The lyric, and The Divide as a whole, represents an evolution not only of how Morris' voice sounds, but also what he has to say about it. Morris has made his name in Portland as a member of indie trio Little Star and experimental folk-pop outfit Post Moves. "I'm gonna give you my voice," he sang on Little Star's 2016 song "Voice." But not long after he released the song, Morris, who is trans, says his voice dropped an octave due to transitioning hormone therapy, and his ability to hit the song's high notes was obliterated.
"[I] slowly felt like my voice was becoming more and more distant," he says of his position in Little Star.
In an attempt to reconcile his anxieties about his changing voice with an eagerness to be heard, Morris rushed out his first post-transition Layperson release, 2016's Tidings, an EP he now deems "half-baked." The EP sounds distinctly more uptempo than The Divide, possibly due to the urgent nature of its creation.
With The Divide, Morris' determination to serve up a fully baked, full-length debut led to a shambolic two-year process of scrapped "drafts" and do-overs. After recording a full version of the album with one band, he ended up rewriting and re-recording it between Type Foundry studio and his own "shitty basement." In the true DIY spirit, Morris orchestrated the album's title track with help from his friend's $75 guitar and a strategic setup of cheap microphones. But the uncertainty paid off. "[The album] got enough time to really discover itself and figure out what it was," Morris says.
It's fitting, then, that Morris describes the overarching theme of the album as "the conflict, confusion and sacrifice of long-term commitment." Morris brings the influences of his relationships and Americana imagery together on tracks like "Brakeless Heart," a "country ballad caricature" from the perspective of a person in love with someone who is more in love with music. In "Brakeless Heart" and "Funeral Dance," Morris compares the threat of lost love to a train derailment. But in all of its conflict, confusion and sacrifice, The Divide sounds as hopeful and openhearted as it does bittersweet and introspective.
Morris's earnest folk-pop lyricism has been compared to that of Cat Stevens. Early glimpses of Morris' vocally driven, "folkish" record have also sparked comparisons to the powerful vocal androgyny of Tracy Chapman and the rainy-day musings of Elliott Smith. In the album's two-year incubation period, though, Morris settled into his own voice. "I feel like it's at a place now where it represents me as well as my other voice did, which is really what I want," he says. "I want it to be an expression of me."
No matter the octave or outlet, or whether it's a "big voice from nowhere" or an all-knowing voice somewhere within, Morris encourages himself and his audience to listen. On the album's closing track, "Somebody Already Knows," Morris looks to his inner voice.
"There's so much messaging I feel like we get all the time from ourselves that just gets ignored by, like, looking at another text message or being distracted or just having a super-crappy, self-loathing thought, and [the inner] volume gets turned down," he says. "You can crank it up and really hear what you need."
SEE IT: Layperson plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., mississippistudios.com, with Iji, on Sunday, March 31. 9 pm. $5. 21+.