Taylor Ballantyne LLC

Blake Morgan’s Amplified, Personal Resonance

Buoyancy, Beatles, Business, and Blake – the four B’s behind Violent Delights – out now.

New York music exec and singer-songwriter Blake Morgan can be described in a multitude of ways: confident, ardent, wise, melodic. His music? All the same. Every one of his releases can be dubbed as confident, ardent, wise, melodic, groovy, uplifting, delicate, and witty. On Violent Delights, the musician’s latest, predominantly hands-on artistic undertaking, fans are offered a chance to experience all of that and much more. Laced into these 10 tracks being put out into the world (timely as ever, if you ask us) is joy, hope, and harmony in every sense of the word.

Morgan is shaping up to be the pop rock mainstay and truly expressive luminary that nobody saw coming, even with his current visual landscapes and audio soundscapes having a black-and-white hue to them. Still, warmth. Violent Delights has an air of lightheartedness, an intimacy almost. You’re sucked in the fun of it all without being burdened by the depth many of these songs hold in their lyrics. This performer – in all of our candid, whimsical, and comfortable conversation about music and art and society and culture – proves that he is rooted in professionalism. He works diligently for the art and the artists, like himself, for his style, and with his own heart and soul in mind… and that is what makes this new record of his so impactful (on top of being confident, ardent, wise, and melodic).

Photo by Taylor Ballantyne LLC

Thank you so much for making the time and also for releasing such great music. As you probably know, we are big fans.

[Laughs] That makes me so happy. I’m been a big fan of The Aquarian my whole life, and you guys have been lovely on social media, just even throwing up a like or a heart about whatever’s going on for me. It’s been a real treat – you guys have really brought a smile to my face over the last couple months.

Well, I’m glad that we could do that. Thank you. I was so happy we could premiere one of your music videos, and now we can promote this album through a chat with you. It’s very exciting and full circle.

I’m thrilled. I feel like putting out a record is kind of like you’ve run a musical marathon. I feel like I’m a marathon runner and I want to sprint to the tape and then eat a huge bowl of pasta. [Laughs] It’s been a long, exciting road over these last months, so I’m actually really excited for the full record to come out.

How thrilling is it going to be for you, as much as it will be for all of us who have been waiting with bated breath with every single release thus far?

The way that we’ve put this record out so far is that we’ve released three singles and three music videos, so people have really gotten a taste of it. The reaction has just been overwhelmingly positive and, you know, between you and me and maybe your readers, that’s not always the case.  In owning a record label, as I do, we release a fair amount of music and we almost never have a negative reaction to anything, but sometimes the reaction is sizable and sometimes the reaction is, “Oh my God, this has really taken off!” You can’t ever guarantee that or really plan for that. For me, it’s really been the latter. I think people have been really anticipating this record of mine for a while. With all the touring that I’ve done over the last two years, COVID notwithstanding, has really whet people’s appetite for a new record from me so I think the singles that we dropped were – I hope it’s okay for me to say – awesome [Laughs]. They made people sit up and listen and look at the videos. I also think that with the singles that we’ve released, there’s been something, and someone said this, that there is something about this that feels invincible. Hmm. I love that. We are going through such a dark time and it’s been such a dark time for far too long. I think that somehow the stars aligned for this record in a way, in that the record is one that is just that: something that possesses optimism and possesses energy. It’s not a gumdrops and lollipops record, but it does hark back to a time in indie rock and indie pop where it was okay to have big hooks and big guitars and big vocals singing about how in love you are with somebody. 

There’s songs about loss on the record too, but it’s got a spark to it and it’s got an optimism to it without being lighthearted in a way that I think it is something that people are thirsty for right now. That is certainly what has come back at me through social media and letters from the listeners and emails and stuff. It’s really wonderful, you know, to give people a little hope to give people a little jolt in the middle of a dark time. I didn’t engineer that. I didn’t plan that. But as a Beatle fan, it makes me really happy because they are my favorite and most important musical influence. That’s a band that could really grab your heart and grab your mind with excellence and depth, but also one that was overwhelmingly positive and hopeful – truly full of hope. Somehow with this record, I touched on some little part of that and it honestly really makes me happy and excited.

