Editor’s note: SORNE will headline our Red River Noise showcase on Friday, Feb. 17, at Frank in Austin, Texas. Visit our Facebook event page for more details.
Morgan Sorne’s face is striking enough to divert attention from his mouth when first responding, “Tallahassee, Florida” to the icebreaker, “Where are you from?” He is cloaked in freckles that extend to his arms and neck, matching the rich brown eyes that look down as he speaks in soft tones. He keeps his backpack on while sitting down, coffee in hand, and proceeds to talk for 18 minutes straight before moving on to a second question.
Born at the highest point of elevation in the Panhandle, right up against an Indian burial ground, Sorne grew up with dreams of Indians coming out of the woods surrounding his home. Music and Christianity encircled him as a child. The latter, he grew out of. The first, he embraced. His mother, an opera singer, enrolled him in a music program after her voice coach suggested it. Sorne remembers hating it profoundly even at the age of three, but after throwing a rock at a kid’s face, his days at the school for the gifted ended. Music never left him.
In the last few years, Sorne has written over 80 songs. The first 13 were released in 2011 in his debut album, House of Stone, and he’s working on the rest to be released in a series of chapters, one for each of the five siblings, the star characters of the House of Stone saga: First Born. Second Son. Black Sister. Little Brother. Blue Sister.
Set in no particular time or place, the story speaks of family relationships, focusing on the death of the father and highlighting Sorne’s obsession with the Divine Mother. House of Stone grew in his mind for years, the characters initially born as direct reflections of his mother and her siblings. Stone evolved from childhood views of family into characters with a life of their own, each representing, in Sorne’s words, “archetypes of the human condition.” Today, SORNE the band includes Morgan, Kevin Naquin and Deano—no last name, just Deano—along with a production team that brings Sorne’s music and visual artistry to life.
Sorne attended Florida State University, where his friend and mentor Jim Roche encouraged him to give Texas a shot. “I visited Austin and realized that it’s very eclectic and has a lot of the amenities that cities like San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles have but without the chaos. Without the overpopulation,” Sorne says. “So it was a place where I could develop the vocabulary for the work, and at the same time live peacefully and maintain a certain level of sanity.”
When first moving to Texas in 2007 he showed at a gallery in Marfa, which pushed him to pursue his original idea of the five siblings. “The terrain inspired me and gave birth to the idea of children lit by moonlight, wearing costumes they had made from the remnants of memory.” He built the five pieces, which organically intertwined with his need for creating music.
With no means of buying musical equipment, he improvised, starting with an old computer his father gave him and an interface to record with. He created sounds from what he could find around the house. “It was even more appropriate to the nature of why I make art, to be a creature of expression without being inhibited by things, and celebrating the idea of viewing something with potential.”
Printer drones. His dog’s ears flapping. A canvas he flicked with his finger, a harp he found at a garage sale, his dad’s guitar, his grandfather’s old piano, kazoos, bells, pots and pans. All were used to create House of Stone, the narrative of the five siblings. At the same time, Sorne produced music people could connect with without knowing the original story. What he came up with is a collection far from what we hear on a regular basis. It’s ethereal, yet completely tribal and animalistic. It’s raw and seemingly untouched, but clean and beautifully produced. Influenced mainly by sounds of other cultures—Japanese, African, Native American—Sorne’s vocals, lyrics and visual aesthetic come together majestically to entrance listeners and send them on a trip: to another time, to another world, where nature rules and the busy distractions of today are left behind.
Sorne sits still, never shifting or fiddling. He takes long pauses to think, carefully choosing his words. He reads everything that’s written about him and his work. Sometimes, he asks others to read things on his behalf. Sorne looks down at his hands and says softly that he takes everything to heart. “I want to be connected to how it’s affecting people, though, even if it’s negative,” he says. “In fact, I’d rather it be negative than someone being indifferent to it.”
Sorne’s work could definitely lead to some negativity—or skepticism, more likely. He speaks like a poet thinks, and makes no apologies. He quotes the Dalai Lama and lists Kerouac and Ginsberg as influences, saying he fell in love with “Ginsberg’s tangent of human suffering, beautiful suffering.” The Beats influenced him in more ways than one. “You kill your creative self when you say, ‘It’s up to me to put out the greatest painting or song ever.’ I’m a vessel to it, but it’s not me speaking, it’s universal rhythm speaking. Kerouac and Ginsberg, they epitomized what it meant to be a conduit for creativity.”
At home, taped above his desk is a piece of paper that says: “Great creator, I will focus on the quantity of the work and I will allow you to focus on the quality of the work.” He looks at it every morning.
His music, his art pieces, his words, they could potentially confuse people. “The fact that it’s a concept record could initially come off as being incredibly pretentious. But I’ve had people who know me well and people who don’t know me well tell me that it only takes a second to look at it to realize that couldn’t be anything but fallacy,” he says. “It couldn’t be farther from the truth. It’s really me just embracing myself, saying, ‘I want to pursue myself, I want to love myself for who I am, I want to discover myself and I essentially challenge you to do the same thing in whatever your endeavor is.’” He says this with startling sincerity.
Even though SORNE is barely starting, the man behind the project—like any man with true passion—wants more. He speaks not with traces of dangerous ambition, but with longing. Sorne dreams of ultimately restoring an old factory and building a creative center for people to come together and work. He says this, for the first time, with urgency—his words rushed and eager. In the eight months since House of Stone has been released, the response has been overwhelmingly positive—people have tied him to everyone from Nine Inch Nails to Bjork to Jeff Buckley—making his dreams actually realistic. “At times I just stop and think, ‘What right do I have to make music? What right do I have to make art? Why do you do it?’ I went back to those simple and pure moments, and for me it’s a means of healing. That’s why I make music. To heal. To grow stronger. To listen.”
Photo courtesy of SORNE, taken by Matt Dayton.