AIP: Kelly D. Morris

The next Artist Interview Project installment features Kelly D. Morris, creator of the “More” video and founder of Be MORE Now. The first part of this post includes a student’s reflective summary. It is followed by the full interview text.

Morris recently released a new video using Phish’s 2017 Dick’s performance of “Rise Up/Come Together.” You can learn more about her new project and support her work via her GoFundMe campaign, which is raising money to help cover costs of removing the “Adobe Stock” watermarks from her new film.

Find more information about Morris’ projects on the Be MORE Now website, Facebook, and Twitter (@beMOREnow_org).

Learn more about the Artist Interview Project course assignment in Dr. Jenkins’ introduction to the series. You can follow the Philosophy School of Phish on Facebook, Twitter (@phishedu), and the course’s public website.

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Heart shaped text reads: What does more mean to you?

Image from Be MORE Now Facebook page.

Film editor, Kelly D. Morris, has had quite a few different experiences during recent Phish shows. Since releasing a very moving music video for Phish’s song “More” in November 2016, Kelly has gained fame within the Phish scene. She has also started the Be More Now project, which she describes as “a collective gathering place with the aspiration of inspiring people to be more— whatever that means to them.” Kelly’s experience with the song has unsurprisingly changed since the music video. As she explains, “when I first heard the song live, I was deep in the listening experience, very present, not self-conscious at all….Then this most recent time, at the Baker’s Dozen, friends came over and hugged me….It was beautiful. I loved it.”

Kelly’s experiences can best be related to the concept of affect, which occurs when one is moved emotionally. D. Robert DeChaine, author of Affect and Embodied Understanding in Musical Experience, states “…without a doubt, affect [remains] our most fundamental relationship to the world around us…Affect is the intensity that allows us to feel.” Kelly went from intensely connecting to the song on a personal level to sharing that connection with friends and Phish phans alike. This change in affect doesn’t dilute the experience for either party, but simply changes it from a personal experience to a collective one. Such strong reactions can be due to Phish’s music and the band’s ability to create such powerful emotions during their live concerts. The bandmates’ love for music can be seen when they play, eyes closed, smiling faces, the audience can see that they lose themselves in the music they create. Such overwhelming emotion has a tendency to reverberate throughout their audience and, in Kelly’s case, such emotion inspired her to contribute to their sound and spread that connection via her music video.

John Drabinski’s The Everyday Miracle of the Occasional Community, points to the idea of occasional community, wherein music events serve as a space to make temporary friendships and connections based on common interest. To speak of the importance of community seems fitting to Kelly’s personal experience relating to the Phish community, since through her music video and consequent project, Morris has become more intertwined with the Phish community. She explains, “I’ve been cried to a number of times, which feels intense and incredible.  I’ve been lucky enough to hear how the video affected some people who saw it.  The community’s response, support, encouragement, and kindness has kindled flames of inspiration in me, and led to my desire to continue to create more content for this community.” The Phish community it seems, is a distinctive one in that it is not afraid to go past the “occasional” part of community. Phish phans hold their arms open for each other to share their emotions, art, and in many instances, as in Kelly’s case, both. What started off as an interest in a band, has led Kelly to connect with this community past the venues of Phish concerts and has allowed her to combine her love of Phish with her art. The community’s encouraging response is what inspired her to keep doing so through Be MORE Now Films which is working in collaboration with the Be MORE Now project to create more music videos to inspire people to live a more fulfilling and compassionate life. Kelly’s current projects include a documentary series focusing on Phish phan artists and their passion for their work, two music videos for a couple of Phish songs, and a series of interviews concerning PhanArt.

Kelly D. Morris released her “More” music video shortly after the last presidential election. Her main reasoning behind it was to instill the idea that, “life’s basic joys- love, family, friendship, dance, unity, support, and kindness- will keep us going through the darker times.” It brings up an interesting thought at the power of a united community taking on social change. In Kelly’s case, her aim it to fill people with the inspiration to live a life filled with more, whether that be more compassion, kindness, or creativity. Alperson and Carroll’s Music, Morality, and Mind, touches on the influence music has on a collective group of listeners and how such influence has the ability to stir social change. Alperson and Carroll state that music has the ability to influence “feelings of cohesion among a group of people” and that this can be attributed to how “language alone does not have enough words for all the subtle, imaginable variations in emotional states… songs can infect listeners with very powerful and vivid emotions that can have ethical significance.” Music has the ability to unite people and push them towards making a social change if it manages to resonate strongly enough within them. The Phish community is already so deeply tied to the band, it’s no wonder that her project inspired by Phish’s “More” managed to speak to so many others. Morris is now continuing to use Phish songs and phans as the focus of her upcoming projects in hopes of bringing more positive content to the world. It is clear that the Phish community wants change, they want a better world, and it speaks volumes about Phish’s musical influence on them as they’re willing to go past the occasional form of the Phish phan community to work together to create such social change.

Interview Transcript

How did Phish’s song “More” speak to you in such a way to inspire your “More” video? How does your video convey these feelings to others?

Being the best person I can be, and being my authentic self, loving, and forgiving are the guiding principles to how I live day to day.  “More” spoke to me because I saw a lot of sadness, grief, actions that disappointed, angered and moved me throughout 2016.  It was a tough year all around.  When I heard “More” on Phish’s album, Big Boat, it seemed that Trey Anastasio, the writer of the song, was feeling that way, too.  When I heard Phish play ‘More’ in Vegas, I could feel through the reception that the song had live that collectively thousands of us felt that way.  That gave me reassurance, faith, hope, and confidence that facing the frustration with cautious optimism and heart, as well as determined searching, could help us get through the darkness.  I hope that the video communicates that life’s basic joys— love, family, friendship, dance, unity, support, and kindness— will keep us going through the darker times.

