HM – It’s so hard to describe other people, but it feels even harder to describe what you do. I mean, when I’m trying to talk about Home Body, it’s the worst because it’s like, so charged, there are all these things that I think it is. I guess for me, I identify most as a performer and a vocalist, and an image maker. I’ve also claimed the title of like, social sculptor, or community organizer, or jeweler, or, I don’t know. Even back in college, I had a hard time choosing one craft. I had all of this guilt and all of this time spent stressing out about that, being like, “I like photography, but I’m not a photographer” or, “I like illustration, but I’m not that good,” and so I think I just try to accumulate all these tools so I can make whatever I’m so moved to make.
Over the past couple of years, I feel like I’ve really grown into actually being able to express what I want to express through movement or sound, or visual art, which has been really exciting for me. I feel like I’m finally becoming an actual artist. I don’t feel like I’m…there’s a while when you “walk the walk” or “talk the talk”, and for a while it was like, I knew I was doing it but I had to just keep pushing and pretending I was a singer until, now I feel like I actually have a lot of control over my voice, and I feel really confident in it. So, yeah, I guess I do all those things…
EF – You were just talking about college – did you go to school for art?
I went to Hampshire! So I kind of built my own situation. But I did study performance-y stuff and education and public art, but I called it social sculpture because it’s more arranging people in spaces instead of plopping something in a place. Right after college, I worked with a non-profit in Northampton.
I remember that! With the mural that Eben [Kling] did? But you were doing that, and you’re not? This is maybe a dumb thing that I’m going to say, but, was that like a “job” or…?
It was a direction I was thinking about going, like, “oh, I can make things happen.” It is possible when you get involved in organizations,to provide opportunities to, like, Eben, and do different stuff and pay my friends. But I got to a point right before I started doing Home Body, helping other people do their things and not having time to do my thing. It got to be a shitty feeling after a while. Even for that mural project, being like, “I have ideas for murals! But I’m just organizing…” I didn’t feel empowered to actually be creative.
I have felt sometimes when I’m trying to get other people to do things, like, to show other people’s art, and even sometimes in this process, I’m like, “am I just hiding behind this so I don’t have to make my own art?” or is it a way to like try to give myself some legitimacy?
I think it’s a valid thing. I feel like holding space for other people to think through their process is really important, and I would imagine helps you wrap your head around what you do, and how you feel about stuff.
I wasn’t saying you were doing that obviously, just sometimes it feels really convenient to like, help other people, like it’s a crutch. But it also, one day you wake up and you realize “I’ve just been doing this the whole time.” I want to see your murals though!
I know, I want to paint my murals. I did do some secret stuff in Northampton, but that wasn’t very big or splendid. But after doing that Kirkland mural, I have all of this high end mural paint. And that organization dissipated, I have it all now, so I should do something with it before it, like, rots. I don’t know, does paint rot?
Living in Greenfield has been interesting because it opens up a whole bunch of new spaces.
Are you tapped into that community up here? Or, are YOU that community up here?
Well, not from an organizing standpoint, but I’m kind of noticing I’m hungry for it and I’m kind of critical of it. But it’s also been nice, the way that I’ve interacted with this municipal art scene has been as an actual artist, which feels gratifying. I’m a Virgo, I’m really good at making lists and I can get things done if I care to, which has been cool for Home Body because I’ve taken over most of the booking and publicity and graphic design, so I’m able to exercise my organizational muscles that way. But it can also be challenging because I feel so righteous about some methods or ways of doing things.
I do have to say that the first time I saw Home Body, which I think was your first show, I thought your voice was great.
Thanks. It’s funny, especially voice feels so vulnerable. And there’s really not much you can hide behind. You can put reverb on or do something flashy – like for us, you can do some flashy costumes, or lights, or things to distract people from “the thing”. Maybe it’s more that I’ve just become comfortable with my voice, but it’s definitely been a learning, a growing thing. So aside from Home Body and singing and lights and costumes and stuff, I’ve been really excited about Tristatic, which is a group I’ve had even longer than Home Body, but it’s always been more like a process based fun thing and less of a “thing.” We just got our first commission, and that makes it more of a thing, and we’ve been invited to show at different events, so that’s been fun…
Do you want to talk a little more about Tristatic?
