Music, Mental Heath and More… An Interview With Morning Crush

Tim Ostrowsky-Thomas of Morning Crush Photo credit © Rachel Kiki

Tim Ostrowsky-Thomas, also known as Morning Crush, began busking on high streets at 14 and sneaking into open mics under-age. A songwriter with a conscience unafraid to speak his mind, throughout his career-to-date, he has used his music to speak-out about mental health issues and social unrest. Commitment to the cause, in 2015 he busked for 24 hours straight to raise money for Syria relief, and in 2017 for the mental health charity CALM. Although Ostrowsky-Thomas only adopted the moniker Morning Crush in 2020, he had already received BBC Radio 6 airplay and had been featured on Channel 4 news as a solo artist. Developing a small but dedicated fanbase over the years.

Photo credit © 3dgephotos
Tim Ostrowsky-Thomas live at Banquet Records – 9th May 2023 Photo credit © 3dgephotos

Digital Beat Magazine: Hi, Please could you tell us who you are and your role in Morning Crush

Morning Crush: Sure. Yeah. My name’s Tim and I write songs for Morning Crush. Morning Crush is a band and an outfit, and I write the songs for it. I look after all of it, and do the promotion and do all the boring work behind it. 

DBM: Your new EP Tidal Wave is coming out very soon. How are you feeling coming up to the release? 

MC: I’m feeling okay because we recorded it so long ago and then we had a bit of a delay because of my ADHD diagnosis, I basically had to take a few months off to do treatment and get my life back together. And so, it feels like I’m really proud of the songs and I’m just really excited to get them out. And two of the songs are already out anyway, so it’s more just me packaging everything together as a physical release for people to buy because people like that.

DBM: The EP is very hauntingly beautiful, especially “Let It Rain”. So, what inspired the songs on this EP? 

MC: Each song is basically inspired by like one different event. It was kind of very formulaic like that. So, “Let It Rain” was inspired— well, it was about before I got diagnosed with ADHD I had all of these other diagnosis like depression and borderline personality disorder and anxiety and OCD, and I got really bad once, and I ended up in a mental health retreat, like being looked after by care workers. And I wrote those words when I was in there and it was just about how I plunged to these really sort of dangerous mental health places and then I get better and I feel amazing, but I always end up going back there and it was just this cycle that I was in for my whole life, and “Let It Rain” was very much just like, “Oh, I’m here again and there’s nothing I can do about it.” You know? And that’s what inspired that song. 

But each song had its own event, you know? Two Ghosts” was about my friends who died. Manhattan” was about a horrible breakup. Footprints” was about a new relationship I started. Another Perfect Day” was about, you know, obsessive thinking and anxiety and trying to find solace in the good things in your life and trying to see the best in things regardless of having a condition which makes you see the worst in things. So, yeah, those particular events inspired each song. 

DBM: Your music has a real soul and wholeness to it, all the way through and especially through this EP.

MC: Thank you. 

DBM: So, what inspired you to go down the path you have with music? 

MC: I think I never— I never thought about it. All I’ve ever really done is been inspired by the people that I listen to and want to— I want to write like them. So, you know, for a long time that was Bright Eyes, for a long time, that was Frank Turner, for a long time that was Neil Young or Bob Dylan, or even Phoebe Bridgers. I would hear something and I’d go, “That’s great, that’s brilliant. That explains how I feel, I want to do that.” And that’s how I wrote those songs. Obviously, I didn’t copy the artist directly, but I would just listen to how they write songs and how they put their songs together, and I would try to start doing that myself. And when I finish a song, I’ll listen back to it and I’ll ask myself honestly, would I listen to this? If Neil Young wrote this song, would I listen to it? And I try my best to be like, “yes I would” but that’s a very, very high bar to set myself, but I try my best. 

DBM: It is really interesting that you said that a lot of different people have inspired your music. Was there anyone in particular that inspired any of the songs on this EP? 

MC: Frank Turner produced the EP and he also inspired some of the song writing haha. Which is a funny position to be in. But what I love about Frank’s music, and we’ve spoken about this, is how he manages to turn very simple chords into something that don’t sound simple. And that’s a very, very difficult thing to do. And the song “Two Ghosts” was very much inspired by that idea. I was like, “Right, how do I— How do I fucking do that? How do I do what Frank does?” How do I write a song which is just, you know, it’s just C, F, G is the verse is, and then the chorus is just C, E minor, F, G.  It’s so simple. And how do I make it interesting and how do I tell the story how I want to tell it? And that was very much inspired by Frank’s style of song writing.