As an artist, what do you consider your role to be within the Phish community? How has the Phish community responded to your Be MORE Now Project?

I’m still finding my place in the Phish community.  I was used to being mostly anonymous in it— for 23 years— and since last December, I met a wave of people who had seen the video and recognized me from social media.  I’ve been cried to a number of times, which feels intense and incredible.  I’ve been lucky enough to hear how the video affected some people who saw it.  The community’s response, support, encouragement, and kindness has kindled flames of inspiration in me, and led to my desire to continue to create more content for this community.  There’s so much I want to do and not enough time to do it.  I have been working independently, but I want to collaborate with as many different people as I can.  I love to document our scene— and if I can contribute any content to delight or entertain the community, I’m happy to continue to provide just that.  It’s intimidating sometimes, as I don’t know how my work will be received by the community— band or phans alike.  But the inspiration and desire to create has to outweigh my fear, as I want to let go of fear and don’t want to stop creating.  And if I had let fear get the best of me, I never would have released the ‘More’ video in the first place.  My life opened up because I did, and I’m so glad for how Phish life is now for me.  I’ve been encouraged, welcomed, supported and appreciated. Through this journey, I’m reassured to not let fear dictate my actions, because taking the risk paid off 1000 times over.  I’ll never forget that lesson.

Do you plan on creating more videos centered on Phish songs? Will you expand your project towards other creative outlets?

Because Phish continues to play music that speaks to my soul, and visualizing imagery to correspond to that music is what my brain does naturally, it feels completely natural to create videos to their music.  I hope they don’t mind that I keep making videos, as I’m fully aware that they haven’t officially done that since 1994.  I guess there’s only one rule (it begins), and it’s not ‘we won’t make videos for our music’, so I’ll keep my nose to the grind-stone and will keep my fingers crossed.
I was very lucky that they supported the last piece.  I have no idea what will happen with the next one, but we’ll see.  I am not going to be attached to any outcome, or have any expectations.  Things change, but hopefully they’ll stay the same, too.  Only time will tell. I’ll happily work on any type of creative project that expands my heart, mind and soul, as long as I have the strength and inspiration to do it.

How has your experience of the song “More” and your emotional response to it changed since making the video?

I think my experience with the song will continue to change.  When I first heard the song live, I was deep in the listening experience, very present, not self-conscious at all.  When I heard it on New Year’s, and since then, I was around people who knew I made the video.  I didn’t want their focus to be on me, I wanted their focus to be on the band and listening to the song, so I pushed people away.  Then this most recent time, at the Baker’s Dozen, friends came over and hugged me.  How can I mind that?  It was beautiful. I loved it. So I’ve come around and now I feel grateful to be attached to it, in any way at all, and I’ll forever be grateful to have made a tiny contribution to the scene through such a powerful vehicle as the song ‘More’.  I love seeing and feeling the audience’s reaction to the song. I believe the song’s power to elevate an audience will never lessen.

Is film editing similar to music in its ability to express emotion? Does film have artistic capacities that music lacks?

Film editing is multi-faceted in its tonality.  There are the rhythms of the cuts, the content and natural sound of the footage, the additional sound effects and the soundtrack to give depth and character to each moment.  Music is created through the instruments, films are created through all the pieces put together.  Each composition can be synchronized, improvised, harmonious or discorded.  I wouldn’t say that film has capabilities music lacks because certain music can bring out every drop of emotion that the notes can.  But a picture is worth a thousand words, and music is language… so it all boils down to who’s having the conversation and how interesting the discussion, which is true for the film-maker and the musician.

Your music video came out at a time when politics had everyone’s attention. For you, the video led to the creation of your organization, Be MORE Now. Do you feel that Phish and the Phish community has come to be more socially active and politically engaged? If so, how do you foresee them going about spurring social change?

Be MORE Now is still being defined— it’s role has been unclear, but it was started as a collective gathering place with the aspiration of inspiring people to be more— whatever that means to them.  It’s not up to me to say what that is— it’s up to each of us to do what we can, or what we want to, and no one can be told what that is.  It’s a discovery.  I think people want to be more, and might be hungry for change.  Change is slow though.  It takes time.  Action is not easy to inspire.  I’m grateful to feel inspired even a small part of the time.  I hope to find an energetic person to take over Be MORE Now, as Be MORE Now Films is how I can be more, inspire more, create more and do more.  For now, Be MORE Now Films is my vehicle to promote and inspire change. I want to focus on film-making and let Be MORE Now grow into a more collective vessel for good.

What is the relationship between art and activism? Why do you find creative activism to be important for making “the world a more kind, compassionate, curious, informed, loving, and radiating place,” as described in the BE MORE Now website?

It’s important to me to fight what I think of as the good fight.  I want to leave the world better than I found it.  I want to make a lasting impression that makes a day brighter, inspire love or light in someone else.  Film is a powerful medium and I’m honored to be able to spend my life and time creating.  Since it’s how I can make a difference, and if Be MORE Now Films, and hopefully Be MORE Now can contribute in any big or small way to the betterment of society on any level, as it’s what I want to do with my life and time.

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