Ada Morghe Interview – There’s no denying that working in any creative industry can be tough – physically and emotionally. Add a global pandemic into the mix and the situation can become overwhelming. But imagine if you are someone like Ada Morghe – under her real name, Alexandra Helming, she’s been a children’s author, scriptwriter, actress and has now found herself as an improvisational jazz singer and pianist. Never content to stand still, she has managed to use her wide range of creative skills to craft a unique sound.
Her most recent output “BOX” gave us a more stripped back and melancholic approach to jazz, with Morghe’s warm vocal melodies shining through.
I chatted with Ada about how she writes, the challenges of lockdown and playing shows again.
P: Hi Ada, how’s everything been for you in these strange times?
A: I’m doing quite well. I’m very happy I was able to do some live concerts – even though [they were] very small, but I’m thankful for that.
P: Did it feel strange to go back to playing live?
A: Well for me it’s a little different – it’s not like I’ve been touring for the past 20 years. I was ready to go and then everything happened. I was doing a lot of live streams which I enjoyed but when I did the first concert, I felt like I could breathe again. It hit me so strongly; the singing is different and also feeling the energy of the audience. This magical moment is something you know theoretically until you’re doing it.
P: It’s something that can’t really be captured through livestreams, right?
A: Definitely – this is one side but also playing with the band was really missing from before. Some of the musicians I recorded the album with drove over to Germany to play with me, and it was the first time we’d actually played the songs of the record together.
P: Jazz is all about breaking rules and bypassing conventions – is it difficult to marry that ethos with the strict regulations and restrictions of the post-COVID music industry?
A: I think it was sometimes more intense – I think you could feel that for the people who aren’t afraid to go to concerts and are desperate to see live music, there is even more of a boundary between the audience and the people on stage. I feel like both sides are very thankful and have felt more connected by keeping this going. And now I think we really feel a sense of what we need and what we don’t need.
P: How do you feel the pandemic has impacted you personally?
A: At the beginning, I felt like I was totally lost in space and there was just so much going on. I had an interview and they were asking if I’d written a lot of songs during the quarantine and I said no. But I realized weeks after, that it wasn’t true – there was a moment I really felt that time isn’t going in one direction – it’s multi-directional. And I felt like I’d gone back into my childhood brain. It’s also a big question of identification – the song “Box” is all about this question of identity. And when you’re not touring or playing music you ask yourself “what am I now?”
P: I saw you put up a stripped-back version of “Rainy Day” – it seems more artists are releasing much rawer tracks with the current climate.
A: Well it’s very different to the album version – in the studio last year, we had done a lot of songs and we got into the studio early one morning and I thought let me just try doing this stripped down. It’s the raw recording we did in the studio. For me, there’s the technical side of it – having to social distance on stage makes having a huge band more difficult so just doing a live thing by myself is easier. But it’s also the time of everybody wanting authenticity. It’s not the time for perfect images, it’s time to show everyone who you really are.
P: You’ve had a very varied career in writing, acting and now music. How does that affect your approach to music?
A: I realize now that all of [my background] is reflected in the songs. As a writer, the sound or rhythm of lyrics was always really important to me. And all of this comes together in music – I can use the experience of acting to work on timing or being on stage. But singing is very personal; if there’s anything harming or affecting you, it can be quickly reflected in your voice.
P: Are there things you can express through music that you haven’t done so through other mediums?
A: Definitely. First of all, these are all songs I’ve written, so it costs a lot more to be brave. I can’t just hide behind a role. But I think you’re always taking inspiration from your own experiences and putting it into your art.
P: What are your goals for the foreseeable future?
A: Well before corona, I would’ve said go on tour! But I’m having a deluxe version of the album coming in January and doing some more unplugged songs. For me, it’s always a journey but I can’t tell you where it’s ending. I’m very happy and thankful that I can still release music. So, I’ll just keep up with it and see where it takes me.