“If you were to look at my Instagram two years ago, you would never see any photos of me,” says Morgan Saint, slouched in a fold-up chair in a quaint, sunny studio near Union Square. “It would all be of other people who I styled and did fun shoots with. But now it’s all having friends help me take a picture that I imagined. So I like to approach my social media [as if they’re] self-portraits. It’s what I would want to shoot if someone else could just kind of put myself as a model, to bring my imagination to life.”
Indeed, in the time since she released her EP, “17 Hero” last fall, the 24-year-old singer-songwriter has had to join the bandwagon and become a whole lot more self-promotional online. Alas, such is life as a musician on the rise.
Luckily, creating a visual extension of herself is not all that hard for Saint, a Parsons School of Design grad who, in addition to being trained in illustration, animation, painting and photography, has a natural knack for a photo op. The studio she sits in is one she booked herself for the occasion, a discovery from her Parsons days. She’s come outfitted in a full Y7 look, freshly purchased from Opening Ceremony, and once finished with portraits, asks around about keeping the studio another hour, so she can play dress-up with the rest of her haul.
“I make everything myself — it’s really important to me. On this planet, with what I make…I make my music myself, I write everything so it comes from a really personal place. And so when it comes to the visuals that accompany my music, I just want for that to feel as honest and personal and my music does,” she says. “I just see it as an extension of the story I’m trying to tell.”
Saint grew up a piano student, albeit not the shiniest of the bunch. “I was the worst possible piano student; I was really bad and I found reading music really frustrating,” she says, having been introduced to the instrument by her parents, who “always present me with things that they think I might like.”
The piano did not start off as one such thing. “I would sit down to practice the piano with what I was given, and I’m an Aries so I have no patience when it comes to learning things,” she says. “I want to be good at something immediately and if it doesn’t happen then I get frustrated. So I would end up making up my own songs on the piano because I was frustrated at the level that I was at. As I got older and I think I felt like I had more to say, and I was writing a lot of poetry and stuff, I just kind of put the two together.”
Early inspirations were equally the classic rock her father played and discoveries on YouTube. “I remember at one point you had to use the phone line to use the Internet, and it would be really slow,” she says. “So I never really used the Internet because my mom and dad would be like, ‘get off the Internet, we need to get our phone calls!’ But once it was an easier thing, I was obsessed with YouTube and finding new artists and learning new songs on the piano, and I taught myself guitar eventually [through YouTube.] I was into more toned-down singer-songwriter, folk kind of music, which definitely influenced how I write. I also listen to a lot of hip-hop and reggae. I pull from different places.”
Saint credits her time in school with influencing how she interprets her music into photography and fashion.
“I like to shoot all kinds of things, but I definitely like fashion,” she says. “I think what I’m attracted to visually is maybe not the most typical. I find myself liking quirky, maybe not classically beautiful or pretty things. When I get dressed, I’m maybe just getting dressed in things that appeal to me. I think the most empowering thing is dressing or cutting your hair or doing your makeup exactly to make yourself feel good. And not trying to dress in what you think what might attract someone of a certain audience. The more I understand myself inside and feel most confident, I feel myself being way more expressive with the outside. It’s been a journey to find myself on a personal level, and then I’ve noticed my fashion sense has evolved as well. I just find the visual end of the universe of the world that we live in so fascinating. It’s an extension of how I like to express myself.”
With her full-length album due later this summer and tour dates on the horizon, she’ll have ample opportunity to showcase that expression.
“I want to just keep making things and putting them out into the world,” she says. “And hope people can connect to what I’m making.”
More from the Eye: