In Conversation: Morninglight’s Miles Warren Atkins Talks Loving Brooklyn, Hating Seattle, and His Excellent New Album 1933

Among the first things that Miles Warren Atkins told me about himself is he likes to remain a little mysterious. His band Morninglight’s excellent sophomore album, 1933, gets its name after all from a running joke about how nobody knows his age. After a few years of confusion as his body refused to get older while everyone else around him did, Miles decided to just start telling people he was born the year FDR was sworn in. It was just easier for everyone that way. The eighty-seven year old keeps to his word on his mystifying nature, asking to strike several comments from the record over the course of our often hilarious hour long conversation, but all are for good reason. For starters let’s just say that both GSC and Morninglight stand with Ogbert the Nerd as being pro shoplifting and anti-snitching, but other comments were either too personal, too early to announce, or not worth the drama.

As a Black man making emo music Miles has made it his business to get to know every Black person in the scene so he could do his part to help build up the Black DIY community. He’s also made sure to hold institutions with power accountable for the racism he sees propagated in this scene as best he can. Both have been especially important the past few months. In the wake of the George Floyd protests many white people in positions of power across music have ‘promised to do better’ while doing as little for Black artists as they could get away with. “I feel like the powers that be in the scene maybe don’t give a fuck as much as they say they do,” Miles tells me, while lamenting the double edge sword of speaking up for his fellow Black artists. He was particularly distraught about how the Black and Brown membered punk band The Muslims had recently lost opportunities due to their outspoken pro-Black and anti-police nature. Miles hated seeing mediocre white artists and journalists fuck with The Muslims just like they had outspoken Black artists for ages, even in this age where Black voices should be lifted up above all others.

That being said, Miles is certainly not going to let those white gatekeepers silence him (nor did The Muslims). They have made Miles all that much more appreciative for the plethora of amazing Black artists who have become his friends and who he thinks are making the best music of anyone in the scene. The one thing Miles wanted to make sure wasn’t a secret with this piece was his deep appreciation for the Black musicians who have made him feel not just welcomed in the emo scene but at home. He talked about how Bartees Strange offered to help Morninglight and Poolblood any way he could the day he met the two of them, and how inspirational it was to see Mint Green, Maneka, and Baby Grill play together in January, which was the first time Miles had ever been at a DIY show where every band had Black members, and how he was star-struck the first time he saw Brooklyn punk legends The 1865 in his neighborhood. It has made him feel that there can be a future possible where Black DIY artists can organize outside the structures of the established white gatekeepers.

For the time being however, Miles is stuck at home writing his next album kinda like he wrote this one. The majority of 1933 was written back in 2018 and recorded by himself in his bedroom in his old home in Seattle. The album starts with “New Years Eve” at midnight on the first day of the century as Miles and a friend slow-dance in the street after getting some unexpected news, and later songs tell the tales of the people that Miles, his friend, and those around them became. While it is clear that Miles was inspired by a wide range of genres on this album, each track has an airy, dream-pop feel with a confessional emo bent. He cited a wide variety of influences on the record including everyone from GZA to Whitney Houston to Saves the Day, though the artist I’d quickest compare this record to is Beach House. Or maybe even more accurately it’s what it’d sound like if Billy Corgan tried recording an album from his beach house. The record is somehow both stripped back and raw and bright and bubbly, the musical equivalent of smiling as you hold back tears. It is a truly impressive body of work from one of the most unique and promising voices in the scene today.

I was lucky enough to speak with Miles on Zoom about his excellent new album 1933 (now available on cassette), his recent move to Brooklyn, and how Insta Live and Twitch streams can feel like watching the band play as the Titanic sinks. Our conversation below was edited and condensed for clarity.

Photo provided by Miles

GSC: I have a list of questions about the album and just about you in general, but starting at the top what’s your name and how do you identify?

MILES: My name is Miles Warren Atkins, he/him.

