Sarah Morris writes the sorts of songs Taylor Swift might have if she’d stuck with country music.
The Minnesotan singer-songwriter captures relationship dynamics in candid, tenderhearted lyrics set to often delicate, occasionally feisty country twang. Her new album, Hearts in Need of Repair, is her third full-length of original material and it covers the gamut from googly-eyed love songs to good-riddance anthems.
Morris grew up in Roseville and was singing since toddlerhood. As a young music connoisseur, she used to print out lyrics from her favorite songs and mount them on construction paper on her wall. As an adult, she moved to Nashville to learn songwriting. The time away paid off; in addition to critical acclaim, she was a top finalist in the 2015 New Song Music Contest and took second place in the 2016 Merle Fest Chris Austin Songwriting Contest.
We spoke to Morris ahead of her album release show at the Hook and Ladder on Friday.
City Pages: How does Hearts in Need of Repair compare to your previous releases?
Sarah Morris: I think this is more cohesive, dreamed up as an album more than the others. I write all the time so I have a big batch of songs that I was in the process of writing and then when I wrote the title track, I had this “Ah-ha! This is the album umbrella.” I have so many songs and stories about broken-hearted people and loneliness and people who love but it’s a realistic, imperfect kind of love. Thematically, it has a cohesion to me. Sonically, I listened to tons of different kinds of music, but I was listening to a lot of Jason Isbell and other music produced by Dave Cobb and I was really attracted to the vocals-first kind of production.
CP: Are any of these stories about broken-hearted people biographical?
SM: Yeah, I mean, probably in some way in every song. The most personal is a love song I wrote for my husband, it’s called “Nothing Compares.” The nature of my job is that I go out and I get dressed up and I get shiny for other people and then I come home and he kind of sees all the stuff. When I wrote that I was really sick – I had just been recovering from pneumonia – and I felt like I had no filter. I told him all the truths – the ugly stuff, the good stuff, all of it. So that’s certainly the most personal.
CP: Let’s talk specifically about a few lyrics that stand out on the album. In the title track, you sing, “People these days throw things away at the first sign of trouble.”
SM: I wrote that song based on a prompt. I’m part of a writing group where we get a word a week in the summertime and we have to write a song about it. The word was “glory.” It was the summer of 2016. The political divide, the cultural divide, lots of black-and-white [thinking], and anger were starting to brew. I felt like I was seeing a lot of that on social media. I could see people offhand discarding things in either direction. I respect working to find your own feelings, but sometimes people are shutting things down without thinking about it. I want to keep trying to find the connection.
CP: On “Cheap Perfume,” you sing, “I need to stop crashing into you like this. I should try harder to be something you miss.” What’s behind that?
SM: So that one probably comes out of me watching too many soap operas when I was younger. That was the most like a story to me. I could see this woman who couldn’t stop showing up in front of this person who had already not treated her right but she couldn’t stop saying, “Hey, what about me?” Sometimes the answer, with friends or with lovers, is you need to be willing to step away and be chased for a while rather than always doing the chasing.
CP: On “Helium,” you sing, “I have a tendency to walk through this world heavy-hearted.”
SM: That’s another one that feels like a me-to-my-husband sort of thing. Probably this is in line with a lot of musicians: I tend to get really sensitive or feel things really deeply. He’s always been a glass-half-full person, and I am that, but I also can get sad. So that was sort of my offering to my husband and my kids. That one was about people who lift me up when I’m feeling down. It was like, “I know I can be a lot, but you are something that brings out a lightness in me that I appreciate.”
CP: How long have you been married?
SM: We have been married for twelve years.
CP: Good for you! Is it difficult for your husband to be married to a creative person? I’m asking you to speak for him, of course.
SM: We met when we were 13. I feel like we’re a really good balance for each other. He does a great job of being married to a creative person. He’s such an amazing sport because I imagine that it would be [difficult]. He is a very logical person and it is not in his nature to share his feelings with the world and he’s married to a woman who writes songs and shares them with everybody. The other day, I was doing something about the album and promoting it and I was getting really worked up and he was like, “Oh, I guess I need to remember it’s album time again. It’s on, isn’t it?”
CP: Given that you’ve been married for quite some time, do you have any advice or wisdom about what keeps a marriage strong?
SM: For us, it’s always been being each other’s best friends. Laughter. When my husband and I started dating, he made me laugh like no one else could make me laugh, ever. He still does. I think that is huge. I think being able to take tiny moments in the kitchen – I write lots of songs where I have lovers meeting in the kitchen – because tiny moments where you connect and really look at each other in the middle of all the busyness are really important.
Where: The Hook and Ladder
When: 7:30 p.m. Fri. Nov. 10
Tickets: $12 - $15; more info here