Don’t get confused. This careful songbird is not the enigmatic Toronto Maple Leaf that comes up when you try to search for her. The spelling is different — hers bucks the language arts rule of “I before E except after C” rule. Because once you land on her creativity, you won’t want to depart.
Last year this hometown Allentown, Pennsylvania girl treated us to “Arizona,” a sad number so chilling we almost thought we could brave the heat of that desert state. In a way it sounded like the acoustic version of a pop trance anthem. You knew she was turning a page, but you didn’t know what was coming next. In that release David Mason was behind the controls and did an excellent job.
With “8” we heard less lamenting and more of a light-hearted come-up. We were headed into the electronic pop territory they love to play on tech industry-focused Bay Area radio stations. But we enjoy how Reilly keeps her vocals front and centre. Essentially, the trio of synths and the bouncy bass of the chorus (again, kudos Mason) are in service of the lyrics. I can only hope the folks over at Spinnin’ Records discover this gem, but don’t push her into the world of over-production.
Here we have “Instead,” and she’s back in the game. This is like Beyonce on a blues tip. She learned her life lessons last time and now she’s ready to play — on her terms. This has echoes of Motown, but is drenched in a beautiful nu-soul ethos, complete with exciting background harmony. The delay effects are used sparingly and provide a solid bed for Reilly to lose control — but only when she wants to. This is success on her terms and she’s hitting the nail on the head. No one likes to get shut out, but if you were and then heard this song, you’d probably forgive her like three times over.
Listen to "Instead" here, and learn more about Morgan Reilly in our interview below!
Your songs seem to run the gamut of pop, acoustic, soul and electronic pop, without sounding all over the place. What is it you like about producing a wide range of music?
I’ve always been incredibly indecisive, to a fault in many instances. I did musical theatre professionally for most of my childhood, and I loved getting to explore such a wide variety of roles and vocal styles. That exploration translated into my writing, and when I find a style I like (whether it’s pop, R&B, soul, hip-hop, etc) I latch onto it and write it to death until I get bored, then move onto the next. It keeps me on my toes and keeps my career exciting and fresh. There’s such a thrill in having my listeners wonder “What is she going to do next?”
What role did David Mason play in your evolution as an artist?
David Mason completely changed the game for me production-wise. In the beginning of my music career I was self producing, and it wasn’t cute. Guy Jr., an incredible producer, writer, and a dear friend of mine, guided me through my first few projects, but when I connected with David everything just clicked. Half the time we work via emails and phone calls and he’s so easy to work with, he just gets my vision and makes it happen no matter what.
You don’t shy away from the personal in your music. Why is that?
I spent so many years pretending to be someone and something I wasn’t to fit in. Growing up I had severe anxiety and was ostracized for it (being “that singer” didn’t help things all that much). To survive school and make friends I conditioned myself through the years to conceal my personality, quiet my loud and brash voice, and be the person my peers wanted me to be. During that time I threw all of my anxiety and turbulent emotions into my writing. It wasn’t until I turned 23 and ended a toxic long-term relationship that I realized that I have a voice. I have a story to tell. And yeah, a lot of that story is painful to talk about. But it’s about damn time the world learned who I am, and what I can really do. And being so vulnerable in my writing will hopefully encourage the next generation of singer/songwriters that it’s okay to be unapologetically you, because we all have our own baggage. It’s how we choose to unpack it that affects how bright we shine.
What was the production process like for “Instead”?
“Instead” was the smoothest production process I’ve ever experienced. Stuart “Mookie” Sanders and his partner Scott “Radio” Berger-Felder has this magical beat they played for me that they didn’t have anything written to. Within 5 minutes I had “Instead” scribbled in my notebook and we laid down the scratch vocals immediately. We wanted to go for an Amy Winehouse/vintage vibe in the sound, and when I did the final vocal tracking I knew we had something really special on our hands. It’s the first record I’ve released in years that’s felt like I’m listening to my own voice, if that makes sense. I’m so thankful to Mookie and Radio for taking my writing and my music to the next level.
The original take you have on tried and true themes is an incredible gift. Are you worried it will be hard to maintain your authenticity and independence as you become more popular?
Thank you so much! That’s the fun part of the business. Music is my heart and soul. It’s in my veins, it’s the rhythm that makes my heart beat, it’s the soul that keeps my pen flowing with lyric after lyric. It can be so easy to get swept away in the superficial glitz and glamour once my career continues to grow. But the only reason I’m doing this is that music is the one thing that makes me feel like my authentic self, 110% of the time. If I can’t maintain that then what’s the point of writing my truth?
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