Yeah! It’s Jackie Dougherty, who lives in Atlanta, Julie Hanschuh, who lives in Turners Falls, and me. We all met at C3, the organization in Northampton, and basically just started dressing up and using a video camera as a witness to like, our playtime. Not much has changed, that’s basically what we do. It’s just justification for like, dressing up and playing around and stuff. So we have a whole crate of footage that has never been edited or even digitized, I think. Just tons of Tristatic stuff. It’s fun, the lack of post production is cool, because it’s more compelling to us because we were there.
Now after years of doing it, we are able to collaborate in a way that we can construct images and little vignettes and scenes without doing much talking ahead of time. Our sense of being able to listen to each other without being vocal has been really cool. All the time we’ve spent moving and using our bodies together, we’ve learned a lot. I think now we all have clearer visions, so instead of like, “let’s put on this weird outfit and go out into the world and see what happens and film it,” now it’s like, “let’s do this, let’s take the flowers and eat them.” It feels a little more direct. It’s cool how that directness is translated into the film, things resonate so much deeper and higher because there were more clear intentions behind the actions. But it’s been fun too to have another project besides Home Body to be able to fuel my creative whatevers, because if I have to wait on Eric to do everything all the time, that can be frustrating. Tristatic is something that’s a little bit, it’s not a thing so it can’t get fucked up, I can just do it whenever.
It feels really nice also to be exploring what it’s like to be a woman without the context of there also being a man. Like, what’s it like to be a woman with other women, and what does it mean when you’re in a trio. There’s all these tropes of threes, how do you dress your body. It’s been really important for me to be exploring these things in the company of other women who inspire me a lot.
You were talking about feeling more comfortable. Did you work on anything in particular to get there, or like you were saying, maybe you’re more used to it now?
We’ve put in a lot of time since the beginning of Home Body, specifically – we’ve played like 400 shows since our first show. The more time I’ve spent in the studio with Eric, or just on all aspects of it, I guess that just translates into an actual, physical growth. Especially in terms of movement and dance, because in college I always liked movement, I’ve always considered it important. I’ve often been more moved by dance performances than my music performances, there’s just something visceral and an empathetic response to when you watch dance that is so striking on such a deep level. So I’ve been trying to become more in my body, and more comfortable in front of people. Especially in the way that it’s – being in front of people but still being authentic. Not trying to be pretty or sexy or pump up, but just to react to that moment in time and be really transparent with that experience.
I’m like not a person who is good at moving, which is just, I’ve never gotten there.
It’s hard, and it’s so tricky. I think having a space like this room has been really huge.In the last place we lived with Julia, one of my collaborators in Tristatic, she set up a movement room, just an empty space that she went into all the time, and I would go into. It makes a big difference when you have a space just to like, lay on the floor, or get stoned and moan and shake and kind of do whatever feels good at that moment. So those are things. But it’s also funny, Home Body has been happening for like five and a half years now, and now I’ll be 30 this year.
I don’t know how the past five years have been for you, but they’ve been a big maturity period in time. So to have some sort of creative project and outlet to grow with has been super interesting.
So this room is mostly for movement?
It’s mostly movement, good for sound too, for singing. The practice space, it’s only really good if I have a mic and the PA running, but this is like, I can just come here any time. A big thing I’ve been getting into recently is sound qi gong, which is a form of energy work but through sound. You target different organ systems through vibrations, it’s been a really fruitful practice to develop my resonance in my body, but also to think about how sound and singing and vibration has a real physical effect on the world. It blows my mind.
The point is really driven home in this space, it’s like that experiment they did with two salt crystals or something, where they like said some really nice compliments and things to one and really negative things to the other, and of course the one that had all the good vibes grew into this beautiful crystal, and the other one like withered and died or whatever. To have plants in here, and our rocks and all of our dirt that we collected on tour, it feels like a lab to translate weird energetic experiments into the physical, like, how do you hold that physically?
