Under the Radar is Highsnobiety’s celebration of upcoming talent. Each week, we’re spotlighting a rising artist who is bringing something new to the world of music and is capturing our hearts and minds (and ears). This week we’re featuring MorMor, a difficult to define indie-pop act who has quietly arrived with one of the strongest debuts of the year.
It’s fitting that Seth Nyquist arrives to Highsnobiety‘s office in New York wearing a Canadian tuxedo. The 26-year-old is a product of Toronto, a city that is currently having a major moment in the industry (and not solely because of Drake). While hip-hop and rap music continue to flourish, modern contemporary artists like BadBadNotGood, Daniel Caesar, H.E.R., and Charlotte Day Wilson are finally making a name for themselves by breaking out of the local scene while shamelessly repping it, too. Nyquist is now part of this rank of emerging talent under the moniker MorMor.
During his childhood, MorMor was constantly surrounded by music and dabbled with instruments like the piano, guitar, and trumpet in addition to singing in the choir and performing in plays. He notes that his upbringing exposed him to all aspects of the arts, including poetry, but his deepest connection was with music. Michael Jackson, The Beatles and Wu-Tang caught his ear early on. As a teenager, it was artists like Burial, Gorillaz, James Blake, Radiohead and Pink Floyd that left a lasting impression on him because of the way they experimented with pop culture.
After going through a long journey of soul searching, MorMor has finally found a community of like minded creatives that he trusts to collaborate with on his own projects. Last week, he self-released his debut EP, Heaven’s Only Wishful on his label Don’t Guess. The title track was an immediate hit amongst listeners, gaining attention for its moody nature with intimate lyrics, synth-pop sensibilities and guitar chords that drift between an arrangement of mid-tempo beats. While the indie pop star builds the foundation for his career, he also aspires to travel and visit more art galleries around the globe.
Can recall your earliest memory of music?
One of my earliest memories is being in a child seat in the back of my mom’s car and listening to whatever station she was listening to at the time. My aunt lived in Minnesota so we’d drive there from Toronto and be very selective of the music. I remember we had a Beatles CD and Mickey Mouse… What was that song? I don’t want to say it was Mickey Mouse Club, but it was the Mickey Mouse song… And Chaka Demus, I feel like she was playing a lot of that.
It’s really interesting to revisit things that you used to listen to as a kid because you can’t really relate to them at the time, but when you come back to them as an adult there’s this deeper connection to it… It’s like being able to have a second life.
Yeah, it’s interesting that as a child, emotionally, you’re connected to things in a different way than you are as an adult, and listening to stuff because you’re paying more attention attention to the lyrics.
When did making music come into the picture come for you? I can see it’s been very important to you since you were really, really young.
I feel like since the beginning I’ve hummed melodies. It was therapeutic. Now that I’m older I see it as that. It’s a connection where I have to express myself through that medium, even though at times I’ve tried to reject it. Teachers would recognize that and try to push me into singing lead and play something where I wasn’t really into it and never really wanted to explore at the time. Honestly, my earliest memories are doing that and just writing as soon as I could in journals or whatever.
Early on did you know that you wanted to be an artist?
Yeah, the commercial, capitalistic side of music was never… I never really had that thought or idea. It was more something I connected to ’cause I needed it. There was a time like six years ago where everyone was walking around with a camera and everyone was a photographer or a rapper or a producer of some sort. While living through that I rejected it even more ’cause I didn’t want to be like everyone else in that way.
Then I went to [Ryerson University] for a semester and just a streamline of that being like, “OK, you go to school and you get this job.” I didn’t want the job at the end of the road, and felt that I’d truly be able to support myself with music. It was the thing that I felt like I had a chance to pursue to just even put food on the table for myself, you know? My godmother got me a laptop and that’s when I got the ability to really record ’cause it came with Garage Band, and I got Logic and all the other programs.
I remember asking the guidance counselor if there was any way I could get into music programs or if any of the students were into making music and no one was, and there weren’t programs. She had mentioned that her brother-in-law was in film and that he didn’t go to school. Within that meeting, I decided to drop out and just went for it.
For the most part, have you been completely self-taught with everything?
