Kevin Morby is a bassist, guitarist, singer and songwriter, formerly of New York-based bands Woods and The Babies. After relocating from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, Morby embarked on a solo project, releasing Harlem River (2013) and Still Life (2014). His forthcoming record Singing Saw was written in Los Angeles and recorded in Woodstock, NY, with producer Sam Cohen and a cast of supporting musicians and vocalists.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Rodrigo Amarante is a songwriter, musician and former member of the bands Los Hermanos, Orquestra Imperial and Little Joy. His career began in 1999 when he formed Brazilian band Los Hermanos, who went on hiatus in 2007 after four albums. During this hiatus, he founded Orquestra Imperial, then relocated to California, forming Little Joy with Fabrizio Moretti and Binki Shapiro. Amarante’s first solo record, Cavalo, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim.
I met Kevin at a bar, or maybe a bar is where we talked about how neither of us remember where we met. One or the other. I know I liked him right away. As he performed on stage, his elbows and guitar—the cardinal points of his figure—moved on an axis like a weathervane in a storm. His lyrics were not propped up by adjectives. He was focused. I liked that.
Kevin walks to be lucky—he’s betting on something, and it looks good. His knees pull him that way, and the corners of his mouth don’t hide it. It made me want to know where he came from and what was on his mind when he left. Maybe he was ignoring all of the odds as I was at 18, leaving my home in Brazil and zig-zagging west. So I asked him.
Rodrigo Amarante: When did you move out of Kansas City?
Kevin Morby: In 2006. I was 18 and bought a one-way ticket to New York on an Amtrak train. The idea of flying was frightening. Just the idea of leaving Kansas City seemed insane. I had an irrational fear that if I left or got too far away from it, I would die. Everyone told me to fly, but I’d never really left the Midwest so I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that I could arrive in a two hour period, as if I just ate a sandwich and watched a movie.
So I took the train. I told myself, “I’ll stop in Chicago and Cleveland, and if I’m still brave enough, I’ll go on to New York.” Chicago is the nearest big city to Kansas City, so I had a lot of friends there and thought, “It’s pretty cool here. I could just live here and not go any further.” But I forced myself to go to Cleveland and visit more friends. In Cleveland, I really thought about getting on the train back to Kansas City.
My friend dropped me off at the train station at like 5 a.m. It was like a movie moment: two trains were there, both going different ways—one to Kansas City, one to New York. I got on the one to New York, and that was a big moment for me. It was the complete opposite of flying because all of the sudden you’re in Penn Station, in the stomach of this city.
“It was like a movie moment:
Two trains were there, both going different ways
—one to Kansas City, one to New York.”
— Kevin Morby
RA: What was your plan?
KM: For most things in my life at that time, there was no plan. I had saved up like 500 dollars, which to me seemed like it could get me through a year. My plan was to meet up with friends and go from there. I didn’t have a solid place to stay or anything. I had a cell phone, but obviously my relationship to my cell phone then was nothing like today—there were no maps or anything.
RA: I also got out of town when I was 18. Dude, if I had a cell phone…
KM: Where did you go?
RA: I lived in a small city in northern Brazil called Fortaleza. Compared to a small American town, it was huge, but in terms of what was happening there, it was small. My dad had a Russian car then, and he gave it to me. It was a piece of shit, but I loved it. It kept breaking down, and whatever money I saved I put into the car until I had to leave it.
This would have been 1994. I had to hitchhike to the town and ask around for a guy with spare Russian car parts, then hitchhike back. It was a pain. By the time I got to the town, the highway patrol was looking for me. My dad somehow managed to find out where I was.
KM: Your trip sounds so magical. It’s easy for me to imagine a scenario in which someone gets in trouble because they don’t have a cell phone, but I also think having a cell phone every day is psychologically damaging. There’s a lot more real danger involved in your story of leaving town.
RA: It’s the same story in the fundamental sense. You turn 18 and want to see the world for yourself. In Rio de Janeiro, which is a great town, everybody believes it’s the best place in the world. When we moved from Rio to Fortaleza, my dad sold it to me in a very intelligent way. He said, “They just think that they’re in the best place in the world, but they don’t know what’s outside. Even if we find out that Rio’s really the best place in the world, you can only know if you leave.”