An interview with SORNE – Austin’s Shaman Showman


Photo by by Nasa Hadizadeh

Back in July of 2012, Carter and Dan from OVRLD got to sit down with Morgan Sorne, of SORNE, for an hourlong conversation about his music. Today, we are publishing much of what was talked about in that hour. Sorne frankly tackles his influences, his approach to creation, and his desire to respond to his fans. We are sharing this now because Sorne has begun a Kickstarter campaign to fund his next album, and we think it’s something our readers might be interested in. So check out the campaign, and enjoy this article.

OVRLD: You’ve toured a lot with TV on the Radio, James Blake, Blitzen Trapper and many others. How have you gotten connected with all of these high-level people?

Sorne: I met Ricc [Sheridan, drummer for Earl Greyhound] years ago. In 2006, I had an earlier incarnation of SORNE in Florida when I was getting started. At the time I was looking through the schedule of this one club that we played in Florida, and I found Earl Greyhound and I thought, ‘Oh, these guys are pretty rad.’ I was looking to play with somebody fresh. We’d played with a bunch of nu-metal people and I was ready to play with new people.

OVRLD: That seems big in Florida.

Sorne: Oh my Gooood. I saw them and I was like, ‘Oh, these guys are not nu-metal so let’s play a show with them. And I met Ricc and he came up and gave me his number and was like, ‘That was real. Give me a call any time you’re in New York.’ I went up to New York, thinking about moving up there, gave him a shout. He met me in Manhattan, told me his life story, and we’ve been friends ever since. Ricc Sheridan was the drummer in Earl Greyhound, the guy’s been in New York for 30 years. And up there it’s a very shallow pool, so if you’re there long enough and you’re doing your thing, you get connected with everybody.

So that’s how I met Kirk [Douglas, of the Roots]. When House of Stone was still a demo, I brought it up to New York and Kirk came over, plugged in his guitar and just jammed over the entire record. I truly have not been that close to somebody as talented as him on a guitar. I mean, it felt like I was listening to Jimi Hendrix in a room together. The guy’s that kind of a virtuoso. It was just so chilling to see him do improvisation over the whole piece. It was truly an honor. There’s a couple of songs that they were expressing interest in adding some things to, which I haven’t released yet. I’m working on trying to put a second record out in early 2013.

OVRLD: Are you still planning on sticking with the House of Stone motif?

Sorne: Yeah, so it all still pertains to it. I’m thinking of it almost as like an accompaniment. Initially the intention was to release five records with each one kind of being a collection of character songs. But I think what I might do is just put out a second record that is a compilation again and then in releasing that record maybe online give information as to who is what so you can make your own playlists. Create some kind of an interface where one can do that. And I’ll be adding pieces to that online.

OVRLD: You mention House of Stone is something that you wrote ten years ago. Much of your musical work is dedicated to that. What is it about this story that resonates with you so much?

Sorne: The big thing I can tell you is that as a kid growing up, the way that I always coped with reality was to create little characters and create stories and escape to that. I think that’s what always resonated with me about fiction. Many people dismiss fiction right now because of the fact that it’s not reality, when in fact, I truly think that fiction is absolutely reality. A guy like Tolkien doesn’t write a book like that without suffering a shit-ton first. Or Cormac McCarthy’s work, you know? That’s fiction that speaks to some real aspects of the human condition as we exist in this space. And so for me and this whole thing, it’s archetypal characters that are built from people that I know, people that I’m related to, and truly an innocent way for me to essentially process. And I think the intention is to do this so that others find an inspiration to do it in their way. If it’s by starting their own garden or if it’s to make their own art. My ultimate intention is to inspire others. I certainly don’t claim to be the world’s greatest anything, but I also don’t want to hold back. I’m not going to sit idly by just because I can’t make the world’s greatest painting or the world’s greatest song. I wanna find my song. I suppose the work that has resonated with me is that which you see the evidence of somebody pushing through their own shit to find their song.

OVRLD: It sounds like the way that you’re looking at it is universal enough that no matter where you’re at in life, the themes are still applicable.

Sorne: Absolutely. I totally believe that it’s simply drawing from a well that we all drink from. It’s about trying to be present in the moment, and not stand in the way of that creative spark. I like that Julia Cameron book, The Artist’s Way. It’s been really popular the last few years, but she speaks to that idea of stepping aside and allowing for the universe or God or whatever you want to call it to be the active part of the quality of the work. Where you just need to focus on making. Getting up in the morning.

