Get to know Kailee Morgue and her intimately cinematic debut EP ‘Medusa’ in our interview with the emerging dark pop chanteuse!
“There’s blood in the water, and they are coming to bring me down,” sings a soft, strong female voice. “What’s hope with no savior? There is no one in this ghost town.” Captivating imagery dances with a lush pop beat and vibrant orchestration, evoking the beauty and tragedy of a dark fairytale. So begins Kailee Morgue’s enchanting song “Medusa,” whose runaway success rocketed the 18-year-old Phoenix native into the spotlight exactly one year ago today.
Back then, “Medusa” was just an unfinished demo – a true work in progress – but thanks to a particularly raw performance and the nature of social media, Kailee Morgue’s life was changed forever. Fast forward to one year later, and the teenager – now living in Los Angeles and signed to major label Republic Records – has today released her debut EP, a wondrous four-track journey through change and growth that is nothing short of dreamy dark pop perfection.
Kailee Morgue’s Medusa EP, out now, captures the magnetic strength of two opposing poles pushed together. Her songs offer a delicate balance of what she refers to as “darkness and light” – sounds, emotions, melodies and ideas that simulatenously contrast, while fitting cohesively together. Ultimately, Medusa delivers an attractive duality – like a dream within a nightmare, or vice versa – a nightmare within a dream.
She says, “Mortal oh you’ve been chosen
You’re beautiful but you’re broken
So hold on to this moment
To fight until you’re hopeless”
There’s secrets and riddles that live in these walls
There’s ghosts of past heroes and I hear them call my name
We won’t be tame
– “Medusa,” Kailee Morgue
Medusa also depicts a songwriter blossoming into an artist: We find Morgue honing in on and embracing a sound, exploring it through different colors and emotional hues. Working with various A-list producers, Morgue’s intimately evocative voice finds good company alongside low, pulsing synths, sweet guitar progressions, orchestral flourishes, and expansive vocal harmonies. Other times, it’s just Morgue and the microphone, making us feel like we’re the only one in a smoky, candle-lit room.
While Medusa offers provocative delights, this is just the beginning – Morgue even says so in EP closer “Unfortunate Soul,” where she sings about her difficult transition between Phoenix and Los Angeles, from being just another teenager to being an “underground phenomenon”:
I’m an unfortunate soul
I’m like the air I’ve been told
I’ve still got room to grow
Get to know Kailee Morgue and her debut Medusa EP with Atwood Magazine’s exclusive interview as we dive into her songs. Morgue may mix darkness and light in her music, but the road ahead shines brightly for this promising new talent.
MEET KAILEE MORGUE
Atwood Magazine: You are, by no fault of your own, indebted to social media for the rapid acceleration of your career. Can you talk about what your experience has been like, transforming so quickly over the course of a year?
Kailee Morgue: It’s been pretty crazy. Even before I was starting to pick up, I’d had a following for a while. I built up my own following from making my own music on SoundCloud, but it really has accelerated so quickly… but I was told this – that going into this, when I start professionally coming out with new music, it’s going to be so quick, so I kind of am prepared, but at the same time it’s really unbelievable how much support I’ve gotten in such a short amount of time.
I apologize for my voice cracking and the unflattering angles but here's something I'm working on pic.twitter.com/FdmbCUbwp1
— Kailee Morgue (@morguemami) January 20, 2017
Does anything stand out to you as a “whoa” moment so far?
Morgue: “Medusa” hitting a million streams on Spotify was crazy to me. It hit a million in, I think, two months. I’ve also had a crazy amount of fan art, which I’ve never had before – it’s really strange for me to see all these fan accounts, and people popping up now.
Your bio labels you a “sonic sorceress,” with multiple references to your “musical sorcery” and “underground phenomenon.” What is it about your music, do you think, that lends to this magical imagery?
Morgue: I think my music has a distinct mix… I feel like I have a higher pitch, kind of softer tone in my voice, so with my music being mixed with that softer/sweet tone, and then having the actual instrumentals being almost dark, I think the contrast there is what makes it really, like… I can’t even think of a word for it; it’s just cool. A lot of people have had really interesting ways of describing it, like either “dark pop” or “goth electronica.” I think it’s the mix of the dark and the light that makes it really interesting.
At 4 tracks and about 14 minutes, your debut EP is just a teaser – a bite-sized introduction to who you are, and what you’re about. Why these songs – what is it about these four that makes them special?
Morgue: Actually, these four songs were pretty much the first four that I even made once I got signed. These were me really just coming head-on into this transition of being an artist doing stuff in my bedroom, to now being in sessions with great producers. These were the first four songs that I made that were like, “Okay: This is me as an actual artist,” and I think it reflects in the songs that I was going through that transition. Each song has its own sound, too – I think they’re all extremely different, so it makes it really interesting to hear the variety of sounds, and the way I go into my sessions without a specific mood of what kind of song I’m going to make that day.
When you’re working with producers who have experience making radio-ready songs, how do you make sure they’re capturing your voice, and that you’re controlling the creative process?
