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Kevin Morby Deciphers A Strange Beauty On ‘Singing Saw’

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Photo: Kevin Morby press photo
Kevin Morby

Singer-songwriter Kevin Morby relied heavily on his guitar playing on his previous records, "Harlem River" and "Still Life." But as the former Woods member wrote his third album, he leaned on two very different instruments.

The first is that which the record is named after: the singing saw.

"I just wanted to create something that was beautiful, but also eerie and sinister," Morby says. "The singing saw is like that. It creates a very beautiful sound but it's kind of scary."

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The saw is an unusual sound to hear in rock music. The other instrument that inspired him, though, is much more common.

When Morby moved into a new house in Los Angeles, he found an old upright piano left behind by the previous tenants. He began to toy with the abandoned instrument, and it soon opened up new ways of composition.

"I didn’t know what a chord was on the piano. Everything was just kind of very amateur and new. I could play a C chord, which if I was playing on a guitar would seem kind of boring or overkill. Doing it on the piano made it seem new and kind of caveman-ish. It made it exciting."

Morby’s new environment also shaped the album. He began taking daily hikes in the secluded rural area that surrounded his new home. Some local landmarks made it onto the album.

"There was this one willow tree that I really liked a lot. With not seeing many people throughout my day, I developed all these characters within nature. That was the most prominent one."

Some music fans are saying "Singing Saw" reminds them of the music of Leonard Cohen, Lee Hazlewood and Bob Dylan, mostly because of the lyrics: battling the devil, traveling across mountains and oceans, and writing entire songbooks.

But if Morby sounds much older than his 28 years, he isn’t too concerned about running out of things to write about.

"When I’m old I’ll just sing about young stuff. I’ll sing about partying all the time or something."