By Paul de Revere
Morgan Kibby’s message on women in music is direct, even pointed.
“I feel like the conversation is just very shallow when it comes to women in music,” she told Radio.com. “I think if you venture to ask a lot women who are in electronic [music] bands, they are making and producing music, it’s just not being talked about properly.”
Certainly, Kibby–a Los Angeles native known as her synth-pop artist and production moniker White Sea–wants to continue and deepen the conversation about how women are talked about in music, namely production and electronic music. She’ll have her biggest role yet in that conversation when her full-length debut, In Cold Blood, comes out May 19.
At the beginning of this year, Kibby took public issue with an L.A. Weekly story on her Twitter, which put the spotlight on five–and only five–“Women Producers.” Among other things, she called it “reproachfully shallow” and rattled off a string of notable female producers as a defiant response.
“There was no representation of the women in today’s music landscape that are making and producing exceptional music,” Kibby said. “It didn’t feel representative of what’s actually going on in music right now. I feel very proud to be a part of a laundry list of women who are producing their own material.”
And it’s not like Kibby is just working on her own stuff. Before her current solo run, she acted as a kind of secret weapon of songwriting and performance for M83. Kibby started with the Anthony Gonzalez-driven, “Midnight City”-famous synth-pop act during its Saturdays=Youth incarnation in 2008. Her voice became like a siren, an atmospheric backing vocal and, on “Skin of the Night,” a momentary lead. She was an integral part of M83’s 2011 breakout record Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming and its respective tours in 2011 and 2012, during which Kibby performed face-to-face with Gonzalez nightly around the world. Her co-writing credit on the gangbuster single “Midnight City” earned her a platinum plaque last year, her first.
Now, Kibby seeks to prove she’s more than just an extension of M83, and to deepen the conversation about herself and perhaps thereby female musicians and producers. In Cold Blood carries the epic synth echoes of her work in M83 but down a less supernatural and more personal path of her humanity and life experience.
“This record is a breakup record,” she admitted. “It has moments of intense grief, intense loss and then intense euphoria.”
Those emotions and more combine in confounding ways, notably on “Future Husbands and Past Lives,” the latest single off In Cold Blood. It’s a seductive plea for a lover to stay, sounding like an uptempo track that Prince would have written for Kate Bush in their respective ’80s peaks. The lyrics to “Warsaw” work as a supernatural kiss off to someone she seems glad to have out of her life, full of bad-ass swagger, sassy vocals and an icy instrumental sheen. The record’s longing lead-off track and lead single “They Don’t Know” will likely hit M83 fans in a sweet spot, with its choral vocals, bell chimes, enormous guitar and percussion, not to mention the squeaking, chattering synths.
It’s a sweeping, romantic, gorgeous record, and notably mature for a debut full length. Not that Kibby hasn’t been working up it to for years in previous efforts from her former band The Romanovs or previous solo EPs.
But In Cold Blood is a shift. In addition to producing and engineering it herself, she admits to being “a bit of a drama queen” and her vocals at times mimic dramatic sobs, squeals and shouts. It’s a breakup record, after all, she said. But the clear-eyed “NYC Loves You” finds her at peace with a Zen-like refrain. Kibby’s origin story of the song involves visiting a friend in the song’s titular city, seeking her counsel about the breakup she documents on record.
“And she told me, ‘New York loves you no matter what you’ve done,’” Kibby said. “And I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s a song!’”
Still, for all her experience with M83, Kibby said going out on tour this time feels different, now that she’s performing with her own band, a trio. After playing a handful of shows at South by Southwest in March, White Sea starts its first nationwide tour in Seattle for Sasquatch! Festival later this month, followed by a series of opening dates for The Naked and Famous.
“People have never really heard my stuff before, so it’s kind of like starting from scratch,” she said. “It’s a completely new musical adventure.”