SAN FRANCISCO — Despite the story of how an unfinished demo helped land Phoenix-born pop singer-songwriter Kailee Morgue a major label record deal, there may be no bigger anecdotes to show just how quickly she struck gold than her prior work history and the time she has spent onstage, which can still be counted more accurately in minutes.
“Before this, my one job that I had was Jack-in-the-Box,” the 19-year-old Morgue said in August after her set at Outside Lands, the biggest crowd to which she’d played, and also the first one she could ever look in the eyes, without the cover of a dark, small club.
After finishing high school, she took a gap year to give herself time to build a career out of her songs, which she had been posting online.
“I really didn’t want to go to college,” she said, laughing. “So that was kind of my mindset, and then I actually ended up getting signed toward the end of that year. So there was a lot of anxiety, because I’m not the type of person that deals with this big change very well. There was a lot of excitement, too, because this is my dream. This is the one thing that I’ve always wanted. … So it was a lot of realizing that this was going to be my life now, and I don’t have to work a 9-to-5 office job.”
Morgue, whose real name is Kailee Moore, had been writing songs since she was 8 and started posting acoustic covers of Sublime and the Red Hot Chili Peppers online when she was 14. Eventually she began posting her own material. Her songs in recent years have been skewing darker, to what she began referring to as “goth pop.”
She settled on the moniker Kailee Morgue (after finding out the solo name Morgue had already been taken) simply because she just liked the look of the word.
The burger flipper cooked up the beat and melody for “Medusa” in 2016, and posted the in-progress demo in January 2017. Following a Florence and the Machine-esque harp intro, a sugary sweet voice enters to deliver this opening salvo: “There’s blood in the water/ And they are coming to bring me down/ What’s hope with no savior/ There is no one in this ghost town.”
“Medusa” went viral, and six months later, Republic Records signed Kailee Morgue, no longer a fast food worker, to her first deal. That prompted a move to Los Angeles, one with which she was not comfortable. But Morgue, who had never lived away from her mom, coped by getting a puppy, and understood the advantages of writing and recording in an industry town. At least home was just a 45-minute flight away.
“I’m very introverted, so I think a big part of it too is me taking a lot of time to adapt to what was around me,” she said. “I didn’t really go to parties or make a lot of friends at first. I just had my mom come out and spend some time with me, and my friends … to help me like not feel so scared by being in this city all of a sudden by myself.”
There was also the issue of available songs. At the time of her move, only “Medusa” was remotely close to completion. That meant that the other songs on her debut EP, which was released in January 2018, a year following her initial success—were influenced by the changes in her life.
“You can kind of hear a little of that transition in my life from doing my normal stuff to all of a sudden living this completely different lifestyle,” she said.
Morgue wrote the other three songs on the Medusa EP within the first month following her move. For the first time, she found herself writing not on her own but in a room with professional producers. For someone whose initial success came by writing personally, this presented a new challenge. Even well-intentioned collaborators can change an artist’s vision.
Kailee Morgue grew up being uncomfortable saying “no” or turning people down. She was going to have to learn.
“It’s been a very, very long process of … turning myself into the person that’s like, ‘I hate this; no, I want it to be this way,’” she said. “It’s really a lot of standing your ground and having to be, like, ‘I don’t like this at all; we need to redo this,’ and sometimes taking it to a different producer.”
The EPs four tracks include “Unfortunate Soul,” about the move from Phoenix to L.A, which was produced by Joel Little (Lorde), the alluring “Discovery” and sparse “Ghost of Mine.” All four blend precise, uncompleted beats with pulsating and glitchy synths.
Kailee Morgue’s newer songs are already taking a different tact, the first sign of which came in late August, with “Siren.” Though the song is also named for another Greek mythology-inspired character, the song is more confident in its storytelling.
With more songs on the way, she is now turning her attention to another part of the music industry life in which she has very little experience: performing live. Kailee Morgue’s first show did not come until July. The following month, she was playing in front of hundreds at the Outside Lands Music Festival.
Morgue flew her mom and boyfriend out for the performance, where she overcame a bit of stage fright and the bracing cold to do just fine, even though she decided to ditch her jacket because it was getting in her way.
“So, today was my third time being on a stage, ever!” she said. “This one was a big jump for me, especially because I’ve never seen the audience.”