GSC: You are a recent Brooklyn resident, you moved from Seattle as is evident on the album, but you have NYC roots.

MILES: You did some homework, shit!

GSC: *laugh* well listening to the album you spent at least one New Years Eve in NYC so I was able to put that together. So yea talk about where you’re from, how you ended up in Seattle and back in New York, and ya know your whole story.

MILES: So I don’t know if you’re trying to go back this far, but my grandparents moved from Texas to Brooklyn in the Great Migration in the 50’s so my Dad grew up there in New York.

GSC: Wow, my grandparents woulda been moving to Brooklyn right around the same time funnily enough.

MILES: That’s wild! It’s so funny, I’m living with my Aunt now right across the street from the house where my grandma lived and I look so much like her that old people that knew her recognize me.

GSC: I love that! That’s cool that there are even the same old people around honestly, that’s happening less and less.

MILES: Yea, so I was actually born in Boston where my parents met, and I grew up in San Francisco so I kinda lived all over. I also lived in Oakland for a bit and Chicago but yea then I ended up moving to Seattle for college.

GSC: Which school did you go to?

MILES: Seattle University in Capitol Hill.

GSC: Hell yea which you did that degree in two years too I think right?

MILES: Yea, yes I did. I went to college in Seattle and after I graduated life started happening fast. I got in a car accident a year ago today.

GSC: Oh shoot I am so sorry.

MILES: I am fine luckily, and that is probably kinda how I ended up doing the album myself. Because I had a head injury I was like “Yeah, I could prolly record an album by myself, whatever.” I had been trying to record it for a while with a bunch of different people and it kept falling through so I just recorded it on my own. So, if you’re listening to 1933 you’re kinda just hearing me figure out Logic.

GSC: The album is a little dream poppier than your last release, in a good way, like I like that aesthetic. Was that conscious for that to come through in the music?

MILES: I would be the first to tell you that first record is not great.

GSC: There are some great songs on there man I gotta tell ya, I was jamming out to “Welcome to the New Year” all day Friday.

MILES: Thank you that’s very kind of you. On that record I was trying to emulate what other Seattle bands were doing and trying to be a part of the scene honestly. I think it worked too, like it sounds like what those Seattle bands sound like. But I didn’t love that sound in the end after I followed that plan to the letter, which is why I never really talk about that record now.

GSC: Well definitely still some great jams on there man let me tell ya, it’s just a different vibe.

MILES: Dylan from Great Grandpa produced it and he did a great job.

GSC: Oh hell yea!

MILES: Yea it was honestly like my thing not being confident in my own stuff and trying to emulate what other people were doing, so it came out in June [of 2018] and by the end of August I had some version of what these songs were because the plan was originally that [1933] was gonna be out by the end of 2018.

GSC: Oh word okay, but life gets in the way sometimes. So when did it end up dropping on BandCamp? June right?

MILES: Yea, so when the protests started I was thinking what resources do I have and how can I help. I had this album I was just sitting on without a release plan yet. So we ended up doing a soft release in June to raise money, and I was like okay this will be out and some people will buy it and I’ll figure out a formal release when things feel less urgent.

GSC: So is that when you got linked in with Solidarity Club? I am relatively new to them but I like every record of theirs I’ve heard, they seem to be some cool people putting out some cool stuff.

MILES: Yea totally. I think we were twitter mutual or something at first. For like as long as I’ve been in the scene I’ve needed to know who the other Black people are in the scene and I make it my business to know them all. I’m sure that at some point I tweeted about that and we found each other through something like that I honestly don’t totally remember. And when I was doing the soft release on BandCamp they just hit me up and were like “Do you wanna do a hard copy release too, do you wanna put out a cassette?” and I was like shit okay sure. So it happened fast, and they’ve been so supportive I am so thankful for them.

GSC: Yea I got a cassette and a shark t shirt on the way.

MILES: Bless!

