Q&A with Morgan Orion


Photo by Allegra Leigh Wentworth

Photo by Allegra Leigh Wentworth

Morgan Orion’s career is already storied, despite still being young. The Urbana-based singer-songwriter has been touring across the world since he was 18 years old, and now less than a decade later he’s already gearing up for the release of his fifth solo record. Orion’s latest, The Tunnel of Love and the Hell of Hot Licks, promises to be one of his most expansive projects yet, opting to release the record on vinyl. It’s an album that’s been three years in the making and will be getting its first glimpse on stage this Thursday at Orion’s Kickstarter Kick-Off Party in downtown Urbana at the Reisman Law Office where Orion and his band will play an intimate set. Ghost Track caught up with the musician to learn more about the album and the crowdsourcing behind its release.

Ghost Track: Regarding the new album, how long did it take to write and record?

Morgan Orion: It’s been three years since I started writing this record and two and half since the beginning of recording. A lot of these songs were pretty fresh when we started doing the first sessions, which was intentional. I wanted to play what felt relevant at the moment rather than combing the backlog.

GT: Who all plays on the record?

Orion: This record features so many great locals including Paul Kotheimer on upright bass, Joe Freiburg and Tyler Chen of Deathtram and Charles and the Gnarlies on drums and electric guitar respectively, Sara Sasaki on violin, Chris Strand of The Curses on upright and Claire Johnson of The Yellow Jacket String Band on backing vocals with Jenny Goodwine. We also got some stellar help in New Orleans from pedal steel genius Matt Bell, jazz drummer Kaleb Barkley, electric guitar man Izzy Zaidman and Max Bien Kahn offering even more upright bass. The list will be even longer in the liner notes.

GT: This is your fifth solo album now. A lot of people switch up projects or start something new after a few albums nowadays, what’s made you stick with the solo work for so long?

Orion: I guess I wasn’t really made for anything else. I have mused about bands or some sort of music collective Buffalo Springfield or The Byrds type of outfit, but performing as “Morgan Orion” is ideal in a lot of ways because it has allowed me to evolve and continually experiment and opened doors to a wealth of collaborators.

GT: In my mind, you’re in a select group of CU musicians that tip-toe the line between being local and national act. How do you keep that balance of remaining with one foot in CU and still expanding beyond the scene here?

Orion: I was born here, I can’t help it! This is the place where I feel most at home. This is where my most-loved ones reside, so I’ll always be here. But sometimes I’m not physically here and that’s when I’m living in New Orleans or touring.

GT: Do you feel a lot of that has to do simply with touring and pushing yourself to get out there?

Orion: Pushing myself to get out there sounds about right. I have been building a little writer shack to live in while not on tour. It’s very simplicity is to give wings to more extensive touring, particularly on the heels of this LP.

GT: What made you want to make the leap to vinyl with this record?

Orion: When I was a kid my dad and I would pick up records by The Beatles at garage sales. And later as a teenager we went to the big Vintage Vinyl sale in Lincoln Square. It was really a big part of my education about music. There are so many qualities to a vinyl record that separate it from any other form of music. It is just physically bigger and demands your attention more. Each time you play a record, it’s an intimate experience. This record feels like it deserves that kind of attention. They also sound wonderful. That physical connection of stylus to wax – it’s a marvel.

GT: A lot of bands are using Kickstarter to fund vinyl projects now, and a lot of them seem to have hesitation about deciding to go for it the first time around. Was that the case for you too? What pushed you to decide to do it?

Orion: I have watched crowdsourcing for some time now and seen it help produce some really amazing records. I think it’s a great way to support art and make awesome stuff you want to happen, happen. I think I’ve just been waiting for the right project and my work to step up to the plate so to speak. So, here it is… swing batter.

GT: Would vinyl be the goal still without Kickstarter, or would it be out of the question because of the financial burden?

Orion: I’d love for a record label to put it out, but I think the time for that is not now. I have been dreaming about vinyl since I started putting out records. I definitely won’t have enough money to put it out without the Kickstarter, so please donate! I am so excited about this record and the tour to follow it, and your help makes that a reality.

GT: This is more general curiosity because it seems cool: Is the Reisman Law Office, a family member’s place? Seems like a unique place to have a show.

Orion: My full name is Morgan Orion Reisman. It is my dad’s place of work and really the coolest office of law in the known world. The School of Architecture actually drops by every year to see it as it is a bit of a curiosity in this town. My dad will be playing some of his songs at the show in between my sets and we will have some nice edible treats, plus a super secret summer punch.

Check out Morgan Orion live this Thursday in downtown Urbana at the Reisman Law Office. The show starts at 6 p.m. and is donation-based in order to help fund Orion’s latest album. A Kickstarter project will also go live on Thursday to donate digitally.