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The album title Harlem River is an obvious reference to New York. What was the thought process behind that?
It’s all very New York City-based songs, in a way, as an homage to New York. Like a goodbye letter, a little bit. Like I was saying earlier, a lot of the songs I wrote when I first moved here.
And why the decision to leave?
I love New York City, and I love the idea of New York City. I love the romanticized daydream of New York City that I live inside my head 24 hours a day… but it’s really not actually like that. I turned 25 [a few months ago], and I feel like I’ve reached a time where I’m really craving some sort of privacy and space, which I don’t think I’d crave if I weren’t touring all the time. And I think the scene in Brooklyn right now is cool, but I feel like I was part of a [different] up-and-coming crop. Now when I go to shows, I feel like a veteran. I’m like, these people are listening to this music that doesn’t make any sense to me.
What do you think has been the biggest change in the local music scene since you first moved here?
Williamsburg was something completely different than it is now. There were DIY art gallery spaces and way more venues. Just that alone has changed. Monster Island is no longer. I think with 285 Kent, that's when I started to feel a little bit old—like 285 Kent and the DIIV crowd. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I just remember being at those shows and feeling old—and I think DIIV are actually older than me. That’s when I started to be like, “Ok, this has changed.”
It was a really awesome time when I first moved here. All those bands like Matt & Kim and Japanther [were coming up]. It was just a super cool place where DIY was really a thing, and that was amazing. I feel really lucky to have caught the last leg of that. It’s just that all the bands that I know and have been a part of have all started out on a very small platform and then have gone on to grow. Like, I remember when friends’ bands were first playing Music Hall of Williamsburg, and I was like, “Oh my god, I can’t believe I know someone playing there!” I moved along with the times, and the times have brought different things. And now I know there are new young people who are just moving to New York and are in touch with some DIY thing I don’t even know about.
Were you aware of the DIY scene that was happening in New York when you first got here, or did you just happen to fall into it?
I kinda knew it was happening, but not really, just because there were bands I wouldn’t have known about in Kansas City. I remember going to one of those Todd P Roosevelt Island shows. It’s such a funny day to think about: it was my third day in New York, I had no idea where I was, but I was like, “This is amazing.” Woods played—there’s a picture of me sitting there watching them, and I remember thinking, “This band is cool.” This girl came up and she was like, “I’m in this band we just started. It’s called Matt & Kim.” I met Todd that day too. I knew this was all something super special.
When Woods was starting to gain wider attention around Songs of Shame and you guys were playing with a lot of friends’ bands like Real Estate, did you consider yourself part of a scene?
Oh, 100 percent, for sure. It was super cool to be a part of that, or to have been a part of that. When it was happening, I remember constantly thinking how I grew up idolizing the K Records scene and late-70s punk in L.A. and New York, and I [couldn’t believe] that I was part of a scene. I thought it was cool that we were all such good friends, but the bands were all different. We’d all go on tour and people just couldn’t believe that we lived in Brooklyn—like, the coolest place.
Even with [frontman] Jeremy being upstate, Woods still tends to be referred to as a Brooklyn band, and The Babies always get the Brooklyn label. If it stays that way, even with you on the West Coast, will that bother you?
That’s totally fine. I like being in New York City bands. I hope people don’t call my solo thing “L.A. songwriter Kevin Morby…” I don’t want to be that. L.A. to me is a weird middle ground. I’m not obsessed with it; I don’t love it. But I like it a lot. It’s like moving back to the suburbs, but not in your lame town. I can have a house and the weather’s nice. I can go on hikes and go to the ocean. It’s like what you wanted your childhood to be.
What’s funny is, coming from the Midwest, when you tell people you’re moving to New York, they think you’re selling your soul or something. But in New York, the only place people get mad at if you move to is L.A. People are like, “Oh, you’re giving up!” But people have the misconception that I’m moving to L.A. and am doing cocaine in a dollar sign-shaped hot tub. But I’m just hanging with good people. New York is my favorite city in the world. We’re in a relationship, and we just need a little break.
Follow Lauren Beck on Twitter @heylaurenbeck.