Because otherwise it’s all on you to be the genius when in fact we aren’t geniuses. I don’t know if you ever saw that TED talk that’s been floating around by Elizabeth Gilbert? She speaks to this idea of genius and after she wrote Eat Pray Love, with its success people were like, “How are you going to outdo that?” And she was like, “It doesn’t matter. The fact that people responded to it is great.” She spoke to the idea of genius and in the very literal sense to Greeks and to Romans a genius was a gnome or a nymph that spoke through you and essentially when someone would say, “You have a genius” that’s what they were speaking about. And then it was in the Renaissance that that idea was shifted and we became the genius. To me, it’s very debilitating for the ego. If people love it, that makes me very happy, but if they don’t, that’s fine too.

OVRLD: So I’m curious, you mention God and higher powers and your music has a kind of mystical element to it. Do you consider yourself religious or spiritual?

Sorne: I liken it to things like pitch. Many of us are born with perfect pitch. More of us have to have tools to find that pitch. I think as a person I’ve always been very sensitive to…I kind of wince at the word spirituality, but I’ve always been sensitive to that aspect of life. And as a kid I grew up in the church. And rather than be ashamed of the fact that I grew up Christian or anything like that, I embrace it. I don’t necessarily consider myself to be a religious person and I couldn’t care less if Jesus Christ is risen. It’s irrelevant to me. However I appreciate having that as my background. It’s because of that that I’ve been able to get to where I’m at. So I would say that I’m just an open person. I try to be very sensitive to the present moment. And I think that…we’ll call it God…If we really believe that God is limitless, then none of the labels matter. I like the idea of always pursuing God, always trying to find God. I love the fact that I’ll never know. I wanna be in that constant state of awe.

OVRLD: Your music draws a lot from a variety of sources. It’s difficult to put a label on. I hear a lot of Native American and African influences, I’m curious…Do you have experience with those cultures? Why do you draw from those different places?

Sorne: When I began to really search for the aesthetic, I was like, “Well, what am I?” I’ve never subscribed to one genre. I love music! Period. So I was like, “Okay, well what’s the aesthetic for what I’m trying to do? What is my sound?” It brought me back to an old tape my mom has of me at two singing and making beats. This polyrhythmic kind of a beat. I’m like, “Oh wow. I’ve always had that rhythm in me. I like to sing and I like to make rhythm.” This is a means for me to reconnect with myself, and I’d say that those primitive elements came out of a very simple compulsion to connect with that very basic human element.

In making the music, the stuff that I was listening to that really resonated were things that threw genre out the door. I think that’s why that group Geinoh Yamashirogumi was so much a part of my sound for me. It was primitive yet it sounded like it was something that could exist 10,000 years from now. Another big thing was the Anthology of American Folk Music, speaking about people that needed to make music because it was the only way that they could cope with their lives.

In terms of the art world: outsider art. My mentor and friend Jim Roche spent 30 years serving America and finding some incredible people who were creating without any training, without any other prerogative other than they had their husband die or their parents were killed in a fire or whatever. There was always some kind of tragedy that befell them that then led to them making this incredible work that was completely wild, raw and free. In the outsider art world, many of those artists were very influential for me too.


Photo by Matt Dayton

OVRLD: I can see where you’re drawing from a lot of sources depending on what resonates – do you worry that people will come see you and think, “Here’s this white guy playing Native American music,” or something like that?

Sorne: A while ago I just said, “You know what? Fuck it.” I don’t care. You can think whatever you want. I’m not taking specific pieces from a Native American rain dance and reappropriating that for my own means. I’m creating my own work. And if that speaks to those things, then that’s fine, because it speaks to that underlying current of humanity that exists in all of us.

It’s interesting because I never really had the intention of creating something that was “tribal.” That primitive element there speaks to almost a childlike desire to create our own culture. The outfits that you see on the kids on that album were inspired by a bunch of little girls that I know. This little girl that had these heart stockings and red boots and all these crazy beads all over and I saw her one day and was like, “Whoa, that’s awesome.” That’s the look right there.

OVRLD: Speaking of your “look…” You’re a very compelling live performer, and I tell everyone they need to go see you. I brought a friend of mine who is Jewish to a show of yours and he was really put off by the swastika on your shirt. I tried to say that this symbol fits in with the whole tribal aesthetic but the symbol had so much power for him that it was hard to get past. And I just was wondering what your thought process was behind it.

