Keyboardist Morgan Kibby, as White Sea, crafts oceans of sound

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“I’m covered in MIDI cables — it’s pretty impressive,” exclaimed Morgan Kibby, the LA-based keyboardist and vocalist for M83, who is currently touring as White Sea, a solo project she started in 2010. At the time, Kibby was preparing to start touring with Phantogram and was feeling flustered as she prepped for the shows to come.

“When you’re out playing gigs, you don’t have the orchestra and the 15 other people to play songs with me on stage, so we’re having to figure out how to do playbacks and triggers,” Kibby told The Daily Californian in a phone interview. “I feel like we’re spending more time getting all of it in order than actually rehearsing.”

With Thursday’s show at the Fox Theater being the first of four dates White Sea will be playing with Phantogram, it’s understandable that Kibby felt a bit anxious while getting ready. The singer, however, has some experience with the process due to her work with Anthony Gonzalez and the rest of M83. This included co-writing “Midnight City” and “Reunion.” Although she’s on her own, Kibby’s style shares many qualities with Gonzalez’s, such as their mutual love of massive, elaborately layered sounds.

“I didn’t want to make a small, bedroom-recording album,” Kibby said. “I wanted to make a big opus or at least an attempt at it. Opus is a really strong word.” Reverb-rich swirling vocals act as the backbone to driving drums on tracks “Cannibal Love” and “Oljato,” while “Ladykiller” brings in a booming, catchy club beat with multiple synth tracks.

In creating these songs, Kibby alluded to her love of music technologies and the opportunities they provide for her. Building a track with 80 different layers of notes and rhythms is at Kibby’s fingertips. With a flair for the colossal, Kibby couldn’t turn down any opportunity to transform a track into its most grandiose form. On the sole ballad of her album, Kibby morphs the soft sounds into a multilayered behemoth as the track comes to a close.

When crafting these tracks, Kibby utilizes a visualization technique using what she calls mood boards.

“I think it’s always hard to articulate certain emotions,” Kibby reflected. ”Creating mood boards was a way for me to visually express how I felt for each song. Being able to look at those visuals also helped me lyrically articulate the emotions I was trying to imbue the songs with.”

As an example, Kibby walked through how she used mood boards to create her track “New York City Loves You, No Matter What You’ve Done.”

“I conceptualized the song when I was in New York with a friend, and she said something that just sparked lyrics of a chorus in my brain,” Kibby said. “When I went home, I found a bunch of images of a New York skyline, nightlife that showed how vast, energetic and lonely the city felt. I put a bunch of these images and pasted them together on my mood board to make my own skyline for reference when writing the song.”

Kibby continues to transform her songs while she’s on tour. In preparation for the upcoming tour, Kibby has experimented with acoustic variations of some of her songs.

“I wrote the record without thinking about playing the songs stripped down,” Kibby reminisced. “But recently, I had an opportunity to play a couple of songs acoustically, and it was such a joy. The songs became different beasts, and I think it’s encouraging to me to know that these electronic-based songs get a new breath of life when they’re played on the road with a guitar.”

With her previous EP and upcoming album, Kibby has proven she can hold her own as White Sea. M83 may have introduced her to creating music with high-rise dimensions, but White Sea will soon be filling skyscrapers of its own.

“When I started playing with M83, I was exposed to electronic music in a whole new way — and to the joys of sitting down at a synthesizer and crafting a sound,” recounted Kibby. “The possibilities are endless, and there’s so much beauty to be found in making that kind of music.”

Ian Birnam covers music. Contact him at [email protected].