This week, Scrunchie interviewed down-to-earth-Texan-turned-Los Angeleno, Jackson Lee Morgan. The psych/r&b/pop artist sits down with us to catch us up on his latest single, ‘Swamp Town’, a ‘feelings first’ tune paired with Lousiana-inspired guitars and a psychedelic visualizer. He shares with us the way ‘Swamp Town’ came together, the beauty of collaborating digitally with artists around the world, and how his videos serve the narratives of his songs.
While dedicating his time to writing with other artists like Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy, Morgan has shifted gears towards releasing more of his own songs throughout the pandemic. While watching the world burn through our phones, Morgan agrees that what’s happening around us is naturally reflected within his lyrics–mentioning ‘armageddon’ and ‘watching the world fall apart.’
Be sure to check out Jackson’s music and keep up with his latest projects!
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What’s your go-to gas station order?
Jackson Lee Morgan: I’d say a Slim Jim. And a Red Bull, probably. Sugar Free Red Bull, for sure. Cuz you gotta be healthy, you know?
What’s your star sign, and do you feel it reflects you as an artist? Why or why not?
Jackson Lee Morgan: I’m a Cancer. But apparently, I’m on the cusp of Cancer and Leo. So I definitely am a sensitive musician, I think, like the things for me that resonate as an artist are emotional. So versus like, I don’t know, chasing the limelight. You know, I feel like the things that I want to put out are things that make me feel right. So I guess that’s probably right.
Your SoundCloud bio describes you as “Texas-Cali psych r&b sad pop.” Tell us a little bit about where you’re from, and your journey into Los Angeles and the music scene there.
I’m from Dallas, Texas. And I grew up there. And so I’m definitely very influenced by country music. My parents are from Nashville, Tennessee. And so they’re like big time, old, old country music, Johnny Cash and things like that. So that’s kind of what I grew up with. And then I got into like, Motown as well. And then r&b, early r&b stuff. And then obviously in high school, I started listening to rap, and just like, everything that was cool. And then I moved out here when I was 18. And had been collaborating with a bunch of musicians. I also play guitar and write with a bunch of other people as well. So I feel like my music’s never had a genre. It’s always been hard to categorize. Even when I was a kid, I would write a song, kind of like a country song. And then I would collab with, like hip hop artists in Texas and stuff. And so, it just like never really made sense to me. Embracing all the different influences that make up a person, I feel like, it’s what makes you unique. So now I’m definitely influenced by the stuff is happening in LA, in the alternative space, for sure. And then, I guess the psych part of that is…I’ve made a lot of my music in London with some friends over there. So it’s like this weird combination of Southern Texas country stuff with pop type stuff mixed with some psychedelic Britpop type stuff. So very eclectic, I feel like.
One of your earlier releases, “texas summer,” included a collaboration with Brooklyn-based artist Young Saab. How did that come about, and what was working with him like?
So they’re like a duo. They’re two producers. And it was awesome. So I had released, I think, two songs at that point, “Lone Star” and “Time to Let Go” and they just DMed me on Instagram and said, “Hey, we love your stuff.” At the time, it was the beginning of lockdown, I think, I think it was like probably the summer of 2020. So I wrote that song because I was in LA, and I kind of was thinking about, like, “I miss my family,” you know, right back in Texas. So they sent me a pack of tracks. And I honestly recorded a lot of those vocals on my iPhone. Because I thought it was just going to be an idea. I didn’t know if there was going to be a collab with us. And I sent it to him and kind of like, made it sound cool. And they were like, “Yo, this is fire. And it sounds super unique. And we’d love to put this out with you.” So it was really, really awesome. Then we just went back and forth, like over FaceTime pretty much, because they were in Brooklyn, and I was in LA. And we just made it through the internet. It was awesome. They were super great to work with. And I love how the track sounds.
It’s super cool how music doesn’t necessarily need to be made in the same room anymore.
