In a tiny little home studio somewhere in the midst of L.A., lies a room full of guitars and keyboards and fancy synth machines. The plethora of musical possibilities is enough to make any musician’s imagination run wild. This is how it all happens, right? A single recording in someone’s basement and suddenly you get lucky enough to “make it” in Los Angeles.
“Let me tell you that’s not true,” says Los Angeles artist Morgan St. Jean laughing. “If that does happen to people, more power to them. That is certainly not what my journey has been like and I don’t even know if I could really speak to this because I don’t feel like I’ve made it yet, but, for me, I think it’s a much longer trajectory.”
Jean didn’t come from a musical family, but knew that music would be her destiny ever since her godparents gifted her a karaoke machine when she was just a little girl.
“When I was in like second grade, I auditioned for the school choir and I ended up becoming the featured soloist of that choir,” recalls Jean. “I think that was the first time everyone was like ‘Oh, you actually are good at this.’”
Her choir endeavors ended up taking Jean on tour, stopping in Rome along the way to sing for the Pope. Although Jean’s parents are her number one supporters, at the time her mom and dad needed a bit more convincing to realize that music could be a reasonable and feasible thing for their daughter to pursue.
It wasn’t until Jean passed both her auditions and was accepted into the Pop Music Program at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music, that both she and her parents realized her dreams of becoming a musician wasn’t as far-fetched as they believed.
“I think going to school really helped me build a foundation,” says Jean. It really teaches you the craft, so that then you can go and kind of mold what you learn in terms of foundation into something interesting and unique and that is an artist,” she states. “And being surrounded by people that are better than you is one of the best things in life. Being in that environment was really amazing for me because the only thing that I could do was work my ass off to try and get to the level that I felt like they were at.”
During her time at USC, Jean released a handful of original songs for fun via her Soundcloud (before Spotify was all the rave). To her surprise, “Addicted,” which she had written for a class, became shared on various social media platforms and blogs and eventually racked up tens and thousands of streams.
“Labels and publishers and some people started reaching out to me and I was stoked, but I was just so confused,” she said” “I had no idea how it happened and ever since then that song is kind is like my baby and when I play it live, it’s the one that everyone knows the words to and it’s just — it’s like the little engine that could.”
Though the responses to “Addicted” were fantastic, the song was written at a low point in Jeans’s life. “This love is like a bad drug / And I can’t get you out of my system” sings Jean on the track, with her voice noticeably fearful and vulnerable.
“I got my heart broken in a way that I did not know hearts could break,” she says. “I was super depressed and so unhappy. I felt as though the foundations of my life had crumbled under me. I was so confused, and I was so lost, and I did not know who I was. It takes time to rebuild yourself and figure out who you’re going to be.”
While still in school, Jean released a handful of other songs, but didn’t push them to gain mad success, choosing instead to focus her time perfecting her writing skills, in order to become an eloquent storyteller.
“I wrote a lot of songs… a lot of bad songs,” she laughed. “I spent some time writing for other artists because I didn’t really know what I wanted to say for myself yet. I learned a lot from that. Just like with anything, the more you do it, the better you get at it. I learned from it was that I just need to write more. And finally, I started writing songs that felt like me and were things that I want to sing and put my voice on. That allowed me to start developing my own thing.”
Now having graduated from school and developed her sound, Jean is focusing on creating a name for herself. Her debut EP, due sometime in the next year, will be titled “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.” The mini-album will focus in Jean’s rebirth into a confident individual and artist, who has learned to embrace the parts of herself she used to struggle with.
“It’s that moment of me being who I am right now and letting myself feel that. That’s part of my power, that’s part of my strength,” she says.
With a clear head and healing heart, Jean has spent the latter part of this year periodically releasing new music that better showcases her creative and vocal abilities. Although Jean says that she’s healed from the heartbreak of her past, her music is still very reflective of her pain.
