Morly Shares Living with Lyme Disease & Healing on New Album

Following the release of her debut album, Till I Start Speaking, Morly opens up about her creative subconscious exorcism, how living with chronic lyme disease has altered her approach to music, and fighting for a diagnosis for nearly a decade.

WORDS Emily Phillips

Morly is the bona fide multi-hyphenate whose soft strain of ethereal indie has metamorphosed over the past half decade into an increasingly microcosmic manifestation of her essence. Singer, songwriter, musician, painter, – she does it all, and she does it under affliction from Chronic Lyme Disease.

Growing up in the twin towns of Minneapolis and St Paul’s, Morly, born Katy Morley, first discovered her love for music when saxophone lessons became the predominant pastime of both her and her best friend. “We felt like the sweetest jazzers on the circuit,” she tells me over Zoom. Despite giving up woodwinds for choir just a few years later, the smooth, savory sounds she fell for when she was about the same size as her sax can be heard winding their way through her latest tracks. 

It was her time spent performing with Minneapolis-based musical collective Gayngs that gave her the confidence to really commit to music. Made up of Maggie Morrison, Ryan Olson, Channy Leaneagh, Phil Cook of Megafaun, and Justin Vernon aka Bon Iver, she transformed from a young, inchoate artist to a full blown virtuoso. 

Now based in London, where she lives with her partner, she’s been able to expand her vision of herself as “an actual working artist”. “London has brought something out in me and made me feel much freer and steadier artistically, than a lot of other places,” she explains. “There must be something in the energy here.”

Morly’s debut album, Till I Start Speaking, produced by Christopher Stracey, encapsulates her experience finding her voice, using it, asserting it, and trusting that it’s worthwhile. She describes the feeling as a “self-strangulation” where nothing can happen until she starts speaking and allowing her voice to break the silence.  

A vividly sonic and soulful body of work, it is the culmination of four years spent deeply reflecting on her relationships, shaped by the memories and emotions of her past, to the connection she keeps with herself, her partner, the universe and her illness. The songs that emerged are profoundly sublime, transcending melancholic melodies and conjuring an acute sentiment of self, like hymns laced with jazzy percussions and lucid lyricism.

Accompanying the album is a booklet featuring nine artworks, each imagined and hand painted by the multi-disciplinary artist herself. 

Artwork by Morly.

The album marks Morly’s first new material since she released, ‘Sleeping In My Own Bed’, back in 2017 – a soul-stirring tune featured on the new album. However, that same year her burgeoning career was stunted when she received her diagnosis of Chronic Lyme Disease. “I was feeling so desperately ill that I just didn’t care about career momentum or anything. All of my energy went to healing so I didn’t have anything left for being creative,” she explains. “I had to heal to be able to keep going.” 

It’s hard to imagine a reaction to this diagnosis would be anything other than devastating, but for Morly, the predominant feeling was actually relief. After nearly a decade of denial and a lack of acknowledgment from healthcare professionals, as well as a series of misdiagnoses, finally being able to put a name to what had been causing the singer such debilitating exhaustion and pain was the first right turn on the path to healing. “I had been feeling like I was just scraping by and I just didn’t understand what was wrong with me. So many doctors said I was fine but I couldn’t keep up; I just couldn’t do it,” she says. “I would try to record music and I would literally just be on the floor with my eyes closed, trying to stay in the session because I would just be so exhausted.” 

I would try to record music and I would literally just be on the floor with my eyes closed, trying to stay in the session because I would just be so exhausted.

Morly
Stills from ‘Dance to You

Chronic Lyme Disease, sometimes referred to as Post-Treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome (PTLDS) is massively unstudied due to the fact that it was only acknowledged and accepted by the United States and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as a legitimate disease this year. This left Morly, from 2008 to 2017, with the best doctors she had saying they didn’t know what was ailing her. However, she explains that many caused actual harm to her recovery and treatment by claiming, “there’s nothing wrong with you or it’s a psychiatric problem,” and in turn, prescribing her unnecessary psychiatric medications. “It was a wild head trip,” she admits. “Doctors would say things like, ‘Kids, your age don’t sleep enough,’ which is such a crazy thing to say to someone, especially when they’re so sick. I didn’t drink, I didn’t stay up late, I didn’t eat sugar. My life was so limited.” Morly was also diagnosed with allergies, asthma, gastrointestinal issues and hip problems, but none of these lay at the root of the problem. “It did something to me mentally to have my reality denied for so long by these people in authority.” 

