Deb Morrison

Deb Morrison is a bass-playing singer-songwriter from California who has been content to spend time in the background through much of her career. Recently, however, she has pushed herself to the front, first fronting Morrison & Company, and now with her debut solo record, The North Fork. I was hooked from the first few bars of the record and have kept this gem on repeat since I first got it.

The Americana-based material is all splendidly diverse making for a really satisfying listening experience. From the enigmatic "Blackbird" to the wistful "One More Thing", to the driving bluesy "Sinners", I thoroughly enjoyed this record. Eager to find out more about this fantastic artist, I had to speak to Deb to get fully caught up. Here's our conversation:

antiMusic: Hi Deb.

Deb: Hi Morley. Thank you so much for calling and listening and all that good stuff. And for the most beautiful heart-warming review...I don't even know what to say.

antiMusic: It's my pleasure. Thank you so much for making such a great record. Some people have said, in the few times in the past, where I've given a five-star review, and they go, "Well, 5 stars. Isn't that kind of reserved for the Beatles or someone like that?" And the only thing I can say is a perfect record to me is something I can play over and over...you don't get tired of listening to it. And every single night at work, I play your record, over and over.

Deb: Oh my god. That's so lovely. I can't even tell you what that means to me. I only ever HOPE to hear that from someone.

antiMusic: I think you're an amazing songwriter first of all and I also love your vocal. A lot of times a vibrato will make it or break it for me and I love your vibrato on all the songs. It's so endearing. Also I just want to say, I originally got this record from the PR company. But if there's a record I like, I don't want to just keep the free promo version, I also buy the CD or download it from iTunes, which I did with your record.

Deb: Oh my god. Thank you so much. I don't care how people hear it. I never expect to make any money from music. I do it because I love it. I'm just so thrilled that anybody bothers to listen to it. That's the payoff for me, if you can touch somebody in some way or they take the time to listen. That's all I need. So thank you, so so much. Truly.

antiMusic: You've been a band member with several different outfits. What made you want to stretch out on your own, first as Morrison & Company and then under your own name?

Deb: I guess I've been known to like to hide. I'm a behind-the-scene kind of person, first and foremost. When I was doing Morrison & Company, it was all my music. I didn't want to use just my name because it felt so self-indulgent. I've always felt very uncomfortable with that. Finally, it got to a point where people and my label were asking me, "Who's writing the songs?" "I am." "Well, why aren't you using your own name?" So, finally, I had to make the leap.

I am a songwriter so it got confusing for people to know. Then I just jumped off that cliff. But I still feel uncomfortable about it, believe it or not. I had to separate myself a bit because I do like to be behind the scenes. I take photographs behind the scenes. I'm that person. So being up front was difficult for me and I put it off for a long time.

antiMusic: How did The North Fork, which is your debut solo album, come to be? Have these songs been boiling away on the back burner for a long time and you just figured it was time to make your own mark or were there other circumstances at play?

Deb: That's such a good question. It turned out that I decided to record during lock-down. I kept saying I was going to do it...make a record. And I just didn't and found all kinds of reasons not to. Finally when we were shut down, we were thinking, how are we going to ever play live music again? And I was just so bummed that I never got a chance to do it. So I thought, who cares? I just went into the studio and cut most of them very quickly.

A lot of these songs, I did write during this period because I had time and I was alone. I didn't have any distractions from anything. When you work with a band, you try to be all-inclusive. So now, it was just me writing what I felt at the time. I kept thinking about re-connecting to the past and the things that bring joy in life.

And one of those things was the North Fork area where I had spent a lot of time --- near the American River in Northern California. So I was just writing these little stories about what brought me joy or resonated with me. "Blackbird" was inspired by two friends of mine who underwent near-death experiences during the same time period. I had a lot of feelings pent up inside about life. So that's when I decided to write all about it. And then I decided to call it The North Fork because I felt it was kind of like a paper trail that I left for myself.

So that's why I wrote it. And the other reason was that I wanted to get those stories out there. I just wanted to stay true to myself. I didn't really think a whole lot about it. I just went in and did it. You know, when you're making a record, there's all these things that you think about and debate and I just decided not to care about it anymore.

