Checking in: Gold Motel’s Dan Duszynski (left), Greta Morgan, and Eric Hehr
There’s something almost unnatural about Greta Morgan wearing a winter coat. She is, after all, the 24-year-old front woman of Gold Motel, a Chicago indie-pop band whose infectiously sunny first album, 2010’s Summer House, sounded like a slice of pure California. And yet here she is, wrapped in mustard-colored wool, blond locks tucked inside her collar as she ducks out of the chilly night air and into the Humboldt Park studio where the group is recording its self-titled sophomore effort, slated for a late March/early April release. While the new songs drift on a familiar current of warm breezes, a minor key resonates throughout. It’s an unexpected hint of wistfulness for a band associated with beaches and blue skies. It’s also a sign Gold Motel is growing up.
What started as a solo project grew into a full-fledged band when Morgan recruited guitarists Dan Duszynski, 28, and Eric Hehr, 24, to help record songs she had penned during an extended stay on the West Coast (bassist Matt Schuessler and drummer Adam Kaltenhauser also play on both albums). A veteran of the suburban teenage pop outfit the Hush Sound, one of the first groups signed by Fall Out Boy’s Pete Wentz to his Fueled by Ramen label, Morgan has known Gold Motel’s personnel—all products of a vibrant Oak Brook/Elmhurst high-school music scene—forever.
“Greta used to host shows in her basement with all these suburban bands,” Hehr recalls. “The first time we met, I was playing a show there. I think I was 14 or 15, and we hung out on your trampoline,” he says, turning to Morgan.
“The trampoline was where all good friendships were made,” she agrees. “Pretty innocent beginnings: basement rock ’n’ roll concerts and trampoline hangs.”
Although the trampoline is gone from the backyard of Morgan’s childhood home, another fixture remains: the grand piano her father bought her mother on their 20th wedding anniversary. “There’s something about writing songs on that piano. I can’t pretend to be somebody I’m not, because the piano knows who I am,” Morgan says. “With the new songs, we were thinking a lot about home versus leaving home,” she continues. “I’m sure that had a lot to do with the fact that Eric and I were both living in the houses we grew up in while writing this album. You go out into the world and you see all of these places, and then you come back, and it’s almost like, Did any of that stuff actually happen?”
That bittersweet note emerges repeatedly on the new album. The instrumentation is more complex, the melodies less predictable, and when she really lets go, Morgan takes a big step toward the powerful singer she’s maturing into, channeling Stevie Nicks in the haunting “Your Own Ghost.”
Still, all of the nostalgia seems like somber stuff for a group whose average age is 25. “We don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, and we don’t know how people will receive this album, but at least we know the songs turned out how we wanted them to,” Hehr says. “We know the songs will always be there.”
Sort of like cold weather in Chicago.
Photograph: Brian Kuhlmann; Location: The Bedford; Hair and Makeup: Carley Martin/Artists by Timothy Priano; Wardrobe: Courtney Rust; Photo Assistants: Sean Costin, Colleen Durkin