Interview: Introducing Thea and her new single 'So Simple'.
Anyone who has listened to Rex Orange County's song 'Sycamore Girl' (and with over five million Spotify plays, it seems many have) is familiar with Thea Morgan-Murrell's voice. And what a voice it is. Wholeheartedly full of life, luminous, and vibrantly charismatic, Thea's vocals alone makes it easy to understand why she's the titular inspiration behind Rex Orange County's 'Apricot Princess' album.
But it's on her own music that Thea truly shines. Debut single 'Grandfather Clock' is a slice of honeyed humble pie ("You know when you're in a situation and sometimes you just can't see that you're being a bitch?"), and follow-up 'So Simple' tenderly deep dives into an ocean full of emotions, but always the star of the show is Thea's voice - warm, inviting, and elegant to no end.
Coup De Main met up with Thea recently in Los Angeles to go on a Malibu day-trip together, and discuss her musical past, present, and future...
Relationships shouldn't be hard. Obviously there are complicated relationships, but it's better if the complication is not directly because of your relationship...
COUP DE MAIN: What's your very first earliest musical memory?
THEA MORGAN-MURRELL: My whole family are musicians, so I grew up side of stage from young. My earliest musical memory? I would have been about six years old, I was in 'A Christmas Carol' as part of a theatre company, I played little boy Scrooge and had to sing a Christmas carol. Something like ‘Silent Night’? I was onstage on my own under a spotlight and I was terrified, but it was the day I realised I wanted to sing, not act!
CDM: You went to BRIT School to study music right?
THEA: Yeah, I went for four years. I auditioned as a singer, usually they like it if you play with an instrument as well, but I'm not like, that great, so I literally just got a backing track and sung, and they must have thought it was all right 'cuz I got in. Singing was my specific thing. Although, they don't give you lessons in singing, and they don't give you lessons in your instrument, which is weird.
CDM: Do you want to learn how to play any instruments?
THEA: I can roughly accompany myself on piano, but my chords aren't very inspiring to me, so I don't like writing while playing. And I'm really impatient, every time I sit down at the piano and I get something wrong, I just get really frustrated quickly. I would like to do, but I just need to be in the right headspace at the right time.
CDM: How does your songwriting process work?
THEA: It's usually quite different every time. Although recently, I have been starting off with just piano and singing until something sticks, and then building from that.
MY FAVOURITE PART ABOUT SONGWRITING IS...
CDM: We are so excited about your new song ‘So Simple’ - it’s so good! What was running through your mind while you were writing that song?
THEA: Thank you! I was talking to the guy I was working with, we were just talking about me and Alex [O'Connor a.k.a. Rex Orange County], and I kind of just came to the realisation that our little world that we live in together is very simple. We simply love each other, and we get on with our work, and we see each other at the end of the day, and there's not many complications. I am very fortunate to be in a relationship where it's so simple. We just love each other and that's that. We were really good friends actually, before we started dating, so it kind of just works.
CDM: How did you meet each other?
THEA: We met at school. I was in the year above Alex, and he used to send me his first stuff, to be like, 'Do you think this is any good?' And I'd be like, 'Yep... it's pretty good.' And that's how we met.
CDM: Do you think that the best love is something that is simple and comes easy? Pop-culture seems to make us think that love should be a game, with a lot of complications.
THEA: Yeah, in pop-culture they put a lot out in the public eye, and I don't know how much of it's real, and I don't know how much of it's marketing. Relationships shouldn't be hard. Obviously there are complicated relationships, but it's better if the complication is not directly because of your relationship, but more like, the complication for Alex and me would be that one of us is going away for three weeks and we won't be able to see each other. And that's pretty much as complicated as it gets for us.
CDM: It's not like the whole world is trying to tear you apart.
THEA: Yeah, in terms of the whole pop-culture thing, I don't know how much of it is--
CDM: Not everything has to be 'Titanic'.
THEA: Definitely not. A bit dramatic.
HOW I FEEL ABOUT MY NEW SONG 'SO SIMPLE'...
CDM: At this time of us talking, you only have one official song out to date, ‘Grandfather Clock’, which we love. What was it about that song that made you want to release it as the first official Thea song in the world?
THEA: I've been working on my original music for about four years now, and I've had quite an interesting journey with music. I had a manager, and that didn't work out because I was too young--
CDM: How old were you then?
THEA: I think I was about sixteen. So that was a difficult start, and then I got really disheartened after that. But I worked with loads of different people during the first time I had a manager, and the one song that kept coming back to me was 'Grandfather Clock', and I think it just represents the music that I have been making over the last four years. I'd written a bunch of songs and that was the one that kept coming back, and I do think it really represents all the genres that I'm really into, kinda all merged into one. Also, it's quite a chill song, it's not a statement song. I didn't want to release my first song to be like, 'Hello! I'm here! It's me!'
CDM: No choreographed dance routines?
THEA: <laughs> I just kind of wanted something to fall out, and have people listen and like it, and it gradually and slowly build some kind of fanbase. I didn't want to be like, 'Hello!!!'
CDM: I'm sad to hear about your early experiences. It seems to be a common thing with female musicians I've interviewed, that they found it really hard at that young age to say 'no' and assert themselves to their first manager.
THEA: I was at school, and all my friends were either singers or musicians and they all wanted to do the same thing, and I was pretty much the only person in my year that was getting industry attention. So to me, it was like, 'Wow! This is a big deal.' And I started working with a bunch of people trying to get all this music together, but it was just such a confusing time, and it's just really disheartening when you're that young. When it doesn't go to plan, you're like, 'Oh, I'm shit. I'm not good enough.'