I actually felt that in a way, a lot of the songs really didn't go together. They were just too different. I was saying, "I don't know how they all tie together, like one big story." My producer would go, "Don't worry about it. Just make your art and don't worry about it. It's just you. Let the art come out and don't think about it." And I didn't. So it came out the way it did. (laughs) Not exactly a cookie-cutter theme. But I don't care about that, so much.

antiMusic: Well for me, that's one of the strongest parts of it. It's not an AC/DC record or something where you're churning out the same thing all through it. You're exploring different musical territory.

Deb: I DID explore different musical territory. Sometimes I'm feeling a certain way. I love the old classic country stuff. I love singing it. Sometimes we do shows where we do all these great country tunes and I have a great time doing it. Other times, I feel dark and gloomy. Other times I have something meaningful to say. I didn't want to pigeon-hole myself into feeling like I couldn't sing what I was feeling at the time, just to fit into a genre or category.

antiMusic: The thing that really struck me was how visual these songs were. I immediately got pictures in my head of blackbirds, and driving along the California coast and on and on for every song. When you're writing, are you creating songs or crafting stories that are then set to music?

Deb: Oh that's such a good question. But I have a question for you because I just want to know. I'm so happy that you think these songs are visual and I'm curious as to what songs stuck out in your mind and what you saw when you heard them.

antiMusic: Well, I was going to ask you about certain songs later on, so we'll get to that. But I will say, with a lot of other artists, the songs that get me are the ones with strong melodies. It's not that the the lyrics are secondary but just not as immediate always, to me. And with your songs, it was both but it was more the words. I had a clear picture in my head of each song as they were coming out.

Deb: I'm so happy to hear that. I'm happy that it made you feel that way.

antiMusic: So yeah, when you are creating music, do you have the picture in your head? Do you start with the words or the music?

Deb: It works both ways. Sometimes I will write after hearing certain chord changes, or I'll put the chords together and put a slight arrangement together and listen to it and then the story comes to me. Other times, I see the story first. I'm a very visual person so when I hear music, I visualize all kinds of things. So I guess mostly, I hear the music and I see the story. Sometimes if it comes really quickly, which I consider just a gift... the whole story comes all out with the snap of a finger, and it's very easy. Other times, I have to keep coming back to it, to re-craft it. But it's a combination of both.

I think with the song, "The North Fork", I was writing the music to that, first. And then the story made me feel exactly that, like I was in a car and I'm heading up north, going up to the American River and I'm going to re-visit. I heard that story in those chord changes and in that arrangement and melody that I started humming.

Then there's songs like "Convention", which basically was a story first and then I wrote the chords and arrangement and changed it according to that. So it vacillates between the two, I think. But I can say that I do see the story when I hear the music, still to this day. I close my eyes and I see that story.

antiMusic: I can't think of a better lead-off track than "Blackbird". This one caught my attention right from the whistle in the intro. And the lyrics definitely were interesting as well. Talking about Blackbirds and how you would take it down. You didn't have white flags flying around...man, I was glued to the speakers. Tell us what this song was about. Is this a metaphor for something else or do you have a thing about birds? (laughs) And also, your record label is Blackbird Record Label --- they must have been amused to hear this one.

Deb: (laughs) Everyone always asks me that. It was a coincidence because I had written that before signing with Blackbird so it was kind of a nice coincidence actually. So "Blackbird" was inspired by two friends of mine who still show unrelenting courage and they blew my mind. Both had near-death experiences. One was fighting cancer and the other had a terrible health issue. I was blown away by them. Their strength. They just fought back and wouldn't die against all odds. The odds against either of them making was actually quite high.

I just felt like the song was about being a warrior and that particular song, the music base was done by my producer. Nic Capelle. And he wrote it for my Prickly Pear Americana Nights that I have and I wanted to do a promo for it. So it started off just like that, with the whistle. And I said, "Oh Nic, I love that."

When we were doing the record, I said, "Let's pull that track up. I have to finish that song." So we went in the studio and just finished it right then and there. I knew what it was going to be about because every time we went hiking or running or whatever on a trail, I was always moving to the beat of that. And thinking about my two friends who were fighting for their lives. And it made me feel powerful....to get up the hill or whatever.