The Beatles are my band through and through, so I, too, noted on how you touched upon what they had magically and soniclaly, which what I think  is a level of buoyancy. It’s not bubbly per sé. It’s not necessarily always upbeat, but it always has a flow and it reminds you to stay afloat. 

I actually just got goose bumps. You saying it has buoyancy? That is such a great word. You’re right. It’s not a cheerful record. It’s not a birthday party, [Laughs] clowning around record, but, yes, there is something there. There is a buoyancy to it. I felt that in the studio that there is something like hope in this. That’s what I think the Beatles convey, even in their darkest songs, it’s never hopeless. It’s not Nirvana, you know? And they are another great band that I love.  […] I would rather trade all the darkness that we’ve had to go through in the last couple years than anything, and I’d much rather it not be so dark, but since it has been, so I’m really gratified that this record seems to be providing just a little candle in the darkness for me and the listeners. 

Absolutely. There is a consciousness to these first three singles alone and it leads up to Violent Delights as a whole. I found that there is a comfortable charm to all it where you can understand what you are saying, and we could feel every harmony in our bones, and we could take what we want away from it, but it is not preach-y and there is no blatant preaching. There is so much room on this album for interpretation and representation in your songs, as well as just joy.

Well, thank you for that. You know, the thing I always think of as a songwriter is the way to the universal is the specific. If I write about things that are specific to me, it’s actually the way I’ll be able to connect with a universal audience. It’s a way that people can understand what it is I’m writing about. They don’t have to know what it is I’m specifically writing about, but if I do that, I’m providing a doorway to something honest and specific. That’s actually the pathway to a universal connection. What you’re saying about the preaching is when people shoot for that as a songwriter, when they shoot for the universal, it just sort of ends up being anodyne, bland. I think that’s a real secret in songwriting – that shouldn’t be such a secret – is that the pathway to the universal is the specific. This is the record that I had an incredible amount of fun making, which is not always the case. You know, when it’s your record and you’re playing every instrument on the record, as I did, except for the drum kit, I’m acting as a recording engineer and the producer. People often imagine that you can start spinning your wheels and getting lost in some rabbit hole doing all of that, but that’s not actually what happened to me and it’s not at all what happened with this record. I had so much fun making the record because I knew what I was singing about. I knew what I’d written about. I knew the sound of the record that I was looking for: one that would really certainly draw on the  Beatle influences like everything I do, but also one that would actually connect with some other influences that haven’t always been there on my previous records.

One of them is The Police and a lot of post punk music like The Cars and even AC/DC. Look, I know nobody’s gonna listen to my record and be like, “Wow, it sounds like ACDC!” but something I thought about all the time was like, “If The Police’s Ghost in the Machine and AC/DC’s Back In Black had a kid, that kid is my record. I thought about those two records all the time and you can hear it in the overt production homages on every track and every finish. The guitar sounds on the record do not sound like Malcolm and Angus Young at all, but they’re Gretsch guitars through Vox amps. They were specifically recorded in a way that I listened to Back In Black a lot, so the songwriting on that record doesn’t necessarily affect my record, but the production of it does. I really wanted something that had a little bit more of a post punk feel to it than stuff that I’d done in the past on my previous records. […] My last album had a lot of acoustics and it had a different kind of darkness to some of it. This record, though, it’s more electric. There’s not an acoustic guitar anywhere on the record. Like I said, it’s big melodies and big vocals and big guitars – kind of big everything. That was very much the sound that I was going after, which, again, is something very specific. Instead of just trying to make a record that sounds good, I was trying to make a very specific sounding record. Right there is that universal connection. 

Like you mentioned earlier, there is just a dash of eighties, because I wrote in my notes that I kind of heard a little bit of early Blondie in there musicality wise, and I can definitely connect that to The Police on this record, too. It’s an album on the edge of really rocking out with a catchiness to it that allows you to groove and to jam within the music and on your own.