CDM: It's tough because music is such a personal thing.
THEA: Exactly. It kind of just confused me, I was like, 'I don't really know what I'm doing.'
CDM: But now you have a plan.
THEA: Yes! Now I've got a plan.
CDM: Did you draw the clock and little doodles on the single cover for 'Grandfather Clock'? They’re cute.
THEA: I actually did. I'm not going to call myself an artist, but it was a bunch of fun.
CDM: Is the sample in the song actually from your Grandfather’s clock?
THEA: It's not! I wish it was.
CDM: That's false advertising.
THEA: It is false advertising. It's just a sample from the producer that I was working with unfortunately. I do like grandfather clocks though, I might get one.
CDM: The spoken-word part in the bridge is super honest. Did you write that specifically for the song, or was it from a conversation that you added in?
THEA: It was actually a conversation. I leave Voice Memos on in my sessions, so that I can pick out anything I've sung that I like, just in case I forget anything. It was actually just a conversation between me and the producer, and we put it in, and it actually happened to go in time with the track, and we were like, 'AHHH!!!'
CDM: You say, “I’m now the vulnerable one,” at the end of that bridge. Why do you think vulnerability in relationships is so scary? Especially when it’s at the beginning?
THEA: I think vulnerability is a really scary emotion. It's something that everyone deals with at the beginning of a relationship. I'm quite fortunate that there's not much vulnerability in my relationship. Once you can get past the first thing of trusting someone, understanding them, and knowing if they want what you want, I think it's really important to be confident in your relationship. Because if one person in the relationship is feeling vulnerable, it's hard for both parties. 'Cuz otherwise one person's going to be like, 'Why do you feel vulnerable? I'm doing everything to make you not vulnerable, but you still feel vulnerable?' That's off-putting for both parties.
CDM: And then both of your insecurities will just feed off each other.
THEA: Exactly. I'm in a very confident relationship, and that's why it works.
CDM: Are ‘Grandfather Clock’ and ‘So Simple’ from an upcoming EP that you’ve been working towards?
THEA: They are all standalone songs. I'm looking to put out a project next year. I think I'd like to reel off a couple more standalone songs this year - people will like them or they won't, but yeah, another project is coming next year.
CDM: Are you going to continue to release them independently without a label?
THEA: Yeah, I'm not looking at labels yet. You only really kind of get one shot and you've got to do it cleverly, and if you take your time and if you put the time in, then you're going to get back what you want in the end. I think it's important to be slow and take your time and be steady.
CDM: What do you think is the strongest human emotion?
THEA: Adoration. It's such a strong feeling when you adore someone, it's very overwhelming that you care so much about someone that you go out of your way to do everything you can for them.
CDM: You’ve been coming out at some of Rex Orange County's shows to perform ‘Sycamore Girl’ together - how has that experience been for you?
THEA: It's been really great. Everyone has been so welcoming, which always helps with my nerves. When I get onstage and hear the cheer and people are like, "We love you," it just makes me so happy. And because it's not my own show, it's been really good for building my confidence up, because I'm a nervous performer. I've always been like that, but everyone's been so welcoming.
CDM: And you performed ‘Grandfather Clock’ in London?
THEA: I did! I just performed at Koko, which was crazy. That was so much fun, and so terrifying, but a lot of fun. And it was so nice to have Alex, and Jim and Daryl (the band), just be there to support me through it, which was really great.
CDM: Do you have plans to start playing your own shows?
THEA: I do. I think that at the beginning of next year I'll do a small show, and then from there, see where I can go with it.
CDM: Have you been in the studio lately?
THEA: I don't work with that many people at the moment, because as I said, the first time round I worked with a bunch of people and it kind of confused me, so the second time round I was like, 'Right! I need to find people who are really suitable to me, and stick with a couple of people, build a proper relationship with them and trust.' I don't write many lyrics in a session, because how are you meant to be honest with some random person you don't know? But I've actually just started to build a little studio in the cabin in the back of our garden, so that will be handy. So a lot of stuff at home, but there's not been loads in studios, like session-work, it's more just myself, or me and Alex because he can help me with playing piano and stuff. Or me and a couple of the people that I work with.
CDM: We've really got to know. How did you end up with the name Apricot Princess? Do you just really love apricots?!
THEA: Alex had been calling me Apricot Princess for quite some time, and then just one day I was like, 'That's a really cool name for an album or something.' And then he heard it and just ran with it, and it fit perfectly with his vision for the album. In terms of liking apricots, I like apricot jam, I like an apricot face-scrub, but I'm not too fussed about apricots the fruit.
CDM: Where did the nickname come from?
THEA: Like, why did he start calling me that? I have no idea! We're quite random. We say a lot of weird shit.
MY FAVOURITE REX ORANGE COUNTY SONG IS...
CDM: If T.H.E.A. was an acronym, what would each letter stand for?
THEA: Thea's Happy Ever After.
CDM: And what else do you have planned for 2018?
THEA: More standalone songs. That's basically it! It's the start, so I'm just gonna reel off a couple of singles, see how they go, see what people are saying about them, and that's it in terms of 2018, that's what we've got planned. Just more songs to come out.
THE #1 THING ON MY BUCKET-LIST IS...
Listen to Thea's new single 'So Simple' below...
ALL PORTRAIT PHOTOS OF THEA BY: DILLON MATTHEW