Americana singer-songwriter Gurf Morlix has been thinking a lot about his own mortality lately. It’s just kind of a part of his reality now as a 67-year-old man.
“Friends of mine have been dying and that’s not going to stop anytime soon,” Morlix tells me. “When you get to be 67, you’re thinking about these things.”
So it should be no surprise that his latest album, Impossible Blue, deals with death—a lot. It’s an intimate album that sounds as though his worn voice is gently singing in the same room as you. Even with a full band backing him, it has the same quiet emotional quality that you might get on a solo acoustic album.
Morlix is an experienced producer who’s worked with Lucinda Williams, Mary Gauthier and Slaid Cleaves, so he knows how to find the sound he wants. For this record, he set out to create a lot of space on the album and not fill in every gap with an instrument.
“I play small venues. I play to a hundred seats or less. So I am going for that intimacy,” Morlix says. “I’m not going to be playing an enormo-dome, so why would I want Bruce Springsteen drum echo in my music?”
One of the deaths that influenced Impossible Blue more than any other happened a decade ago, when a close friend took his own life. Morlix tried to write a song about it four different times, and it finally clicked, emerging as the album’s closing song, “The Backbeat of the Dispossessed.”
He knew the song was finished when he found himself able to memorialize his friend in a loving, tender and sympathetic way. That was a process.
“First, you’re sad, then you become angry. Then you kind of get over that and it turns into this really tragic thing that happened,” Morlix says.
A poignant line in that song, “I can’t imagine the impossible blue running deep inside of you,” inspired the album’s title. The “impossible blue,” he tells me, is the feeling of deep, deep sorrow that he can only imagine his friend felt and led him to take his own life.
“This guy had a teenage son when he checked out. I was thinking, ‘How sad can a human being be? How deep is that chasm?’ I can’t relate,” Morlix says. “I felt really bad in my life sometimes, but nothing close to that. I was just trying to imagine it.”
In spite of how hopeless the title sounds, the record is actually filled with hope and joy.
“The body count has been pretty high on some of my albums, and I don’t really have much say in that matter,” Morlix says. “You can’t just be dismal. No one wants or needs that. You got to offer something. You have to have hope somehow.”
Morlix recently suffered a heart attack, but he’s fully recovered and back on his feet. Now he feels like he’s living on borrowed time. You can hear the optimism on Impossible Blue, even as he talks about grim moments in his life.
“That was a monumental event. When you’re faced with mortality, you start embracing love a little bit more,” Morlix says. “Every day is really special to me. They put a stent in, and I’m good to go. I’m clear to eat all the triple baconators now, and I feel good.”
As a lifelong sideman, player and producer, he’s finally at a place where he’s writing and recording his own tunes—and people are actually excited to hear him play them.
“Some people peak early on, and they can’t seem to write a relevant song after that point,” Morlix says. “I feel like I’m still ramping it up here. It’s good to keep growing and improving.”
Gurf Morlix performs at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, at Michael’s On Main, 2591 Main St., Soquel. $15. 479-9777.