PAUSE Her in conversation with Morgan Saint, by Sonia Akther.
Can I make a confession? I think I’m obsessed with Morgan Saint. In a week Taylor Swift released the sheer brilliance that is ‘Folklore’, it seemed nothing would stop this masterpiece from being played on repeat all month… that was until I was sent Morgan Saint’s new EP ‘HELP’.
A Long Island native and a former student of the prestigious Parsons School of Design, Morgan Saint is making music so fresh and with such depth; we spoke on Zoom and was genuinely taken aback by her sheer talent. Her EP ‘HELP’ opens with a beat reminiscent of N.E.R.D in their early days, and takes you on the most unexpected yet mellowest of journeys.
Speaking with Morgan I felt like a giant dragonfly lost in her courtyard. She effortlessly strings together poetic sentences on mother-daughter relationships to professional growth; to the most eloquent explanation on the migrations of mini beasts. Morgan is genuinely so very unique it feels unfair to make another comparison to Billie Eillish now but her 16 minute EP did take me on a similar trip, with a far more scenic detour.
Re-reading our interview, and to repeat a line taken from her song ‘City’ which she sings so sweetly, really, “I think I’m obsessed with you” Morgan Saint. And you probably will be too after listening to her EP ‘HELP’ and reading this interview.
I’ve been listening to your EP on repeat and love it! It made me feel dark drops filled with flashes of green light…
I like that you felt that because I felt a lot of green light too. I felt a lot of green energy. A lot of the artwork is also green as well so I love that you’re getting all that.
How was the journey making this EP?
These songs came from the last 2 years but a lot of it came from the last 6 months or year I should say. It was quite the journey getting it all out; I did want these songs to come out sooner but that’s just how it is. There was a lot going on in my personal life and there was a lot going on in my work life— relationships were shifting and there was even some heartbreak in both; so it was a lot of lessons and a lot of shifting. So I wrote all about that, as I always do. It was an amazing journey and I’m really happy to have it out there now.
What inspired the artwork?
The artwork is definitely a reflection of how I wanted the body of work to feel. I feel like there’s a lot of different sides to me; when I’m engaging with people I don’t know very well I can come across as reserved, quite shy and I really don’t give much of myself. As you get closer to me, I am actually crazy. I am pretty in your face, pretty shocking I guess… bubbly and not serious.
I think the music in the past was me meeting someone for the first time. It’s a little shy, it’s a little reserved, not giving away too much. And now, with this EP, it’s very much a, ‘right, the world knows me, now I’m ready to share the other side of myself’— and that side is definitely a little crazier and I wanted the artwork to reflect that energy. I’m super introverted but then when I’m around people I’m close to and love, I ramble, I don’t stop talking, I’m so in your face. It’s an interesting dichotomy.
The music video for your song ‘HELP’ is awesome. How did it all come together?
I filmed it so makeshift and it was so much fun. I used my aunts old VHS camera and recruited family members. I live in New York City but I spent two months in the thick of things out on the eastern end of Long Island which is about two hours outside the city, so for that video I was ‘home-home’, where I grew up. I recruited my mum, my dad, my brother, my aunt, my cousins, and I made everyone drive to this big field and position their car lights in different directions so we could use the car lights to create this strumming effect.
That’s so cool! So all the green is coming from car lights?
For the green effect I found these plastic cups at my girlfriends house and cut them up and taped a yellow and a blue to make that green and taped it onto the lens of my camera. It was pretty entertaining trying to get my family to get the timing right!
I could have easily added a green tint to everything but I really felt like it would look richer if it was not at an after effect. It’s very honest. With this EP, I wanted it to feel very honest and like an unapologetic version of myself.
‘This City’ is my favourite song from the EP. What makes you feel at home?
That song was about spending a year in LA and living in a hotel by myself in Sunset Boulevard. It was actually kind of depressing but I’m very grateful because that time alone gave me a lot of time to really sit with myself and make some important life changes.
But I guess I felt lonely, not at home and not myself necessarily, and there were certain times when a certain someone came to visit me and I just remember being so much happier to be there, so that’s what that songs about. I would say home is where I can be with people that I love, it doesn’t matter where, but that to me feels like home. I think this career has you moving a lot but if I can have the people I love around me than I’m fine.
What did you study at Parsons School of Design?
I studied illustration. It’s funny because when I was there I really rejected illustration because I think I’m really a photographer at heart. I like painting and drawing too but in a less truly illustrative fashion. So when I was there I would try and change the projects so I could do stop-motion photography or anime photography or hand drawn animations that I’d photographed— it was always leaning in that direction.
But with this music, I really went back to my true roots of illustration and creating a character and a world that’s illustrated so its really quite funny how I’ve embraced that and that’s where I am right now. The school is great because it allows you to do a bit of everything.
Do you have a favourite artist?
Sometimes I think my essence feels like an anime character. I’ve been told that a lot too; I think it’s because my eyes are big and intense… and just the way I look, that sort of androgynous character that lends itself to the world I’ve ended up in with this body of work
I watched ‘Spirited Away’ again recently after reading about the Studio Ghibli theme park they are building in Japan, it really is it’s own special little world…
I would love to go to Japan. I think especially now with not being able to travel, I’ve been dreaming about all the places I want to go. I want to travel as much as possible because you never know. This time has really taught me that you never know what’s going to happen and you have to take advantage of the opportunities when you can.
What have you been watching with all this time off?
