In 24 hours, he’s going to embark on a plane ride to Richmond, Virginia, to begin rehearsals for his upcoming tour with Hamilton Leithauser, which will be making a stop in Dallas at the Kessler Theater on Friday, Oct. 22.
“I spent all morning thinking of this,” Morby says about 12 hours after a thrilling last-minute victory by the Los Angeles Dodgers against the St. Louis Cardinals. “Now that the Dodgers are in, I want to see the Astros and Dodgers go back at it. Of course, it would be poetic if the Dodgers won.
"The only thing is, if the Astros win, people will probably kill each other,” he says semiseriously, laughing. “If the Astros won in L.A., I think it would be mayhem in the stadium. I would love to see the drama, but of course I don’t want anyone to get hurt.”
Morby’s love of baseball is well-documented. He lives in Kansas City, a place where he primarily grew up, and identifies himself as a Kansas City Royals fan. As we roll through October, Morby cherishes the ability to gush about baseball when given the chance.
“I guess people’s attention spans are so short these days for a game like baseball, but what I love about it is that you live inside of the tension and anticipation in a way that you don’t with other sports," he says. "Others are like ‘bang, bang, bang’ — real quick. A pitcher is literally on their own island by themselves and what they have to deal with is so crazy. It’s the only sport in which the defender holds possession of the ball, which is great.
"Watching the Olympics this year was a reminder that every sport is basically the same — there’s either a net in the middle or goals on either end, and baseball is this weird diamond with these weird rules. It’s the greatest game on Earth.”
A year has passed since Morby released his sixth solo album, Sundowner, with a new companion album of 4-track home demos titled A Night at the Little Los Angeles out now. While Morby says that he was satisfied with how the home recordings turned out and likely would have been content with releasing them as is for the album, his desire to record at Sonic Ranch studios outside of El Paso led him to re-record the songs for their final form.
“Sonic Ranch is amazing,” Morby says. “I almost want to say it’s like if Willy Wonka’s factory was on a 3,000-acre pecan farm. That’s kind of what it feels like and it’s just incredible.”
Morby is an outstanding conversationalist. His answers pop with a jazzlike rhythm and to interview him means to step far outside of a typical Q+A format into a pleasantly long-winded exchange, albeit with a goal-focused clarity. Not surprisingly, his music reflects this. It's adrift though America’s highways, carried by the wind from town to town. It’s an apt aesthetic, as Morby is a traveler, both in life and through song. He's spent brief periods of time living in New York City and Los Angeles.
Fortunately, through all his crusading, Morby has companionship. For the better part of four years, he's been in a relationship with Katie Crutchfield, better known as the indie-folk musician Waxahatchee.
“Katie and I’s relationship began on the road," Morby says. “We went on a tour together and that’s when we started to have feelings for one another. The first time we sort of tested our love out, we met in Austin. We were like, ‘Let’s meet in a neutral city, where if this doesn’t go well, you have friends there and I have friends there, we can just go and hang out with them instead of each other. But it went well! So we’ve always had sort of this rock ‘n’ roll romance, it’s just sort of baked into the cake of the relationship.”
Morby says that he’s thankful that Crutchfield shares many of his touring commitments; their relationship depends on that mutual understanding of the road.
“We both get it,” he says. “Honestly, I think it’d be difficult for us to date someone who wasn’t a musician at this point because we understand everything about what we do. If you’re not a touring musician, it’s really difficult to know what that’s like. The highs and the lows ... because there’s a lot more lows than people seem to realize. People think that it’s all this big party that’s wonderful, everyone’s screaming your name every night, and while those things can happen, it’s not always like that.”
One of the couple's shared road adventures led to the duo celebrating Crutchfield’s birthday in the small, eccentric West Texas town of Marfa, indirectly resulting in one of the best songs on Sundowner, “Velvet Highway.” The instrumental is a sonic representation of the road between El Paso and Marfa, and despite not having any lyrics, still embodies the wanderer's sense of wonder.
“I love traveling,” Morby says. “The poet in me likes to think ... I was born in Lubbock, Texas, and then my family moved to Detroit, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, then finally Kansas City. I like to think that I moved around so much as a kid, I got used to traveling, but really, we never left the Midwest, so I was used to being in motion, but I was also contained to this one part of the country which made me dream about going to bigger, more faraway places. I think the seeds were planted at a young age.”
Morby pauses and gathers his thoughts before continuing: “The Midwest is pretty boring; it’s a barren place. There’s natural beauty here, there’s lots of good things about it. It’s sort of a great place to curate a dreamer, to sort of make someone who dreams of going to bigger and better places. At this point in my life though, I love being rooted here, but I love leaving and going to places.”
"People think that it’s all this big party that’s wonderful, everyone’s screaming your name every night, and while those things can happen, it’s not always like that.” –Kevin Morby
That’s the key word: rooted. Much like the greatest improvisational minds in jazz, Morby is able to wander far from his origin — in song and in conversation — to explore uncharted territory with great passion and curiosity — but is always able to return to the top without missing a beat. And that, Morby says, is a skill that he has sharpened primarily in adulthood.
“I’m relieved that life is more stable, for sure,” he says. “I never thought in a million years that I’d ever move back to the Midwest. But I think the beautiful thing about life and the beautiful thing about getting a little bit older is you start to appreciate things in a different way than you do when you’re young. A big thing that I’ve come to appreciate is home and where I’m from, and I always say that Kansas is the home that I didn’t choose, the home that I was basically thrown into and I had to make a home out of it."
After choosing to live in New York, and giving L.A. a shot, where Morby says he always felt like he was visiting on a vacation, the musician has a much broader picture of his neck of the woods.
"I think there’s something in appreciating where you came from, even if you don’t choose to live there, because I don’t think everyone needs to move back to where they’re from, " he says. "To me, Kansas City has always felt like this haunted place, like I would go back to it and there was a ghost town on every corner, and it’s been a good lesson to sort of push past those feelings and see it as something new, and knowing that just because you come from a place doesn’t mean that it always has to represent the past, it can also be the present.”
Riding a wave of thought, Morby looks back on his quarantine memories, "such a fascinating time for Katie and I," he says, where he and other touring musicians finally got to do those things they'd always lacked the time to pursue, such as planting a garden.
“I’m excited by new experiences even if that experience is staying put for a while," he says. " ... Planting a garden and watching it grow was as thrilling as going to new places. I think just noticing new experiences and realizing they don’t have to be these big, bombastic, crazy things. I’m just sort of counting the blessings of each new experience.”