On and off. My mom plays piano so I learned at a young age where middle C was and stuff. I didn’t love piano lessons. I did a little bit of it, but I remember – now I think about it, it was cool – but I’d read part of it, I didn’t really like sight-reading so I could read part of it and then make up the rest, and the teacher was always like, “Well, that’s not what’s written.” But it always sounded right. I wish could’ve recorded it because that probably would have been interesting to play back now with the pieces. I took trumpet in grade seven, I wanted to play the saxophone but ended up with the trumpet which is something I’m happy I learned. Played that until grade 11, took lessons and then did the choir in high school. It was an important opportunity there to take a couple lessons here and there.
Where does the name MorMor come from?
I dedicate it to my grandmother who passed away. Out of that searching, she was the one that I had a really special connection with. She always encouraged me and I felt like understood me more than most. So it felt right, and as a kid I didn’t know what it meant. I didn’t grow up in a biological family so it was something where I always loved the way it sounded and was spelled. It’s something that I would gravitate toward, so I felt that it was fitting.
Could you talk me through the process of bringing the EP together? How long have you been working on it? Is there an overarching theme? What is the story behind the title?
Well, Heaven’s Only Wishful as the EP title and song is really just for this unattainable idea of perfection. I think it really complicates things in all of us. It creates a lot more problems than it does good in my opinion. So that’s kind of what the feeling of that comes from – it’s the vulnerability and the ability to be human which I feel like we all really struggle with, it was something that symbolized humanity.
As for the individual songs, a lot of the time things just come to me, whether it be a word or a sound or a feeling. They all are a different part of who I am. I didn’t really set up to make something that was flowing in the way that each song would run together, I wanted them to be separate pieces, like individual pieces of art work that mean different things. That’s the jist of it.
The one part that just really gets me in the title track is the scream in the beginning. Why did you decide to put that in there? It works so well.
As far as a feeling, if I could, I would actually turn that part up way louder. That’s definitely what I wanna do, and what most of you probably wanna do is scream and be more expressive. It was fitting, but I remember having that idea one day and just grabbed it off YouTube and fucking with the song and throwing it in. It’s more what a scream means as a feeling and that form of expression.
What are some of the other songs about? Did any of them come out of specific moments or life experiences that you went through?
I don’t remember when I wrote [“Waiting on the Warmth”], but it was more of a big song, like a Toronto feeling of people looking for something different in the same places. You know? So it seems like summer nights every night – essentially waiting on good feelings and change. They’re all about when you get a connecting feeling, like the songs have that feeling of being trapped and not being able to be expressive. “Lost” definitely has that feeling of not connecting or believing in things, and it concretes that feeling of floating going aimlessly through situations.
The artwork for the singles reminded me of a scrapbook. Where did the inspiration for the visuals stem from?
That was me and my friends Jordan and Justin. Originally I was like ‘I wanna do Post-it note stuff’ which I posted on my Instagram. Like ideas of what it was, and then we brainstormed and piggy-backed off each other. And then I had an idea to do the three and incorporate what details would unravel as people pay attention. It has a lot of layers to each other, the pieces.
Do you set deadlines for yourself or are you more free-flowing with your creative process?
I definitely need deadlines – deadlines create an opportunity for me to finish things. I don’t think those songs would’ve ever been finished for a project because I like to just create… pieces of that. Like little snippets of things and put them together and stuff like that. So as soon the lyrics and melodies or general ideas are kind of there, I can put it aside ’cause I know it should be there.
How do you nurture your creativity? What do you do to not only stay motivated but to make sure you’re not burning yourself out?
I believe I’m still trying to figure that out. Out of necessity, I’ll always commit to being in the studio or creating. And with that, I might just be learning a new instrument or messing around with a new synth or something. Now I think I’m trying to get into doing something less like an impulse action, like being more active and taking walks. I’m trying to somewhat take my head off music, which is really difficult. I’ve never been in a situation where I work in my own space so I’m not in back to back to back sessions all the time. It’s kind of on my own terms.
What are you hoping to accomplish as an artist? What do you want people to get from your music?
To connect with people and inspire them to honestly be themselves. That’s probably it.
Check out our previous edition of Under the Radar with video-prodigy Tierra Whack.