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Springtime Carnivore's Tall Tales of Circus and Heartbreak

Gravity gave Greta Morgan a gift and a broken fibula. Working as a skilled tightrope tripper, fatigue set in from constant touring in the circus and she fell three stories. Recovering in the wake of her broken dreams, she taught herself piano and created Springtime Carnivore.

"I've been playing ever since," Morgan said in a letter to fans. "Inside me were all these songs about all these things I've seen and all these places I've been. Just came pouring out like tears."

It's a nice origin story, but it's not exactly true -- as in, it's totally false. As a founder of indie rock groups The Hush Sound and Gold Motel, Greta Morgan Salpeter wanted to break away from her past, so she hijacked her own narrative and dropped the third name.

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"I was just trying to keep my identity as secret as possible," Morgan says sheepishly when we call her. She's been having to answer to a number of other rumors, including being one of 12 siblings. "The truth is that the circus incident is a metaphor for another story in my life."

If nothing else, the assumed story proves Morgan's knack for figures of speech. Tracing buoyant dream pop through sardonic poetry scrapbooks, her debut self-titled album assumes many different poses, whether it's doubtfully exploring past lives on "Name on a Matchbook" or comparing lovers' battle wounds on "Two Scars."

Morgan seems fixated on desert landscapes -- it's where she vaguely claims to be from. When we speak to her, she says she's rented a house for a month in Joshua Tree, California. She's working on the soundtrack for a motion picture, directed by boyfriend Eddie O'Keefe, about two lovers who escape a mental hospital and set out to kill Elvis.

"It's 1974, three years before Elvis dies. At that point, he's this bloated caricature of what he once was," Morgan says. "So the male lead thinks it's his life mission to assassinate Elvis, sort of in the way that Holden Caulfield hates everything that's fake and phony. The lead character thinks Elvis has become this fake phony version of what used to be this incredibly true electric kind of fire."

Writing songs for films is exciting for Morgan because she prefers to write on assignment. Even for tunes in which she's the narrator, she first gives herself constraints in which to work, i.e. pretending she's Iggy Pop or pretending she's Leonard Cohen.

"[For this movie] most of these songs are replacement tracks . . . temporary tracks, which usually they can't afford or can't buy the rights to for some legal reason," Morgan says. "They put in all of their dream placement tracks and the music supervisor basically tries to get the rights to them. Whatever they can't use, we have to write replacements for. [Like] replace this Ennio Morricone track or replace this Lou Reed song or replace this 1930s ballad or replace this Twilight Zone theme. It's like sort of being in school. I learn all the pieces and research them and figure out what kind of chord progressions and what kind of textures and how it brings out the tone in the scene of the film."

When describing what informs this process, Morgan recalls an early memory of her grandfather, who used to obsessively watch thriller detective movies, which were sometimes too violent for the young songwriter.

"For a kid my age, I shouldn't have been watching [them], and he would say, 'Oh, don't worry, it won't be scary -- we'll turn the music off,'" Morgan says. "It was this very early impression of, 'Oh, wow, the music is what makes the scenes suspenseful, what lets you know something bad is about to happen."

Springtime Carnivore is scheduled to perform Sunday, February 15, at Crescent Ballroom.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Troy Farah is an independent journalist and documentary field producer. He has worked with VICE, Fusion, LA Weekly, Golf Digest, BNN, Tucson Weekly, and Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Troy Farah