanna Newsom, who enlisted him to arrange percussion for the tour version of her 2006 album, Ys. After touring on Ys, and subsequently working with Newsom on the studio and live versions of her 3-disc album, Have One On Me, he began recording and touring with Bill Callahan, both as a duo and with an extended lineup.
It was during these tours and after the release of his debut record, To the Breathing World, that Morgan set his sights on a second album, mining a catch-all tour journal for lyrics and drawing inspiration from Neo-expressionist painter Philip Guston. While on the road with Callahan in Atlanta, he experimented with spoken-word performance, yielding the voice-only compositions that would round off his latest release, In the Yard.
"I recorded the spoken-word tracks in 20 minutes," says Morgan of arriving home from tour to swiftly finish the collection.
“Father's Day,” which Morgan performs today, is the first track on In the Yard to pair voice with drums, and it leaves the listener looking sternly up a hill, where “some rich assholes from L.A. are putting in a house.”
It's the kind of rib-kicker that only a guy like Neal Morgan can pull off. His traveled creative temperament allows him to be imagined in dozens of situations tucked scribbling behind a notebook-- filtering the world through Guston over so many elongated professional outings between the world's great cities and those lesser known; squinting his eyes to simplify unfamiliar places to shapes, smudges, piled suggestions...
He reports to us along the way.
Neal Morgan recently finished recording his yet-to-be-titled third album. In The Yard and To The Breathing World are out now on Drag City.
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