When John Moreland released his album LP5 in February 2020, it was a bit of a risk for the Oklahoma native. A lauded songwriter—superfan Miranda Lambert gave him a big shout out in 2017—Moreland is known for crafting stripped-down acoustic songs that pack an emotional wallop. But on LP5, he began supplementing his rootsy material with pulsing beats and squiggles of ambient sounds. The pandemic then nixed any tour plans, so instead, he stayed at home in Tulsa, fiddling around with samplers and pedals again for more than a year. “I was curious as to what it would sound like,” he says. “The juxtaposition of acoustic and organic elements with electronic and non-organic, non-human kinds of sounds is something that’s really interesting to me.”
Moreland’s new album, Birds in the Ceiling, which Garden & Gun is proud to premiere below, finds him blending the two elements together with even more assurance, resulting in devastating songs like the piano-fueled shuffle of “Ugly Faces” and the glistening, ethereal soundscape of “Neon Middle June,” and further establishing Moreland as one of music’s most compelling songwriters.
Stream the album below, and read on to hear more from Moreland about his songwriting process and his love of 1990s pop divas. Moreland is touring throughout the summer and will kick off a string of Southern shows beginning September 29 in Memphis (see all dates here). Birds in the Ceiling is out this Friday, July 22, and available for preorder now.
Birds in the Ceiling continues your foray into a wider sonic palette. Were you worried about falling into a rut as a songwriter?
Completely. I think, eventually, you just hit a wall creatively if you stay in one territory for too long. I reached the point where I was having trouble writing and being creative because everything I was trying to do felt like something I had already done. It’s become important to me to intentionally push things musically and keep it fresh. With Birds in the Ceiling, I realized that it’s cool to get some ideas going and open up the song. But then there was a point where I realized, okay, I should put down the pedals, the samplers, and the laptop, and pick up the guitar and just write the songs now.
What’s your songwriting process like?
I write at night. I never really write in the daytime. I’m usually alone, writing in the dark, and I wanted to bring that vibe to the record. I go to bed around 4:30 a.m. or so. It’s the stillness and quiet that appeals to me because it feels like the whole world is asleep. And I guess that’s the time when I naturally start thinking about the kinds of things I want to write about.
Do you wake up your wife to play her your songs?
I’ll wake her up so she can hear the demo as it was being written. She likes hearing it when she’s half asleep, and then the next day I’ll play it for her again. She’s kind of like, “Oh, yeah, I thought I dreamt this.”
Songwriters are often described as storytellers, but your songs aren’t typically narratives.
I prefer that my songs are thought bubbles and fragments that make a collage. People do call me a storyteller sometimes. I understand that it’s a compliment, but I don’t think of my songs as stories at all. I don’t think I’m a very good storyteller. I’m a good lyricist. But I just don’t think my songs are stories. They’re more like mental probing.
There is a video on your Instagram feed of you covering Sheryl Crow’s “Strong Enough,” and some of your new songs have a bit of a pop feel and structure. Was she an influence?
Oh yeah. Hearing whatever was on the radio in the 1990s was a really big influence on me. Sheryl Crow, Janet Jackson, even someone like Sophie B. Hawkins. For me, it’s a marriage of these different interests I have: the singer-songwriter stuff, but also the ’90s pop production and the fact that hip-hop was starting to influence everything. It’s been a comfortable place for me to land.
So your next album might be more ’90s metal?
[Laughs] I’ve got maybe six or seven songs written for the next one, and I think it’s shaping up to be pretty stark. But no promises.