I thought that’s what this was! Tour dirt! Do you know where all of them are from?
Actually they’re all labeled! Sometimes we have to guess.
I actually haven’t seen you play live in a little while, but I do remember, and you kind of mentioned this before, that you have a lot of costumes and lights and stuff. That’s the thing that I remember, other than the music, which is great – but the lights and the costumes and everything are so impressive. I don’t know if you want to talk about that, like how you got started with that or anything? Because you both make them maybe, right? Or is it just you?
No, it’s me. Eric’s getting better at letting me boss him around a little bit. When Home Body first started, Eric was doing a lot of solo stuff, and I was getting tired of like, watching him play and feeling compelled to do something. Like, this could be so much more interesting! And from going to lots of noise shows, I would get bored easily. Even if the music is good, it’s hard to stay present. So with this project, thinking about different “hooks” we can have to draw people in and connect with them has been a conscious thing. Back in college, I remember studying education, and it’s like, there’s different learning styles for each student. Some are more hands on, some are more heady, some are more nature based, whatever. So thinking like, if we have all of these different things for people to grab onto when we perform – maybe they can focus on the costumes, and if they don’t like the costumes, maybe they like the music, and if they don’t like the music, we’ll hit them with the lights, and if they don’t like that, we’ll throw in some movement.
It’s the same with the merch, like, we have a t shirt and a cassette, and a sticker, and just having different ways for people to access what we’re doing is a conscious decision. Also, I think a lot too about people who are hearing or visually impaired, and perhaps it’s like my own nervousness I’ll go blind someday, or lose my voice. Just thinking about how important your senses are to understanding the world around you, we just try to have a big breadth of ins, and ways to express ourselves. Even with songs that we wrote five years ago, they’ve changed and their meaning has changed so much for me, even if I’m saying the same words, and it’s cool to notice then what choices I’ve made differently about like, the lights, or how we present our bodies in that song. It makes old songs still feel kind of fresh, like we’re able to frame them in new ways.
If I had a huge budget, I wonder how these would all change. But recently, I’ve been trying to think about how things capture light, and I bought these huge rolls of mylar at a tag sale, so I’ve been using a lot of it everywhere. I’ve got a white outfit that I hot glue all the time…I feel like recently I’ve just been exploring new ways of attaching mylar to outfits. So there’s a pinned example, hot glue, a sewing example, another sewing example…It does look kind of trashy, but it’s cool, like space trash.
I think that’s cool. And also it depends on how confident you are in being able to pull it off.
It’s a tricky thing, people always comment on how I look after I play. I don’t like it, there’s more to me than how I look, but I recognize for women who come up to me and say things that it’s really empowering to be reminded that you can do funny things with your body, you don’t always have to hold yourself in like the perfect, most beautiful ways, and it can still feel beautiful and, I don’t know. So that gives me confidence – no matter what you do, if you have confidence, people are going to “buy it.”
They’re going to accept it more willingly, the suspension of disbelief kind of thing. I wear the same outfit every time my band plays, or, I’ve been trying to do that, like the same formula. I kept seeing pictures people were posting from our shows, and I’d be like, “I know this is just a bad picture of this outfit, but…” there were these pants I was wearing a lot for a while that would just ride up a lot in the crotch area. They were fine, they were just jeans in every day life, but of course someone would take a picture and it would be like “here is my vagina.”
And the angles are always weird, and you’re always sweaty. It’s the worst, I can’t look at pictures of myself people take of me when I perform…But, when you were saying you try to wear kind of the same thing every time, it is a thing. Like, we’ve always had costume changes before we play. I always need to put on a different outfit. One show we didn’t do that because there was like, nobody there, but that show sucked. It was so bad and so weird. The little rituals that you create to help frame your experiences are really important.
