A Constant State of Awe:
An Interview with Morgan Sorne
SORNE is one of the most exciting voices to emerge lately from the talent incubator of Austin, Texas’ independent music scene. Straddling neo-folk, electronica, tribal freak-out, and choral sublimity, SORNE is the brainchild of Morgan Sorne, who moved to Texas in 2007 to paint, compose, and collaborate with other artists.
Newfound editors first caught SORNE at an afternoon benefit concert at Austin’s Emma S. Barrientos Mexican American cultural center in June, 2011. The mercury was pushing 104 degrees in a thermometer tacked to a booth near the shade when SORNE took the stage, eerily garbed in black costumes. Over the next forty-five minutes, Morgan Sorne and his bandmates dazzled the audience with the incendiary, hallucinatory storytelling from SORNE’s debut album, “House of Stone,” which offers a grim, archetypal story of a number of children dealing with guilt and responsibility in the wake of a fratricide. Although rivers of sweat poured off his forehead, Morgan Sorne cradled the microphone, summoned up whirlwinds of dust on stage, and swayed ecstatically back and forth, channeling something otherworldly.
In the midst of a busy touring and production schedule, Morgan Sorne swapped emails with Newfound over the course of the last few months.
I would say that I live in both realms. One foot in this world, and one foot in the other. –Morgan Sorne
CAMERON TURNER: So much of your music seems to invite the ecstasy of escape—whether in a story, like the central narrative that entrances your audience in “House of Stone,” or the physical experience of the music itself. When and how have you most lost yourself? And when and where do you return to reality—touch ground—as an artist?
MORGAN SORNE: Escapism is a central issue addressed in this work. I suppose I regard escapism as a form of self-help, or as a sort of coping mechanism. Perhaps it is a way of relating to one’s own reality.
I would say that I live in both realms. One foot in this world, and one foot in the other. I love the idea of attaining a level of enlightenment where you live in a constant state of awe, and this form of spiritual enlightenment can be found in so many cultural traditions. In many ways, I feel that I live in this state of awe, and regard the constant flow of creative expression to be the result of my disposition.
TURNER: How has living in Austin, especially the city’s character and geography, changed the direction or focus of your art?
SORNE: Place has a very profound effect on the work. I am inspired by landscape more than anything else right now. When I came to Texas in 2007, it was the southwest region that truly influenced the work. The energy of the earth is very pure there. Melodies come to me in places of such quiet as Big Bend is. This place is one of a handful in North America considered to be a “black sky” region unaffected by light pollution. The sky is breath-taking there, and was the inspiration for the figurative pieces seen on the record packaging. Children on the hunt, searching the land, lit by moonlight.
I start with very little in terms of planning a new song or painting. It’s about recognizing the present moment. The present place.
TURNER: So much of your art wrestles with ethical questions, especially how people reconcile mistakes they’ve made with the urgent need to continue living—and to forgive those who have erred and restore their innocence. I teach high schoolers for a living, and I can’t help but think of the Romantics (especially British Romantics), who thought of childhood as a state of privileged innocence, and thought of adulthood in a postlapsarian sense—as a kind of fall from grace. What role does innocence versus experience plays in your art? Do you try to reclaim innocence and get back to childhood, like some of your children do in “House of Stone,” or do you welcome experience and growing older?
SORNE: The idea of having a child self within resonates very deeply with me. The painted figures represent the souls of these archetypal characters in House of Stone. This work serves to ask questions of its listener or viewer on the points of innocence, good, evil, etc.
I have been very interested in human development, from cradle to grave and how the cycles of behavior and the layers of time shape the course of evolution.
I have always been deeply connected with my childhood, to the point that it has been painful at times, to recognize its passing. I believe in recognizing all suffering, the accumulation of knowledge, and the “loss” of “innocence,” to be a vital part of development. I love my pain, for it is the catalyst which fires the clay.
This work serves to challenge the viewer/listener on these points, and hopefully, charges the senses and strikes chords within those who listen.
TURNER: What do you envision as the ideal interaction between you and your
audience when you perform? How do you think about your songs’ effect
differently in performance, versus in the studio?
SORNE: Ideally, I want the audience to be immersed in an environment, or a mood. I like the idea of making a performance feel more like a participatory exploration into new, yet familiar territory of the universe. Of the shows I have presented, my favorites have been those which engage multiple art forms simultaneously and successfully dissolve the barrier between spectator and performer.
I like the idea of making a performance feel more like a participatory exploration into new, yet familiar territory of the universe. –Morgan Sorne
TURNER: How do you keep yourself present in your art, and in your moment? Is
being present antithetical to the way that you use memory and consciousness of the past in your lyrics?
SORNE: I try to regard myself as the steward to the work that I have been making. I like the idea that we are simply conduits by which the universe conveys itself to all living processes. By figuratively stepping aside and focusing on the simple task of acting; of making, it has allowed for the work to develop and for the performances to manifest themselves. I feel so humbled by the connections I have experienced with people and places as a result of working in this fashion. I have no idea what will come next, except that I know that I will be drawing today.
TURNER: When you think about your influences, which artists, especially
writers and other painters, have catalyzed your own work?
SORNE: Kandinsky’s writings on art really have served as a major point of affirmation for me. Artists like Marcel Duchamp, Anselm Kiefer, Kiki Smith, Cara Walker, and Jim Roche have inspired me. I relate more closely with the Outsider Art community than any others, including people like Calvin Black, Minnie Evans, and Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder.
The Beat writers like Kerouac and Ginsberg have had an influence on my approach to making, as have Wallace Stevens, Walt Whitman and Ezra Pound.
Cameron Turner, Interviews Editor