GSC: It’s funny though I got all these cassettes now and don’t have anything to play them on. Maybe I’ll get a Walkman or something.

MILES: That’s such a vibe, honestly.

GSC: DIY may bring back the Walkman accidentally with the cassettes.

MILES: And seriously, cassettes are such a good option for bands who want to do hard copies. I’ve had a great experience with Solidarity Club.

GSC: Totally, six bucks a cassette is way more reasonable than a vinyl. So at least once in the album you say you hate Seattle, did you always hate Seattle?

MILES: What I like to say about that place is that I liked it but I liked it because I knew I wasn’t gonna be there forever. Like it was a nice place to spend two years but if I had to spend ten years there I’d lose my fucking mind. *both laugh* Since moving to Brooklyn, this is the first place I’ve moved to that I’ve been like truly in love with. So I moved here last fall and like shit hit the fan shortly after I got here. Despite everything I feel like I could spend ten years here.

GSC: So the name of the record is 1933 there’s a lot of references to different time periods. Could you talk about the name of the record and the theme of time and what that aspect of the record is about?

MILES: Yea, so it started as a running joke that nobody really knows how old I am. I like to withhold basic information about myself from the people close to me *both laugh* but if people press me on it I like to tell them that was the year that I was born.

GSC: 1933 I like that, God how old would that make you? Ninety something? I gotta get out a calculator. 

MILES: Yea I’m eighty-seven this year, at some point you lose track. And yea like I think for me a big part of the record is I guess intergenerationality. Thinking about what our parents’ lives were like and what they did and how that affects us now. And it takes place over a long period of time. Like the song “New Year’s Eve” is about New Year’s Eve 1999 and like how a friend of mine learned that day that she was pregnant so instead of going to a show we sat in her apartment thinking of baby names and what the future would be like.

GSC: Wow, Y2K of all years too good lord.

MILES: Uh huh. But I don’t really age that much so now her kid is older than me. But I guess the big answer is intergenerationality and thinking of myself as a person who doesn’t really age.

GSC: So what is your songwriting process like? I really like how specific you can be, like 14th and Broadway I’ve been there, you can really take somebody to a place and time.

MILES: I worry too that people don’t understand that song [New Years Eve] takes place in the late nineties and will think it’s like some bougie ass apartment.

GSC: Very different time for that neighborhood, rents were not the exact same.

MILES: But yea I had a playlist of songs with vibes that I wanted to emulate. So I would get done with my summer classes and my summer job and walk around Seattle listening to that and would come home and sit home on my countertop with an unplugged electric guitar and would take whatever I had come up with on my walk and try and turn that into a song. That’s how most of these songs came about, me sitting with an unplugged electric guitar in my bed or on my countertop. Except for “Me and the Moon” which was again, just hubris. I was just like “I bet I can make a beat” and that was my first trying to make a beat and in retrospect it’s not great.

GSC: Nah it’s cool, I’m very into it. Has a great remix too!

MILES: Yea that’s my favorite song on the record but it’s hard to hear it and not think “oh I woulda done this all differently now”

GSC: Totally, still a great track. Do you think you’ll go that way more so in future endeavors? Making more beats?

MILES: I would like to. Like, one of my favorite things that someone said about this record is that every song is a different genre, and I like that because it means there is so much to explore. I am very in love with this idea of having a bunch of music out that all sounds different. I want to make enough different music where I could make an electronic record and have it not be weird.

GSC: Kinda in tune with that you had a public playlist that had some of those influences, it was a very wide variety from Open Mike Eagle to New Jersey legend Whitney Houston to fellow New Jersey legends Saves the Day. Anyone else you’d list?

MILES: Influences… I am not super attuned to what is happening in DIY right now. That band The Muslims tweeted out today the reason that punk is getting less popular is because there are just so many mediocre white guys and so much gatekeeping. I wasn’t really into DIY originally, I was a punk kid. I honestly think getting tagged as emo is a time and place thing for me. I love punk music and just doing wild shit. I am also super deep into old school and alternative hip hop. I didn’t include too much on the influences playlist because I don’t think it comes through on the record. But Open Mike Eagle was huge for me on this, like Wu Tang GZA and Ghostface Killah too. I swear I swear!

