Few things can be as intriguing and exciting as an artist constantly developing and reimagining themselves, darting off in directions and taking paths that most listeners wouldn’t have expected…

For Evelyn Ida Morris, it’s become something of a second nature, given prior form as recipient of The Age Music Victoria award for Best Experimental Musician and having worked on and toured everything from the dazzling, looping art-pop of Pikelet and hardcore bands Baseball and True Radical Miracle to collaborating with Ethiopian group Music Yared.

The recently-released self-titled project sees Morris change tact again, releasing a postclassical piano album that explores their own identity and the experience of identifying as non-binary. A project that has been released four years after they first started working on it, it’s become one that has not only had a changing relationship

with its creator but also one that has existed during the changing conversation in Australia surrounding sexuality and identity leading up to the country’s same sex marriage plebiscite and legalisation, and acts as a vital and important artistic statement during a time of continued discourse.

“I like that I can take that experience and move forward feeling growth and renewal in my life thanks to my music.”

Looking back at the project’s genesis, Morris candidly admits that “I was unaware that what I was struggling with was at all related to my gender”, and while the finished record became an exploration of their journey towards understanding their own non-binary existence the initial writing phases instead focused on “just investigating and letting out the feelings that were there”. An avid activist, including the LISTEN advocacy group which aims to increase awareness and understanding of gender politics within the music sector, Morris says that their work there helped them to make sense of what they’d created and describes how “many years later after exploring my gender more through the language I discovered in my feminist activist work I looked back on that time and realised what it was about.”

For an album that sets out to explore the fluidity of identity, there’s a certain aptness in using the piano as an instrumental medium given the way that, especially  in Morris’ hands, it as an in inherent sonic fluidity of its own and swoops and chimes and dives throughout the record’s duration. ‘Wreck It’ skips and dances with a shining clarity while ‘Forecast’ sways and swaggers with a warm earthiness, the two tracks showing the versatility in both the instrument and Morris’ playing within the record’s first half alone. Given the record’s journey of self-discovery, it’s perhaps understandable that their choice of instrument was one that had been a lifelong constant and one that they’d been playing since their very early childhood. “Piano has been my main mode of emotional exploration in music since I was about three and a half years old,” they explain, adding that “this was more of a private practice until I was encouraged to put this songs down in a recording after performing them a couple of times at small special gigs with friends. I guess it never felt like a project or a thing that had goals, it felt like another aspect of my practice that has always been there, but it suddenly coalesced into a collection of actual songs rather than sprawling improvisations. I feel as though the piano is such a rich and full sounding instrument and it has percussive qualities all through it – all that polyphony is accessible through the one instrument, and my voice at times.”

That use of ‘sometimes’ alludes to the largely wordless nature of the ensuing album, with half of it being exclusively instrumental and the other half employing a certain lyrical minimalism. While it may have been daunting for some to have made a record with such a clear underlying narrative while simultaneously trying to communicate it via a largely wordless narrative, for Morris it was the opposite. “There definitely was a feeling of excitement,” they say “as I was finding a territory in these pieces that I wasn’t sure how else to express at the time – given that I’d not yet realised language for what I was feeling.” They go onto describe how “the reliance on lyrics in most popular music undermines the ways I can connect to it on a more physical and spiritual level,” adding that “I have always wanted to do more wordless music but the fear of not being understood has kept me from exploring it in public. I was using words in an attempt to control people’s response to my work.”  While they’ve used the record to carefully document their journey of self-discovery, they’ve consciously also tried to create a body of work that their audience can overlay their own experience and interpretation onto, as they explain how “making a chunk of it instrumental means they can have their own relationship with it without being connected to a narrative that I impose.”

“I have always wanted to do more wordless music but the fear of not being understood has kept me from exploring it in public. I was using words in an attempt to control people’s response to my work.”