Since moving to London, Morly has been faced with a similar lack of resources and research into her ailment, and even chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. However, she’s discovered a “network of alternative medicine” which has contributed greatly to managing her illness while in the UK. She explains that her treatment involves supplements and a high-protein plant-based diet, as well as breathing exercises to maintain neurological well-being, and is due to try ozone therapy soon. “What they do is they extract your blood, mix it with ozone and then inject it back into you,” she explains. “It sounds so intense and horrible, and I hate needles, but I’m going to try it.”

Although Morly hasn’t been able to pinpoint exactly when and where she contracted Lyme disease, she explains that in 2008 she suffered from a bout of glandular fever followed soon after by Epstein-Barr virus and unfortunately she never fully recovered. She suggests that it was either in the aftermath of her illnesses, or possibly even in the midst, that in either hiking around upstate New York or in Wisconsin the disease found its way into her already immunocompromised system. 

I think that making music helps me heal because it is what I authentically feel like I need to be doing.

Morly

“I also think that in some ways I got sick initially because I wasn’t being true to what I was feeling called to do and was living wrong.” To make sense of this, Morly references the research of Canadian psychologist Gabor Maté who theorizes that people often get sick because they’re not living authentically. “He posited that one of the reasons women are more prone to these weird autoimmune diseases is because women are taught to suppress their emotions so much,” she explains. “It may sound like a bunch of hokum, but your nervous system does actually get run down if you feel repressed emotionally. I think that making music helps me heal because it is what I authentically feel like I need to be doing.” So, Morly kept coming back to music despite how trying the disease could be at times, because it was the one thing that she says allowed her to forget that she was sick. 

She also turned to film to carry her through the worst of times. “When I felt almost dead in my own body, films would hit me more potently because my own life was so subdued and dimmed,” Morly says. “In some ways the most alive I could feel was by living vicariously through the stories I saw on screen.” Films like Wings of Desire, Call Me By Your Name, and The Lighthouse not only provided Morly with a sense of escapism, but they also wormed their way into the drawings and paintings she created alongside the album. These moving pictures are described in the carefully considered brush strokes, wistful gestures and muted colour palettes she adopts.

Stills from ‘Dance to You

She describes her creative process in creating the music as a “subconscious exorcism” where even after agonizing over the track list, it wasn’t until composing the accompanying artworks and listening back on the album in full for the first time after an extended hiatus, that she realized the narrative she had created. “It was me needing to process all these different relationships in my life,” she explains. While tracks like ‘Twain Hart were an ode to her present partner, ‘Sleeping In My Own Bed’ and ‘Dance To You’, cast out old, outgrown loves, and allowed Morly to see herself in a new light. “It was so startling for me to hear the album and realize what I had done subconsciously,” she says. “It made me have so much more faith in myself as an artist because so much more had been done than I thought.”

Beyond her personal experiences explored in the new album, she hopes that her music can put into words those indescribable, sometimes alienating, feelings that we all experience as we walk through life. “I want people to listen to my music and see themselves not me,” she says, referencing a quote from Joni Mitchell, who she admits is one of her muses. She found a certain solace in voraciously absorbing not only the works and words of the Canadian singer, but also in Nina Simone and Leonard Cohen, during her time spent away from making music herself. She felt sucked in by the way their music “completely transcends everything petty and reaches for the eternal, the source, the divine, then transports you there.” Their influence is clear in the jazzy sonics and poetic lyricism featured throughout the record. 

It was so startling for me to hear the album and realize what I’d done subconsciously. It made me have so much more faith in myself as an artist because so much more had been done that I thought.

Morly

While it’s not been an easy run for the songstress, her words are saccharine and her melodies enduring. Still, there remains a lot of “creative crop-rotation” left for her to explore. The ‘Plucky’-singer wants to expand her musical repertoire and try her hand at an instrumental EP and performing art shows rather than just gigs. For now, with lockdown restrictions lifted and the glimmer of live shows on the horizon, Morly wants to re-engage with performing and is clear that she is ready to resume her music career and to finally, fully bloom. 

Morly’s debut album, Till I Start Speaking, is out now. Listen to it on all streaming platforms. 

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