GSC: No, I can see it. It’s a lot of very specific shit talk on their records. The New York City effect, I am sure they’ve been to 14th and Broadway.

MILES: Yeah, I actually saw GZA doing the anniversary of Liquid Swords at the Blue Note, which isn’t that far from 14th and Broadway.

GSC: Goddam that must have been a sick show!

MILES: And it was so many white people that they just assumed I was his nephew or something. He comes on and they were just like “who are you?” But yea my favorite artists are like Nina Simone and the Clash.

GSC: What a line up! Imagine that bill? What venue are they playing?

MILES: I would die, I would die. I think my biggest influences that you actually hear are like Bloc Party, Nada Surf, Saves the Day, and Frightened Rabbit.

GSC: So, you started the record with “New Year’s Eve” and you have two songs about the day, one on each record. Is that your favorite holiday?

MILES: You’re not the first person to talk about that, those two tracks are not really meant to be related. “New Year’s Eve” I knew I wanted to start and end with that scene, like sitting in her apartment trying to think of baby names and the ball drops and she’s like let’s go outside and slow danced in the street on the first day of the century and the rest of the record is everything that’s happened since then and who we grew up to be.

GSC: And my next question was going to be about sequencing and I’m sure the sequencing was related to the chronology of the story.

MILES: Its way the fuck out of order to the chronology of the story *laugh* but I kinda like that, I like a story you have to piece together.

GSC: Totally like Mulholland Drive or something.

MILES: Yes, exactly.

GSC: On that first song you had a line that really stands out “We’re more than one night stands we’re more than garage bands” and you tweeted out about wanting to make merch around it. What did that mean? Because it stood out to me so I thought it was interesting it stood out to you.

MILES: Yea, when enough people give a fuck I want to do an enamel pin set. I am trying to manifest that right now, I am speaking it into existence.

GSC: You got me for at least one!

MILES: That [phrase] has been one of those things. I’ve been thinking about how I’ve had to do a lot of this stuff myself, and how just because nobody was looking when you did it doesn’t mean it’s not gonna mean something to someone. Or that like you can mean more to somebody than just a warm body. And then like also like I think for me [the phrase is] sort of just like how people are in the scene. Cuz those are the two anxieties I hear people talk about, like am I going to be able to make music as a career, will I make songs that people give a fuck about and like am I gonna be able to find someone, can I be someone to somebody. Those are kinda the two modes of DIY twitter.

GSC: Will I ever fall in love and will my band be successful. And it’s very true, it’s seeing your worth as more than what you produce or who you can find for yourself, I like that a lot.

MILES: It doesn’t have a ton to do with the rest of the song but I like it.

GSC: It stood out! It’s a great line. You’ve been very vocal about calling out labels and institutions in the scene who have not done enough to promote Black artists. What changes do you think need to happen in DIY and what organizations do you think are doing good work to promote Black artists?

MILES: I think the short answer is none of them. There is this like network or scene of black artists. And I make it my business to know everybody and I think a lot of other Black artists do too but that’s easy for me in New York because like the 1865 is right around the corner, where when you’re in communities that are more insular and homogenous and you’re the only black person it becomes harder to do. And like honestly with the organizations…

GSC: Or people, just what changes need to get made and who are the people you see as leaders almost. It’s a complicated issue and it’s a lot to take in, not that you gotta solve all of DIY with one good answer.

