It was a serendipitous meeting -- when Stephanie's Id siren Stephanie Morgan walked into the studio of Asheville sculptor John Payne, there it was hanging from the ceiling -- the title for the band's next record. Morgan found herself so fascinated with Payne's sculpture of a whooping crane, made from scrap metal and animated by modified PlayStation controller, that she took on the bird's Latin moniker, Grus Americanus, as the name for the band's latest album.
"The whooping crane is a beautiful bird that sings and dances," says Morgan. "They are really one of the most tenacious species around and yet there's only 250 left. So I saw that whole confusion between strength and fragility."
It's a dichotomy that works its way deeply into the band's music. Morgan's vocals range anywhere from gentle indie pop to ferocious siren song and are set against dramatic piano and a pulsating vibraphone. What results is a band that often finds itself battling several genres and identities. The swirling goth-rock of Garbage to the soulful jive of Aretha Franklin. Mellow jazz/poetry to Björk eletronica. Fierce to gentle, light to dark.
"I call it pop noir because I feel at once very joyful and very melancholy in almost any song that we play," says Morgan. "So there's a poppy side to it but there's also a darkness to it and I think those things just go hand in hand."
It's no coincidence that the band's name, Stephanie's Id, is in reference to that same natural human tendency for mood shifts. When Morgan first started playing music, she realized she wanted to strip herself of the societal norms she had adopted and play music that was reflective of her real personality. The id, according to Freud, is the source of primitive and instinctive impulses and drives -- something that band seems to channel through their music. Raw and emotive, Stephanie's Id isn't afraid to be intimate, intense and truly personal.
Formed around 2002, the original duo of vocalist/keyboardist Chuck Lichtenberger and Morgan soon began expanding -- adding members that seemed to gel with the band regardless of instrument. The result was a melding of several textures and layers of instrumentation in the often rotating lineup -- virbraphone, bells, glockenspiel, flugelhorn and euphonium all find their way onto Grus. Lichtenberger and Morgan currently tour Michael Libramento on guitar and Kevin Rumley (Krum) on drums.
"We've had several different players," says Morgan. "But it's all about trying to find folks who are excited about the music and want to play it and want to bring some of themselves to the table and create something."
It's that same kind of enthusiasm for music and creation that led Morgan to create the POPAsheville festival (originally Id Fest) which she's still the director of. The festival's first installment as POPAsheville last January invited bands from within a five-mile radius to perform at several venues throughout Asheville and even invited a panel of several national music industry entrepreneurs to discuss strategies for indie bands to get exposure. The idea was to encourage bands to gig-swap throughout the Southeast and help each other out along the way. The event was well-received by the Asheville community and the music industry as a whole and will return this year in January with an expanded radius. (The Fest starts taking band submissions in January through www.popasheville.com.)
It was her commitment to supporting indie music that eventually led Morgan to the whooping crane, which would soon become another central cause for the band. She originally contacted Payne to scout out his gallery as a possible additional venue for POPAsheville, and instead found herself a kindred spirit in his sculpture.
After researching the crane, which serves as album art for Grus Americanus, Morgan visited the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Maryland which breeds and hatches cranes and became so moved by the plight of the endangered bird that she donated some of the proceeds of the record to the International Crane Foundation -- even persuading the Endangered Species Chocolate Company to provide free samples of their sandhill crane bar for their CD release party.
On their upcoming tour, Stephanie's Id will play all new material in preparation for a café stage performance at Bonnaroo -- but they still encourage fans to bring donations and paper cranes to their shows.
"Their fate is in our hands," says Morgan.
Stephanie's Id will perform at The Evening Muse at 10:30 p.m. on May 22 with Two Loons for Tea. Tickets are $6 in advance.