Greta Morgan on The Hush Sound Reunion and Predictive Songwriting

When most high schoolers were studying for their SATs and learning to drive, Greta Morgan was embarking on her first arena tour, opening for acts like Fall Out Boy and The All-American Rejects.

As co-founder of Chicago-based band The Hush Sound, Morgan lent her heartfelt lyrics to the band’s mid-2000s indie rock sound with popular songs like “Hurricane” and “Medicine Man.” When The Hush Sound went on hiatus after three albums in 2009, Morgan pursued side projects both as part of a band (Gold Motel) and solo (Springtime Carnivore).

The Hush Sound reunited for an EP in 2013, and recently announced a tour commemorating the 10 year anniversary of their best-selling album, “Like Vines.” We caught up with Morgan as she prepped for tour to talk songwriting, inspiration, and defining success.

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Starting out, your background was based in classical training. How did you find yourself gravitating towards a rock band?
I was never a good classical musician. I took classical piano lessons as a kid, but I would learn two or three bars of a classical piece, and then start writing my own thing based on it. I was always naturally on the path to composing my own music since I was a little kid. I started writing songs and playing with various friends for fun, then I met Bob [Morris, singer and guitarist for The Hush Sound] when I was 14 and he was 16 or 17 and we started writing music together. It was pretty natural after that, but I was focused on school at the time. I was in high school and studying for my ACTs and SATs, and I wasn’t that focused on the band becoming a real thing. I think the boys had more of an idea that it could take off.

So when it did really take off, especially when you were so young, what did that feel like?
It was a really pleasant surprise. Being a full-time musician was a very secret dream of mine, one I probably wouldn’t say out loud, because in the Midwest, I just thought it sounded so silly. There’s this Midwest modesty everyone is supposed to have. So, when we were signed, I kept it really quiet. I was going to this strict Catholic high school, and I knew I would have to leave during my senior year to go on this huge tour for six weeks. I think I told the other kids I had mono. I left for six weeks and we played all of these huge places on a gigantic arena tour as the opening act. Then, I came back to school, put on my uniform, and took my finals and didn’t make a fuss about it.

It’s been 10 years since the “Like Vines” record came out. What’s changed since then?
Well, I’ve played in two other musical incarnations since then. I had a band called Gold Motel, which released two records, and now I have a project called Springtime Carnivore. Bob has a project called Le Swish, Chris [Faller, bassist] has been touring with various artists, and Darren [Wilson, drummer] went back to school full time. Three out of four of us are still in music full time.

After The Hush Sound, what led you to pursue different projects like Gold Motel and Springtime Carnivore?
I think a band is like any relationship. Some can last a lifetime and be renewed and recharged all the time, and some have a natural ending. I think it can be really sad and can become cheesy when a band makes music past the point where it feels really inspired. We were at a point as a band where we weren’t having fun anymore and it was hard to creatively refuel.

We love each other as people — there will always be this deep sibling type of bond between us — but it seemed like it was time for everybody to do their own thing. And I’ve noticed that a lot of fans can can connect with a band almost the way they connect with a family. When they hear a band is breaking up, it’s like a much softer version of hearing that their parents are getting divorced. But the thing is, we would rather only work together in ways that truly feel inspired and profound.

Ten year anniversary concerts have been really popular this year — from Jack’s Mannequin doing “Everything in Transit” to Jenny Lewis touring behind “Rabbit Fur Coat” — and everyone has their own reasons to revisit an album in full. What were yours?
We had wanted to do some sort of tour like this, and we weren’t really sure which record to do. Then, it just seemed pretty obvious that it should be the best-selling one, plus, I think “Like Vines” might be the most beloved.

When you reread or sing songs you wrote so long ago, how does it feel? Every writer has their own process. Do you think “Oh, I’m so much better now,” or are you surprised by how good you were?
I was actually just having this conversation with Jenny Lewis when I went to one of her “Rabbit Fur Coat” shows. We were talking about how interesting it is that some songs, in a weird way, sort of end up becoming predictive of the future. There are a few songs that I wrote a few songs that weirdly have become true this year. The song “Hurricane” is about the end of a deep, deep love and never being able to outrun the memory of a person. This year, I had a breakup with someone I had been with for six years that was that profound. I thought, “How did I write that song at 19, when I had never really felt the depths of the feelings that are expressed in that song?”

Some songs are certainly a little embarrassing. It’d be like if you had to wear the same outfit you wore 10 years ago and walk around in it today. But, if there’s a song I feel uncomfortable with for some reason, I try to change my relation to it. If I think the lyrics are bad or I don’t relate to them anymore, then I try to find joy in singing it, or playing the musical part, or looking at my bandmates at that moment, or connecting with someone in the audience. There are all these different aspects to a song and to a performance. If one doesn’t feel right or makes you feel uncomfortable, then the trick is to focus on something else.

If you could tell your 10 years ago self anything, what would it be?
Don’t take it too seriously! There have been so many ups and downs. I’ve learned to not take the ups and downs so seriously. If I’ve made it this far, for 12 years, there are going to continue to be ups and downs. Chris Coady [producer and mixing engineer for Springtime Carnivore, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Beach House, etc.]  said, “Having lots of ups and downs in your career is the key to longevity.” Which I thought was funny, but true. You have a success, you might have a failure. Those words — success and failure — are so loaded that I would also say “Define what success actually means to you and go for that.”

And what does success mean to you?
To me, it means being able to communicate openly, honestly, and directly to anyone who wants to listen, and ideally being able to support myself without doing harm to the world. I have such sympathy for friends whose labels or producers control their creative output. The most simple part of music is that you’re sending out your radio wave, and if someone else is going in there and remodeling it and glossing it over, manicuring it and turning it into something you’re not, then it really isn’t your true wavelength.

What artists have had the most influence on you?
Well, with the passing of David Bowie and Prince, I started thinking about whose deaths would really affect me. I think Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell would be really, really intense and profound for me. I know he’s already passed, but I also love George Harrison. He’s a huge influence. As far as contemporaries, I really love Kurt Vile and Joanna Newsom. And, a lot of my friends are influences on me, sometimes more than anything.

Do you have any advice for other young women?
The most important part of creativity in general is figuring out who you are first and getting your spirit in line. Be cautious of expectations. Don’t relate your happiness to the expectations you’re creating — just try to enjoy the experience. There are a lot of young people who try to rush as much as possible. Just enjoy the process. Each step of the process goes faster the more that you enjoy it.

For more information about The Hush Sounds’s “Like Vines” 10 year anniversary tour, visit the band’s official Facebook.

Upcoming Tour Dates:
May 31 — San Diego, CA — The Casbah
June 1 — West Hollywood, CA — The Troubadour
June 2 — San Francisco, CA — Social Hall SF
June 4 — Santa Cruz, CA — The Catalyst
June 9 — Santa Cruz, CA — The Catalyst
August 3 — Allston, MA — Brighton Music Hall
August 4 — New York, NY — Webster Hall
August 5 — Philadelphia, PA — The Foundry Philadelphia
August 6 — Washington, DC — U Street Music Hall
August 7 — Pittsburgh, PA — Club AE
August 8 — Columbus, OH — A and R Music Bar
August 9 — Detroit, MI — The Shelter
August 10 — Chicago, IL — Thalia Hall

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Carrie is a writer and social media manager for Condé Nast Entertainment in New York. Her writing has been featured in print and online for publications like Quartz, Teen Vogue, The Huffington Post, Bustle, and the New York Daily News, among others. Additionally, she maintains a Tumblr where she muses on things like millennial issues, music, and, most of all, lady heroes.
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