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Morgan Laurence of Great States

Morgan Laurence discusses the formation of indie rock band Great States, and how the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald inspired their debut.

By Zach Collier

This weekend, New Mexico up-and-comers Great States will make their Provo City debut as they pass through on tour. Taking the stage with My Fair FiendThe Cold Year, and Mome Wrath, they’ll bring their brand of Fitzgerald-inspired indie rock to the Muse Music stage Saturday night. We got to talk with Great States frontman Morgan Laurence about the making of their debut album, Gatsby, and how his time in the Pacific Northwest influenced his songwriting.

From what I gather, you wrote a lot on your own acoustically before taking songs like “Arcadia” to the band for a fuller arrangement. How did the band’s lineup solidify? What is the writing process like for you guys?

Great States ended up forming while we were all in college. Eric [Jecklin, bass] and I had a handful of songs that were already partially written when we invited both Sean [Leston, keys] and Ryan [Rael, drums] to work with us. After a couple shows and few new songs, we all kind of knew that we wanted to take the “being in a band and making music” thing a little more seriously.

For us, the writing process can happen any number of ways. Occasionally, I’ll still bring full songs to the table, but more often than not our songs start from a single idea. It could be a lyric, melody, riff, groove, etc. that sets off the entire creative process.

“Arcadia” reminds me a lot of Band of Horses, especially their album Infinite Arms. Who are your primary musical inspirations?

Band of Horses are awesome – thank you! As individuals our influences span pretty much the entire spectrum of genre. I think as a band we draw a lot of influence from mid-90’s to 2000’s alternative rock bands. That was our common ground – stuff like Radiohead, Death Cab for Cutie, Coldplay, As Tall As Lions, etc.

What does your logo represent?

The logo is a minimalist representation of our band – each line symbolizes one of the members (from left to right; Sean, me, Eric, and Ryan) and what we bring to the table as individuals. The surrounding square represents the sum of those parts – the creative whole that is Great States.

Lead singer Morgan Laurence.

I’m also from the Pacific Northwest – Vancouver, just north of Portland. Where did you spend your summers, Morgan? How did that shape the sound of “Arcadia?”

I spent a lot of time up in Seaside, as well as the surrounding towns of Canon Beach, Warrenton, and Astoria. There’s something about that area that has always inspired me as a songwriter. Maybe it’s the comfort of a small town, or the early morning sea fog that rolls in and refuses to break until noon. Growing up it felt like this area sat by itself on the edge of the world and with only a few more steps I would fall off into the unknown. Now that I’m older the magic has dulled a little bit, but sometimes I still feel it – when I do I end up writing something like “Arcadia.”

Canon Beach is beautiful. I’ve spent a lot of time there as well. So your album, Gatsby, is obviously inspired by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is my favorite author. What about The Great Gatsby appealed to you as a band, and why did you decide to write about its themes and subject matter? Did any of Fitzgerald’s other works inspire you?

Ah, another Fitzgerald fanboy! When I first started writing for Great States, I had just finished my fourth read of The Great Gatsby. Initially, I gravitated towards Jay Gatsby’s character – I related to his inner conflict and his unwavering commitment to the idea of Daisy.  I was in Astoria, sitting in my friend’s bedroom, when I jotted down the lyric: “Sometimes I wish I had a heart like Gatsby…” This ended up sparking the first Great States song ever, which would eventually become the title track for our record. There never really was a conscious decision to keep writing using The Great Gatsby as a source of inspiration – its themes simply resonated with me as a young adult growing up in a very emotionally disconnected and superficial world.

While The Great Gatsby was the primary source of inspiration for Great States on this record, The Last Tycoon along with some of Fitzgerald’s other short stories are some of my other personal favorites.

Why did you decide to come to Provo to perform? Had you heard things about Provo? If so, what did you hear about it? 

I’ve actually visited a few times when I was younger – my dad lived in Orem for a year or so while working at the Sundance Mountain Resort. From what I remember, Lake Utah and the surrounding valley is absolutely gorgeous and that there’s a lot of cool stuff going on in the BYU area. I’m glad we’re coming through – it’s going to be a great weekend in Provo!

Albuquerque, NM based band, Great States.

Do you know any of the bands you’re performing with?

We actually hadn’t heard of [any] prior to this show. But that’s always the fun part of touring though – we get to make new friends, see what other independent artists and bands like us are creating all over the country, and bring those communities together in small way each night.

What do you hope concert goers will take away from your show here?

Since it’s our first time playing in Provo, we want to make that good first impression. It’s definitely going to be a great night – the venue is awesome, the bands are awesome, the town is awesome – let’s have some fun!

Has your short film, “Puget Sound, WA,” been screened anywhere else since its entrance into the Albuquerque Film and Media Experience and Filmstock New Mexico festivals? Is it available anywhere online? How was that created, and how would you describe it?

The music video/short film for “Puget Sound, WA” was filmed back in 2014 with the help of our friends and family here in New Mexico.  We’re really proud of it because it showcased a lot of the young talent that often gets overlooked here in Albuquerque and the surrounding areas – it was a 100% homegrown, community effort. The director, Alex Deeds, and his film crew did an incredible job at creating a visual narrative for the song. It’s so much more than just a Great States music video – definitely go watch it if you have the chance!

You can view “Puget Sound, WA” on our website. (Click here to watch “Puget Sound, WA”)

As far as the festivals are concerned, the AFME and Filmstock festivals were it. It’s been a while, but the film may make its way back around.

What was it like taking the DIY route to a full-length album? Did you handle mixing and mastering on your own as well? How has the album been received in your opinion?

Doing Gatsby DIY was definitely difficult, but ultimately so rewarding. All we had going into the recording process were our instruments and a very limited amount of recording equipment – then it was just a matter of finding rooms that sounded good enough. For this record we handled mixing, but not mastering – that was done by Brian Schwab in Chicago.

We found that it was very much a “learn as you go” type of situation, which meant a lot of mistakes, doubts, frustration, etc., but we just got through it and ended up with something very honest and real. I think the DIY, barebones approach to this record is what makes it special to us. It’s like, “Look, mom. Look what we did all on our own – no one else – just us,” and I think people are responding positively to that.

You can to listen to Gatsby in its entirety on Spotify here. You can like the band on Facebook here. Great States will be performing at Muse Music this Saturday, April 16. Doors open at 8PM. Tickets are $7 at the door. You can listen to “Arcadia” below.

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