Yeah, it’s super cool. Like, even now when I made music, I’ll write a song or something, and maybe play some guitars, and I’ll send it to my friends in the UK, like in London, and they’ll add some stuff, and then I can send it to my friend in Texas, who plays pedals and some country instruments, and have him play some stuff on it? It’s so sick that you don’t have to fly around, and you can just hop on FaceTime pretty much.
‘Swamp Town’ is the latest release from you, can you tell us more about how this song came together?
I went to the UK last year, and hung out with some friends, and we made a batch of songs. I think we made four or five different songs while I was there. And “swamp town” came together so quick, it’s like probably the least produced song I’ve put out. And it feels the most raw to me, because a lot of times when I write songs, I’ll go back and edit them and retrack things and make it sound really professional, but I can never get it right. But a lot of that is the first night we wrote it. I always love just classic feeling songs. It kind of reminds me of something Rihanna would do, like it’s a classic feeling song. And I seem really high on it, which is really fun, too. So. But that song, I love. For some reason, we called it “swamp town.” It’s funny because my girlfriend now is from Louisiana. And I had just started dating her when I wrote that song. And the guys I was working with called it swamp town, just for fun, because it had a swampy sounding guitar. And then we just stuck with it, because it was kind of about her, and I guess she’s from the swamp. So weird universe stuff.
Your recent visualizers that pair with your singles maintain a really distinct style, from claymation to fish-eye lenses. How do you typically conceptualize a video that serves to carry the narrative of each song you write?
At this phase in my releasing music, I feel like every song I want to be its own thing. And it’s been really fun, because I have never really gotten into visuals until I’ve been releasing this music. And I guess I’ve realized what I gravitate towards is really simple ideas that are one setting, you know. And then I feel like the claymation in particular is probably the one I’m most proud of, because it’s so unique and so weird. But that’s crawling back to me kind of sound, like it has this little “bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump, bump bump,” is kind of childish to me. And I was actually, my older brother has three kids, and I was hanging out with him, and we were watching a claymation cartoon or something. I was like, “Man claymation is so weird.” It’s weird, you know? And it just reminded me of that song, so I feel like I don’t overthink the visuals for each song, but as we go along and create them, it becomes a thing that fits. They’ve all fit the song so well, I feel like.
I work with my friend, he’s a wonderful film photographer, editor especially, so he’s been editing all the videos, and “swamp town” as well. I wanted like a one-shot thing, I we had a couple of references that were just one shot performances, or somebody walking, and so we got this weird harness thing that’s called a steady cam or something, I don’t remember, but the cameras attached to me. And then I thought it was so cool. And then part of the psychedelic thing I guess is the weird effects. I feel like every single visual I put out feels kind of trippy.
“Wayside” definitely has a more gritty feel, but it still has those trippy elements.
That’s definitely the most emo, probably, like the almost alternative emo song I put out. I love it. I was in a pop punk band when I was younger, and I’ve always loved that kind of music. But even that song, I feel like the visuals kind of feel a little bit trippy, still, even though it’s more gritty and darker, I guess.
There’s something kind of apocalyptic and dark that creates a thread through your more recent tracks, you mentioned that ‘wayside’ is ‘about watching the world fall apart on your phone and feeling both connected and disconnected to the devolution happening around us’, and ‘swamp town’ contains the lyrics ‘please don’t go, cause outside it’s Armageddon.’ How do these themes resonate with you?
I feel like it’s hard not to feel that way recently, you know? Again, I feel like, I don’t know if the world’s actually getting worse, or if we’re just all watching it happen, being on our phones, you know? Because definitely, there’s been fucked up stuff happening forever. But now, we’re just all getting alerts on it, and watching it happen every day. So it’s hard for me not to…I don’t try and overthink writing lyrics, a lot of times when I write lyrics, they just kind of come out. I’m not sitting there with journals and filling them up. It’s a lot of times, like, I’m singing the melody, and I’ll just like freestyle it, and I’ll edit it a little bit. I guess those words are just in there, you know, I guess these things are things I’m thinking about. And I guess the music kind of… I’m not really setting out with the intention to make apocalyptic music, but it feels a little apocalyptic right now. So I guess that’s just natural, you know?