MILES: The stock answer for a while has been more women and people of color in bands. I think people talk about it like it’s the same issue and obviously it’s interconnected but I think flattening that issue makes it so we’ll have a bunch of white women bands and people think we solved it. And that’s not a slam on those bands because I am a fan of a lot of them, but I did grow up kinda thinking I was the only Black person who loved punk music. Obviously that changed when I discovered X Ray Spex and Pure Hell, but even those felt like something from history not like something happening now. So I think like one of the things that’s big for me is too many people in the scene have only decided that they support black bands in the past month or two and I think that’s kinda trash because I think there is a lot of mediocrity in the scene and I truly think that the best music is getting made by black people and other people of color.

GSC: I agree and that makes sense. So how is life for you as a black man in DIY working two jobs? Ya know, like do you like the scene? Do your coworkers know you make music? How’s life for you?

MILES: One of my jobs is just delivery driving so I don’t really interact with anyone. But people in my life didn’t really know that I did music until this record happened because I am trash at self-promotion and because I don’t like to do it! It makes me feel like a fucking android.

GSC: I definitely get that, you feel like you’re selling something.

MILES: Even doing the fundraising work I was doing earlier this year was tough for me because even though it was for a good cause I still had to get in this capitalist headspace of “what will make the most money for me,” it was not a good headspace for me. I think like the first DIY show I saw when I moved to Brooklyn was Mint Green, Maneka, and Baby Grill from Richmond and it was the first punk show I’d ever been to where every group in the line-up had Black people.

GSC: Yea that is a great line up right there.

MILES: So I am starting to think we can have our own scene and don’t even have to interact with all the nonsense going on right now but I think it’s just finding one another. The scene at large there is just so much work to be done and there is this expectation that we’re gonna be the ones to do the work.

GSC: Yea the onus being on Black artists is ridiculous.

MILES: And like people carry the assumption that Black people in these bands are just people that happen to be making this kind of music and don’t understand the music. Which is ridiculous as hell!

GSC: Agreed completely. So one other thing you did mention is you donated all your bandcamp proceeds to the Homeless Black Trans Women Fund and I have to commend you, you raised a couple hundred right?

MILES: About one thousand.

GSC: Which is a thousand bucks in a homeless trans woman’s pockets. So why was that so important to you in these tough economic times to take the proceeds from your art and give it to people who needed it?

MILES: I have a privileged life. I don’t need that money right now and even if I did I have jobs and shit. Like as a small artist I am lucky that anyone is willing to pay for my shit. But like it sorta came out of a time where my community is in crisis right now and like I understand that the people hit hardest by that are the people who are the most marginalized. So, when I thought about who I wanted to do my fundraising for I looked into what organizations who were helping the most marginalized in society. So that was it I don’t know, it’s not that deep.

GSC: Well still there are so many artists who aren’t doing it so it’s still commendable. What’s been keeping you sane during quarantine? Any books or video games or movies or tv shows?

MILES: I’m a huge reader so I’ve been reading a ton. The first month of it I wrote a whole other record. We’re hopefully gonna start working on it in October, late September. Right now I am trying to learn all the electronic stuff myself.

GSC: Hell yea learning stuff on the fly. So you’ve been making music, that is a productive way to spend quarantine!

MILES: And reading a ton, I’ve been trying to write a little bit, like non music writing but I don’t know if I’m gonna do anything with it. 

GSC: What kinda writing?

MILES: So I like to write magical realism, I actually had a children’s story published earlier this year. Just through my school’s literary magazine. So I don’t know I thought it was cool!

GSC: That’s so cool! We publish short stories and poems too if you ever have anything you’re tryna put out. We’d love to help make that happen.

MILES: God bless! I’d love to do that.

GSC: Yea I was talking to a writer of ours down in Florida who is getting together a short story series for Halloween that I’m jazzed up about. But that is so dope! How long did that take you to put that story together?

MILES: It started as a fever dream that I had and when I woke up I tried to write as much of it as possible. For the longest time I didn’t call myself a writer because I just had this one thing and then our school’s literary magazine put out this call for submissions so I was like I bet I could do something with this. I edited it into something kinda coherent and sent it in. So it was something I had sitting around for a long time but putting it out was a pretty short process.

