Allo Darlin'

Allo Darlin’s Elizabeth Morris Breaks Free From Nostalgia

Liz Pelly

By Liz Pelly

on 10.06.14 in Features

It’s a Tuesday evening and the sun is setting in Florence, a place where Australian expat Elizabeth Morris is finally starting to feel at home. In two weeks, the Allo Darlin’ singer will leave for the U.K. to meet up with her bandmates, who will then head to the States to tour their third full-length, We Come From the Same Place, out October 7 on Slumberland. Until then, Morris is happy with the dual she’s embraced since moving from London to Italy a year ago. “I cycle around town teaching English to little kids and to companies,” she says. “No one here really knows I’m in a band.”

The first time I listened to We Come From the Same Place and heard “Crickets in the Rain,” I immediately noticed the reference to Joan Didion’s story “Goodbye to All That.” Why was that a meaningful reference for you?

“Goodbye to All That” is an incredible piece of writing. It’s not just about leaving behind a city, but youthfulness and what the city represents, and when a city becomes the opposite of all the things that were beautiful in the beginning. That line, “It’s easy to see the beginnings of things and harder to see the ends,” I just think is an incredible line. I was definitely thinking a lot about beginnings and endings in the context of London and leaving it. But also in the way of trying not to be nostalgic about it. That song is sort of anti-nostalgia in a way. I became aware of the fact that I was always writing these songs that were saying, “Everything was better before.” My life changed so much and I felt like embracing the present was a really good move.

‘It’s so easy to latch onto that sort of feeling, “Everything was better then.” It means you don’t take responsibility for the moment, you don’t live so much now.’

Does that anti-nostalgia sentiment inform the entire record?

I think so. It’s also quite obvious on the song “History Lessons.” I wrote that after reading a piece in the Guardian about a venue in London that was closing. It was an article about all of these venues that were closing in the U.K., lamenting that all of these beautiful old venues were being turned into apartments. At that point I was just a bit sick about always mourning things that were closing, when I knew there were loads of new venues that had opened up in London, and there are all the time. But you don’t really read articles about the venues that are opening. It’s so easy to latch onto that sort of feeling, “Everything was better then.” It means you don’t take responsibility for the moment, you don’t live so much now. I was a bit sick of it.

The songs on Europe were very nostalgic. I can see why it would feel good to start writing more about the present.

It’s about growing, not just as a person, but also as a songwriter, and trying to do different things. There’s a song on the album called “Half Heart Necklace” that’s about a girl from my hometown. It was the first time I tried writing from someone else’s perspective. I also tried to write in minor keys instead of just in major keys. There are tricks we have as writers to keep us on our toes.

Do you do any other sorts of writing other than songwriting? Poetry or prose?

When I was on holiday this summer I started writing a children’s book. I’m getting more and more into writing outside the boundaries of a song.

Are there any other writers who were particularly inspiring to you?

I started reading quite a bit of poetry, weirdly, which I’d never read a lot of. On our last U.S. tour I started reading Allen Ginsberg. And from there, I started reading Frank O’Hara. I’ve been quite surprised how much I love it. At the moment I’m making my way through Naomi Klein‘s new book, This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate. I like it very much. I think it’s very interesting and brave. It’s pretty risky. There are some people on the left who are critical of those ideas. I like how she makes it personal. I have a lot of respect for her. You’re in New York right? Were you there [at the People’s Climate March on September 21]?

I was at the march. Naomi Klein had been in town all weekend and I’m very upset I was working so much; I wasn’t able to see her speak.

It seemed like it went really well and there was a big group. I wanted to go to one in Florence but it was just a bunch of people making vegetarian food and hanging out on bikes. It seemed like there was quite a big march in Melbourne.

Why did you move to Italy?

‘I find it hard to identify with being Australian. That’s the thing about being an expat, this idea of “home” becomes something you’re always chasing.’

The practical reason was that my husband got a job here in Florence. He’s doing a Ph.D. here. But also I was really looking to get out of London, so it seemed like a really good reason to get out. It was a good decision, I think. It makes it a bit more difficult with the band, it’s a bit more expensive for us to rehearse. But it also makes us more focused. The difference in lifestyles between living here and living in London is just astronomical. London is just astronomically expensive. When you’re an artist, it’s impossible to live on what we do as a band, so it means you have to work a lot to even live in London in a not very nice place. It just becomes this grind. The problems in Italy are pretty big as well, there’s 40 percent youth unemployment here. But the lifestyle is very different.

I noticed that at least one of the songs, “Santa Maria Novella,” was directly about feeling like a tourist in Florence. Did you write most of these songs about Italy?

Actually, most of the album I wrote before I left London. I moved to Florence a year ago. Some of the songs, “Santa Maria Novella” and “Crickets in the Rain” and “Another Year,” I wrote those here. But the rest were written in London. I wouldn’t say Florence has influenced my songwriting, but definitely the idea of things ending, and new things beginning.

A lot of Allo Darlin’ lyrics seem to deal with ideas like “place” and “moving” and “new beginnings.”

It’s something I think about a lot. Especially going back to Australia this summer. I don’t get to go back that often, maybe once every two years. The change in Australia since I left like nine years ago is monumental. It’s become a really, really rich country — rich in not very nice ways because of a boom in coal mining. I find it really difficult to identify with where I’m from. I find it hard to identify with being Australian. That’s the thing about being an expat, this idea of “home” becomes something you’re always chasing. I always talk about going home to Australia, but home is also Florence. Home is always two different things. When you are an expat, it’s something you think about an awful lot. But maybe you’re always chasing something that isn’t really there. In my lyrics before I’ve been really nostalgic about Australia. But when I went back this summer, it occurred to me that maybe the place I was so nostalgic for never really existed.