When Morgan Kibby, a.k.a. White Sea, met with Mark Ronson and played him “Prague,” he wasn’t sure what to think. The acclaimed producer wanted to help Kibby craft a track for her then-forthcoming debut album, but after hearing that sample — an emotionally raw synth-pop epic with a new video we're premiering below — Ronson felt out of his element.
Fortunately, Kibby wasn’t looking for the British studio ace to reprise his work with Lily Allen, Amy Winehouse, Adele, or any of the other major pop stars he’s worked with over the years. Instead, the L.A.-based singer, songwriter, producer, classically trained pianist, and longtime member of M83 was hoping for a collaboration in the truest sense of the word.
“I was like, 'I want to see what you and I do in your wheelhouse,” Kibby tells Refinery29. “I want something on this record that is fun and lighter in terms of sonics. I don't want it to be so heavy and so dramatic all the time.”
The result was “Future Husbands, Past Lives,” one of the finest tracks on In Cold Blood, which dropped earlier this year. Musically, at least, “Future Husbands” is quite a bit fluffier than “Prague,” but get past those disco guitars and neon synths, and you discover a Cure jam in Whitney Houston clothing. Kibby doesn’t want to dance with somebody; she wants to grab hold of one body in particular — and it belongs to a dude she should probably let go.
“I’m never gonna give you up,” she sings in the chorus, presumably addressing the same guy she describes as “a killer” a few lines earlier. “You’re only mine.”
It’s a summer jam for those battling stage-four heartache, an ailment Kibby knows all too well. She wrote In Cold Blood in the midst of both an M83 tour and a traumatic breakup, jotting down song ideas on the bus and during quiet moments before shows. She hadn’t set out to make such a record, but as she explains, she had no choice.
“That was the most immediate emotional event, and I think the best art one can produce as an artist is honest art,” Kibby says. “To try to write about something besides the breakup would have been disingenuous. I was going through a really tough time, and all of the lyrics that were spilling out of me had everything to do with my process of grieving and letting go.”
Photo: Courtesy of Crush Music.
All the elements were in place for a maudlin, navel-gazing, dark-night-of-the-soul album, and yet In Cold Blood — a record Kibby produced almost entirely by herself — hums with energy. On “NYC Loves You,” she does her version of Pat Benatar’s “We Belong.” With “Warsaw,” she goes on the offensive, undercutting the lushness of the music with ugly lines like, “I’ll drink your wine and I’ll slap your wrist / I’ll spin your clocks and I’ll gut your fish.”
“I love dichotomous things,” she says. “I fully admit the lyrics on this record can be very intense and very harsh at times. Even 'Future Husbands' isn't the most easy-breezy lyrics to digest, but I also didn't want to make an album that made me feel like I was feeling sorry for myself.”
Had she gone the shrinking-violet route, Kibby might have risked a feminist backlash. This is, after all, the age of Beyoncé, and female artists are expected to be strong and independent — fierce. Play damsel in distress, and you’ll get slapped around like Lana Del Rey. On the other hand, going too far in the other direction is also a gamble, as ladies are supposed to be ladies — not post-modern art monsters, like Lady Gaga.
Kibby acknowledges the dangers, and while she’s happy to talk feminism, she admits she’s no expert. The very mention of the word has her consulting Merriam-Webster, and she prefaces her thoughts by quoting the two-part definition: “(1) The theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes. (2) Organized activity on the behalf of women's rights.”
“Talking about feminism these days as a female artist, it seems to become a hot button,” she says. “It's a very difficult one to navigate. On the one hand, it's something that should be easy to talk about. Ultimately, feminism, for me, my definition is this movement to equally represent women, who have traditionally been categorized as a minority in social conversations.”
In Kibby’s artistic life, being an feminist means refusing to pass judgment on others, particularly the Top 40 pop acts so often singled out for scorn. Before releasing In Cold Blood, Kibby used the White Sea moniker primarily as an outlet for remixes, and one of her most popular tracks is a reworking of Britney Spears’ “Till the World Ends.”
“All forms of expression are valuable, and it's a part of the tapestry of making art and culture,” Kibby says. “For me, doing a remix of Britney was super exciting. I'm a huge fan of hers. I love pop music. I don't know that I personally would make certain choices she's made as an artist, but that doesn't mean I can't appreciate certain aspects of what she does. That's not a politically correct answer. That's just the truth.”
She’s just as honest when asked whether she approached In Cold Blood with any conscious desire to satisfy critics or strike the right balance between vulnerable and empowered.
“While I appreciate the question, I don't think it's actually anything worth thinking about,” she says. “I think that's kind of the goal: I shouldn't have to try to find a way to balance myself to other people. I think people are dynamic. Men and women are dynamic. We have lots of interests, lots of emotions. I can be the weakest, most wilting flower one moment, and then I can absolutely bare my teeth the next.”