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Whispertown’s Morgan Nagler on the Power of Pure Heart In an Era of Madness

Whispertown's Morgan Nagler, photo by Jake Bellows

December 5, 2017 | by Jocelyn Hoppa photo by Jake Bellows

It’s been a long year — nay, the longest year. While there’s no need to run down the list of atrocities, it’s safe to say the far-reaching consequences of having one’s hope and joy blown to smithereens every damn day isn’t sustainable. A person can only live in fear, sadness, and anger for so long. Then again, turning on the heels of hell and on into feelings of empathy, and love, ain’t exactly easy either.

Comfort in chaos seems unnatural, but that is where Whispertown’s latest full-length release I’m A Man comes in with a message. It’s a record that certainly doesn’t forgo acknowledging the mounting anguish human beings experience these days, but Morgan Nagler (the driver of this project) did turn out a reminder there’s still some goddamn beauty to be found in living. And for that, we thank her.

Whispertown has seen several incarnations since its inception in 2004 under the name Vagtown 2000 (the band’s first record was in 2006, Livin’ In A Dream) featuring a rotating cast of supporting bandmates and band names under their more well-known Whispertown 2000.

This year’s I’m A Man is a stripped-down acoustic affair laced with some unique production elements, where the songs bring melancholy into the fold, which are then shot through Nagler’s prism of colorful optimism. It’s not all sweet and naively delivered, quite the opposite. Nagler’s lyrics grant the listener with indie hymns advocating for finding some freedom in life’s journey and all its incessant plot twists.

In a time full of unknowns, I’m A Man is grounding.

NO RECESS!: It’s been five years since your last release, the EP Parallel. Since Whispertown has changed its name and roster of musician a few times, tell us what this project means to you as the driving force behind it?

MORGAN NAGLER: The driving force behind Whispertown, in it’s many outfits, has been communication at a heart level. Song writing has felt like the closest to pure expression for me since I discovered it’s magic at the beginning of my adulthood. I believe empathy could be the skeleton key to peace, and communication seems integral.

NR!: Aside from names and member changes, how has your music developed over the last decade or so? It seems like this year’s I’m A Man is a bit more stripped-down, lo-fi, and personal.

NAGLER: Yes. I feel like I’m A Man is definitely a stripped back, boiled down go of it. It’s always interesting and inspiring to work in new ways and styles. The goal for this album was to really bring out the songs in their initial acoustic form, but put them in their own unique worlds production-wise. I feel Jake Bellows really accomplished this in a beautifully effective way. I think in artistic pursuits, and universally speaking, it’s always about the journey. Development lies in the twists and turns, but it’s important to remember there is no finish line.

NR!: I read that during your last album you had to put the Whispertown project on hold after losing your voice due a vocal chord polyp. What did you have to do to get your voice back into singing shape? Did you have to change how you sing?

NAGLER: Yes! Speaking of the journey... I initially opted out of surgery, as it’s such a sensitive area, and dedicated myself to two years of speech and voice therapy. And yes, I had to actually learn how to sing — which ironically had never occurred to me before. Haha. It really took discipline, which was somewhat of a foreign subject to me at the time. Aside from misuse and overuse of my singing voice, I was told that I actually spoke wrong. Daunting to say the least. Much like we already discussed, it’s a never ending journey. A life long evolution! Ultimately, I am feeling more comfortable in my voice now than ever before, so I am grateful for the polyp. Haha.

NR!: A lot of your new record touches on odes to freedom (“Born to Ride”) and meeting the realities of our daunting present with feeling of love and optimism. There’s a track called “Get Happy” where you sing “get happy is the only thing you can do.” Tell us more about this optimism, hopeful stuff, we’re all ears.

NAGLER: I think everything really comes down to perspective. What we choose to focus on. So I choose, (or attempt to choose) to focus on hope and beauty, while fully acknowledging despair and darkness. It’s a fine line. Ultimately, I feel more useful and powerful when I embrace the metaphoric and literal smile and try to spread joy. Easier said than done, but worth the pursuit!

Whispertown, I'm A Man

NR!: There’s real charming, haunting, California vibe to I’m A Man. I imagine living in LA helps… what is your song “Los Angeles” about (other than about living there)? The song doesn’t necessarily seem to be empty at all when it talks about “catch a wave that could crush you.”

NAGLER: Being from here, Los Angeles has my heart. It’s a real land of opportunity, dreams, right and wrong reasons, risk, sacrifice, struggle, pay off, and ultimately a melting pot of gold. It really has everything to offer — good and bad. She’s a dynamic bitch, an ocean view, and a hologram. The song is about the evolution of a dream and the charged energy she carries... and also the medicine that is her natural beauty. Catch a wave that could crush you... and ride.

NR!: Part of your story as an artist is that you were a child actor, starting with Punky Brewster, and have quite a long acting resume on IMDB. Do you have aspirations to play bigger parts, or does acting help support your music career?

NAGLER: I started acting when I was 5, playing a “fantasy child” on Days of Our Lives. I spent my adolescence totally dedicated to it and it was all I knew. I actually learned to play guitar in my dressing room, utilizing my downtime, working on a sitcom when I was 20. When I wrote my first song the feeling was incomparable. I finally felt connected. For all intents and purposes, I quit pursuing acting around age 25 to focus on music. But random things have come up since that I have had a wonderful time working on! They have helped support each other and I am open to the parallel threads...

NR!: What inspires you the most when it comes to songwriting? Or, how do you tap into the things you want to communicate?

NAGLER: Occasionally, life events serve as inspiration, but mostly I attempt to tap into the collective consciousness and my own subconscious. Again, the power of pure heart and communication in a real way, regardless of sentiment, brings us together. And that is my intention.

NR!: Can you talk about the “oneness” you try to express through your songs? I’ve had this seemingly decades long, near-constant evolution of myself, of wanting or needing spirituality while also rejecting notions of organized religion.

NAGLER: Yes, I believe there is an energy science can not explain. Something bigger, at a soul level that cannot die. While I don’t identify with organized religion, I consider myself very spiritual. And while many ideals of organized religion resonate with me, somehow they always seem to get twisted. Maybe it’s the actual idea of being “organized”? Science seems organized. It’s a map. It’s tangible and logical. And it’s part of the human experience to try to understand. But even when I try to follow my own thread of theory, I always hit a roadblock. To me the universe is inherently unexplainable, and the journey is accepting that and trusting in the unknown, based on a gut feeling. Of love.

NR!: Do you have plans to tour this year or into 2018 since the release of I’m A Man?

NAGLER: We just finished a run opening up for the incomparable M. Ward and are brewing something up for March, hopefully reaching most corners of this unbridled mystical beast of a country.

Check out some choice tracks from I'm A Man:

"Born to Ride"

"Big Fish"

"Los Angelese"

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