Sorne: You know what? I don’t know if you ever saw the movie Silence of the Lambs, but Jonathan Demme in an interview was talking about the character Buffalo Bill and how when that movie came out he created this character who was a homosexual crossdresser who was brutally murdering and skinning these women. The homosexual community was completely outraged and offended by that depiction of that character and at the premiere of the film there were people outside of the theater with literature, angry about this film. So Demme took one of the pieces of literature into the press conference and said, “Before we even see this film, I want you all to look at this. This is something that I didn’t intend with this character at all.” And he said, “For this I want to apologize to the community that has been offended and know that in no way was I making any comment about these people. But I want you all to look at this because this is real emotion.” Right after that he made the film Philadelphia.

And I think my reaction is the same thing. I’m going to retire that shirt. Whatever my intentions are, I think it’s more important to connect with people than it is to alienate them for the sake of something like that. At the same time, it’s a dialogue that I think we need to have as a culture. I truly do. I don’t want to be afraid. I don’t want to let fear inhibit me from breaking through and pushing forward. In many ways, I feel like – and call me naive for saying this – I feel like we have to have the courage to break down the old symbols. Because genocide is still occuring today. I mean, the Holocaust happened. The Nazi Party happened. What are we doing with that? How are we learning from that? Who’s to say that that’s not going to happen again? Who’s to say that’s not happening right now? It is, in my opinion. But we don’t want to look at it because it’s still happening. It’s easy to look at that time period now because it’s over. But in my opinion, it was a warning. That was a beautiful, tragic, horrible example of what the human is capable of becoming and doing and we must be aware of that. We must understand that.

That is the biggest thing for me: understanding. But at the same time, you know, if I really put it into perspective, I’m an American musician trying to make good music and I’m still at a stage in my career that it’s just not worth it. It’s not time for that. And I honestly didn’t expect it. In many ways, I was somewhat surprised. But more than anything else, everything I do comes from a place of love and I want to be respectful to people because I didn’t live through that. And I have the utmost respect for the people who had to. It’s funny talking about this, because today, after this, I’m making new stuff for us to wear and I think that’s a piece that I’ll just set aside at this point in time.

OVRLD: You talked a little about your vocals. I was wondering where you discovered that and how you developed that through the years because your vocal range is incredible.

Sorne: I never realized that I have that kind of range until a few years ago, and in working my voice like a muscle it’s become even higher and lower. I’ve never had any formal training. My mom had this vocal teacher who was giving her these exercises and Mom was coming in with me at the age of two and I was singing her pieces. This woman said, “Your son has perfect pitch; you need to put him in a music program.” She said, “Okay, I’ll do that.” And I can remember sitting there and feeling so pissed that I had to sit there and do these stupid exercises. I hated it. I can tell you I have a vivid memory of sitting there like this [crosses arms] and having to sing these songs. They asked me to leave after I threw a maraca at this kid next to me who I just hated. So I threw this thing at him, he had a bloody nose and they said, “You know this might not be the best fit for him.” Growing up I loved musicals, I loved being in plays, and I also sang with my mom a lot and with my dad. My mom made a record years ago that I did guest vocals on. I think it’s just something that’s always been a part of me and my family. Even my siblings – all of them have the ability to sing.

OVRLD: With your background in musical theater, I was wondering how you maybe see the live show developing?

Sorne: What I envision is the kind of thing where it still maintains that live music aesthetic. I don’t want to go too far into the theatrics. I suppose I’m trying to find a fine line there, but I do like the idea that if we were to do 120 cities worldwide or 120 dates maybe 30 of those would be in performing arts centers with a bigger production where we could bring in that dance element and more of the visuality and create a more immersive experience for the audience. I’ve never really wanted to go full Cirque du Soleil with the show but I do like the idea of incorporating these multiple elements just as a means of drawing you into this environment – to create that sense of immersion.

OVRLD: Your instrumentation is so unique.

Sorne: If you’re listening to a record and you hear guitar and drums and all that, it sort of puts you in this one state of mind. Where something like this just thrusts you into a new place where you’re having to interpret, “What am I listening to? What am I hearing?” I just like the idea of creating these soundscapes that put your mind in different places.

-OVRLD crew