Joel Larner Talks Inspiration for New Single "Morning Sun"

Bird Meets Winter released a single, called “Morning Sun,” about a month ago. When we first listened to it, we were struck by its quiet, contemplative feel. It’s a powerful song that, even without context, hits you right in the gut.

We wanted to talk to lead vocalist and keyboardist Joel Larner about what inspired it. It’s one thing to listen to a song and draw your own conclusions, and another entirely to ask an artist how that song came to be. It’s easy to listen to “Morning Sun” and know that there’s great import and thoughtfulness behind it: it’s a gorgeously executed track that offers multiple avenues of interpretation. But the story behind the song is possibly the most interesting of all those avenues.

“Morning Sun” was written in June of this year—June 13th, to be exact. Larner knows this because the week leading up to June 13th was particularly tumultuous.

“I was working at a freshwater wholesale place that sold fish. To Petco, primarily,” he says. “Fish & Chirps would buy from us too. I was a buyer for the company. I’d been with them for 13 years.” Before Larner started at this company, he’d worked at a different one just like it for seven years, adding up to a total 20 years in the industry. It wasn’t exactly his primary passion—it wasn’t music, after all—but it was a good job and he enjoyed it. “I felt kind of ‘trapped’ because I made decent money and had insurance,” he explains. “I felt kind of taken care of.”

As you might imagine, selling fish to pet stores isn’t the most lucrative venture there is. Larner says the industry has been in decline for over a decade. “In the 90s, it was huge,” he says. Everyone wanted a fish, or a ferret, or even a rabbit back then. Uncommon pets were a niche thing, almost a hobbyist phenomenon. But there’s a reason cats and dogs are the two species that are enduringly popular with humans—they’re interactive. Larner and his coworkers observed a steady decrease in demand for years, but they kept at it. “We had a fire once, and I was in there the next day, trying to save fish,” he says. “I was very much a part of the place.”

On June 5th, Larner’s boss took him out for a beer and gave him the news: he was being laid off after 20 years in the same line of work.

Larner was in shock. He found a new job rather quickly, but felt blindsided and stung. He was excited to attend (and help cater) his friend and bandmate Jordan Batson’s wedding on June 11th; that event was a bright spot in the darkness. But when the sun came up on June 12th, the Pulse massacre in Orlando was all over the news. Exhausted, sad, and unsure about any other option, Larner sat down and started writing a song.

“I’m sure I was nursing a hangover on Sunday the 12th,” he says. “I was making dinner, drinking…I started coming up with a melody.” He wrote “Morning Sun” that night.

“Morning Sun” is about a lot of things. It’s definitely about religion—Larner’s parents are missionaries, and Larner actually spent almost a decade living in Central America as a child. It’s also about tragedy and how people respond to it. But it’s possible that the primary message of “Morning Sun” is one of comfort, both for the listener and for Larner himself.

“The main motivator I had was the feeling that someone took it upon themselves to try to wipe out a targeted group of people,” he explains. He had also been troubled by the shootings of several civilians by police, and the Dallas sniper incident that interrupted a peaceful Black Lives Matter march and protest earlier in the year.

“This whole year was a circus,” Larner says. “In a way, what I wanted was to soothe my own nerves.”

Larner handles most of Bird Meets Winter’s lead vocal responsibilities. If you listen to the band’s previous work, Larner sings a majority of the songs: there’s some back and forth, but Larner is largely at the helm. This song was very different. He decided very quickly that bandmate Adrien Wallace needed to have the vocal spotlight on this track. “Her technique is so good. She has total control of her voice, she has really good pitch,” Larner says. The song proved to be the perfect setting for Wallace’s skills to go to work.

“Morning Sun” is a song that enacts and works through difficult emotional states: jadedness, helplessness, stagnancy. When you imagine Larner penning the verses, the whole thing reads as a beautiful and bittersweet exercise in empathy. “One of the lines, ‘what to think of faith, what to think of god at all’…like, how can you feel that way after a tragedy?” Larner asks as he looks over his own lyrics. “How does someone become jaded? They witness enough bad stuff that they lose some kind of faith in something. There’s an element of loss of faith, loss of hope…you become more cynical.” There’s even an irony in the song’s title, which is a constant refrain throughout the track: people typically think of morning light as being soothing or peaceful, but after a tragedy daylight can feel intrusive or even cruel. In the song, that doubleness is not an accident.

The most striking lyric might be the repeated command to “go with God.” Larner says that phrase came into the track almost on accident. “I remembered that I once heard a woman talking about this book and the phrase, ‘go with God.’ To her it wasn’t just a wish, but like… a reaching out for peace, for everything to be all good,” he explains. “For there to be no conflict between people, to find a common ground. Like, ‘however you find your peace, I wish it upon you.’” That phrase cropped up as Larner started writing the song, and he kept it. It just felt right.

“Go with God” is something else, too. “It’s a struggle against the cynicism—a pendulum pulled back in the opposite direction,” Larner says. “You can’t allow yourself to be this gone. You can’t lose yourself in hopelessness. Ultimately, that does no good.”

Header image design by Brittany Keeton