Studio Session: Matthew Morgan isn't afraid to talk politics on his new album, Timepiece
This week on Kaleidoscope, Columbus songwriter and folk musician Mathew Morgan joined host Juliet Fromholt for a live studio session and interview. Morgan released his fourth album, Timepiece, this October, and will headline at Dayton’s Yellow Cab Tavern on December 21. He is also a board member of Move Your Music Forward, a Columbus nonprofit dedicated to supporting emerging artists from marginalized communities. Morgan performed four songs live on Kaleidoscope, including the title track from his new album. In the interview, he spoke about his musical childhood and finding his voice as a songwriter in Chicago his early 20s. He also talked about the relationship between the personal and the political, and how both affect his songwriting.
Mathew Morgan grew up in a house buzzing with music. His mother was a professional pianist and music teacher, and his grandfather was a jazz musician. “For me, it’s weird to think that other people don’t grow up in a household where there’s music constantly being played from morning till night,” he told Juliet. When Morgan began taking piano lessons from his mother, he said his desire to write his own songs, rather than simply perform the assigned pieces, made him a “notoriously bad student.”
“I was a terrible piano student because every time I wouldn't learn part of a new song, I would make up my own song out of it. I would never learn the whole song for my lesson because my natural inclination was to make up my own words and my own melodies. So it's been a lifelong thing.”
Morgan eventually found ways to channel his musical creativity into more productive outlets. After finishing high school, he studied classical vocal performance at Capital University Conservatory in Columbus, before moving to Chicago. It was in his early 20s, living in Chicago and learning to play guitar, that his music career began to take off. “There's something about guitar that it's so easy to write songs on,” he said. “I already was writing piano-based music, but when I started to learn guitar, it just blossomed— it grew into something overnight that was kind of overwhelming.” Morgan became immersed in the local music scene, gigging and recording a run of albums for Chicago indie labels.
But in 2015, Morgan's life changed dramatically. His mother was diagnosed with a severe form of Parkinson’s disease. The same year, he met his husband, who lived in Columbus. After nearly two decades in Chicago, Morgan decided to move back to Ohio to be closer to both of them. Under pressure in his personal life, he took a break from music. “I just ended up taking a big hiatus,” he said. However, political and social events eventually compelled him to return to songwriting. “All of the craziness happened with the 2016 election, and then the world just started to seem very chaotic and polarizing, immediately followed by this crazy pandemic. I started writing songs, but not songs that I intended to be commercial; it was almost like journaling my feelings.”
Morgan told Juliet that he’s never been afraid to tackle political themes–like queer relationships or racial justice–in his songs, even if his outspokenness could threaten the commercial appeal of his albums. Timepiece is Morgan’s first album since relocating to Ohio, and his most politically charged yet. The record reflects both the changes in his personal life and the changes in American culture. The song “Good Life,” which he performed live on Kaleidoscope, reckons with the murder of George Floyd, asking listeners how they would react to seeing a police officer threatening the life of an unarmed Black man. “Would you have words to say//or just walk away into the peace and quiet of your perfect day?” he wonders. On the title track, “Timepiece,” which he also performed live on WYSO, Morgan tells the story of an ill-fated childhood relationship with another boy. He calls the song the most personal he’s ever written.
The official lyric video for “Timepiece” is available here. Matthew Morgan’s new album, Timepiece, is available via digital streaming services. He will perform at Grandview Heights Public Library in Columbus on Tuesday, December 12, and at Yellow Cab Tavern in Dayton on Thursday, December 21. For more information about the shows, visit his website, matthewmorganmusic.com, and click on events.
Text by Peter Day, adapted from a live interview by Juliet Fromholt from November 29, 2023.