“I think it’s to fall in love with your life. Exactly as it is. Stop blaming everyone and everything else and just see what’s really happening here.” This introspective reflection comes from Julian Morris, the voice and mind behind Portland’s Layperson. As the anticipation builds, Layperson is set to release a fresh full-length album this fall via Lung Records + Bud Tapes. Titled “Massive Leaning”, this 9-track endeavor does more than just delve into the aftermath of a relationship’s end. Instead, it poetically captures the journey from grief to the surprising wonder that emerges from the void of loss.
“Black Pool” serves as a alluring glimpse of what to expect from the forthcoming album. It is a single that irresistibly invites listeners to sing along, and it’s effortlessly captivating, making one wish the song would play on endlessly. Even with its catchy rhythm and uplifting feel, the song doesn’t shy away from its profound theme. As Morris reflects on the heartbreak, he describes the sensation as being on the brink of comprehension, noting, “It’s the kind of information that leaves your brain at the edge of what it can conceive. The song wasn’t overthought; it came out as spontaneously as a gut punch.” “Black Pool” captures that pivotal moment of fracture – when one world collapses and makes way for a new one to emerge.
In our interview, we discuss the inspiration behind his musical project name ‘Layperson’, the deeper themes within “Massive Leaning”, and his personal approach to navigating the challenges of the music industry.
photography by Yaara Valley
How did you come up with the name “Layperson” for your musical project, and what does it signify for you as an artist?
I came up with Layperson in my early 20’s (I’m 34 now). I had been recording music under my name and I wrote an album called “Layperson.” It sort of seeped in over time that the name was meant to stretch beyond one album, so it became a moniker. It comes from my approach to writing music. I’ve tried to learn to read music on several occasions and my body just seems to reject the process. In my 20’s I adopted the moniker because I don’t feel like a member of the musical clergy, more like I’m singing out in the pews with all the other people. There is a spirit to the word for me about staying human, one person among many, not claiming mastery or hierarchy.
The description of “Massive Leaning” goes beyond just a break-up album. What would you say is the central theme or message of it?
I think the theme of Massive Leaning is just to let life unfold itself. It’s pretty non-linear. There’s heartbreak bumping up against spiritual ecstasy bumping up on boredom and depression. Break-ups are such places of initiation and transformation, so in a way the album traces that process. I lost a really precious person, and I felt all the waves of that unfolding. The album is a container for that process.
How did the four-year process of creating this album challenge and change you as an artist?
Patience! This album took so long. My sun is in Aries, so I tend to write and create in fits and bursts. I had to learn how to let go of a timeline and focus on quality and a sense of completion. Also, the album had a chameleon energy to it as my grief shifted and songs started expressing a myriad of things other than heartbreak. In a sense, I had to wait long enough to let the album reveal itself to me. It was good practice in holding on, working steadily, but also not being overly attached to timeline.
You’ve mentioned the contrast between grief and the wonder that fills the void left by loss. How did you strike a balance between these emotions in the album?
If I did strike a balance, I’m not sure it was intentional. I think it’s just how the grief felt in its unfolding. Part of losing is feeling the immensity and importance of what’s gone. There’s an empty fullness. I remember waking up at 4 am in total disbelief that I was alone. I was really scared, felt such powerlessness. And then something would sort of crawl up next to me. Amongst the tears and confusion and aloneness there was this undeniable feeling of belonging and love. I had really allowed myself to love and be loved. It hurt because it was real, and it mattered. Grief transforming into wonder also comes with the realization that the love doesn’t actually go anywhere. Phil Elverum describes this beautifully on “Love without Possession.” He says, “this love has no recipient, but still lies there smoldering.”
“Music has become something that many of us just expect to get for free… I love that more people are able to sketch out songs and try their hand at making music.”
‘Black Pool’ is portrayed as a raw expression of shock. Yet, for me, it possesses such beauty, particularly with its melancholic vibe. Congratulations on creating this wonderful piece. When you listen to it now, what emotions arise?
I think a raw expression of shock can contain beauty. We can’t actually prepare much for most of what happens in life. This song is unguarded, I describe it like a gut punch. There’s a surrendering that happens in the song, and I wanted to capture the overwhelming power of that surrendering.
When I listen now it’s not from the depths of that pool. It’s pretty removed actually. I listen now with a lot of gratitude for the experience of it. And sometimes with trepidation, because I know I’ll have to dive in there again the next time I lose something really precious to me that I wanted to keep.
