"We really have to break down the attitude where people act like they don’t go through shit."
guccihighwaters has just released his brilliant new album 'joke's on you' via Epitaph. The album will be released physically on July 16 and can pre-ordered right HERE
After releasing a series of singles throughout 2020 on his new label, 'joke's on you' finds gucci, real name Morgan Murphy, diving deep into who he is as an artist as well as a human. As raw and honest as it is visceral and textured, it's a collection of songs that not only expresses where he has come from to reach this point but also indicate where he is heading, more confident and considered than ever before.
We jumped on the phone with Morgan to talk about the creation of the record, the pressures that come with people's eyes being on you and how the project has grown along with him throughout this journey...
How does it feel to have a collection of songs like ‘joke's on you’ out in the world now as a thing to represent what guccihighwaters is right now?
“For me, I think it’s vulnerable, it’s confident and there is a real mix between the two. I still have the lyrical content centred about sadness and mental health but also the production on this album is also a little livelier. That didn’t really change the whole vibe of the music that I’ve always been making though. The way I look at this album though is that it’s the next step. The last time I put out an actual album I was in such a different place. I had never played a show, I didn’t have a manager, I wasn’t on a label. This album signals the second chapter of my career. It’s the first record where I’ve been able to collect all of my experiences like I’ve toured so I now want to make a song that goes hard when I get to tour next. More than anything, it just feels as though my music is evolving.”
When did you feel that shift from making music in your bedroom within a tightknit community to something much bigger? What was it that made things feel different?
“I think it has to be right when people started hitting me up for management. Before that I was obviously just managing myself. I wasn’t doing anything major though; it was just putting music up on SoundCloud. I had a distributor online as well. It was just super easy and laid back. Yet as soon as people started hitting me up, I was like, ‘What do I need a manager for?’ Everything was already going well in my head. But I had never thought about labels or touring or any of these things that mainstream artists do. I didn’t think about where I could be, I was just thinking about how good things were going now. It’s almost like I was too innocent and blinded by the fact that I was being paid to make music and it was going well. I wasn’t thinking about where I would be next year or anything. My manager completely changed my mindset. At first, it was really scary seeing how quickly it was getting serious, but then after a few months I understood that I either quit or I go to the next step.”
It’s definitely daunting when you’re going from presenting your music to a small community that understands what you’re doing to having it advertised and promoted to absolutely everyone. Even more daunting when it’s music that you inject so much personal stuff into…
“It is crazy and I often think about it. I’ve come so far with being comfortable with the stuff that I put out, and it took so long. When I started the project it was anonymous. It wasn’t attached to me in any way. None of the people I knew in real life knew about it. I was just thinking, ‘This is fun and I like it but I don’t want anyone I know listening to it’. If someone from the Internet likes it, then that’s it. When I started, that’s all that I wanted to do. I didn’t want it to be my thing in real life. It wasn’t in my control though. After a while I just started dropping hints because it was getting big. I was also producing before under the moniker notmorgn, so people knew I was a producer, and when I started gucci I posted some of my beats on that profile and vice versa. Then when I revealed it was my vocal project people were like, ‘No way’. From then my friends would be like, ‘I like your vocal shit’ and I would be like, ‘How do you even know about that?’ The word just spread and suddenly everyone knew. These things simply aren’t in your control. So I’ve been getting used to that and getting used to having my feelings out there on this pedestal and advertised to everybody. I think at this point in 2021, it’s clear everybody has feelings. We really have to break down the attitude where people act like they don’t go through shit. Be proud of what you went through because everybody goes through it. I’m not afraid to say the things I say.”
So where did the first pieces of this record in particular start coming together? How did you then start piecing together the overall vibe and mood?
“It was probably in February 2020, right around when quarantine started to hit. I was living in LA at the time. I was talking to Brett from Epitaph and he hinted at me putting together a project or an EP or something. Then I had a talk with my manager and she said, ‘Why don’t you try and make an album? It feels like it’s about time’. Believe it or not, this is the first album that I have properly worked on. It’s kind of confusing because my first “album” labelled ‘Post-Death’ is actually just a collection of my first singles from at the beginning. So this is really my debut album. I had never been like, ‘I need to make 14 songs’ and then sat down and made them. So at first, I was like, ‘What do I do?’ Do I think of a concept first? Do I think art? I had a long time to figure stuff out though.
