Jess Morgan, English folk singer and songwriter, chats with Kevin Cooper about her love of touring, hand-making vinyl records, her latest album Edison Gloriette and her forthcoming tour of the UK
Jess Morgan is an English folk and trance singer and songwriter. She attended university in York before making music her full time profession.
Morgan released her first album All Swell in 2010 on her own independent label Amateur Boxer Records which was inspired by her work with Norwegian producer Hans Petter Gundersen.
She released her second album Aye Me in 2012 through a fan-funded PledgeMusic campaign. In 2012, she toured alongside the band Paper Aeroplanes who are personal friends.
Morgan launched her 2014 album Langa Langa with a sold-out April show at Norwich Arts Centre and an extensive UK and European tour. Tracks from Langa Langa have been played by a number of British DJ’s who specialise in the genres of folk, roots and Americana including the BBC Folk Show hosted by Mark Radcliffe.
Her latest album, Edison Gloriette, is a tumbler of unfancied folk-roots music, with heart, passion and gusto. As well as crafting songs, Jess also hand crafts her own DIY vinyl records to create unique pieces of art, such as a 7” for Natalie / In Brooklyn made exclusively for her PledgeMusic supporters.
Whilst busy preparing for her forthcoming tour, she took some time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what she had to say.
Hi Jess how are you today?
I’m good thanks Kevin how are you?
I’m very well thank you and let me just thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.
You are welcome anytime.
And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?
Life at the moment is extremely busy but all is good. Being busy is how I like things to be if I am honest with you (laughter).
It supposedly keeps you out of mischief so I have been told.
Yes, if only (laughter).
You are about to go out on tour; are you looking forward to it?
Yes I am, I am really looking forward to getting out there and playing some shows.
Do you still get that buzz from touring?
Well, what I will say is that every tour is a little bit different so I am not quite sure if I have identified exactly what the buzz is as yet (laughter). I’m about to go over to Germany to play a few shows and I really do love going abroad. I feel that it heightens my sense of adventure which is always something that is quite nice. I appreciate that you can’t have it all of the time but it is really nice when you do have that. So I suppose that is a certain kind of a buzz but I really am looking forward to playing some dates here in the UK. I will be playing some individual dates that I really care about which is a different kind of a buzz, as I can picture in my mind who might be in the audience.
You are far too young to have had the enjoyment of touring knocked out of you yet aren’t you?
(Laughter) well I’m not too sure about that. I have certainly played some tours where I have just felt like hanging everything up and calling it a day. But having said that I really do feel energised at the moment (laughter).
Now I have to say that I have been playing your new album Edison Gloriette for a couple of months now and I absolutely love it.
Oh brilliant, I am so glad that you like it. Thank you for listening to it.
However, I have to ask you just who or what is Edison Gloriette?
Well, I have to say that it is neither really (laughter). Edison and Gloriette are both cinema names. I went through a phase of finding these names in vintage newspapers. I went to an exhibition where there was a press cutting and I was lucky in the fact that there was a cinema listing down the side of the cutting in the corner of the frame; the piece that you were not really supposed to be looking at. I had a glance and noticed that there were some quite exotic, beautiful and fun sounding words. I like that kind of thing so I started writing them down, thinking that at some stage I might use them in the lyrics of a song. I felt that there was a kind of cinematic theme to the record and so I decided to try and find two of those names to makeup the title of the record and those two seemed to fit.
Are you happy with the album?
Yes I am. In fact I really enjoyed every step of making the record. I think that it will go down as a triumph.
Would you agree that it is your best work to date?
Yes I personally really do think so.
My favourite track is Don’t Meet Your Heroes. What is the story behind the song?
I suppose that the angle that I have taken with that song is that you shouldn’t make people into heroes. I just think that you can get yourself into so much trouble if you turn people into not just something that they are not, but actually putting people up on a pedestal. That way you give them all of the power and it is a very dangerous situation to find yourself in and I have to say that I actually wrote the song from personal experience. You also have to remember that heroes can also let us down too.
As a record collector let me just say that it is great to see you putting your work out on vinyl.
Thank you. That is something that I have waited a very long time for. It feels really good for me to have a record out and the oxblood coloured vinyl looks really good (laughter).
And I have to ask, what got you into making your own vinyl?