In an interview, you mentioned that the fear of exposing your raw self, complete with weaknesses and insecurities, to a partner is universal. I believe this applies not only to partners but probably to everyone, from colleagues to friends. However, I sense a positive shift lately, where people are becoming more honest — at least that’s been my experience. Since that interview was five years ago, have your thoughts on this changed? Do you feel there has been a shift for you personally?
This is a great question. I agree-I think there is a sense of necessity building around being vulnerable. We are in a weird moment where the pandemic is sort of over, but most of us haven’t processed what happened much at all. We’ve had to adapt and move forward, but there hasn’t been a collective moment to fully stop and look at what happened. There’s also the climate crisis, and deeply polarizing politics on the rise. I feel like there’s a giant squeeze on all of us, like we cannot deny our connection, even if that is through seeing how fraught it is. Being vulnerable, being true, being scared or weak, there’s no way around any of that with what is here, and what is likely to come. On a personal level, I have come to realize that there’s no real way to hide from myself. Sharing what’s real for me is actually often easier than working hard to manage and control the whole thing. I’m trying to embrace the benefit of needing others, needing help.
“I mean, it’s fucking crazy to be alive!… The more I embrace the mystery of that, the more gratitude I have for this life.”
As an artist, how do you navigate the challenges of the music business while staying true to yourself and your creative vision?
When I started this album I was also beginning the process of graduate school to become a counselor. I had to stop trying to make a living from music because it was making me frustrated and unhappy. At this point I really don’t feel much pressure from the “music business” because I’m making albums for myself and my community. That said, I think in the past I felt more pressure to try and squeeze my music into forms that would be most appealing to the most people. I do feel that has shifted over time. My music has been described by a lot of people as “earnest.” Which feels pretty distinctly uncool to me. But it really is, I can hear and see that. I’m of of the opinion now that leaning into what feels most authentic when writing music is the best option, because the people who love it will really love it. You gotta let people really hear you.
Social media has become a powerful tool for artists today. How do you feel about its role in shaping an artist’s journey?
I try to be pretty sparse about my usage. That’s mostly for my mental health honestly. I get that people are hustling out there trying to get exposure and have folks come out to shows. But social media is such an intense torture device for the comparative mind. It hasn’t done me a lot of good personally. I feel like a little bit of a luddite so I may just be the curmudgeon in the corner answering this…
When scrolling through your Instagram, I observed that you frequently express gratitude. I personally believe that being thankful, whether for little or bigger moments, helps ground us. How does it shape your daily interactions or decisions?
I practice a lot of meditation. I think it is a natural predecessor to gratitude. I mean, it’s fucking crazy to be alive! I try to keep my heart really close to that realization. And then most things you come into contact with are pretty miraculous. Don’t get me wrong-I get bored and cranky and disillusioned. But that’s generally just because I’ve gone off into a story in my head. It’s baffling that we are all here walking around with very little idea of why. The more I embrace the mystery of that, the more gratitude I have for this life.
“Social media is such an intense torture device for the comparative mind.”
With the rapid evolution of technology and its impact on music, where do you see the future of the music industry?
Oh man, I really don’t feel qualified to answer this. I can say that it’s nearly impossible to make any kind of living at the scale that I play music. There are a lot of songs and albums that won’t be made because people just have to grind too hard to survive. Music has become something that many of us just expect to get for free. It’s wild that the value has been removed from it in that way. I imagine it won’t go in a way I could predict, because things so rarely do. We’ll see? I know that we need music, and that we will continue to need it. One benefit I do see with technology and music is that it’s become much easier to record yourself. I love that more people are able to sketch out songs and try their hand at making music.
Your work has been compared to artists like Sam Evian and Elliott Smith. How do you feel about such comparisons?
Sam’s music is what I send to anyone mixing a track of mine. I just think his production is spot on. Such feeling and resonance, it’s clean and so gratifying. I just connect with the feel of his music. I’m not sure about Elliott, I think a lot of people get compared to him because he really pioneered a kind of songwriting that has rippled so widely. I live in Portland and write sad songs, so we have that…
The most important thing in life?
Really rounding out the interview with the easy ones, huh? I mean, I think it’s to fall in love with your life. Exactly as it is. Stop blaming everyone and everything else and just see what’s really happening here.