DJ Morgan Page on Working With Vocalists and Getting Rejected By Adele
Morgan Page, who may (or may not) be in costume at the Ghostball.
Its something of a necessity for every DJ/producer working the global EDM circuit to have a specialty or a signature sound if they hope to ever make it. For L.A. club king Morgan Page, his particular spin (pun intended) on dance music involves posh house soundscapes accentuated by dreamy vocals of the female persuasion.
Look no further than his latest disc In the Air, which dropped in April, for evidence of such, as the 31-year-old filled the 16-track album with his effervescent big room production work backed with the flowing voices of such chanteuses as Aussie singer-songwriter Shelley Harland and Scottish pop pixie Angela McCluskey. While Page admitted to us during our phone interview earlier this week that he tried -- and failed -- to nab Adele for the album, he's more than satisfied with who was willing to work with him.
That includes indie darlings Tegan and Sara, who lent their pristine pipes to Page's latest hit track "Body Work," which he plans on playing during his headlining set at Saturday's Ghostball block party at Axis/Radius in Scottsdale. Although the DJ/producer is certain he'll be dropping the song into his mix at the Halloween weekend affair, he's not so sure about whether or not he'll be wearing a costume behind the mixers, however.
You recently returned from playing a few gigs in Argentina. What are EDM fans like there? Very different. I never played there before. They kinda like different styles than the U.S., so you gotta be flexible. They like to hear less of these like big tracks and more of stuff with more subtle changes. So more like tech-house and darker stuff.
You last performed in Scottsdale on the Fourth of July. Now you're doing the Ghostball close to Halloween. Do you hate working on holidays? Yeah. It's almost like a reverse job for me [where] I work weekends and holidays. And the time that most people have off you're working. I mean, I'm not complaining but its a very different lifestyle.
The Ghostball is renowned for its wild costumes. Will you be wearing one when you're performing? Maybe. I'm trying to think what I'm gonna do this year. Sometimes I recycle an old outfit or Halloween thing. I'll leave it as a surprise. I'm not totally sure what I'll be doing.
What's your favorite Halloween costume you've ever worn? The Viking one was pretty funny. Yeah, I think that was the best one. It's not the most creative but its funny. Part of my heritage is Norwegian, so it tapped a little into that. I had a sheepscloth sort of cape and the horn helmet. Maybe I'll whip that out this year (laughs). It's easy to travel with.
Not too be gauche, even though we're close to Halloween, but do you want a traditional Viking funeral after kicking the bucket? That's the way to do it.
Do you tailor your mix for each individual gig or do you just make variations of the same set? Every show's different. Because it gets kinda boring playing the same stuff. For this show, I think I'll play a lot of my own stuff. I think I'll kinda have to do that, people will get angry if I don't. So I try to weave in everything that I love at the moment with my own productions. And that's always changing because I'm trying new things, trying new material and seeing how it works. So there's stuff that always rotates in and out of my sets.
So in an average set you've got to get in "In the Air," "Body Work," or any of your other big hits. Yeah, there's a lot. And everyone in the audience has their expectations and their personal favorite songs they want to hear. I think "In the Air" is still the big one, the most recent hit. It's funny because some people don't know the old material, and by older material I mean only four years old. Like "The Longest Road" is a good example of a song that's about four or five years old but some people out there haven't heard of it.
Is that typical of some of EDM's newest fans? Yeah, I think, or they just weren't into it at that time or you've got a lot of people that are new to the music in general. And maybe Avicii is their first house artist, which is so bizarre to me because I've been making house music and listening to it for 15 years. But you have to get into it at some point and you have to start somewhere.
House has been an ever-changing beast within EDM for decades. Do you think it will always be around in some form or another? I think so. I think there's so many splinter genres within house music that there's enough there for everybody. It's gotten where everyone can have their little slices of what they like if they dig far enough. I think that it comes to the DJs to do a lot of that heavy lifting and do the digging and filter music and present the most exciting and best tracks to the crowd.
On your latest album In the Air, many of the tracks feature guest vocalists like Nadia Ali and Shelley Harland. Did you interact much with each of them when creating the disc? Typically what I do is I do a draft, it's like a day and a half to do, where I speed-write a chord progression and a beat. And then I shop those around to different vocalists and they tell me which ones jump out at them. Then I build an instrumental track around that. So sometimes it'll stay the same, like "Body Work" is still pretty much the same. And with others I'll rebuild completely, do only chord progression and maybe put some live instruments on it. So it changes a lot during the creation process. And then I do put a lot of input into the lyrics and I'm very picky about it all. So it's not one-sided as some producers just sort of say, "Well, I don't know how to do vocals, just put in some singer and they'll take care of the rest." I'm not like that, I'm very hands-on.
Do you intent to use such a diverse amount of vocalists for the album, ranging from indie rockers like Tegan and Sara to a house vocalist like Nadia Ali to singer-songwriter Richard Walters? It always depends on who's available and who likes my music or wants to work together. Its always been sort of mixed because some people I want to get are available where others aren't. Its usually works out for the best. So if I go after Adele -- and she actually wrote back this time, which was cool -- and if she says no, then I go and I find somebody else. And oftentimes I find somebody better than the big name that I originally wanted.
So Adele rejected you? How ironic. Our people talked to each other. And it was just funny because you never really expect a reply from her management or whatever, and they were like, "Yeah, well she's kind booked right now with the baby and having a kid, but thanks for writing."
Do you see the content of In the Air as being more like songs instead of just tracks? Yeah, I'm definitely aiming more for songs than tracks. The main emphasis is really profound vocal-heavy house music that's not too pop. There's definitely a significant pop influence on the record but I just didn't want to lay it on too thick.
Is that the current role of EDM in mainstream music, as just another instrument or element in the mix of a good song? If you want your songs to stick around they need to be memorable and they need to be special and you need to really be pick about what you put out. Songs need to reimagined in any number of ways. So I've been sure to make stuff that will stand that test of time.
Morgan Page is scheduled to perform at the Ghostball Block Party on Saturday at Axis/Radius in Scottsdale. Gates open at 8 p.m. Admission is $35.
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