“Manhattan” was a really interesting one because I wrote the lyrics outside Leonard Cohen’s house after he died, he had a house I didn’t even know he used to live there, but I was on Hydra Island, just on a family holiday. And you know, someone just said, “Oh, that’s Leonard Cohen’s house” and I was like “It’s not.” And I looked, I was like, Oh my God, he did used to live here. And I looked and there was like a plaque, and it was like a tourist attraction. It was Leonard Cohen’s house. I was just in a cafe outside and I started writing these words about a breakup that I was going through at the time. And I thought, “Right, you’re outside Leonard Cohen’s house, you have to write this song a million times.” So, I rewrote the lyrics, and rewrote the lyrics, and rewrote the lyrics just over, and over, and over, and over again until I hated it and then I played it in the style of Leonard Cohen. So, I played it really slow, like very somber, and I didn’t really know what to make of it to be honest, because I’ve worked it to death. And then I showed it to Frank when we were working on this EP, and he was just like, I think his words were, “This is a certified banger” is what he said. And he turned it from that sort of, you know, acousticy Bob Dylan-y, Leonard Cohen-y style song into like a folk rock foot stomping banger. And he came up with going down that route. And so yeah, that song’s really interesting because it drew inspiration from a lot of people. I won’t list every song and every inspiration, but you know, there’s a couple. 

DBM: I was wondering, how did the collaboration with Frank Turner come to be? 

MC: I ask myself that sometimes. I think we first met— I used to have a solo project, which the less I talk about that the better. But I supported him in like 2013, I think that’s the first time I met him. I used to email him as a fan when I was younger, and he was really sweet, he replied to everything even though I was, you know, a very strange teenager sending him very intense messages and he still just treated me like a human being, which was very sweet. And I supported him, and then I think we ended up like in the same group of friends and started chatting and spoke on Facebook. And then during lockdown, I think he was getting into production and so he worked on a couple of our other singles, Better Friend” and Tightrope Dance’” He mixed Better Friend” and he completely produced Tightrope Dance”. And then around the time of Lost Evenings I ended up playing on his small stage. I think I just asked him, I just said, “You know, I’ve got some songs that I think you would do really well as the producer on.” And he said “yeah“ he said he was up for it and we just went and did it, and it was amazing. 

DBM: Do you think your music would’ve gone in a different direction if hadn’t been for Franks’ input? 

MC: Yeah, definitely. Yeah. And like it’s not— I’m not comparing or saying anyone’s better or worse, but you know, I have another producer who I work with regularly and he’s brilliant in different ways. They’re both brilliant in different ways. If I didn’t know, I would be able to know which one was produced by Frank Turner and which one was produced by Chris Hope, Milkshake Studios, is the other guy I used.I have a feeling this EP, if it was produced by my normal producer, might have had a more sort of, I don’t how to explain it, like alternative nineties country rock, indie rock vibe to it. Whereas the way Frank Turner approached it, and I think I chose those songs particularly for Frank Turner, the way Frank Turner approached it was much more powerful for those songs. And some other songs would’ve been more powerful for the other producer that I normally use. So, yes, I think it definitely would’ve sounded a lot different, but still it’s my voice and it’s my songs. And so, I think to the average listener, maybe not, maybe people would’ve just been like, “Oh cool, another song.” 

DBM: You made a comment on Instagram the other day about how it’s really hard to pay this bills off of Spotify streams. Do you think the change from physical purchases of music to streaming has affected the industry much? 

MC: Yeah, it’s affected it a lot. And you know, I’m in two minds about everything, because Spotify has allowed me to reach more people. That’s just a fact. So, I have more listeners because of Spotify, and it’s easier to run it all myself because of Spotify. I can send people to my Patreon, I can send people to my merch. People, you know, find my music on Spotify and they come to gigs and it’s easy for people to listen without having to buy a CD. So, in that aspect it’s really, really good. But I can’t help this feeling that there is the money to pay artists more per stream, which would be a huge help. It’s a really nuanced discussion, the whole thing. And there are some artists who 30 years ago if they got a number one album they could probably buy a house with the money that they made. It’s just not like that nowadays as far as I know.

I could be completely wrong, but I know artists who have had a number one who still work in Tesco’s in the day. And that’s another way that it has affected the industry. I feel like there is less money. But in on the positive side, I think Spotify and how disposable music has become in a lot of ways has almost helped the vinyl industry because people are so sick of feeling like music is disposable that they want something real in their hands. And so, they’ll buy a vinyl for their favourite artists. And I don’t know, you know, I’m not an expert on this stuff, but I can’t help but think that the explosion of streaming and digital music has helped the record shop industry. Definitely. And there has been a boom like over the last however many years, and I don’t know how much of that is down to people being sick of streaming and the fact that music is so disposable. 

DBM: That’s a really interesting take on it. Continuing on a similar subject, do you think there’s a big importance to a band being signed to a label to be able to break through in today’s society?

