Why Morgan Nagler Deserves to Be Heard Much Above a Whisper
If you have been lucky enough to catch a performance by the L.A. based group The Whispertown 2000, you would know that they are not your average opening act. The band has opened for She and Him, Maria Taylor, Mates of State, Jenny Lewis, Rilo Kiley and Bright Eyes. Their second album “Swim” was released on Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch’s record label, Acony, in 2008. This was the first ever signing to Rawlings and Welch’s famed label. Although lead singer Morgan Nagler is a Southern California girl, born and bred, critics note that her authentic sounding lyrics and vocal style create a style straight out of the Appalachian Mountains. Her band consists of brothers Tod and Casey Wisenbaker, as well as gorgeous singer Vanesa Corbala, who all alternate on drums, bass, guitar, harp, and vocals. Their band is fun, raw, experimental, and deeply emotional.
Nagler began her musical career as a solo act before connecting up with Tod Adrian Wisenbaker, and then his brother, Casey, and Vanesa. Before music, Morgan was a child actor and appeared in films as recently as 2005. It was through fellow child actor Blake Sennet of Rilo Kiley, that Morgan met Jenny Lewis and was encouraged to become a musician. Jenny and Morgan have been best friends now for many years. Morgan still does a few solo shows here and there, and I was able to catch up with her at one such show, to discuss her solo performances, upcoming releases that she is excited about, politics, and more.
Shauna Keddy: How do your solo performances differ from your shows with the band?
Morgan Nagler: I choose different songs. I can do newer songs because other people don’t have to learn them. Sometimes I’ve finished writing the song earlier that day, so the whole band wouldn’t have time to practice enough for show that night, but it’s easier when I am performing on my own. I can try out a new thing. But also it is kind of scary, not having the band behind you.
SK: Did you come from a musical family?
MN: I came upon musical expression on my own. I mean, my mom sings, and my dad plays saxophone, but it is not at a professional level for either of them. giggles
SK: How does it feel being part of the music community, as opposed to when you were a professional actor?
MN: Being a musician, you feel a lot more responsible for what you do. In acting, it’s the director’s vision, they are telling you what to do. I feel like I am bringing more to the table.
SK: How does your environment affect the music you are writing? What draws you to water and swimming as themes?
MN: Your environment always forms your work—it’s your life, where you are living. Whether it is in the city or by the beach completely forms what you write about. I was born right by the ocean and the beach. I feel this connection with water and swimming, because when I am by the ocean I feel one-thousand times better. I think it’s because it is open space, which is both mysterious and calming.
SK: If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?
MN: I volunteered at a girls rock camp in Oakland yesterday, and the lady who was running the camp told me they would ask a lot of questions, and that “If you could be an animal, what would you be and why?” would be one of them. But they never asked, so now I am getting to answer it! If it counts, I would be a mermaid. If not, then an otter.
SK: I thought you might say that, since I read about that recurring dream you have where a bunch of seals are all around you.
MN: It’s a weird dream. laughs
In an interview when Swim was first released, about the darker undertones of the album, Nagler discussed the impact of Proposition 8 being upheld, and the affect that had on the mood of her songs. So I ventured further into her ideas of politics in music:
SK: What do you think of political expression in music?
MN: I appreciate any expression in music, art, or otherwise. I express my political beliefs vaguely in my songs. But I think if you are making specific statements, you need to be educated in order to be clear on the cause or issue you are speaking out on. I express my general views, but I would need to be more educated on different issues to be able to address them in my music.
Many Americans have been outraged about the Arizona law (SB 1070) passed in April, which requires further documentation of immigrants, and seeks out immigrants to deport them if they cannot provide documentation. Alternative rock bands such as Jenny and Johnny [Jenny Lewis and Jonathan Rice’s new band] have canceled their shows in Arizona to raise awareness among fans. Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes is seeking to raise awareness on the law, and a similar one being proposed in Nebraska.
SK: What is your opinion on the anti-immigration law being proposed in Arizona?
MN: It’s obscene. I think their protest is good because they are raising awareness, but I do feel bad for people that want to see those shows.
SK: How did the idea of the video for your song “Old Times” come about?
MN: That video was so great. I had the concept to do something synchronized, like swimming or roller skating. But we were in this parking lot in Ojai [a town in Southern California], and the director just noticed these kids playing football, and it worked out perfectly for the video. It was so funny, we were all hanging out and I was roller-blading around. My mom and my best friend were playing jump rope. The director was so cool; we just got locals from nearby to be extras.
SK: Are you excited for the Jenny and Johnny release?
MN: Very much so. I have heard the record about five-thousand times on my own. It is really great.
SK: What other artists do you like these days?
MN: I haven’t heard the new Eminem yet, but I want to. [laughs] Jake Bellows and Benji Hughes are two I always highly recommend.
SK: What cities do you particularly enjoy playing in?
MN: I always love Florida. St. Augustine and Dunbar are two places I like going to.
SK: What do you like about Dave Rawlings and Gilian Welch?
MN: They are masters of what they do, and that is great.
SK: Did you listen to Maria’s music before you started touring with her?
MN: Oh yeah. [smiles widely]
SK: What do you enjoy most about being a musician?
MN: Getting to connect with the world, and in a physical and emotional way.
Watching Morgan do a solo performance is a magical experience, because unlike many solo performers, particularly ones who are openers, she exudes a great confidence. I think it is her acting experience that enables her to inhabit such a stage persona. From the audience, you feel completely at ease watching her, and it is fascinating to notice her expression change from concentrated lip-snarling, to gleeful exuberance as it suits the content of the song. I just hope she records some of her solo songs soon, because I know she has many fans eager to be able to replay her new tunes. As she sings in one her latest songs, “Get happy, it’s the only thing I can do. Get happy, aww-awww…”