But while words might be used sparingly, they’re no less vivid as a result, with album closer ‘Freckles’ mating a musical warmth to carefully crafted imagery of pyjama-clad neighbours feeling safe amid their sun-drenched surroundings. Morris is quick to dispel any notion that it’s a song built on a feeling of contentment, however, describing how “ it is more about that sense of external things changing the internal. The sun changing the skin and creating freckles is the main metaphor in that regard. The feeling in that song is of a sense that nothing is really ever truly peaceful, something will always interfere, and it is all out of my control.” Similarly ‘The Body Appears’ – the most recent addition to the record – seems almost plaintive both in its musical landscape and the way Morris softly asks “Where do I live?”.  Again, things aren’t all that they appear, as Morris outlines how it’s “a message of strength and a reminder song to myself – not to allow that feeling in Freckles to be a dominating force in my life. It’s a note to myself and other non binary folks to keep your core solid and not let others fuck with it.”

Strength and staying true to yourself are pillars that you can’t help but suspect got tested to their limits in the minds of a large swathe of the Australian populous during last year’s marriage equality vote. A process that challenged the Brexit referendum and recent Irish abortion reform votes in its toxicity, the process was one that saw assaults on equality supporters that ranged from the godson of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to a doctor putting up materials in support of the notion (to name but two of a number of homophobic attacks) – not to mention an especially vile series of posters, eventually traced back to neo-Nazi groups that sprung up spreading poisonous mistruths. Unsurprisingly, Morris has a lingering disdain for the event, describing it as an “awful experience” and “a farce”. They describe how on one hand “I was really upset that suddenly we were talking about something that essentially shouldn’t even be a question”, and on the other how they felt excluded by the fact that “in the same moment we were entirely focused on the needs of cis queer people.”

“ All other kinds of queerness was erased from the debate,” they continue, describing how “it was a terrible time and when I was performing gigs during that time I often broke down on stage. That vote  has made the conversation around queerness and diversity in queerness much much worse. I understand why cis gay and lesbian folks love it, but I personally feel like it white-washes queerness and focuses on simply the most white and most homonormative queer issues that shouldn’t even be issues at all.” That said, they concedes that “I don’t have any interest in marriage either.” You could be forgiven that in the aftermath of the vote the conversation regarding sexuality and identity in Australia has opened up, but Morris isn’t so sure as they talk about how “I think they have shifted, but also have opened a lot more complex intersections that we need to spend much more time addressing.”

“ I am super keen for all kinds of activism to co-exist in a way that means that if you’re working for gender-equality you’re also working for gender-queerness”

“ I am super keen for all kinds of activism to co-exist in a way that means that if you’re working for gender-equality you’re also working for gender-queerness” they continue “if you’re working for those things, you’re also working for an unpicking of white supremacy, and a look into the colonisation of Australia and the ways in which we are still one of the most racist countries in the world. I think that all these topics are interrelated in that they all point to unpicking one powerful structure. Everyone can benefit from opening up structures and finding new ways to recreate them.”

Four years in the making (and possibly unreleased, were it not for Morris’ partner submitting it to Jen Cloher and Courtney Barnett for consideration via their Milk! Records concern), the record is one which, unsurprisingly, Morris has had a changing relationship with during its conception, and you get the impression that they’re glad to have made it. “I have gained  some real clarity and self-assurance around my gender identity,” whey say, reflecting on the process “which is essential given that proclaiming yourself to the world as a person that is perceived to be an ‘in-between’ rather than a ‘thing’ such as male or female means you have to have some kind of feeling of self-reliance around your identity such that others’ opinions will not undermine or alter your experience of who you are. Now I look back to that exploration time on the piano, writing these songs, and I think “Thank goodness I did that” because I am able to connect with and revisit different spaces I’ve explored in my identity regularly, which makes me feel stronger every time.”

Given it was originally intended purely as a journey into Morris’ own experience and was a record which for a long time had no concrete release plans, it’s understandable that Morris never really had any expectations for the album. But despite its long gestation period and the tumultuous times surrounding identity and acceptance in Australia that were perpetually bubbling away in the background, making it has – whether by design or accident – helped them find an inner peace. Or as Morris themself summarises, looking back over the experience:  “what they have done for me – and certainly what the release of the record has done with such incredible support from Jen and Courtney – is help me to see that my skills, my identity, my mode of expression and my private spaces that I am willing to share are all valid and special.”

“I like that I can take that experience and move forward feeling growth and renewal in my life thanks to my music.”


Evelyn Ida Morris’s self-titled album is out now via Milk! Records