MC: It’s going to be a really boring answer, but the truth is I honestly don’t know. I know that there are bands who make a living without a label and do absolutely fine. Someone asked me an uncomfortable question the other day and you know, they said something like, they believe— This person I spoke to, he works in the industry and he believes that you need a record label and there are anomalies of people who don’t need record labels. But then I disagreed with him, I said, “No, you don’t need a record label.” He said, “Okay, how many artists do you listen to regularly every day who aren’t on a record label?” And I just felt like fuck, it is like 95% of people I listen to. And so that may be kind of question, you know, maybe labels are a lot more relevant than I thought they were, but again, I think the only honest answer I can give is, I don’t know. I’m still trying to— I’m still trying to get to the bottom of that in my head, really. But obviously if a label came along and wanted to sign me, if the deal was good, I’d take it. And I think a lot of artists who say they wouldn’t are lying. There probably are some who are genuine and want to be DIY, but I think a lot of artists do want to deal because it does help your career a lot and it makes things a lot easier. 

DBM: A few years ago you were busking and now you’ve recently played to a sold out 1000 capacity venues and opened for incredible bands like The Lottery Winners. What does it feel like to be up on that stage? 

MC: It feels great. You know, and I actually feel more at home when there’s a 1000 music fans in front of me than when I’m trying to get — Just for the record, I still busk a lot, and I still sing covers in bars and weddings, and I still do really, really sort of low attended gigs to people who don’t care. But what I was going to say is I actually feel less nervous in front of 1000 music fans who I know are there for the music and want to listen to me than I do in front of yeah, 20 people who don’t care. I feel more nervous when I’m like, “Oh my God, do these people want to hear me? Am I ruining their evening?” Whereas when I’m opening for Frank Turner or Circa Waves, I’m like, “They’re here for music” and I don’t feel nervous about singing in front of them because they want to hear this and I feel at home. So, yeah, really good is the answer.

Tim Ostrowsky-Thomas and Thomas Buxton live at Banquet Records – 9th May 2023 Photo credit © 3dgephotos

DBM: You used to perform as part of a band called Kill the Witness before switching to a solo act under your own name. What sparked the change to move to Morning Crush and where did the name come from? 

MC: Well, I was a big fan of Kill the Witness and I thought it had like a lot of potential. And other people thought that too, you know, they were like, “This is it, this is the one.” And basically, the problem— The reason I didn’t carry on with Kill the Witnesses because, in my eyes, there were members were coming and going, different drummers, different bassist, but there was always three of us at the front, and the Kill the Witness sound wasn’t me, it was us three, you know? And so, when one of that three left, I tried to carry on with the other guy and then he left, because he got— They just got other jobs, you know? And they were like, “we can’t fit this in”, and it was fair enough. And I just felt it dishonest to carry on playing as Kill the Witness because it wasn’t Kill the Witness anymore, it was me. 

And so, I did solo stuff for a while and I didn’t really work as hard as I should have and I had, you know, all my mental health problems that I hadn’t confronted, and then I started Morning Crush. I mean the first single dropped at the end of 2020, but I’d been working on it since like— Oh wait, was it the end of 2020? I can’t remember. The first single dropped— Yeah, I think it was around the end of 2020. 

I started working on Morning Crush in like the middle of 2019 and that’s when I came up with the name. And the name was very much I kind of thought it was funny because I knew people would think I meant crush as in ‘I’ve got a crush on you’, but it doesn’t mean that at all. It means literally crush, like crushed, like to pulverize by compressing inwardly. And it was because I realized that most of my songs that I wrote were written about when I feel crushed or overwhelmed, and I felt that most in the morning. And every morning when I wake up, even now, I feel absolutely pulverized and crushed by negative thoughts and other things. And that’s basically where the name came from, because it was an honest description of what most of my songs were about at the time. Obviously, they’re not all about that. And also, I thought it’d be funny because I thought people would think I meant “good morning, my crush” or whatever, like the American term for crush. So, that’s basically where the name came from. And you know, Kill the Witness was more punk rock, and it was a lot louder, a lot faster, and I kind of wanted to make more, you know, indie rock, alternative country, I don’t— I’m really bad at genres, but more shifting away from Jock Kick Murphy’s and into Neil Young. Like that was kind of the shift that was going on in my head anyway. So, that’s how the sound shifted towards that.

DBM: You’ve recently done an interview with Cliche Mag and you’ve also mentioned it earlier today as well, in which you spoke about the difficulties with having an invisible disability. If you could break the stigma or stereotypes that are plastered around ADHD and invisible disabilities, what would you want to change? 