I love a lot of reality tv. My brain is so intense sometimes and almost overwhelming for myself so when I watch tv or movies, I find myself gravitating to things that are less intense. Although I do watch a lot of documentaries too. Sometimes I need that outlet to just get out of my own head and I find reality tv very therapeutic for me in that way because I don’t have to think about very much. I haven’t been reading very much unfortunately. I research a lot.
What was the last thing you had to google frantically… when you’re watching one thing and have to find something else out?
Well, there’s been these huge dragon flies which have been coming to my window. I’m not lying to you, I have pictures and they’re like longer than two bricks stacked on top of each other. And I live in Manhattan so this is not the place you would expect to see huge dragonflies! So I’ve been reading about how they are migrating right now. I live on the west side and they travel this way on their migration. I also live in a courtyard so I think that they might get lost in here. So I’ve been researching a lot about that.
That is so cool! It feels like a mini nature documentary…
It really is so cool! I’m really spiritual and find myself asking questions like ‘What do these mean? What’s the symbolism behind it?’ It’s been a pretty big growth period for me recently so I feel like it might be connected to that. They literally come right to my window so many times a day and stay there for hours, so that’s pretty cool!
I name any spiders that come to my house Charlotte and hope they’ll keep flies away. I think it’s connected to reading and loving Charlotte’s Web as a child…
I’m not scared of bugs with wings but I’m scared of bugs with legs and I don’t know why. I’ve been interested in going back and watching a lot of the cartoons I watched when I was younger and I realise just how interesting they are now. When you’re a kid, you don’t always read into them, but I’m watching it back now and realising what they were really saying and what it was really about. And it’s kind of sadistic sometimes or really great life lessons that we were maybe absorbing without knowing.
Maybe I should read children’s books too because maybe it will do that same thing where you realise a great lesson in such a simplified way. I really look for ways to escape stuff so I want to buy some children’s books now and keep them around.
With so much serious stuff happening in the world, children’s literature always brings me joy. What was growing up in Long Island like for you?
Long Island was an interesting place to grow up. It’s 2 hours from the city and it is like a long island, roughly around 120 miles long, so most of the island is suburban with lots of malls and shopping; stuff you could do without really and not much scenery. But once you get to the tip of island, it forks off into 2 sections called the North Fork and the South Fork, and I grew up in the North Fork where it is beautiful.
It’s a really small town surrounded by water in every direction and I grew up boating and swimming. I love it out there but it is a small town and with that came an interesting experience growing up. I think I am very different. I think I’m very quirky so it made a little harder to come to terms with myself because of the pressures of a small town and everyone thinking they know you and some judgement. I’ve been in the city for 8 or so years now and I love it here; it’s really nice now that I’ve found myself and I feel grounded, to go back home. It really is so beautiful and I have a completely different relationship with it now. I go back every month or so to spend some time there and hang out with my family and relax, because it is a nice escape.
When did you start learning piano?
I was in 3rd grade, I was like 8 or 9 and then I took lessons in high school. I can’t say I’ve retained much of what I learnt technically but it opened up a whole world to me in terms of writing and making things up myself. I realised from taking piano lessons that I love the piano but I do not love reading music and I’m still not good at it. I don’t need it. You really can make music without necessarily having that ability.
For some reason my brain didn’t work with reading music, it really frustrated me. Every time I came to sit down and practice, I would just end up making things up, because I understood how to move my fingers and what would happen when I did. I would sit down for my lesson sometimes and my teacher would get up to go to the bathroom and I would just start playing things that I had made up or whatever was happening at that time and my teacher was always so confused as to why I could do all this and not play a simple song I had been learning at the time.
It really opened up a world of being creative for me. I was listening to a lot of singer/songwriters and decided I wanted to try and sing too and I slowly put the two together; and now I’m here making music that’s quite the opposite from the music I was singing when I was younger but I think it’s cool the way my taste in music is always changing.
I can actually see all these layers in your music and it adds such a unique quality to each of the songs on this EP.
I love a little shock and a lot of textures and sounds. I love very dramatic moments. Life for me is a lot of highs and a lot of lows; so if I’m being honest with myself, there are days where I feel amazing and awesome and super high, and then there are some lower moments.
I think we’re all hard on ourselves. On the days I feel super happy, I feel bad and wonder if I should be feeling this happy, if I deserve this happiness and like I should feel guilty for it. And when I’m feeling low I’m hard on myself feeling like I can do better…that I should be happy.
With this music I want to hopefully encourage people to celebrate when they’re feeling really happy and allow themselves to feel that happiness. And that when they’re feeling low, that they are not alone because we all feel the same way too. I hope that the music does this.
All your stories make me feel like you may be one of those stars…or rectangles even, in a world of square pegs. I wish we could have a recording from those early piano lessons where you were freestyling…
I know, it really is frustrating and I don’t like living like that. My whole life I’ve been rejecting what’s maybe expected of me. Everything about me doesn’t fit into societal norms so it’s been a struggle for me because you want to give your family and everyone you love what they’ve imagined for you. You don’t want to let them down. It’s been an interesting journey for even my mum and I for instance, because I think you have a kid and you have an idea of what you want their world to look like. I think the mother-daughter relationship is something particular because I’ve really challenged everything my mom had imagined for me. It’s been such a learning experience for her and I both. She’s sort of teaching me in a sense to really be unapologetic and fight that. And now that I’m older it’s been really great to have all these conversations. I definitely didn’t fit but that’s what I love about me so much now.