White Sea channels emotion with sound

The woman and the White Sea are one and the same. Morgan Kibby, the woman, revels in the fluidity of her stage name; it gives her both anonymity as well as an identity.

Rather than performing under her given name, Kibby chose the moniker White Sea, which comes from the etymology of her first name. On a simple level, Kibby said she’s obsessed with the ocean, so when she looked up the meaning of her name, it clicked. As she continued to write music and work on the album, the name came to embody her style.

“I tend to make music that’s very orchestral and that’s very aesthetically pleasing to the ear,” Kibby said. “I don’t really make full-on rock jams, so I think that the feeling that White Sea evokes is very accurate to the kind of music that I’m making.”

Kibby’s vocals soar and swell and the resounding instrumentation undulates like the sea she channels. The beauty is melancholy; she sings with a poignant pain.

The 30-year-old singer/songwriter is best known for her work with French rock band M83 and the helping hand she had in producing 2012’s biggest indie anthem “Midnight City.” Kibby collaborated with M83’s Anthony Gonzalez on his Saturdays = Youth as well as the hit album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming.

While on tour with the band, Kibby realized that she wanted to create something that was her own. After teaching herself how to produce and write during her experience with Gonzalez, Kibby felt confident enough to take the next step.

“I trusted myself in a way that I felt authentic to who I was and I had kind of been in that process for the last couple of years,” Kibby said. “I think it’s natural for anybody to want to see what they can do when it’s just them in front of an instrument and that’s how it happened for me.”

Kibby started programming and composing while on tour with the band, and without any pressure of having to complete the album, she was able to develop songs that she felt were genuine.

Kibby calls her debut solo album In Cold Blood a break-up record. To be clear, she said, the title bears no relation to the creative nonfiction book by Truman Capote. It was the phrase itself that resonated with her.

“It kind of fascinates me this idea that we can sometimes in moments of crises forget how to be compassionate and empathetic,” Kibby said. “Sometimes we lose sight of being in touch with the better parts of our emotional being.”

Kibby was particularly attached to the idea that people can be completely devoid of emotion, and the phrase triggered feelings of doubt and contemplation for her that all trace back to the record’s theme.

“We all act in ways that really surprise me and made me wonder if I knew myself,” Kibby said. “To do something in cold blood is really acting without being in touch with who you are. It’s a very cold, cut-off way of behaving in the universe and even the best of us can act like that.”

In order to isolate and identify her own feelings, Kibby used mood boards to help her visualize her emotional experiences. The project enabled her to develop metaphors and phrases to explain the break-up and the feelings that stemmed from it.

“It’s hard sometimes to encapsulate these feelings in words and the mood boards were very useful for me to build a verbal palette to be able to talk about what I was feeling,” she said.

Completing the album created moments of self-reflection and questioning, Kibby said. During the post-mixing of the record, she realized that In Cold Blood is segmented into stages of grief: bargaining, depression, denial and acceptance; it’s an album that captures the feelings of letting go.

“It’s really about looking at myself in the mirror and trying to reevaluate who I was and who I wanted to be moving forward after the most significant relationship I’ve had to date,” Kibby said.

White Sea opens for the resurging electronic-rock duo Phantogram at the Palladium in Hollywood on Feb. 22. And even though she’s been located in Los Angeles for nearly 15 years, Kibby has never performed at the Palladium, let alone visited the venue. The performance marks her first show in Los Angeles as White Sea in over two years.

“What a dream,” Kibby said. “It’s a wonderful thing but also a very scary thing to try and have your first show be in front of that many people, especially opening for a band I have so much respect for.”

Performing as a solo act makes Kibby nervous. When she toured with M83, Kibby said she could throw herself into the music without feeling the burden of carrying the show. With the added pressure, Kibby has been rehearsing extensively and tuning her sound in time for her first show.

“I’m nervous, but I’m the best kind of nervous. I’m just excited more than anything,” Kibby said. “The songs are so emotional and so big that I feel like once I get on stage, it’s going to make sense, but who knows. I could have egg on my face.”