Singer and songwriter Greta Morgan lost her voice as the pandemic hit, so she headed to the desert for healing. Her new instrumental album, Desert Lullabies, conveys what she found by listening to the wild.
Greta Morgan has been a professional musician since she was 16 years old. Rising to critical acclaim as Springtime Carnivore, she crafts songs filled with vulnerability and complexity. In March 2020 when the pandemic hit, Morgan had been performing as part of Vampire Weekend but, as the world shut down, she came down with what she thinks was COVID-19. Then she found out her LA home was filled with a dangerous mold. Then she lost her voice.
Misdiagnosed wth acid reflux and hoping to bounce back, she headed out to a place that had always called to her, Zion National Park, to heal. But her voice had dramatically changed. She soon learned she had spasmodic dysphonia, which she describes as “essentially a glitch in the communication between the brain and the voice. It’s like having a tremor right in your voice box.” Her solace was the desert. Working with somatic therapist Saarah Jeffreys and out on her own, she began to listen deeper to the streams, the birds, the silence, the stars.
From those observations and emotions, she made Desert Lullabies, an instrumental album Morgan released in April. In the midst of working on a memoir, she took the time to talk to us about rediscovering herself and a deeper understanding of being human.
What called you to head to the desert to heal?
I had always dreamt of going back to Zion Canyon. I stopped there for a day on a tour in 2017, and it just stayed in my heart. I thought, I could live anywhere as long as I’m safely isolating. Why don’t I just go live in a hotel in Zion for a month and get my voice back. Immediately, I felt the healing powers of the desert. It made so much sense to me why there has always been this mythological draw to the desert for healing.
When you were facing this loss, what did you find out in the desert that helped you?
I would go into Zion Canyon every night—amazingly, no one, except Sarah, was there after eight o’clock–and I would just spend time with the animals, with the river, and listen. My whole life had been full of sound, of man-made sound, leading up to this moment: A record always playing. I played drums. I played guitar. I played piano. I sang. Now, my listening became so powerful that when I was watching the Perseid meteor shower, I thought I could hear the stars. I would go to the wilderness areas outside the park and just wander alone for a day or two. Just being among all of the creatures of the natural world, I would see how purely they are authentically themselves. There’s no pretending to be anything else. It mirrored back to me all the ways that I had been pretending or that I had wanted to present some version of who I was.
How did that experience transfer into the ability to make the music on Desert Lullabies?
I would just ask myself questions: If that meteor shower was a song, what would it sound like? Or if the feeling of the silkiness of the desert air was a musical tone, what tone would it be? I would come back at night and play these little ideas and archive these sounds. I was just trying to translate my experience of being in these beautiful places directly into music. And I was also trying to make music that serves a purpose for me, music that I could use to calm myself down. I listened to the songs so often while I was making them, adding layers and slowing them down and speeding them up. They really became like a healing medicine for me, which is the only reason why I ultimately decided to share them. I thought, if they feel healing for me, maybe someone else could benefit from them as well. So Desert Lullabies sits in a very special place in my heart because it’s the first time I’ve really felt as if I’ve needed to make music for my emotional survival.
What gives you hope?
I think often it requires more darkness to be able to earn more light. I think sometimes there are these societal backslides that have to happen in order to wake everyone up. And it’s a constant pendulum swing. We just have to be part of the momentum that will swing things back to the side of good. That’s the hope.
Download Desert Lullabies on Bandcamp at gretamorgan.bandcamp
.com, support her and follow her process of making new music on Patreon at patreon.com/gretamorgan, and follow her on Instagram @gretamorgan.
ALL PHOTOS BY SARAH JEFFREYS