Right here goes (laughter). Back in 2015 I made an EP called The Bournemouth EP and the whole thing surprised me. The songs came out of almost nowhere, and I really did want to put it out as a 7” single kind of thing. I did the sums on it over and over again and I could just about afford to do it. But then I realised that in order for me to get four songs on it I would have to make lots of sonic compromises plus I would have to charge a hell of a lot of money for it. I just felt that it was all well and good having grand plans and passing on all of those costs onto your audience but that is something that I have always been against. I think that people can volunteer to buy things that are extra special but if people just want to support your music they have to be able to do that without having to be super-duper rich.
However, that is just me. I’m not criticising anybody else when I say that, that is just my kind of take on it. So in the end I just crossed out the idea of being able to do that. However, I then started doing a lot of research for a song that I was writing at that time called The Hurricane Coats and I really started thinking that there must be a way for me to make a vinyl record. So I started researching that and I came across some techniques involving liquid plastic and things like that. From that point I started trying different things out and the whole project took over my entire house for two years (laughter). I personally feel that although streaming is now rapidly becoming the norm, I think that there will always be a place for hard copy music. I think that if someone is going to buy music on hard copy then they want something that is collectable. That certainly is how I feel. I may only have a small collection of vinyl album and singles but I do play records. If I have got the money I will almost certainly buy the vinyl over a CD now.
You know far better than me that the good old British music press like to pigeon hole everyone. It’s a national trait that we have got unfortunately and is something that I personally do not agree with. However, I read that The Guardian described your music as ‘glorious country folk’. Would you agree with that?
To be honest with you The Guardian can say what they like (laughter). Just so long as I can put it on a poster they can say what they want. I find this whole kind of putting people into different genres so totally uninteresting (laughter). I’m not going to say anything against the quote from The Guardian as it’s the sort of thing that I need.
I suppose that it is all down to the BBC playlists.
Yes it is, but I honestly feel that if the DJ’s were given a little more freedom and power in relation to what they play then perhaps we wouldn’t need playlists at all and the whole situation could become a little more interesting. Listening to the radio I would be quite happy if there was no playlist at all and the DJ’s were allowed to play whatever they wanted to play. I simply cannot see why the British DJ’s can’t have a free reign. What you have to remember is that the networks rule. It’s all a case of swings and roundabouts (laughter).
Swiftly moving on from the subject of Aunty Beeb (laughter), who would you say has musically influenced you along the way?
I suppose that my first musical influence would have been the tail end of the Brit Pop era. I have an older sister which meant that I had a filter as to what was good and what wasn’t, which was good for me. I really did like the story telling aspect of Brit Pop. I didn’t grow up listening to folk music or anything traditional, it was simply Brit Pop. That is what got me into story telling. Then as I got older I got into all of the American singer songwriters. One artist and an acoustic guitar, that’s what does it for me every time.
Now this is where it could potentially get a little embarrassing. What was the first record that you bought?
(Laughter) please don’t do this to me. I never really went in for singles that much as I much preferred to buy albums. However, the first single that I actually bought was Kiss From A Rose by Seal. We had the album in the house and I think that was the first one that I earmarked as being mine (laughter). The thing that I used to do was tape a hell of a lot things off the radio, especially the top forty. I had a Cher album which I totally loved and I think that I have still got that (laughter).
Who did you first see performing live in concert?
That would have been T.Rextasy with Slade 2 which was basically Dave Hill playing in his own tribute band at the Theatre Royal in Norwich. I went with my mum (laughter).
Dave and Don (Powell) are still together, still working very hard, still touring and they will be playing somewhere around the world as we speak.
Oh no, they are not are they? Sometimes if I get my fringe cut too short and I catch myself in the mirror the only thing that I can think is Dave Hill (laughter). Unfortunately it’s an image that I don’t want to have in my life. Maybe now that Dave is losing his fringe it would be safe for me to go and see them again (laughter).
What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry?
Oh gosh, it’s funny isn’t it because I think that music in films is often the catalyst for being a little teary. Having said that you always remember the film and not the piece of music. I personally do like listening to film scores especially when I am trying to write. I saw Foy Vance perform at The Bicycle Shop in Norwich and he played a song called Indiscriminate Act Of Kindness. It’s a beautiful song with a great story and I have to say that I had quite a big reaction to that particular song. It really is such a powerful and beautiful song.
On that note Jess let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. Good luck with the tour and I hope to see you in Birmingham.