Ironically, I do feel like there’s a weird sense of hope in all the songs. “wayside” in particular is probably the most personal song I’ve ever put out, that wasn’t a love song. You know, it’s not a relationship song. And so that was just pretty much a journal entry. Just writing, you know. But even that song, I feel like that song for me was watching the world fall apart and realizing the things that are important to you, like, getting smaller to yourself. I want to be small so I can be big kind of vibe, you know?
As you’ve been steadily releasing a collection of singles, do you see each song existing more on its own, or can you see them connected in some way?
I think they’re all connected. I’ve been collaborating with artists as a producer and songwriter for a long time. And I think I’m going through the process, well, I think I’m coming out of it. But these releases that I’ve been putting out had been me attempting to find my voice a little bit, because I write songs with other artists that are all in different genres and stuff. And I think that can be a little hard, can be tricky, as a creative. If you want to work with other people on their projects, to be like, “Well, this is me,” you know? Especially when you do a lot. So, I’ve wanted to treat this first batch of songs as not overthinking it, or that it’s super conceptual.
And yeah, I feel like they’re all tied to each other thematically, you know, like you said. I think musically, they’re tied to each other. And I think my voice ties them all together. But they’re also me experimenting a lot. And so, I’m still wondering if we’re going to put those songs out as an EP, I’m working on a full project right now, that sounds like a project versus a bunch of singles. And I’m really excited about that. I’m still wondering, if it’s right, to release the songs I’ve released plus maybe one more single as a collection, like, “Yo, here’s the first stuff.” Or if it’s just like, “Yeah, that’s cool. They’re singles, and the project will be the project,” you know? I feel like I’ve been experimenting. And I feel like every song contains a different piece and piece of what I’m trying to do. And now I feel like we’re putting it all together in a cool way, as well.
Since you produce and write with others, did you feel like there was a moment where you felt like you needed to focus more on your own creative endeavors? Or did it feel natural to move in that direction?
It was pretty natural. I feel like I once I found some collaborators that I could make some songs with that were for me, I feel like it came naturally. I’ve always written songs that I like or clearly my songs, you know, if that makes sense. But I’ve never really taken the time to put them out. And so I feel like it’s a bit unfortunate that I started doing that. And then I dropped my first song the day that Covid dropped. the same day as my song, but it ended up you know, being an “interesting” experience, and I think it works out nicely to what I’m trying to do next. But there were definitely some growing pains, I would say, in terms of trying to figure out “Well, what am I trying to say?” in like, my songs. But it’s fun. It’s fun process, I think.
Pete Wentz of Fall Out Boy recently reposted one of your singles—is there a collaboration in the works, or is he just a fan?
He is just a fan. I’ve been working with him with some other artists. In Chicago, by the way, shout out. And it was so cool working with him because he’s helping some newer artists essentially, you know. So we wrote a few songs together, and it was great. And I showed him my music, and he loved it. Super cool dude, great to hang out with, and super kind, and nice, chill vibe. Very, very fun to work with. But no collaborations with my artist project. But we’re collaborating on some other things, which has been super fun.
What can we expect to see from you in the near future?
We’re gonna drop one more single, pretty soon, with the songs done. I’m trying to figure out, kind of, if we’re going to package it all together or not. But one more single, and then I think there’ll be a project, in the September-October range, which will be great. And play more shows, everything’s been opening back up. And it’s been crazy, because I’ve been dropping the songs, and then my hope was to play them live, because I played live all my life with a bunch of different bands and stuff. And then, obviously, I started releasing my music and it was locked down. So now that it’s been opening back up, I’ve been playing some shows. And that’s been so fun. I feel like it changes the music completely when you play it in front of people, and see how people feel, you know? And so I’m really excited to do that. We got some spot shows in different cities and around the US coming up, we’ll release those soon.