So obviously there's the crow, which is technically not a blackbird because blackbirds are so small. But that's what I meant by a blackbird. It was really just a crow which was representing death to me. There was that blackbird circling around. So it's just circling around...waiting for you...waiting to take you down. It's about the unrelenting strength and courage and being a warrior. And about fighting death and looking him oi the face and saying, "Screw you. You're not getting me." That's what I meant by, "I ain't got white flags flying around." "I'm not going to surrender to you. Come get me, cuz I'm not doing it." So that's what the song is about...giving death the ol' middle finger."

antiMusic: The next cut that really connected with me was the title track. Great melody and and you ask what I see for these songs. Quite simply, I've never been to California but I could really envision the California coast from inside a car riding along and you connecting with your old self. I could picture you having memories of younger days. Tell us about writing this one?

Deb: Wow. Thank you so much for saying that. You so hit the nail on the head and it makes me so happy that that's what you were envisioning when you were listening to it because that's EXACTLY what it is. It's me getting into my car and heading back up to Northern California to the North Fork. This is a road map that I created for myself to get back to what's important. An ode to nostalgia of the river town of Folsom that really captured my heart growing up and I had a lot of great memories there when things were more free and you didn't have all the responsibilities that you have now.

I went back to visit my old high school. I went down to the river and actually got in and it was freezing. It was just this old rodeo town that was in these rolling hills and that whole area just sparked so many good things for me. Not just friendships that I still have but the love of nature, the love of the hillsides...the smells in the air. It was just an ode to remind ourselves that we need to go those simpler times or create those simpler times in our lives currently so we can enjoy the moment.

antiMusic: "Sinners" is where I really came on board with the record. It's got that real nasty riff and what I think is your best vocal on the record, along with "Salton Sea". This sounds like one where the riff is what came first and I have to say the guitar is pretty tasty all through the record but especially on this song. The lyrics make the premise pretty apparent (laughs) but what can you tell us about how this one came together?

Deb: Well, that was an interesting one because that was a song that I did a while ago and I wasn't going to put it on the record. I had no intention of including it and one day my producer said, "Oh Deb, I've got a present for you." He didn't tell me what it was and all of a sudden on the big stereo system he turned that thing on and I screamed, "Oh, I can't believe you remixed that." And he said, "You've totally got to put that on your record."

"Sinners" DID come from the riff first and we play that song quite a bit live. The gentleman that plays guitar on that is just a shredder. His name is Spencer Von Kelly. We would just have a great time rocking that one out on stage. It's basically about a time surrounding the wrong person. You're sorry but not sorry kind of thing. That's just a total jamming song that we would play live all the time. It came from the riff and just ended up on the record by surprise. A pleasant surprise.

antiMusic: Like I said in the review, possibly my favorite song is "Salton Sea". That's the first song I heard by you. It's got such a sultry vibe to it and you sing the heck out of it. Give us the low-down on what this song is all about.

Deb: I've always been fascinated by the eeriness and cinematic pull of the Salton Sea. It always felt like a broken heart to me. I don't know if you know much about it?

antiMusic: I do not.

Deb: I would always read about it and then would pull up a piece that would spark me wanting to know more about it. It's a very eerie place that used to be the hope and dreams of a resort area. It's literally in the middle of the desert and looks like an ocean out there. And if you watch my video, all the sand that you see is really all fish bones. The whiteness is not sand. It's crushed fish bones. There was so much saline in the water that everything started dying off a long time ago. So there's all these deserted places and there's something so eerily beautiful about it and I think that's why all these film-makers like to go out there because it's nothing like I've ever seen.

When I wrote the song, I knew we had to go to the Salton Sea to shoot it. It's about a broken heart and that's exactly what it feels like to me. This place was supposed to be something and it just never was. It was at one point but then just got broken.

antiMusic: "One More Thing" is just a beautiful song. It sounds like it may have been written about your daughter, would that be correct?

Deb: Ohh...you're guessing everything just right on. "One More Thing" is basically about your kids leaving home but, of course, it could be about anything. A loved one leaving the planet --- who is no longer in your life and you just want to say one more thing, so that's what that's about. Do you have kids?

antiMusic: Yes, I've got three.

Deb: OK, see? That's why you got it. (laughs)

antiMusic: Along with the songs, you've got videos for all of the singles and it seems like this is a passion for you as well. Some of the videos are quite arresting, like "Blackbird". They're not like regular videos I see. What is it about cinematography that appeals to you?