“This was all just before I moved back to New York as well. My life story is a bit all over the place. I was born in New York, then I grew up in Ireland and then I moved back to New York when I was a teenager. So New York is kind of my home in the US. So I moved back because quarantine was just so boring in LA and I knew that this was where I was going to make the album. I just set up a studio and started making beats and writing stuff. It felt slow at the start but the more that I built it the easier it got. By the end, I was making three demos a day. I never thought I could have that much inspiration.”
Did that change of scenery, plus being stuck in that place, have a huge effect on what you were producing?
“Yeah, 100%. It wasn’t as obvious to me when I was making the album but moving back was very symbolic. I was in LA for a year and I was just getting used to it but didn’t feel like I had settled down at any point. The music that I was making always so sad, which is funny to say but it was pretty dark and there wasn’t much life to any part of it. It just felt really sad. I noticed that really does reflect how I am doing. If I make a song that sounds like that, then that’s how I’m really feeling.”
You need to force action on that as well then, don’t you? Do you carry on down that path or do you make a change to get out of that mindset?
“Absolutely. LA is cool and it was a great experience for me. It just felt like I was missing all of these pieces and then when I moved back all those pieces were back. It snapped me back on track. New York is where I started gucci after all. In the same neighbourhood and in the same room. It was me going back to my roots in a way. It was a really good move.”
What do you feel is the core of ‘joke's on you’ then? What is it that holds that these songs together?
“I probably can’t figure out one word to describe it, but this album feels like all of these different aspects of me coming together. Even though every song has some sort of dark and depressing story in there, as a whole it feels like my whole life deconstructed. Different thoughts and different feelings that all fit together in exactly the same way. Take the song ‘Sometimes’, which is where I talk about feeling pretty depressed but I’m still saying how I will be there for you. Then in ‘Highschool’, it’s like, ‘Damn I’m feeling nostalgic, life used to be better when I was younger’. It’s so many different stories.”
Going over so many of those different parts of your life up to now must definitely have been easier being in familiar surroundings…
“Yeah, in LA I was really questioning myself in terms of where music was going for me. I was running into a wall. I just needed that inspiration. Though what was really fun about making these songs that I would sit in my room and stay up super late making beats and a random memory would pop up in my head. It could have been last week or two years ago, but as I was making the beat the sound of it would almost become that soundtrack for that certain time in my life. The sound from the beats and piano melodies that I create always give me visuals. It’s not like I have to think really deeply about what I’m going to write about, it’s just there.”
To be able to manage and create something like that and actually enjoy doing it is something that many wouldn’t be able to do considering the newfound pressure on you…
“When I talk to people and they are working on an album or something big, a lot of the time they are usually stressed. You’ve got to make these amazing songs in a set amount of time and all these people are going to hear and sometimes those people are going to say, ‘This one sucks’. It’s hard, but I think that whatever happened when I moved back to New York made me believe in myself again and know that this was going to be sick.”
What do you feel like as the artist you are now compared to how you were back when you were still trying to figure things out?
“It’s funny because it’s changed so much. It almost doesn’t feel like the same thing, if that makes sense. Not in a sad way or anything, but the excitement of everything definitely slowed down. I’m not going to be jumping around my room with these new songs like I did when one of my early songs got 100 likes or something. Everything has matured really. I’m 22, about to be 23, now and I started this when I was 19. I was still growing up back then. As I was getting bigger with my music I was also developing into a full adult at the same time. I changed as a person and as a result, my career changed too. And yeah, music became my career. This is no longer just a fun hobby. It’s much more serious than it used to be and I’m more serious than I used to be. It’s something that I hold so close and dear to me as well.”
Would you say that ‘joke's on you’ has you to become the most well-rounded and thoroughly version of what you wanted guccihighwaters to be, even if you didn’t expect it to look like this?
“I’ll be honest, I never expected gucci to pop off. It’s almost a blessing that I’m here right now in this place where I’m comfortable and successful because I didn’t plan for it. I didn’t manifest it. People always say to set your goals and make things happen, but I just rode the wave. I uploaded music for fun and enjoyed doing it. To this day, I still don’t have this ultimate goal in my head and I feel as though that’s super healthy. No matter what happens, there will always be happiness to be found within that. I just want to keep on working super hard and the results of that will always show. I never saw any of this coming but I’m super happy that I’m here.”