SXSW showcase: Thursday, March 13 at 10 p.m., Brazos Hall
Morgan Kibby makes big sound look like no big deal. The Los Angeles singer will be no stranger to fans of the massive M83 — her collaboration with the French band produced arena-ready ambience like “Midnight City” and “Reunion” from the 2011 album “Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.” Now, she’s tackling similar synth-heavy grandiosity with her own project, White Sea. Her rich, full voice consumes massive songs like “Prague” and “They Don’t Know,” which received play in a promo for NBC’s “Chicago Fire.”
White Sea simply means Morgan. No big mystery there. (It’s almost the only thing about the band that’s not rich in complexity.) Kibby said she searched her first name on online baby name websites, and came up with a couple meanings: “white sea dweller,” or “woman who lives by the sea.” Step one, complete.
Once she had named her new musical baby, Kibby said she found her new recording project brought with it plenty of other firsts.
“It’s the first record where I’ve really been honest in my work,” she said.
If White Sea’s music sounds like it would be at home in a cathedral, that’s no coincidence. Kibby, classically trained in piano from a young age, picked up cello when she was a little older because she was passionate about the sound. Classical and jazz music filled up her family home growing up.
“That comes out in how I express myself in my compositions,” Kibby said.
Kibby deals in what she calls “big soundscapes” — blending luxurious strings, horns and orchestra bells with futuristic synth shine. The single “The Don’t Know,” a grand statement from a new band, would earn Beethoven’s nod of approval once he got used to the idea of electronic music.
Skeletons in the closet
“I hate Wikipedia”: That’s what Kibby says when confronted by someone who’s learned of her child star past.
In addition to a few bit parts, Kibby played older sister Gwen on little-known Nickelodeon sitcom “100 Deeds for Eddie McDowd” from 2000 to 2002.
“I was the girl no one knew what to do with,” Kibby said about her acting days. Though involved in both theater and classical music as a child, she ultimately picked the path where she felt more creative control.
“I don’t want to wait for the phone call,” Kibby said, recalling the acting audition circuit and her transition to full-time music. “I want to have a project I’m working on. I wanted to be in charge.”
Filling the space
When we caught up with Kibby via phone, she was recovering from her first set of White Sea shows the week before, supporting fellow SXSW act Phantogram — an “intimidating” experience.
“It was kind of a big shoe to step into,” Kibby said.
Austin audiences will see a show built from scratch not too long ago: Kibby recently assembled her touring band, and she said she hopes her “lush and big” sound will help fill those big festival venues. Though she’s built her fanbase with a volume of dark and stormy remixes of other artists’ songs, Kibby said will play straight through her upcoming album — with its clearly structured beginning, middle and end — when on the road.
Could share a bill with: M83, Bat For Lashes, Florence + The Machine, Niki and the Dove