GSC: That is dope what is the story about?

MILES: It’s about two birds who fall in love and start a band together.

GSC: I have to give that a read I can’t believe I didn’t already.

MILES: So yea I’ve been trying to read as much as I can while also working two jobs.

GSC: You read anything good?

MILES: Yea, so like right now I am reading something everyone’s read already which is “100 Years of Solitude” by Gabrielle Garcia Marquez but i’m tryna think. I am deep into magical realism still like Helen Oyeyemi is one of my favorite authors. Carmen Marian Machado, I don’t know.

GSC: One thing that has been kinda cool to see as bad as twitter can be, you seem to have started a kinship with Pinkshift and Riverby and Mint Green and some of these other great new bands. So, who are the cool bands in the scene that you’re excited about?

MILES: Hell yea, so me and Mint Green weirdly met in London, it’s a whole story but yeah. Obviously Proper. are legends, Brooklyn legends. I don’t know her personally but I love Oceanator’s music. The 1865 is one of my favorite bands in Brooklyn and they get left off a lot of these lists because they’re older and more of a punk band. Obviously Pinkshift but I don’t need to tell anyone that because they’re a famous rock band already.

GSC: Yea good Lord, they are skyrocketing. Every time I check their Spotify plays it’s another thousand.

MILES: Yea releasing the same day as them was a mistake. But yea, I don’t know why I am blanking out right now. Jhariah does like cabaret punk which I heard and was like I didn’t know anyone was doing this like Forgive Durden, Gatsby’s American Dream type of sound. They’re fantastic. Poolblood of course, the love of my life. I don’t know, every time I am on twitter I can rattle off a hundred names and I am blanking out.

GSC: Have you done any Insta Lives or Twitches or anything?

MILES: I don’t think I have the following. I also kinda feel a way about it. I don’t like watching those because it feels like the band that kept playing while the Titanic came down.

GSC: *Big laugh* That is, holy shit that is EXACTLY what it feels like.

MILES: Yea and another thing is like how many fucking records am I gonna make before I get to play these songs live.

GSC: Yea you could easily have another two albums out if you wanted to before you can play anything live. Did you get to tour much off the last album?

MILES: No, I don’t really like to. If I have a live band I think I would have but I don’t like to do it if it’s just me. I don’t like to think of Morninglight as a solo project so I don’t like playing alone. I know that might be weird considering I made every single sound on the record but I don’t know how many more records I am gonna make like that.

GSC: It kinda reminds me of how Will Toledo talks about Car Seat Headrest or something, it all started in his brain but everyone is contributing.

MILES: Yeah Car Seat Headrest or Nine Inch Nails or maybe Prince because I am gonna collaborate with people but I am gonna be shitty about it.

GSC: *Big laugh* Well hell yea I am very excited to hear the results of those collaborations. I answered all the questions I wrote down. Any last thoughts?

MILES: I do wanna say when I was shouting out bands I forgot Bartees Strange and he’s been so fucking supportive. I met him at the release show for “Say Goodbye to a Pretty Boy” and he’s just incredible. It’s truly wild to me that he fucks with my shit when he put out the best record of the year.

GSC: And he’s been very vocally supportive too. I see him shouting out your album on twitter and whatnot.

MILES: It’s wild how supportive he is of younger people who are trying to figure their shit out. He’s offered help out me and Poolblood in so many ways. It’s wild to me, like every person I admire in the scene fucks with this album, it’s a little surreal.

GSC: Yea well it’s an incredible album, it’s easy to fuck with! And I’m very appreciative that you took the time to talk, this was a great convo. And I cannot wait to eventually hear this album live!

MILES: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me!

Follow Miles on insta or twitter, buy his album on bandcamp or cassette, and stream him on Spotify ! Thanks to Rita Manalastas for the photo at the top and to Miles for the self timer photo later in the article!

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