It’s hard to write about Evelyn Ida Morris’ new self-titled record, their first under their own name. Sometimes it can be hard to even talk about it. That’s partially because it is a mostly instrumental record – a collection of piano tracks that resist both easy categorisation and the straining of rock critics forever tempted to say music is “about” something – and that’s partially because it is carried by such a sheer force of feeling that it can leave one genuinely unable to find the words necessarily to describe it. It is this primal, essential, extraordinary thing – a love letter Morris has dedicated to other non-binary people in the hopes that it will help them “discover something.”
It is also quite clearly one of the standout records of the year so far; a glorious, sun-dappled work of art that has solidified Morris’ place as one of the most important musicians in the country.
The BRAG: On days when you’re not writing, you’re not touring… What does your life look like?
Evelyn Ida Morris: I’m working on all kinds of projects for other people, usually. As a producer, engineer, mixing engineer, [and] a composer for film soundtracks, I am kept pretty busy. If there are ever times when I’ve not got much work, I also teach drums, and in times when I’m not doing music stuff I either do some painting or hang out with my partner and my friends. I love having time with the piano as well, just to keep connected and to practice. I am always looking for new collaborations with people across different modalities, such as dancers and poets.
Do you try and write every day, or are you more casual about it?
EIM: I am really casual about writing. It is literally something I fit in whenever I can. If I don’t have much work, then I usually spend days at a time exploring things – but it isn’t something that I schedule time for, because the mood kinda needs to strike me. Otherwise it feels a little painful and forced. I like just playing around until something bubbles up and I can grasp it and make it expand until it is a ‘song’.
Do you approach your making music differently to how you approach your painting?
EIM: No, not really. It’s very much the same impulse/response practice. I enjoy using painting and songmaking as a process of developing my relationship to my impulses, more so than even looking for particular results. It is a method that grew out of my long relationship with improvising.
When did you begin work on Evelyn Ida Morris? Did you always envisage it being a full-length album?
EIM: I didn’t really imagine this ever being out in the world, so I didn’t imagine it being an album. I was really in dire need of some emotional expression at that time. I was unemployed and hadn’t yet found my career as a producer/composer; I hadn’t yet found LISTEN or other activist practices; and hadn’t yet really figured out my identity in lots of ways. So the writing of this album was purely about indulging in my emotional landscape, and trying to find my way more than a goal-orientated process.
‘Freckles’ is such a brilliant song. When you’re working on a track like that, do you know exactly what the song will sound like, or does it come born out of experimentation?
EIM: They are always born out of improvisation and experimentation. ‘Freckles’ was just a little repeated phrase on the piano that I liked, and it came along at a time when I felt like all my other pieces were too busy and too explosive with details, so I was looking for something to be more repetitive and calming. I wrote the words in one sitting as well – just abstracted thoughts about myself, women in general, a friend of mine who was having a particularly bad time, and a feeling of loss I was unable to identify at all at that time. It has since come to mean a lot more as well, about the sense of having external forces change you. In the song it is the sun creating freckles in your skin, but in life I was experiencing a thing I didn’t understand at that time, which turned out to be the enforced gender binary.
How did you know when the record was finished? Did you have to fight the temptation to keep working on it?
EIM: Not at all. These songs just sat around, and I kept tinkering for a few years. I put it away when a friend gave me advice that he didn’t think it ‘sounded right’ or as right as my gigs or whatever, so that kinda extinguished the last shred of confidence I had in the recordings and I just decided not to think about it for a while. Then LISTEN started and I completely lost track of it until my current partner took a particular shining to it.
How do you judge the success of an album?
EIM: That is a tough question! I don’t know really. I think with this one, I am choosing to have it be that it reaches other non-binary people and helps them identify something. In that way I would like it to go as far as it can, but other kinds of success are hard for me to interact with because I don’t want the idea of success to influence my writing. I hope this album does well though: it is a moment in time that has been captured well, so in that way I feel it is a success.
Was it harder to write ‘The Body Appears’ given it has lyrics, than the instrumental tracks of the record?
EIM: It was just an experiment, very last minute, that I was adding to another more poppy album that I was going to release as Pikelet. It seemed to sum up my feelings about my gender and my grief related to it so well though, I chose to group it with these older piano pieces. That was the final straw in realising it was worthy of release.
Tell me something you’ve never told an interviewer before.
EIM: Umm… I have ulcerative colitis and arthritis and probably will forever.
Evelyn Ida Morris is out now through Milk! Records.