Deb: I love taking photographs and I love shooting. Like I've said, when I write music, it's all very visual for me. The two go hand in hand together. And I almost feel like I can't do a song unless I'm going to do a video for it. I like the process for both. So for me, it's a great way to marry both of my passions together.

I really like the process of shooting or producing. I work with Nic Capelle, my buddy, who is the same guy that helped me produce the record. We think along the same lines. So when we do the music, it's like "Oh my God, now we gotta shoot it." It's really a wonderful creative process. It just takes me a little longer (laughs) cuz I want to be involved from beginning to end. I don't feel like a song is completed until I finish the visual aspect of it.

antiMusic: Now besides your solo endeavors, you're also a member of The Wild West. I love the song that's on YouTube, "Better Way". What can you tell us about this group and if you'll have music for sale at some point?

Deb: Well, during lockdown, a lot of these female artists out here were just basically having Happy Hour over Zoom, talking about music because at that point, people were thinking, 'How are we ever going to play music together again?" So we just put the song together in pieces online. That's how that group formed. We did a couple of things so I think there's a couple of more songs that are going to come out. We don't really perform. It was just a little piece of time with a lovely group of people. With everybody in the room being an artist, it would be hard to get them all together but we made some good stuff when that was happening.

antiMusic: For those of us who are new to you, we're caught up on what you're doing now but what's your background in music? How did you start out and were you a band person in school?

Deb: (laughs) I wasn't in the school band when I was in high school but when I was in college, I started playing guitar and I always messed around on piano. I always wrote as a journalist kind of person. So I married those two together when I was in college.

When I got out of college, I started playing and messing around and started playing bass way back when. Cuz everybody needed a bass player and especially a female bass player. I thought, "Well there's so many guitar players. There might be more room for me as a bass player." So I started to play bass and singing and was just in a ton of bands back in the day like Daisychain which was probably the biggest at that time, the '80s or '90s or whatever.

Those were just amazing wonderful times in my life cuz I was playing in so many groups and that's all I was doing. It was just exciting. It seemed everybody needed a female bass player who could sing harmony so it was perfect for me (laughs). Then I had my beautiful, wonderful kids and sold a lot of my gear. I played now and then but I wasn't really active or thinking I was doing another record again or whatever.

Then I guess you just can't stop what's part of you. So then when the kids got old enough, it was just like, "Here we go again." And I just started playing for the love of playing and before you know it, I was starting back over again.

So yeah, I played in a lot of bands and had a blast. My drummer from this band, who was in Morrison & Company, I've known forever. He was the drummer in Daisychain. We're still the closest of friends and it's wonderful to have that journey with people who are close to you and part of your family. That makes it really special.

antiMusic: Well in closing, if your crystal ball is tuned up and ready to go, what does the future hold for Deb Morrison? That this is the first of a string of solo records from you...please tell me? (laughs)

Deb: (laughs) You're so sweet. I am definitely already working on another single to come out. Hopefully in August and then I'll probably just proceed onto the next record. I've already got eight songs ready for that. Like I said though, I have to think about it. Cuz like I said, I feel I have to release everything with a visual so it takes a little bit longer to get everything going. But I'm working on the next one already (laughs).

I'm having a great time getting all that stuff together. It's the journey of doing it. And I want to relish in the journey of playing music and creating it and the visuals that go with it and enjoying every moment of it. And especially this year because we can actually play like a real band and we're not separated from each other. We can go into the studio and play together and I don't have any of the constraints that I did on this record. So I'm super, super excited about that. I can't wait.

I'm just going to keep on doing what I feel and hope that people like it.

antiMusic: That's all the questions I have. Is there anything else about the record that I didn't ask and you'd like to mention?

Deb: Gosh, you ask great questions. I think the only thing I would mention is I feel very fortunate and lucky that I have great musicians to play with me and a great producer who believes in me. I feel like I have a family of people who really truly are my family. Nothing ever happens by itself. Writing music or writing a story. None of that happens alone. It's all a team effort.

So I have the largest amount of gratitude for all the people who play with me and help me bring this all to life. If it wasn't for them, I'd be playing bass by myself somewhere over here. So I like to make sure people know that it's a team effort when people come together to make music. I love my band and I love my label Blackbird Music Label who really encouraged me to put the record out.

Morley and antiMusic thank Deb for taking the time to do this interview.

Purchase this record here.

Visit the official website here.