Flo Morrissey: The Best of What’s Next

Music Features Flo Morrissey
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London singer/songwriter Flo Morrissey can’t help but roll her eyes and laugh when she comes across juvenile tweets that ask whether she’s the child of Flo Rida and Morrissey. Still, the 20-year-old indie folk artist likes sharing a name with the former Smiths frontman, whom she saw perform at London’s Brixton Academy in 2011, her first proper concert.

“I often do a cover of his song ‘Irish Blood, English Heart’ at my shows, and I like the linkage there,” Morrissey says. “I really admire him as an artist and writer. So I don’t mind if people think that we’re related, even though we’re not.”

When Morrissey was a youngster, her father and older brother introduced her to the music of Devendra Banhart, Antony and the Johnsons and likeminded artists associated with the freak folk movement of the early 2000s, before steering her toward Bob Dylan, Nick Drake and other songwriters who emerged during the ’60s. Their music made enough of an impact on her that she began writing songs at the age of 14.

Morrissey’s wistful and dreamy debut LP, Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful, is composed of 10 tracks written over the course of five years. It opens with “Show Me,” a song she wrote when she was 15. Backed with acoustic guitar plucking and glimmering piano notes, Morrissey sings “Show Me” in an aching falsetto, its lyrics reconciling the singer’s past with the uncertainty of the future, establishing a thematic tension that runs throughout the album. Lushly arranged, with occasional melodic eccentricities that point to Joanna Newsom, Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful maintains a melancholic intimacy that’s complemented by the empowering spirit of youthful optimism in Morrissey’s lyrics, exemplified by the sailing choruses of “Pages of Gold.”

“The message that I wanted to create with calling the album Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful is almost like advice to myself,” Morrissey says. “As you get older, with anything, you have to work at things a bit more and see beauty in the ordinary and mundane, even the sadness. I don’t want to be this depressing girl with a guitar. I want to give people a sense of hope. I think it’s lacking a lot in our world. I’m realizing, as I’m writing now, that maybe the foundation of what’s inspired me and what spurs me on is that I want to help people in some way. It sounds kind of cringeworthy, but I feel that’s my main path.”

With her long, parted hair, bohemian fashion sense, and songs that hint of decades-old influences—Vashti Bunyan among them—Morrissey has been called an “old soul” more than once, although she balks at the term.

“I do feel older than I am,” she says, “but then also I like to hold onto being naïve with things too, and young. So it’s finding that balance.”

As a young songwriter with limited life experience, Morrissey has turned to other artistic mediums such as literature, photography and film for inspiration.

“I usually begin a song with a title, and a lot of the titles come from ideas that I’ve seen,” she explains. “There’s a TV show over here called Poirot, which is a murder mystery thing, and there was a song I wrote called “I Was Born Backwards.” They said that in Poirot one time, and I wrote it down really quickly. It suddenly transpired as a song. That song’s not on the album, but I do hope to bring it out one day soon. I also love Buffalo 66 by Vincent Gallo, and films like that are really inspiring to me.”

Born on Christmas Day in 1994, Morrissey grew up in the Notting Hill district of London. Her mother, whom she modestly refers to as “a clever lady,” is the CEO at Newton Investment Management. Her father, a onetime journalist at Bloomberg, is now an artist and teaches Buddhist meditation. At three years old, Morrissey was enrolled in a French-language nursery school around the corner from her house.

“When you’re that young, I think it’s great to do something like that because your mind is like a sponge, and you can be open to weird words and hearing things in an interesting way,” she says.

The singer/songwriter is the second-oldest of nine siblings, and it was common for them to conceive and perform their own plays at home or adapt standards such as The Sound of Music, with Morrissey taking the role of Maria, played by Julie Andrews in the film.

“I would have been adamant that I had the main part and then boss everybody about,” Morrissey says. “It’s nice, ’cause having so many people around, they all have their own ideas, not just in terms of plays, but they give me a lot of inspiration for my music and just as a person. It’s great to be around that many people that you love.”

By her early teens, Morrissey felt compelled to express herself through songwriting. “Everything felt exciting and new to me,” she remembers of exploring her creative headspace. The discovery of an A minor chord would make her feel as if she had the world in the palm of her hand. She posted her first composition, “Hush My Children,” to Myspace and wrote “Show Me” shortly thereafter. She sent her early recordings to small blogs, and her videos were filmed with a Super 8 camera. Her dad shot her singing “Show Me” as she sat at the side of a pool wearing swim goggles.

“It felt very natural,” Morrissey says of her first creations. “It wasn’t like I’d been picked out when I was 10 by a major record label and been branded as something. It was just a girl trying to work, almost being my own manager. It was quite innocent and vulnerable, which is what I think resonates with people—and quite human, too.”

When posting her music to Myspace and Bandcamp, she used the moniker 9mary. Under that name, she released an EP at the end of 2011 entitled Fear No More.

“I thought it was interesting using the number,” she recalls. “It made people think, and they weren’t really sure what type of music it would be before they listened, or who it would be—if it would be a band or just a girl with a guitar.”

Ultimately, Morrissey decided to use her own name as a musician, realizing that was what many of her songwriting heroes did, Neil Young and Jeff Buckley included.

“I wanted to be completely open and express myself as me rather than this hidden entity where people had this blockage,” Morrissey says, referring to 9mary. “She’ll come back, I’m sure. I’ll find another way to use her, ’cause I do love the name.”

Morrissey left school at 17. By then, she already had performed shows on her own in Norway and Paris.

“I never really loved school that much,” she admits. “I just wanted to be out in the world doing music. I left most of the schools that I went to. I feel I’m always chasing the next thing, and I was interested in continuing to expand myself, and when I felt like something was over, there was no turning back almost. Nothing ever bad happened at school, but it was more that I liked to keep things moving.”

Thanks to Morrissey’s online presence, her current manager—who is based in Los Angeles and also manages Devendra Banhart—found and contacted her when she was 18. He suggested that she record with producer Noah Georgeson, known for his collaborations with Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Morrissey, who already had been an admirer of Georgeson’s work, sent him demos of her songs and, before ever meeting him, flew out to Los Angeles in the spring of 2014 to record Tomorrow Will Be Beautiful over the course of two-and-a-half months. Although she credits the L.A. sunshine with lending a happy undertone to her songs and describes her working relationship with Georgeson as life-changing, the experience nevertheless was a lonely one for her, the longest that she’d been away. She was happy to come home in the end.

“I don’t have a car, and I can’t drive, so that made it difficult being there,” Morrissey says. “Once I’d kind of cracked the shell, it was scary almost. You just have to keep your wits about you. It helped me understand what I want and who I want to be as a person.”

As of late, Morrissey has been contemplating a move to Paris. (In 2012, she released four songs on Bandcamp sung in French.) She considers it a big, daunting step because she’s so close with her family, but she reasons that the proximity to London is manageable.

“I really do want to take each day as it comes, and I never know what to expect in this industry,” she says. “Next week, I could be going to New York. It’s very up-in-the air, and you kind of can’t have too much attachment to things. So, for me, I’d obviously love to write more albums and tour more. Meeting people is what’s hitting a chord and [becoming] my favorite thing. Traveling around the world more and connecting with people is what I want to continue doing, and then seeing where that takes me.”

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