Morgue: They’re so open-minded. They know that part of their job is to listen to the artist and know what they want, hearing what they want their sound to be like. When I go into a session, the first thing they say is, “If you don’t like something or if you want something specific, just go ahead and say it. Never be afraid to be brutally honest with what you like and don’t like.” That’s why it’ll take all day sometimes to make a track, so you can make sure that everything is the way I want it, but also with the influence of the producer. It’s a really open-minded space.
What struck me about your Medusa EP is its cohesiveness: You do seem to have discovered a bombastic dark pop “sound” that fits your voice. In what areas did you find yourself growing in the creation of this sonic space?
Morgue: When I was first starting to do music, I really had no idea what specific sound I wanted. I was making songs that literally sounded so different that it was just strange. So when I went through this process of doing this every day, going to sessions and making a routine of it, I figured out what I want, and figured out what kind of music I want to make; what kind of style I want. The more I did it, the more I built confidence in myself and my sound, and the type of writing style and instrumentals that I wanted I just really kind of grew myself.
Your big single “Medusa” turns bubblegum pop on its head a bit. Have you, in the past year and a half, any understanding of why this song had the reaction it did?
Morgue: When I posted that video and was first writing that song, that was the first time I’d ever written a song like that or had an instrumental of that style. “Medusa” was kind of the start of Kailee Morgue, the start of this sound that I have. I don’t think that was a very popular sound – the whole “dark pop” thing – and I didn’t really know how people were going to react to it. I don’t know, I think it’s something about the way that it’s written, that some people don’t really know what it’s about, but you still get it? Like I was saying earlier, there’s the contrast between the dark and the light – how it has that eerie feeling, but you still want to dance to it. It has that upbeat feeling at the same time, and people just really caught onto it, I think.
What is it about music videos having bathtub scenes?
Morgue: I don’t know! I knew going into it a lot of people shoot bathtubs, so I was like, If I’m gonna do it at some point, I might as well just knock it out now. The feeling of the song and stuff – being kind of trapped and, in a sense, “drowning,” – fit the situation perfectly, and the bath water being black seemed a little bit different.
Your magnetic anthem “Discovery” finds you singing about allure and attraction sucking you into obsession. Is this a literal feeling for you?
Morgue: Oh yeah. I’ve talked about this a little before – how I feel I’m a little more emotional than the next person. I really do physically feel emotions sometimes, and I think that song was definitely trying to say that in words, and how sometimes feelings are just out of your control. It’s something you can’t help but physically feel, because it’s so strong. I was trying to describe that, because it’s really difficult for me to verbalize how I feel – so “Discover” was me trying to describe that desperation and loneliness that you just have to feel sometimes.
“Ghost of Mine” is unique in that it’s less layered than your other tracks. What makes this slow song ache so much?
Morgue: When we first started making this song, we wanted it to be very stripped-down. This is how I started: I was just doing very stripped-down songs like this, slow, just my voice and an instrument. We took it back to that with this song, and I think all the oohs and the lyrics just having my vocal and a smaller instrumental under it, really creates that eerie, creepy feeling.
It’s something of a love song, but coming from heartbreak.
Morgue: Yeah exactly. The first line I wrote was, I left a message on your phone and you never called me, so I kind of built it up around this longing for this person, and they’re haunting you but they don’t even know it. Like, in their life they don’t even see you, but you’re still being haunted by their presence, in a way.
“I’m an unfortunate soul” you sing on EP closer “Unfortunate Soul,” “cruising the highs and the lows.” Why finish your introduction with this song?
Morgue: I think that song specifically was really, to me, the song on the EP that really described myself perfectly. It has this feeling of being unlucky, and unfortunate, and having all this stuff go wrong, but at the same time, you’re still living your life and doing your thing. This EP was definitely a reflection of me transitiong from doing my thing in Phoenix, to moving to LA and having all these changes. So it was just me reflecting, saying, there’s all these things happening, I feel very up and down, but I’m still moving along.
So many people say “big things” are ahead for you. Releasing your debut so early in 2018, what are your goals for the year?
Morgue: Well I haven’t done any live shows yet, so this year I really want to get into that. That’s the focus for now, but there is definitely some music coming – a lot more music. I’m a pretty fast writer, so we’ve got demos on demos sitting there, and we’re ready to push out some more music this year.
Can we expect a continuation of the Medusa sound?
Morgue: I don’t think I’m ever going to tie myself down to one genre or one specific sound; I’m the type of person who, it just depends on the day, what kind of music I want to make. You’ll hear some more acoustic stuff, some slower stuff, some more upbeat stuff… I don’t think it’s ever going to be the same!
With your EP out tomorrow, I’d love for you to share your own words, and what you’re feeling right now on the day before your debut?
Morgue: I’m feeling extremely excited. It’s always nerve-racking, coming out with music – but this is my first official project, and I’m just so excited and happy to be finally sharing something that’s really just me in a vulnerable state, pushing out the words that are in my head and the emotions I’ve been feeling lately, and having everyone hear it! I feel like a lot of people have been waiting for this too, so I’m excited to see how everyone’s reacting, and I’m obviously excited to put out more music afterwards, too!
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photo © Catie Laffoon