Morgan Cameron Ross is an only child so going solo is in his nature. The past six years fronting and leading Toronto’s Birds of Wales hasn’t always been easy or creatively fulfilling because he doesn’t always play well with others. But his brand new self-titled solo debut is everything that he wanted it to be, made on his terms and timeline.
On this solo venture, Morgan was able to sing about whatever he wanted and arrange the songs any which way he pleased. There’s the dark acoustic story “My Brother Went To Prison” that would do Johnny Cash proud; the sprightly oh-damn tale “13C” with a kind of straw-in-the-mouth country flavour; the beautiful resign “We’ve All Had Broken Hearts,” co-written with Ron Sexsmith; and the peppy first single, “Let It Go,” one of three pop songs that kick off the album penned with Ian Smith, formerly of the Miniatures.
“This album is everything I wanted it to be. For me, it was therapeutic. I just needed to get away from the control of everyone else,” Morgan explains. “I chose all the songs. It was produced the way I wanted it to sound. Birds of Wales had gotten away from me; I was taking too much guidance from management, record labels, producers and the like. I needed a different outlet.”
Despite Birds of Wales’ accomplishments — a 2006 single, “My Lady In July,” named “most played song” on XM Radio’s The Verge; 2007’s Europe-only released Fall of the 49 EP ; a video for the song “Cinderella” receiving heavy rotation at Canada’s MuchMoreMusic; all followed by the 2010 Canadian album, Belgravia Hotel, which yielded the successful single “Uninteresting” — Morgan grew increasingly unhappy. “Musically, the last album was too polished and by the time it came out I just wanted to get back to my roots” he says.
“On a personal note, I just wasn’t good at maintaining healthy relationships within the band. I’m an only child so having to share things and be around people all the time is an emotional thing. I assume I have quite an ego. I probably wasn’t as thoughtful as I could’ve been in a band situation.”
On his own, Morgan just went for it, putting the plans in motion for his solo project. He had written hundreds of songs and applied to FACTOR for a demo grant, submitting an MP3 of “13 C” as his calling card. Once the grant was awarded he called on producer Jon Anderson in Vancouver, where Morgan was born. “I wanted to work with Jon, whose production I’ve always loved,” says Morgan.
In August 2010, Jon and Morgan recorded five songs, including “I’ll Hold On To Your Heart,” “My Brother Went To Prison,” “13 C,” “Let It Go” and “Storybook Romance.” Many of the songs are stories, either fictional or embellished from reality.
“13C” was written in 2008 after he noticed a cute girl on the airplane — and then noticed her wedding ring. “My Brother Went To Prison” is about the perseverance of a young Canadian WWI soldier. “I’ll Hold On To Your Heart” (featuring Holly McNarland on guest vocals) is about loving someone long after the break up; and the Sexsmith co-write “ We’ve All Had Broken Hearts” leads with the telling line “sure seems I don’t like happy.”
But unlike many of the heart-sinking songs on this solo album, the first single, “Let It Go,” (with Daniel Wesley guesting on vocals) is full of positivity and the new video for the track features a gorgeous Golden Retriever puppy that will inspire many an “aaaaw, so cute.” The end of video directs fans to a website contest for their chance to “name the dog.”
“It’s a fun song and a fun and cute video. It isn’t a deep song for me,” says Morgan. “Rhythmically, I love it and, lyrically, it talks about how I did things the hard way, but ‘I know now what I didn’t back then/ if I could do it all over / I’d do it again.’”
And that includes everything he’s gone through with Birds of Wales, a band, he points out, that’s only on hiatus and already has new songs in the works. In the meantime, this solo album is pure Morgan Cameron Ross, which this only child now gets to share.