Whispertown is a one-woman powerhouse comprised of child-actor-turned-musician Morgan Nagler. Based in Los Angeles, Nagler’s music invites the listener to think beyond their mortal coil, to consider us all one being, connected through time and space. Big stuff for pretty music, but Whispertown handles the subject matter beautifully. “Freefaller” is the latest single from her forthcoming LP I’m A Man, out via Graveface Records September 1st. We talked to Morgan about her writing process, the road, and her imaginary roller rink.
AudioFemme: You’re a rare bird. LA native, right (via Oregon that is)?
Morgan Nagler: That’s right. To the core.
AF: What in your mind’s eye sets a native Angelino apart?
MN: There is a palpable common thread. I have been recently thinking on the physical effects of our surroundings, the ocean and the forest most prominently, and the desert; having all these extreme elements of nature in such close quarters marrying the diversity and abundance of vibes in the greater Los Angeles area makes for a pretty unique experience of the day to day.
AF: I keep trying to tell my NYC friends this. Los Angeles is so diverse in terms of people and terrain. I’ve fallen in love.
MN: Yeah. It truly has everything. I think that’s also why it can take a longer time to figure out, if you move here without knowing anyone. I still discover new things all the time… there has yet to be something I’m looking for that I can’t find.
AF: We’re only going to touch on this, because news outlets seem to have covered it quite extensively. You were a child actor in the 90s, appearing in sitcoms like The Fresh Prince and Home Improvement. How has your early experiences with acting come to inform your music and live performance style?
MN: Despite being “comfortable in front of the camera” as an actor, unfortunately for me that comfort did not translate to live music performance right away. I feel more nervous playing music because it is more precious, so near and dear and vulnerable. But that’s also the appeal of performing live – breaking past obstacles in the name of human connection. There is a sub-section of LA native child actors. These are my people. But ultimately it was a huge part of life up until about age 24 so it definitely informs who I am, though it seems like another lifetime.
AF: Do you feel comfortable now on stage? Or is it too intimate to be called comfortable?
MN: I do feel comfortable now, but I get nervous beforehand. After the first one or two songs usually I’m able to just vibe out. What a feeling.
AF: You’re friends with Jenny Lewis, another child-star-turned-musician. You’ve also toured with her. How does the music writing process shift when you’re on the road? Do find yourself swapping lyrics and licks with whatever musician you’re around?
MN: When you’re on the road (in a car/van) there is very little not-spoken-for time. I mostly just try and write down the words that come into my head while in the car, then revisit later. I think I’m more likely to swap ideas with fellow musicians when I am home, not touring and have more time. Lately we have been hanging out at Jenny’s in her magical jam room and bouncing ideas off each other. Also, we play a game called “mouth music” sometimes. The game is: you give someone a guitar, or someone plays piano, and they just start playing a progression of chords, then two people (normally Jenny and I demonstrate) hold hands and look into each other’s eyes and (attempt) to sing a song together in unison.
AF: Tell us about your new single “Freefaller.” It’s subject matter seems to run parallel to songs from your most recent record 2012’s Parallel; this idea of oneness, of our intrinsic connection to the rest of the world.
MN: Yes. That is a consistently running theme. “Freefaller” was born when I was turned on to Kendrick Lamar. Jenny thought that this one female rapper on his first record kind of sounded like me, so “Freefaller” was my version of rapping. But it’s also a commentary on the disenchanted, the collective “fuck it” mentality that I think we are growing away from in our culture… but also there is a strange freedom in “fuck it” that appeals.
AF: Your music makes me very happy. There’s this grounded spirituality to the lyrics that feels really good. Do you consider yourself a religious person?
MN: While I don’t identify with organized religion I consider myself extremely spiritual. Spirit – the thing that can not die – that intangible essence that is our core – and that thing we try to tune into and follow that can not make mistakes.
AF: While researching for this interview, I found myself watching your YouTube videos obsessively. Your brother created them, using public domain footage. “Parallel” in particular really moved me, with its focus on the patterns that exist throughout our universe. Does he have any plans to create videos for your new songs?
MN: Yes. He is. He is such a powerful force. I am in awe of the insane and beautiful and thought provoking visuals he has brought to life. I feel like his videos should be in museums.
AF: What inspires you to write? Do you normally start with the music, or does it come from an idea or source material?
MN: Usually it’s a turn of phrase that presents itself. I am much more lyrically oriented, sometimes I write a whole song in just melody and words and the guitar comes later. “Can’t Stop Crying” was written on a treadmill, I then sang it a capella for Jake Bellows and he composed the music. Then sometimes it magically happens all at once, as if the song already existed.
AF: Your record release show is coming up September 1st at The Bootleg here in Los Angeles. What’s your favorite LA venue to perform in?
MN: The Bootleg is actually my favorite!! The sound there is so nice and it feels musically oriented (rather than bar/nitelife oriented) … also Kyle who books it is radical. I do also love the Troubadour… but I’m East side.
AF: If you weren’t a musician, what is another occupation that interests you?
MN: It’s hard to imagine myself out of a creative field. I would say a writer, but if that’s too close to home and doesn’t count. Perhaps psychology? Or perhaps winemaker? I could definitely run a roller rink.
AF: What advice would you give someone who feels trapped in their career, totally stuck going down a road they don’t believe in?
MN: Quit! Choose something new that you do believe in! Life is so short. This series of decisions – where you live, what you do for money – it’s so easy to feel trapped and complacent, but nothing has to be that big of a deal! You can just up and move to another city…. then you can also move back!
Whispertown will follow up her LA release show this Friday with a short Southwest tour; see dates below.
10.13 – Boulder, CO @ Fox Theatre *
10.14 – Englewood, CO @ The Gothic Theatre *
10.16 – Albuquerque, NM @ Sister *
10.18 – Tucson, AZ @ 191 Toole *
10.19 – Phoenix, AZ @ Crescent Ballroom *
10.20 – Flagstaff, AZ @ Orpheum Theatre *
# with Jake Bellows, Nik Freitas, Jason Boesel & Special Guests
* with M. Ward