Drawing on the nostalgia of childhood to paint the complicated picture of coming of age, falling in love and finding yourself, 22-year-old London singer-songwriter Thea gracefully arrives to lay claim to 2020 with her debut mini-album ‘Land Of Nod’.
Inspired by India Arie, Corinne Bailey Rae, All Saints, Bonnie Raitt, Eve Cassidy, Aretha Franklin, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, James Brown and Stevie Wonder, Brit School graduate Thea Morgan-Murrell has taken her pop influences and given it a modern and controlled spin to create a sound that she describes “classic songwriting with soul, and a ‘less is more’ approach to production”. It’s an enchanting and accomplished blend of sonic alchemy that has already won her scores of fans the world over after co-writing, recording and then touring the track ‘Sycamore Girl’ with collaborator Rex Orange County.
“Music has always been around me,” says Thea of her childhood, surrounded by a musical family. Her grandfather was even in soul-pop legends Blue Mink who scored six top 20 hits between 1969-1973. “I was watching my family members on stage and thinking, ‘Holy shit, that’s cool’.
Singing since infancy and writing her first song at age 10, Thea enrolled in the BRIT School at 14 – the performing arts institution where alumni include her heroes Amy Winehouse and Adele. “Weirdly, it was more about the social aspect of BRIT School for me,” says Thea. “I learned more about myself than artistry and being a musician.”
It was there that friends introduced her to the music of SBTRKT and more diverse, elegiac sounds – and her vocal range soon followed suit. In her final year at age 16, Thea started to get attention from managers, publishers and labels - “I wasn’t ready for that kind of thing,” she remembers. “I just didn’t take it because I knew it wasn’t right.”
After that Thea spent a few years of living life, trying to find her true voice and artistic direction to make a go of it in her own vision. “Now I know that it was meant to go that way,” she admits. “I’m so pleased that I’ve been through the journey that I have with music. I’m more confident and ready now than I would have been.”
In the interim years, Thea also spent time touring with Rex Orange County (Alex O’Connor, who she’s known since school) to perform their sublime collaboration ‘Sycamore Girl’. The reaction from the audiences proved that there was a hunger for Thea’s unique sound. “A lot of people talk about female empowerment and supporting women,” says Thea. “Alex has a predominantly female fanbase and my initial thought was, ‘Oh shit – they’re going to fucking hate me! But I’ve seen nothing like that. They’re so supportive and are just rooting for me. Now there’s room for it to grow. I’m excited for people to come along and get to know me through my own songs first.”
And now the first taste of those songs is here. Two years ago, Thea first came up with the ambitious but relatable concept for ‘Land Of Nod’. ”I’m quite a sentimental person,” she says. “I like familiarity and feel nice when I see an old film on the TV that I loved from childhood. My favourites were ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and ‘Mary Poppins’. It sounds childish, but I really miss those things.
“When you’re a child, your parents would read you a bedtime story. I don’t miss that – that would be weird – but I came up with the idea of getting older and not having a bedtime story. As we get older, we go to bed thinking about all of the things that we have to worry about. I wanted to create an adult bedtime story.
Mixing rich vocals, pure story-telling talent and slick neo-soul pop with music box sounds and elements from her favourite childhood movies, the mini-album features a cover of ‘Hushabye Mountain’ from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ and songs that take in the pressures of young love (‘TwentyTwo’), the pains of leaving home and the freedom of discovering yourself (‘Time Spent’) and realising that friendship is a two-way street (‘Soon Enough’). “Friendship, love and family,” says Thea, “that’s everything I think about before I go to sleep.”
After this, Thea already has her sights set on her next project. Whatever she does, expect it to feel real, human, and essential – the type of work that can only come from someone born to make music. “Success to me is loving what you’re creating,” Thea concludes. “In the past, I’ve been guilty of making music that feels quite internal and specific to me, but as of late I’m seeing people say that they relate to my music more and more. That’s what matters most to me: making a connection, giving people what music has given me.”