About a year ago, Maggie Morris began her solo project Sunbathe, prompted by a fear that her musical ensemble—indie rock band Genders—was about to take a break. Tormented by the thought of tossing down the mic, Morris filmed a music video in her rundown bungalow in inner Southeast and took to recording.
As fate would have it, Genders never went on pause, and this year, Morris is performing around the clock for both bands. Sunbathe plays next Wednesday, February 10, at Mississippi Studios and Morris hopes to have an album out by the beginning of summer.
Sunbathe’s noise is ambient and cool, but the lyrics resonate with the everyday struggles of young adulthood. Forget the usual tropes of unfulfilled infatuation or earth-shattering heartbreak—Sunbathe sings of pizza, paying bills, and living in a “slum” (or at least a house with shoddy appliances). Truthfully, Morris’s ballads are refreshing—there’s a conversational tone that draws the listener in and makes her songs relatable. Though talking about boredom (among other personal concerns) might not always work for bigger acts like Father John Misty, it suits Sunbathe.
Morris moved to Portland five years ago on a whim: she had just finished touring with a band that was breaking up, which included a person she was breaking up with; her parents were getting divorced; and her cat died. She moved to Portland and quickly fell into a local indie rock group called Youth, which also split apart mere days before Willamette Week placed them on its best new band list.
“I don’t think that had ever happened to them before; we got the recognition but it was already done,” Morris says. “But Genders was No. 7 (on the same list) a couple years ago.”
Like many other Portland indie rock performers (and Portlanders in general), Maggie Morris does not originate from Stumptown. In fact—avert your eyes, Portlanders—she’s a Californian, originally from Roseville, and she has lots to say about the music scenes in Sacramento and San Francisco in contrast with Portland.
“I would go play shows in San Francisco and Sacramento,” Morris explains. “But it was so hard to find a tight community in those cities. There were only a few bands that were supportive of us that would come to our shows and vice versa.”
Portland marked a stark change. “In Portland, I felt like right away here, things just kind of took off," she says. "With Youth, we played some terrible shows—we played at Tube, or this one time at a skate shop. We definitely paid our dues but we didn’t have to pay them for long. It’s not so cutthroat here.”
Portland might be her preferred base, but Morris says she likes to get on the road as often as possible. “Touring is one of the most important things to me about playing music,” she says. “It’s how I afford to travel. If you break even on a tour, it’s a success.”
In addition to being a musician, Morris works at New Seasons four days a week to pay the bills. Being a musician is not the most lucrative gig, she points out, so there’s a special emphasis on having fun.
“Genders is getting its EP mastered right now and it should also be released early this summer,” she says. “We are trying to film a music video by the end of next month. Our friend owns the family fun center in Woodburn: it’s like Chuck E. Cheese. All I know is I get to drive a go-cart, and I’m stoked.”
Sunbathe plays Mississippi Studios on Wednesday, Feb 10.