Oh hell yeah! I listened to a ton of Blondie during that time. That’s another one, Blondie. I mentioned The Cars and whoever draws on The Cars for an influence? I don’t know, but everybody should. Their records sound incredible. They’re that buoyant band with their combined keyboards and guitars around melodies that you just can’t escape like Blondie, so yes, Blondie definitely in there. It was really fun just kind of digging into some influences that I hadn’t really exploited in the best possible way on other records. 

You know, I usually get this kind of Beatles, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Soundgarden, Death Cab [For Cutie], Spoon sound going. That’s not the eighties, but these records, specifically, went to my soul and really had me think about my sound. 

It’s very intimate, very intricate process wise and personally.

I’m happy to hear that it’s intricate and authentic. I know what each of these songs is about specifically and it allows me, when I’m singing them, to stay in touch with that. That’s not always the case, either, because on my first couple of records – I love those records, I do – I secretly know that those songs aren’t as specifically about A or B or C as they could have been [Laughs]. When I sing those songs I feel like I’m singing a good song, but when I sing these songs, I feel like I’m singing a really good song that’s about something that I can connect to each time. When I do that, it means that the audience can connect to each time. That is actually where I think magic resides.

The resonating aspect on both your end and the audience’s end, I think that will be exactly that, especially in a live setting where it will just be so palpable and elevate this idea that you, at this point with these songs, are more grounded than ever in your music, art, influences, and internal hope.

Exactly, exactly. The whole thing about staying connected to the specific on the way to the universal, the reason that that works is people can tell when the camera in rock and roll is too close for you to fake it and for you to not be genuine. I mean, there are shows I go to where I don’t even like what the person is doing on stage. As a songwriter, as a recording artist, once you write your song, once you make your record, and once you out there, those songs and those tracks, those whole records, they start to mean something to the people who are listening to them in ways you can’t possibly understand.

A song like “Down Below Or Up Above” is a love song, but I’ve had people write in to me and say, “I just lost someone because of COVID and that song really helped me deal with it.” Somebody else said they were going through something when it came out and they wrote to me about how the song helped them through something in ways that I did not intend for the song. I didn’t have any intention for the song and what it would do for other people. I was just trying to stay specific about what I had been writing about for me, but that’s where you end up connecting with people.

Then, when you’re performing a song live, when you put out a record, there are people just as you and I listen to records hundreds of times and know how they mean the world to us in ways, those people can’t understand that. That’s what happens to me, too. When I put out a record, I have to understand and respect that once it’s out emotionally, it doesn’t belong to me 100% anymore. It’s a shared experience. I have to live up to that. I have to show up in the city that I’m performing in and understand the people in the audience have their own connection to those songs. I need to honor that the emotional landscape of each of those pieces of music will no longer belong to me exclusively because it begins to belong to other people – which is, again, what the magic science is, especially in popular music.

Oh, especially in popular music – I think that is one of the most underrated qualities of what pop music is and what pop music can bring to people.

Yeah! With a song or with a track, it is like you have an unadorned Christmas tree and it’s perfectly trimmed. It’s a specific kind and it’s a specific color and shape, but it’s just naked. It’s just there in tree form. Then what the listeners do is they begin to walk up to the tree and hang their ornaments on it. You don’t know what their ornaments are gonna be, but your tree has to be strong enough to hold up whatever ornaments the listeners are hanging because it begins to mean something really important to them.

When I go see a show of some of my favorite bands or artists, if I walk away from the show feeling like it was a really great show, it’s usually when I feel that the artists on stage, me, and the audience, know that we’ve actually shared an experience together. Even though we’re never gonna talk about it, [Laughs], and we’re never going to meet each other again, we’ve been in the moment together through that music and it means something to them and it means something to me. And it’s musical! That’s one of the most exciting parts about being a record maker and it is something I think about all the time in the recording studio; not just about how much compression is on the kick drum and if we have enough sparkle on the bridge guitars and if the right vocal take was used, but instead, what’s the emotional impact here that people will be able to return to at different moments in their life? Because we’re making something that has to be strong enough to hold up everybody’s ornaments.