My First, My Last, My Everything
Each month we invite someone to come into a Rough Trade store and tell us the first record they ever bought, the last, and their favourite of all time.
Kevin Morby (formerly of Woods and The Babies) has just released his third album at the tender age of 28. Have you heard it yet? If not, why not? If so, isn’t it great? It’s called Singing Saw and is his best, darkest, most electrifying work to date. Where in albums gone by he’s written odes to his homes and loved ones, Singing Saw sees him address the instruments that have accompanied him on his travels alongside darker themes such as the death of Eric Garner killed by Police in Staten Island, and the mystic vibe of the nature surrounding his LA home. There’s something eerie about his joyous, sing-song love songs put against some of his darkest poetry and sound yet, but it’s a strange, misty cocktail that only serves to pronounce that he’s truly found his voice. This mirrors the fact that for this album Kev’s he’s gone all Leonard Cohen and teamed up with some outrageously talented gospel singers, and the sweet combination of his instantly-recognisable voice and their siren song is like cold milk being poured over crunchy cereal. “Singing Saw was written in rural Los Angeles and recorded in a rural New York,” Kevin says. “In writing it, the piano bench was my work space and the guitar became another voice. If Singing Saw had to be a tree, she'd be a Willow.”
RT: What was the first record you ever bought? Maybe set the scene a little too…
KM: I was 15, and I bought it at Love Garden Sounds which is one of the best record stores in America in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s about a half hour drive from Kansas City where I’m from. I guess I would have just bought a record player, so I went in there and bought Bikini Kill’s Pussy Whipped, and also Silver Jews’ American Water, both on vinyl. They were probably around 10 dollars each.
That seems quite a lot to spend for a 15-year-old. Did you have a part-time job?
Yes, I did, I worked at an Indian buffet restaurant.
Yeah, haha, I did, for like a year. I worked with my best friend Iggy, we were busboys, it was really funny. So yeah I bought them on vinyl and it felt really cool. Pussy Whipped: great album, didn’t really stick with me for very long, but American Water is still one of my favourite records to this day.
Did you have a record player at home?
Yes. I think just a Crosley. It was mine, but my parents would have bought it for me.
Did you parents have loads of records?
No, but then my dad got really into buying records and now he’s got a big collection. He buys any band that ever has had anything somewhat to do with me. He’ll be like, “I bought your friend’s record that you played at a festival with, I bought all three of ‘em. They’re good.” e’s got like 10 versions of everything I have ever put out.
haha, well actually, dude, when I go to their house after any sort of new release they make me sign literally like 10 to 15 of them.
What, to eBay?
No! They give them out to my mom’s co-workers as gifts and stuff. But my dad also loves Carole King.
So you collect records too?
You know what, I did when I lived in New York, but then I moved out and they’re all still sitting in storage there. And then where I live now in LA I’ve bought some, but it’s mainly stuff I’ve gotten for free. I’m a little hesitant to, because I’ve spent all this money on my records being in New York and I know what will happen…
Okay so talk more about Silver Jews, how did buying that record impact you later on?
Yeah! One time when I first moved to Brooklyn I was living in this sub-let in Bed Stuy, it was my friend Aminah’s room but she was gone somewhere for the month. So I lived there and her bed was inside of a tent inside the room, and the Silver Jews record Natural Bridge was the only record I owned during that time. I remember living in that room and listening to that over and over and over. Silver Jews always did that to me.
How much of the first Silver Jews record comes out in your music now?
I would say a lot. It’s very poetic and I think that was a very big influence on me. I covered it twice in France just last week, the first song off that, Random Rules. I’ve been thinking about that album a lot lately. I gave it to my bandmate Justin for one of his birthdays years ago and I think he thought it was okay, but recently he’s come around to it and is like “this is sooo good!”
Nice buying records for people, isn’t it? Okay so what about this record, Sun by Cat Power.
One time I flew into New York, it was an overnight flight from L.A and it was super cold when I got there. I was sitting in a cafe and my friend who I was supposed to be staying with at his place hadn’t woken up yet as it was like 5:30am when I got in. So I just sat there to kill time and they were playing the record. It was so good and made me so emotional. There’s a song on it called Manhattan.
I don’t feel like she got enough credit for that song
Or that record! That song is unbelievable. New York is a weird place for me because I used to live there and I used to love it so much. And now I really don’t like it that much. All my favourite things about it have gone away. My favourite restaurants or venues have all closed down, and most of my favourite people have moved away because it all got too crazy. It just kinda sucks. If something’s still around, it’s been relocated. It’s a difficult place for me to go because I just get so frustrated. And so Manhattan, it was cool flying over listening to that because I was thinking about how frustrated I was about New York and how I don’t feel at home there anymore, and Manhattan is kind of to do with that. It was comforting.
So what about the best of all time?
The Big Lebowski soundtrack!
I feel like we made you choose that.
I’ll say it’s my favourite album of all time because I was just at the Michelberger Hotel in Berlin where they were playing The Big Lebowski on television on loop. It opens up with the bowling scene with the camera behind the bowling ball, with The Man in Me by Bob Dylan playing. That movie is like comfort food, and that is why it’s my favourite of all time.
Photography by Mat Hart