Why White Sea Is More Than An M83 Side Project
Singer-songwriter Morgan Kibby discusses her monumental new album and future with M83.
While M83 diehards anxiously await the follow-up to the 2011 double-disc triumph "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming," which included the breakout single "Midnight City," fans of epic synth-pop music have been bestowed with the next best thing: a majestic solo album from Morgan Kibby, who began contributing to M83 in 2008. Recording under the name White Sea, Kibby has temporarily separated from M83 mastermind Anthony Gonzalez and delivered a towering debut album, "In Cold Blood," that spent nearly a year on her computer before it was released last month through Crush Music.
"It's a completely different experience," Kibby tells Billboard of releasing "In Cold Blood" -- which follows a 2011 EP and a handful of remixes as White Sea -- as compared to supporting a new M83 project. "M83 is a very safe space, and it's always been a critic's darling. With the success of 'Midnight City,' it felt like there was a big expectation for stepping out on my own -- but at the same time, I'm very conscious of the fact that I'm starting from scratch. So, I'm coming to White Sea without any expectations."
Before Kibby joined M83 for the 2008 album "Saturdays = Youth" and subsequent tours, the Los Angeles native was the leader of the short-lived, goth-influenced band the Romanovs, which released one album, "…And The Moon was Hungry," in 2007. Contributing keys and vocals to M83's "Saturdays = Youth," and co-writing songs like "Midnight City" from "Hurry Up, We're Dreaming," allowed Kibby to perform in front of massive crowds, but the songwriter was also experiencing the personal hell of a crumbling relationship, which eventually became the main focus of her first album as White Sea.
"I never truly understood the idea of a breakup record… until I went through probably the most traumatic personal experience that I ever unfortunately had to experience," she says. "It was the first time in my life where I literally didn't have a choice -- I had to express myself through my music. It was the only way to purge myself of this extreme grief and loss."
Despite the heavy subject matter, "In Cold Blood" is by no means a bummer: its 10 songs feature canyon-sized hooks, knowingly grandiose melodies and succulent vocals, which often deliver lines like "You're just a killer, but I'm still alive" and "You just want that pussy" with nary a wink in sight. Compared to Kibby's early work, White Sea's proper debut is more lyrically slicing and lushly arranged; although it's firmly separated from M83's catalogue, the fingerprints of Gonzalez's long-running project can be felt on each song.
"I started off in theater, playing classical piano," says Kibby. "My time with M83, from the beginning back in 2008, was my introduction to synthesizers. It's developed my passion for electronic music."
Departing the huge theaters that M83 was playing while opening for the Naked and Famous on the group's current U.S. trek, Kibby says that returning to smaller audiences has been a refreshing experience. "Smaller audiences foster intimacy," she says, "and I've had the pleasure of playing some really big stages … but I couldn't connect with anyone because you can't pick out a face in the crowd. The idea of performing such an intensely personal album -- and also, one where I get to sing again, where my voice is at the forefront of these productions -- in a smaller environment makes it that much more powerful."
Kibby says that she will stay busy scoring a film this summer, and producing the debut album of L.A. indie rockers Wildcat! Wildcat! There will be more work with M83, but "In Cold Blood" is not the last we'll hear of White Sea.
"There will always be a home for me at M83, and I'm sure I will continue to write and tour with Anthony," says Kibby. "But now that I've stepped out on my own, I have a personal expectation for myself to continue to develop. There will definitely be a follow-up to the White Sea record."