To Greta Morgan, reinvention has already become old hat at the age of 26.
That’s what happens when you start out in professional bands as a 15-year-old high school student. When the suburban Chicago resident joined up with several friends to form The Hush Sound in 2004, it was an understatement to say she was unprepared for the spotlight. Within a year, the band was signed. Soon, they were selling thousands of CDs and cracking the Billboard 200. And by 2008, they were broken up.
It all passed in a flash to Morgan, who was then using her birth name, Greta Salpeter. She’d been studying piano since the age of 3, but hardly considered music to be her destiny. She had high school drama to focus on—”What I want to do with my life” was a completely open-ended question.
“I thought at that time that being a musician was a fantasy I should never say out loud, because it would sound silly,” the multi-instrumentalist recalls. “I was never ambitious enough to think it was possible to do it for a living, or that I deserved to make a living doing that. I was saying ‘This Hush Sound stuff is fun, but eventually I’ll go to college at Northwestern.’ It was surreal for me to go from prepping for ACT courses to opening arena tours in the same weekend.”
Post-Hush Sound, the singer reinvented herself for the first time, taking her middle name as her stage moniker and founding the band Gold Motel, which put out two LPs in 2009 and 2012. Filled to the brim with up-tempo, toe-tapping indie pop, they weren’t all that far from the sonic landscape of her previous group. But in her heart of hearts, Morgan wasn’t satisfied. Gold Motel was meant to be a “solo project,” but it never felt that way to her. She still yearned for a platform that would offer a more personal artistic statement.
“There has always been this problem for me, where I’ve never been able to listen to anything I’ve made and enjoy it without thinking there’s things that need to be fixed or improved,” she says wistfully. “It just didn’t resonate with me. What I wanted to make was something that I would truly enjoy hearing, if I walked into a room and it was playing. That’s why I get up every morning and post poems on my bedroom wall that make me feel excited or inspired.”
Thus was born Springtime Carnivore, Morgan’s true solo project, which might be best compared to Stephen King’s Richard Bachman books in its inception. The Facebook account for Springtime Carnivore stretches all the way back to 2012, and until fairly recently was entirely anonymous. Rather than lean on any of the connections she had forged in the music industry in the last decade, Morgan instead decided to go entirely underground, recording every bit of instrumentation (besides bass) on her own and releasing tracks to the web with no fanfare. The objective was simple—to see what would happen if listeners had no context or expectations of who she was or where she had already been. And when the labels came calling again, Morgan was understandably vindicated. Like King, she’d proven that she could replicate at least some degree of success.
“The songs were all ones that were so personal and special that I was sort of selfish and didn’t want to share them with anyone in recording,” she explains. “The entire project came together without any person on the team having any of my backstory. I just wanted the music to speak for itself.”
That music speaks of deeper, darker depths than that of Gold Motel, less sunny pop and more mysterious psychedelia. The singer obsessed over certain records during the writing process—she cites John Lennon’s Mind Games as one random example while freely admitting that no one who listens to the music would likely see the connection. But it’s there in spirit, tugging at the edges of the listener’s perception, in ways no one but Morgan would ever likely recognize. Everything about her previous presentation has been warped and matured. Even her voice is significantly different than it was in her earlier recordings, much more distorted, ghostly and weathered on many of the tracks.
“I was treating my voice as more of an instrument,” she says. “It never quite sounded right to me on Gold Motel records. Springtime Carnivore started as a recording experiment, and a big part of that was cocooning myself creatively, giving myself a few years to make stuff for pleasure and for the knowledge, without feeling like I owed anything to anyone.”
And now, Morgan has emerged with an LP in hand. Led by driving, sonically lush songs such as “Sun Went Black,” it promises a new creative breakthrough for Morgan and a chance to finally tap into the personal side of music that has always eluded her. It also means an increased sense of responsibility for the still-young performer: There’s no one else to blame or credit for Springtime Carnivore’s success or failure—Morgan is where conversation about the new album begins and ends. And she’s happy to shoulder that burden.
In “Creature Feature,” the singer succinctly lays out the mental state she found herself in when beginning this journey. When she sings “We’ll let trouble stay / five fences away,” it’s with the knowledge that she could only ignore the building dissatisfaction in her life for so long. Eventually, as she puts it, she had to acknowledge “the big bad wolf existing outside my little idyllic happiness oasis.” She had to recognize once again that it’s okay to start over, to leave behind a life raft made of thousands of Facebook followers in the pursuit of art that finally feels right.
“In any music career, if you’re in it long enough you’re going to be having lots of peaks and valleys,” she says. “I had to learn that after leaving The Hush Sound, my next project wasn’t going to be selling out the House of Blues. The goal went from doing something like that to asking myself, ‘How can I turn this into the best possible life experience?’ Largely, I think my path in the last 10 years has been trying to find my own voice. And now, I finally have.”
Springtime Carnivore is out today on Autumn Tone Records.