Abi Robins and Sean Renner of Morning Bird Records bid St. Louis a fond farewell.
Artists from what would be considered the greater Midwestern region have settled in St. Louis for varying periods of time and plied their craft. Some settle in, some settle down, others set their sites elsewhere, often with good reason.
Abi Robins, 21, and Sean Renner, 26, the key principles behind Morning Bird Records are part of the latter group. After meeting at an open-mic night at a local café in the fall of 2008, the two took interest in each other’s music and have been pursuing their musical ambitions together ever since.
The Renner and Robins united front are doing what they do so well this year—releasing high-quality recordings and touring the country in support of one another. They are also taking Morning Bird Records to Denver and bidding St. Louis farewell.
When did you each embrace music as a primary pursuit in your lives?
Abi: I was 17 when I knew that music is what I wanted to do with my life. I played a show at a small bookstore in my hometown, and I haven’t looked back.
Sean: I actually released Sekhmet, and we played the Sekhmet Awakens show on my 26th birthday. I took piano lessons for about eight years when I was growing up, and started teaching myself the guitar when I was 16. When I got into college, (Elon University in N.C.) I started writing my own music and recording it in the studios there. I’d always loved playing music, but I completely fell in love with the process of recording and creating music and sound. I recorded several albums in college and with each one, I became more and more passionate about making music. By the time I graduated, I knew that this was without a doubt what I wanted to do with my life.
How has the collaboration between the two of you impacted your own development and aesthetics as songwriters and performers compared to before your association?
Abi: Our approaches to music probably couldn’t be any more different, but I think that’s a good thing. I think I’ve learned a lot from Sean in the way he puts himself in his music. He knows how to put a lot of thought and dedication and work into one specific project, where I tend to juggle 100 things at a time. Neither approach is necessarily better than the other, but it’s important to know how to do both.
Sean: I think Abi definitely inspired me to push the amount that I was performing. Before I met her, I’d never done any kind of touring, and she immediately started suggesting the idea after coming to one of my shows. So by the next summer, we had set up a two-week tour to the East Coast together. I think we each approach songwriting and performing in very different ways. For something like this tour, it’s really helpful to be able to have us both looking at how to set it up, and promote it from our respective viewpoints while combining those viewpoints and ideas into the most effective plan.
Where did the paths take you when you each started that pursuit? What were some of the most impressive experiences before you got to St. Louis?
Abi: I actually had toured the country several times before moving to St. Louis. Probably the biggest thing I had done was a month-long tour I had done with another musical friend of mine named Jess Parsons. We played 27 shows in 31 days across 17 states. We booked the whole thing ourselves and traveled in my two-door Dodge Stratus.
Sean: After I graduated from Elon, I moved to England in 2007 to find a job working as a recording engineer in a studio. I got an interview at a small studio in Northwest London called 2002 Studios. I used my own music as examples of my work, and the owner was impressed, and asked me to record an album of my own to release on his label. So I spent several months writing and recording The Blossoms of Armageddon, which released on The Urban Sound label about a year after I finished it. It was a really wonderful experience.
What lead to the genesis of Morning Bird Records, and how has that been going?
Abi: Morning Bird Records was sort of born out of necessity and a desire for my music to be more than just me. Jess Parsons and I had played together for a while and were in communication with a small record label out of Kansas City. After that didn’t work out, I realized I didn’t want to wait around for some other label to find me and my friends—I just wanted to do it myself. So I did.
Sean: After Abi and I started collaborating, we continued to meet some other talented musicians in the area. We felt a really close connection with the music we were making, and what we were trying to do. Abi decided to expand Morning Bird to include these other artists. For me, it’s been such a wonderful experience being a part of a group of such diverse and talented musicians. We all continue to inspire each other in different ways, and it honestly feels like a family in the sense that we can come to each other whenever we need help or support with what we’re working on.
Abi: Things are still getting off the ground, but I really believe we’re doing things the right way. We’re putting out good music. We’re putting on good shows. We’re connecting with good people. At this point we’ve released four full-length albums and a hand full of EPs, all of our artists have toured this year (or are getting ready to), and we’ve had a great response both locally and across the country with everything we’ve done.
What has made the biggest impression on you in your time here, positive and negative?
Abi: I’ve met a lot of really great people, and they have definitely left a very large impression on me. It’s been great really connecting with people who believe in what I’m doing. Their encouragement has really kept me going even through the less glamorous moments of my musical career.
Sean: St. Louis has a lot of history, which I love, and honestly, it’s an incredibly diverse city in a lot of ways. There are so many different kinds of art scenes in St. Louis, and I continue to find new events and groups around the city that I didn’t know existed. And it’s very cool to be a part of new aspects of the music scene that are growing, for example, Abi and I each performed as part of the Play:STL music festival last year and were really happy to help expand St. Louis’s local music scene. On that same note, while there’s a lot going on in the city, it seems like because of the diversity, a lot of the different scenes have trouble connecting with each other, which can be difficult at times. It can be difficult to get folks from one area or one art scene or one neighborhood to branch out and get involved with things going on in another.
How did being in St. Louis influence the songwriting and recording process for For Luck or Lie and Sekhmet?
Abi: I think the biggest influence St. Louis has had on this newest record is the quality. I’ve connected with some amazing musician, engineers and producers here in the city and their professional touch made my album what it is. Nick Price and Brian Sowinski were truly integral parts of For Luck Or Lie and are both still very large parts of the Morning Bird Records family.
Sean: Sekhmet was very heavily influenced by where I live. It’s the bottom floor of this really old townhome just east of Tower Grove Park. It’s at least 100 years old, and the front room of the house has these beautiful wooden floors and doors, and high ceilings. I fell in love with the way instruments sounded in that space, and I think the sound of playing different instruments in that room inspired a lot of the music’s sound and feel. Also, all the other albums I’ve done were recorded in a studio, so they took some degree of pre-planning. For Sekhmet, I recorded almost the entire thing there in my house. None of the songs were written before I began recording them. Instead, whenever I heard something in my head, or felt something new coming on, I was able to set up and record it right as it was still fresh in my head. This was a wonderful process and it really allowed the creation of the songs to progress naturally.
Abi: Even before we met, Sean and I knew that St. Louis wasn’t going to be our home base for long. I think we both ended up staying as long as we did to make sure that our partnership was really going to pan out. Once we both realized that the other was ready to make the move, and still willing to keep working together we knew it was the place to go.
Sean: We talked a lot about different cities based on a number of factors including geographic location, surrounding cities, the music scene, and people we knew there. Denver has a lot going for us in all of these areas. There are several other cities in Colorado to which we can travel to perform, and it’s close enough for us to still tour the Midwest where we’ve made a lot of great friends and contacts.
Abi: Denver’s a great city with a lot of things going on, especially with music. The singer/songwriter scene is really blossoming, which is great for me, but they also are very open to a lot of experimentation, which puts Sean right at home. We also have friends there that are in the scene and doing really well. One of the other main acts in Morning Bird Records (a band called Glowing House) is there and it will be nice to get the chance to work with them more closely on their next few projects as well as have their help for new things that Sean and I want to do. The move is very bittersweet—both in our personal lives and for the label—but we’ll be getting to work more with Glowing House, which is great. | Willie E. Smith