“I’m not really in that place, but I’m still writing songs about it, just because when something cuts you that deep, it just lingers,” she pauses. “ButI do think that now I’m in a place where I’m much happier and I’m more confident. I’m starting to write songs that are a little bit more like ‘I’m a bad bitch, don’t fuck with me,’” she says then immediately bursts out into laughter.
Her first single in two years, “Fake It,” draws on Jean’s newfound confidence by bringing her strength and endurance to the forefront of her music. It plays on the idea of ‘Fake it ‘till you make it’ because if you act the part, there will come a day where you physically embody the role.
“I was thinking of that break up that was a couple years ago, it was just one of those ones that took so much to get over. It’s like, ‘How do you move on from that,’” she questions. “You figure out how to keep going, and you just put one foot in front of the other and even if it takes acting like you’re ok, then eventually you’ll be ok. “
Aside from the lyrical and sound aspect of her music, Jean spent quite a bit of time figuring out her whole image— clothing, color schemes, photoshoots— in order to accurately portray to the public what she wanted her sound to physically look like.
“[I worked on] all of this stuff and when I finally put out the first song, I said to someone ‘I feel like I’m finishing a marathon’ and then I was like ‘No, the marathon is the whole career, I’m just at the 5-mile marker,” she exhales, realizing she’s still got some ways to go until she reaches the finish line.
The visual for “Fake It,” shows the hand of a mannequin caressing Jean’s cheek, which is supposed to be representative of an ideal woman who’s perfect and clean and does whatever she’s supposed to do, without ever speaking up. The theme will appear on the entire EP and is Jean’s way of rejecting the stereotypical idea of who a woman is supposed to be.
At the forefront of Jean’s music is her willingness to be vulnerable and never hold back her deepest, darkest feelings because it’s her honesty that makes her so relatable and emotionally unique.
“Being able to put words around your feelings is a very powerful thing. I want to connect people with each other, I want to connect people to me and I think that music just happens to be my medium of me doing that. The best way in my mind to do that is to just be real and authentic.”
According to Jean, her artistic direction is “soulful pop.” Though the beats and melodic runs make her music radio-esque, the themes in her songs gives her more depth than the plethora of upbeat, love songs that so often take over every Top 40’s playlist.
“I’m a feeler. I feel everything at a ten. I used to feel so guilty for being so emotional. It took coming out of that and realizing ‘Wait, that’s what makes me an artist, that is my power.’”
Jean owes a lot of her self-confidence to the hours she spent going to therapy, which helped her learn more about herself and understand why she is the way she is, and how she can make herself better as an individual, and as an artist. The lessons she’s obtained give her the strength to keep pushing herself and working on making herself even better than she was the day before.
“I’ll be honest with you, most days I’m sitting here asking myself if I’m still trying to do this and does this still makes me as happy as it stresses me out because it’s—,” she pauses, not being able to find a word strong enough. “It’s so hard.”
And yet, despite the challenges, Jean insists that music is what she was meant to pursue.
“The one thing that I cannot deny— I could come up with every reason to quit— but the one thing that I cannot deny is this feeling in my soul that this is what I was put on this Earth to do. I think the universe works with us to put us where we’re supposed to be, and it just feels like it’s something greater than me that I just have to do it,” she smiled.
For Jean, it’s important to hold onto the little wins and to find people who believe in her just as much as she believes in herself. She says that the team she’s created helps her see the potential in herself, even when she feels like she’s “in the trenches.”
And all that encouragement has most certainly paid off. Since the release of “Fake It,” Jean has also released two other songs, “Drama” and “Tell Me Not to Go,” along with a remix titled “Famous.” The songs have gained about a million streams in just a few short months.
“[Success] is the plight of an artist. I don’t feel like you ever feel that way. I’m at step A, and I’m trying to get to Z, and I just hope that I can enjoy the ride on the way there,” she exhales once more, smiles. “The more people that I can connect, the more that I have succeeded in what I think I was put on this Earth to do.”