Layperson shares some crucial life lessons on his new album Massive Learning — showcasing today on Tinnitist.
Grief has the power to crack us wide open, a shift so great it can change the very air we breathe, the very person we believe ourselves to be. On his latest record Massive Leaning, Julian Morris, the songwriter behind Portland, Oregon’s Layperson, has found a way to tell that story. In the aftermath of the most significant breakup of his life, Morris examines his unrecognizable world with an unflinching, yet patient eye, carrying us from the oblivion of sorrow to an eventual spiritual rebirth and an emergence of a new path forward. It is this journey that allows Massive Leaning to transcend the genre of the “breakup” album, to give careful attention not only to grief but also to the sheer wonder that can begin to fill the space left by what we have lost.
“Loneliness is not necessarily joyless. It’s part of what makes us connected to other people. We get lonely in the way we get hungry or thirsty.” Morris says of the four years he spent working on the record. It is perhaps this perspective that allows the songs of Massive Leaning to feel almost like comfortable companions to sorrow. The music is open and effortless, with warm arrangements of guitars, keys, and pedal steel coupled with Morris’s easy, melodic delivery that in moments recall Sam Evian or Elliott Smith. In this way, grief becomes almost familiar, if not palatable, and eventually moves Morris to allow his own spiritual practice to bloom. “I think it was not a mistake that life presented me with those experiences,” he says.
Indeed, the record oscillates between moments of despair and spiritual awakening. We travel from the shock of Black Pool, to the despair of Bottom of the Bottom, to the stream of consciousness of Beginner’s Mind, to the startling clarity of “I Want to,” a journey that, while non-linear, feels like a true and cohesive portrait of rebirth. The record is a fitting followup to Morris’ 2019 release The Divide, which, while allowing him to discover his new voice as a trans man post-transition, also explored the challenges and sacrifices of the long-term relationship that would eventually end and serve as a catalyst for this record. The hopefulness and inspiration that Morris finds within Massive Leaning looms like a doorway to a new world two albums in the making. As Morris puts it: “This great love has ended. What else is here?”
Julian Morris first began writing songs in Portland while in college, playing in several bands including the trio Little Star. He shifted into pursuing his solo project as Layperson in 2017 and has performed with acts such as Tamino and Mega Bog. A multi-instrumentalist and recording engineer, he recorded and played on the bulk of Massive Leaning from home, with additional recording and mixing by Kevin Christopher at Heavy Meadow Sound in Portland. The record also features Barra Brown and Steven Skolnik on drums, Sam Wenc and Alex Fermanis on pedal steel, and Tyler Neidermayer on clarinet. It was mastered by Greg Calbi and Steve Fallone at Sterling Sound in New Jersey.