If one thing causes Morgan Nagler to hesitate, it's the Internet. More specifically, the way an "illusion of community" has shifted the processes of communication. "People are so mean on the Internet," she says with a laugh. "They forget they're just talking to another human."
The musician, writer, and LA native is preparing for the release of I'm a Man, her fourth record as the band Whispertown. The new album's messages of empathy, openness, and the pursuit of understanding have come to be the tenets of Morgan's core philosophy. "The more we communicate, the more we understand each other," she says. "The more we can understand each other, the more sympathy and empathy we'll have for each other. That feels like the key to an elevated universe." Positivity and heal-the-world hopefulness are not uncommon for a lifelong Californian, but this attitude feels more crucial to Morgan now than ever before. "Time passes, and I get older," she says. "That's why I keep making music. To communicate."
Even so, the playful, mysterious lyrics of I'm a Man are often hard to pin down. At times, the album conveys an existential melancholy; at others, it displays Morgan's signature "hippie optimism." Throughout, she weaves together themes of wanderlust, communication, and connection, creating a sonic tapestry of longing and love and hope.
Morgan and I talked on the phone about her new record, unexpected health challenges, and empowering oneself through empathetic connection.
Sophy Ziss: Whispertown's last release was the Parallel EP, back in 2011. How long has I'm a Man been in process?
Morgan Nagler: Let's see. It started about five or so years ago, and we had a totally different sound then. Full band and everything. We were almost through with recording, and I had even finished most of the vocals, when I started to lose my voice.
SZ: While you were singing?
MN: Not just then. I would be out to eat, or just talking with a friend, and my voice would start cutting out completely. I literally couldn't speak.
SZ: That's scary.
MN: Terrifying. So, without health insurance, it took me a while to get to the doctor. For my first doctor appointment, my friend Mandy — who I had grown up with and went to high school with — recommended her ENT. She really liked him and happened to know that he was a fan of the Postal Service. Jenny Lewis and I have been friends since we were teenagers, so I exchanged two tickets to the Postal Service at the Greek for a doctor visit.
SZ: That's the most LA sentence I've ever heard. I love it.
MN: Right? So that started the whole process, but he still couldn't diagnose what the problem was. Eventually, through MusiCares, I was able to see a specialist, and that's when I was diagnosed with a polyp on my vocal cord. They told me that a polyp is likened to a blister, and a node is more likened to a callous. So nodes can go away, but polyps can be reduced greatly. That meant surgery was an option.
What it came down to was, the polyp was caused by misuse and overuse. I never really "learned" how to sing or even really thought about it. So I opted to put in the work and spent the next few years with a speech therapist that also happened to be a singing teacher. She's the first person who told me that my speaking voice was actually the problem! Apparently, I spoke — and still do, to a degree — in something called a glottal fry.