MC: Ooh. That’s a great question. I just think I want people to default to believe in someone instead of desperately looking for reasons why it’s not real, which seems to be— Not everyone, but that seems to be a very common occurrence. You know, whenever someone with an invisible disability, and not just invisible disabilities, people are very much like that with visible disabilities as well. But a lot of the time it’s— There’s so many different comments that are thrown around, and some of the regular ones are— You know, and I’ve had this, I’ve heard this as recently as the last month. You know, I’ve heard people say that 95% of people with invisible disabilities are abusing the system to try and exploit it, and to try and get help that they don’t need. I’ve heard people— I hear people say stuff like that all the time and I wish, I wish that wasn’t the default for a lot of people, and it feels like it is. I think that would be the main thing I’d like to see change, but I really don’t know how to change it, apart from just carrying on, talking about it. 

DBM: Do you have any hobbies outside of music that you’d be willing to share? 

MC: Yeah, I love standup comedy. I love wakeboarding. I love skateboarding, but I’m not very good at it. I love space and I’m really bad at it, but you know, astrophysics, I try to dip my toe into it, but a lot of it goes over my head. Yeah, just various different fun things. I’ve just, I’m watching The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel at the moment on Amazon Prime, and that’s like one of my favorite series of all time. I’m really into that. And that’s you know, about— I think it’s based on the life of Joan Rivers. It’s about a woman comedian in the fifties, you know, coming up and it’s really good. It’s really entertaining 

DBM: You mentioned about bands that have inspired you. Are there any bands recently that caught you? 

MC: The lottery winners. Yeah. I mean, you know, I’d say recently we played on the same bill as them in 2021, and I listened then and I really liked it. And then you know, a few months ago I sort of dived back in and they’re just an outstandingly good band, and they’re one of the best life bands I’ve seen in a long time. And you know, they’re very inspiring. Another person I’ve really got into recently is a guy called Slow Leaves in Canada. He’s really cool and he writes some really, really, really beautiful songs. Very different sounds, very different sounds to The Lottery Winners, but you know, that’s someone I’m really into. I’d recommend checking out. Yeah, I mean, I could talk forever about it, so maybe we’ll just leave it at those two. 

Obviously, I need to shout out Pet Needs as well. Amazing band. And you know, I’ve known Johnny for a long time, we used to play acoustic shows together before he was in Pet Needs, and before I did Kill the Witness. And we used to play to no one, and to rooms who didn’t care about what we are doing. And what he’s doing now is incredible. And my hat goes off to Pet Needs as well. 

DBM: Talking of bands, if you could have any lineup at a gig, what would be your dream lineup?

MC: Haha. How many bands? 

DBM: As many as you want. It could be a gig, it could be festival, whatever you want.

MC: 36 year old Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Bright Eyes, Frank Turner, Joni Mitchell, (love of my life). I could go on, I could go on. But do I? I really like— I’m really into UK Hip Hop, but I’m really shy about it because I’m, I don’t know, I’m so like middle class and my music is so different, so I feel like I’m not allowed to like UK Hip Hop, you know what I mean? But, you know, some people like Jehst and Chester P and Taskforce, and like Devlin and some of Lowkey stuff. Like I think it’s just incredible. So, yeah, let’s have a mix of folk, punk and UK hip hop. That would be the ideal festival for me. 

DBM: Sound like a great festival. Well thank you for coming and speaking to us today. Do you have any final words of wisdom for our readers or anything you’d like to promote? 

MC: Yes. Our EP is going to be out on Bandcamp before Spotify, because Spotify pays that badly. So, if you do want to support the project, then grab it on Bandcamp via download CD or vinyl. But the vinyl will take a while before it gets pressed. And we also have a Patreon and you can sign up to the Patreon for as little as £1 a month. And if you sign up for £1, all you get is credited in all the CDs and vinyl. So, your name will actually be on the vinyl. And then there’s other options for behind the scenes content, you get to hear releases before anyone else, just go have a look at the Patreon. It’s, and that’s a really, really good way to help. 

Tidal Waves will be out on June 16th on Bandcamp and June 23rd everywhere else.

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E Jepson
Born and raised in London, I have always had a passion for photography. From a young age I have borrowed my parents cameras to go off on my own photography adventures. After many years of 'hand-me-downs' and borrowing of my parents cameras I was lucky enough to receive a 'wish' from a charity called Starlight who gave me an amazing camera. This pushed me into enjoying and learning about photography more. My love of music combined with my love of photography and entered me into the world of concert photography, which is now my main area of focus. It's such a great feeling to be able to capture a moment of pure joy between the crowd and artist which can't be found outside of gigs. I love capturing that moment, the emotion, the power and the energy that surrounds the event. There is just something about the raw rush and power of a gig that always pulls me back for more.