UTAT x Holler - Jonny Morgan
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Under The Apple Tree & Holler Sessions: Jonny Morgan

By Ross Jones

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From November, Holler are proud to present a monthly series of live sessions in proud partnership with Under The Apple Tree.

Each month we'll share some of the exciting mainstays and rising stars within the country, Americana and roots scenes, as picked by Holler's own Head of Music, Baylen Leonard.

For our first session, it's a pleasure to introduce you to British songwriter and journeyman, Jonny Morgan. Watch below:

Morgan weaves knotty memories of feelings felt and nights lost into spacious, considered songs.

Whether he's wandering alone in Soho, treading underneath the weight of what's around him or surfacing blurry-eyed in yesterday's clothes after one too many, there's a charming honesty and purity to what he creates.

Having ventured far and wide, honing his craft and gaining perspective on the wide world around him, Morgan has matured into an intuitive writer; one whose forthright delivery and spirited humour offers the clarity he himself searches for.

In playing his first full-band show back in London in nearly two years, Morgan's experiencing a mix of tipsy excitement and calm anticipation. It's a funny balance, but one you come to understand as he discusses his full-circle journey to this stage.

How does it feel being back in the game? It’s been a while.

It’s really good. I've been in loads of bands and done loads of things - I'm 26 now, but I started in a blink 182 cover band when I was 14, playing covers.

The first song I released under my own name, 'Hurt Me', came out on the 20th of February 2020 – about 10 days before the announcement of lockdown in the UK.

So even though I've done lots of gigging, I haven't really played my own songs. Really, it's all been about record, release, push, spend money, plug and repeat; I've done that eight, nine times.

Suddenly, we had loads of gigs booked in the summer that got cancelled. We all live in different parts of the country, so we spent hours and hours with masks on, booking neutral spots and travelling to rehearse for gigs that never happened.

Touchwood, we’ve only had one gig we had to cancel now, but it feels like you almost don't want to say anything because you worry it will go backwards. But you know, in this capacity, it’s almost brand new for us.

So, let’s start with the song you’ve performed in our session, ‘Yesterday’s Clothes’. Tell me about it.

‘Yesterday's Clothes’ was actually one of the first songs I ever wrote, when I was about 15 or 16. I didn't even think about what a songwriter was or what that meant then.

There are a few things about it that are obviously different, but the actual roots of it are very similar. It's amazing to go back to something, have a fresh new take on it and add everything to the party that I've learnt since then as well.

“I don't know if that comes off in the song, but it's taken me back to my 15- or 16-year-old self who felt like he had something to say”

This is nice, because to me your writing is quite acutely observant and anecdotal. So, with ‘Yesterday Clothes’ in mind, do you feel like you're leaving little memories within your songs to return to? Are you maturing through your music?

The funny thing is, and I’m about to give something away, but I remember having a few drinks in a pub where I grew up, aged 15 or 16, and literally walking home and having these words in my head. I was jotting it down on iPhone notes or whatever phone I had 10 years ago.

It's hard to explain, but it's really made me realise the weight of everything; my whole life around me now is so heavy and significant, everything's so important. I feel the weight of my relationships and my friends, and in a weird way, that's exactly how I felt when I was 15 / 16.

When I look on that back, I think, what on earth did you have to worry about? You had your two-pounds-a-week pocket money and all that stuff was insignificant. Then it makes me think that Johnny at 36 - if I'm lucky to make it that far with my drinking habit - is probably going to think the same about everything I’m talking to you about right now.

“I actually met a guy called Johnny in Miami, USA. He played me some of Phoebe Bridgers’ early stuff and it literally knocked me on the floor”

Do you like to dwell and find comfort in moments of melancholy? Do you allow yourself to sink in, explore those emotions and find a sense of clarity?

There's a line in my song ‘Part Ocean View’ and it's one of my favourites that I've written: “I found a new friend / we share the same name / we both get joy from songs that bring us pain”.

The artist who has made me want to do this in terms of playing guitar and singing about my feelings is Ray Lamontagne. He's got a few songs that are so sad. I say I get hazy eyes; I'm not bawling, but there's a few songs that come on and I can feel it there. It's a feeling of sadness, but it's a real feeling of joy and clarity too.

To a normal person, if you say, “I really get a kick out of songs that make me cry”, it's a weird thing to come out with if you haven't had a beer, but I really do. I really enjoy tapping into that.

I get the impression you really enjoy exploring the space within your sound. Sometimes it can be grand and sweeping, and in other places more subtle, but there’s always a constant balance. Is that your chance to be playful within your music, or is it simply another vessel for evoking emotion?

It’s probably a halfway house. I don't know if it's on purpose, but it's got to the point where no one's coming to hear me sing like Adele, because I can't.

I've done the whole thing you do when you're 18; wanting to write a three-minute pop song and fit in. I've also had managers and people tell me to look or write a certain way and it get me absolutely nowhere.

I've gone along with it because I thought, well, what do I know? I'm at the point now, though, where I just want to be who I want to be. I want my personality to come across in the music and I don't want to compromise anymore. I've tried people trying to accept me for who I'm not, and it didn't work. So, let's give who you are a go.

“I’ve gone from being so desperate to become the next John Mayer, James Bay or Ed Sheeran, to just thinking, fuck, this is an addiction”

You've prepared a Deepest Cuts playlist for us – 20 songs that have inspired and influenced you in your life and career. You’ve got a lot thinkers and philosophers, romantics and Barenaked Ladies in there. Let’s delve in.

So basically, I love humour. It's something that I want to bring out in my music a bit more. In our house at home, I’m obsessed with music, probably because of my dad. He’s not a musician, but he's spent more on his Hi-Fi than he would his car.

He has this ridiculous Hi-Fi and turntable, and my bedroom was directly above the lounge. So, on a Sunday morning, he’d wake up early and he just didn't care; he’d just play what he wanted. So now, I find that really comforting.

Sunday mornings, I just remember waking up to ‘If I had a $1,000,000’ by Barenaked Ladies. I knew that was funny even when I was 12, but I'm growing up even now and thinking, ohh, that’s what that means!

It’s not ‘Freebird’, but this isn’t what you think are the 20 best songs ever, it’s 20 songs that mean the most to you.

What have you taken personally from heading out on your own and delving into this process so far?

Probably realising that I’ve gone from being so desperate to become the next John Mayer, James Bay or Ed Sheeran, to just thinking, fuck, this is an addiction. I've had a lot of bad days, and it's something so cliché, but it feels like you have to do it.

You think you know when it's time to give up, but then think I won't ever actually be able to get to that point. I'll do it for five weeks and then I'll just be dragged back in.

~~

Jonny Morgan's new single 'Yesterday's Clothes' is out now.

You can watch Jonny's Under the Apple Tree x Holler Session above, and subscribe and listen to his Deep Cuts playlist below:

Spotify
Apple Music
Amazon Music
YouTube Music

Under The Apple Tree is home to the best sessions in Country, Americana and Roots, both in the UK and across the pond. You can find more sessions from them, including recordings with Tenille Townes, Colter Wall and more, right here.

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