Eric and I have been trying to figure out how to work on our aesthetic. There must be a better way to say this, but there was a time that we got dangerously close to being, like, billed all the time and talked about as like “electropop boy girl stuff” and it’s not our favorite thing to listen to, or to be called. So we’ve been trying to figure out new ways to talk about what we do and message how we look, trying to channel our aesthetic and be able to deliver it better. Thinking more simple, black and white stuff has been big, geometric. I’m just a sucker for things that are like dumb and sparkly.
I get that, I have like, sparkly items of clothing that I’ve just bought and never worn, because they were sparkly.
I realized I have to stop buying things at Salvation Army just because they’re cool objects, but I have this one dress – I did one performance at that Live Art thing and that’s the only time I’ve really taken it out, but it’s this amazing hand-beaded, I might just have to get married in it, it’s that kind of thing.
I never want to get married but I have dresses that I’m like, “this is a dress I would get married in.”
Yeah, I like the idea of having a big party, I’m kind of a sucker for that. Less for everything else. But I’ll just keep talking about my clothes. Thinking about function, there was a tour that my knees got so black and blue, I was like “I need to get knee pads!” Now I try to wear knee pads when it makes sense, try to take care of my body. I think if we had a big budget, most of our money would go towards getting Eric clothes. I feel like I have plenty, but Eric has like three outfits.
Are they still the same ones that he’s had?
Probably not, they’re just like the cool black outfit, the one with cool sporty pants and a white v neck – there’s like a black one and a white one, basically. He’s got cool stuff, but I don’t know. We’re just trying to be careful not to be kitschy or get too “hip hop” if we’re not hip hop, you know?
I feel good about this. I never really know when I’m done, but I think we checked all my boxes…is there anything else that you want to say? Like, “this is the most important thing about what I do?”
Actually, there is one important thing I’ve been trying to figure out how to talk about. Home Body, it being two words, “home” and “body,” is a big distinction and a big important thing for us, rather than it being “homebody,” one word. It’s hard to message that, and I totally get that it’s usually spelled one word and so people think our band is spelled with one word. But it being two words, I don’t know. For us, Home Body is an active thing. There’s something about being a body and finding comfort in it. That searching for home and longing for belonging, and a safe space or something. That’s kind of fleeting, so to try to figure out how to feel like home in your body is one sort of big quest that I think that we’re kind of on as creative people. I don’t really know what to say about that.
It’s funny, because it’s a running joke – “they’re called Home Body but they’re never home, they’re always on tour!” It’s true, and we are total homebodies, I love being on the couch in my fucking underwear. We joke and say we’re couch po-Hnatows, like, Eric’s last name. But, it’s nice to feel light on our feet. Even with all this stuff in our house, to work first and foremost on like, “what do I have here?” in terms of how to stay healthy, but not in like a nut way, like not end of the spectrum crazy town health nut, but just trying to validate the experience of being a human in a body. It is so easy to like, be still and stand at shows, to not emote. There’s kind of this hungry scrambling that Eric and I go through on stage, trying to reach for different points that feel like the ultimate expression of ourselves. Something about that is the definition of Home Body, for me. It’s difficult to message. Also, I love our logo, but home is also so much more than a structure, with a chimney and a roof. Not everyone has a fucking house. I think more abstractly, try to weird up assumptions or something…
I heard this thing one time that a heart beat is one part action and one part rest. So you have to honor the parts that are resting as well as the parts that are active, that are easier to talk about perhaps. To find the balance of being really active and then taking it fucking easy is really valid and important, and something we shouldn’t feel guilty about. This past winter, instead of being like, “I feel lazy,” or “I’m bored,” or “I didn’t feel productive today,” I tried to switch that to “I felt peaceful,” or, “today was a peaceful day” and that shift has real girth.
Haley Morgan is an artist and performer with Home Body and with Tristatic. Tristatic will be debuting three new shorts on Friday, October 21, 2016 at the Academy of Music in Northampton, MA as part of Live Art Magazine. Haley was photographed in her home on July 7, 2016.