Lyrical songwriting represents another broken barrier for McMorrow on We Move. He admits to previously leaning on sound and melody more than words, often writing lyrics he describes as “esoteric” and “shrouded.” “There’s probably a good population of the music-listening public that likes to not know what a song is saying,” McMorrow says. “But with this album, I felt really strongly that when people hear it, they should hear exactly what I’m saying. It wouldn’t allow me to hide behind things. It wouldn’t allow me to get away with something.”
It’s an interesting development for someone who, in conversation, speaks in fully-formed ideas. “The idea of happiness and sadness and the idea that everything is so black and white—I don’t believe that,” McMorrow says. “When you hear people’s opinions, they’re so hard and fast. Like, ‘You believe in that thing? You can’t believe in that thing.’ Well, that’s crazy.
“I’m part of a generation of Twitter users that are like, ‘Yeah, this is what I believe.’ But then I go and just do whatever the fuck I want. I don’t necessarily live hard and fast for the rules that I write for myself. And I felt that was quite hypocritical on my part.”
The philosophy extends to world events. In the midst of Trump and the aftermath of Brexit, McMorrow is only certain of uncertainty. “I don’t think that anybody necessarily knows what the hell is going to happen,” he says. “I’ve been around [the U.K.] a couple times recently and noticed a palpable change—a couple of friends of mine have been let go from jobs. There’s definitely an immediate, knee-jerk reaction because nobody knows. We live in this post-truth, constantly fearful world where as soon as something like that happens, and nobody actually expected it to happen, the first thing that a lot of people do is say, ‘Okay, we’re either going to change your salaries or we’re going to have to let you go because we don’t know what’s going to happen.’”
Personally and musically speaking, however, McMorrow is in a great place. Which wasn’t always the case, as the album reveals.
“‘Rising Water’ is about a particular window of time maybe two or three years ago when I wasn’t necessarily being the best human being I could be,” he says. “I wasn’t really thinking about life the way that I should have been thinking. It’s just about the idea of suddenly finding yourself in this vortex of music… everybody’s there to keep you happy and keep you on track.
“You get stuck in this weird cycle of perpetual movement, perpetual working. I think my relationship definitely suffered at that point, and ‘Rising Water’ was about that thing, that juxtaposition of feeling equally alive and equally close to something ending, or a death of something.”
I felt really strongly that when people hear this album, they should hear exactly what I’m saying.
The explanation sounds similar to his decision to stop drinking a few years ago. Alcohol hadn’t yet become debilitating, McMorrow remembers, but it was getting in the way of the music. “I never thought, ‘Holy shit, I’m going to ride myself off the rails.’ It’s just that life was no fun for me anymore, so I decided to change and see if life was more fun. And it was. I wasn’t playing shows the way I wanted to play them. The touring lifestyle is unhealthy by its very nature, and I wasn’t trying very hard to make it healthy for myself.”
It’s funny to hear him use that word, “healthy,” because that’s just what We Move sounds like. His voice is strong throughout, the arrangements airtight—there’s not a note wasted. That’s especially true of the first half, but even when McMorrow slips back into more familiar territory, like when he’s chanting “don’t let fear control you” during the piano ballad and album closer “Lost Angles,” there’s refreshing lack of parts trying to grab your attention. Subtlety is everything on this album, and it hits ten times as hard as the alternative.
James Vincent McMorrow’s We Move will be released on September 2.