Photograph by Morgan Hollingsworth
Satin Nickel’s Morgan Hollingsworth moved from musicals to the mandolin. “Theater is all about storytelling, and songwriting is no different.”
San Diego musicians don’t often count off their seminal musical influences in terms of musical theater. But La Mesa-raised Morgan Hollingsworth — the son of Grossmont High’s drama teacher — loved musical theater before practically anything else.
So the co-leader of Satin Nickel, whose debut album Shadow of Doubt appeared recently, recalls such highlights as Sweeney Todd at the Cygnet Theatre (“An all-star cast of many regulars of the San Diego theater scene, including my brother as Mr. Fogg”); and George Gershwin Alone at the Old Globe (“The story and Hershey Felder’s performance were utterly inspiring to me as I was still new to the world of composing”).
“I think one of the biggest musical influences for me was the 10th anniversary concert [DVD] of Les Miserábles, which my parents would put on frequently,” Hollingsworth recalls. “I even had all my McDonald’s toys set up so I could put on Les Misertoys. That musical has always defined musical theater for me, even as I’ve grown and recognized its flaws.
“But I think it was the combination of Josh Groban’s first two albums, and Frank Wildhorn’s Jekyll & Hyde and The Scarlet Pimpernel, that inspired my interest in big, romantic, sweeping orchestra scores and the sort of dark romanticism present in those works. Many people laugh at them because of the cheesy, idealistic romances they invoke, and while I would agree with those people now, my six-year-old self found them highly profound and passionate. Naturally with those influences, I wrote my first song at the age of ten: a sad, intimate ballad in D minor for the Pokémon Articuno.”
But, he confesses, his tastes took a drastic turn as he got older.
“Soon I discovered the San Diego-based bluegrass band Nickel Creek, which was what really inspired me to want to start a folk/Americana band. Something about their intimacy and simple instrumentation suddenly made it accessible and playable. Chris Thile has been an idol of mine since then, particularly because of my fondness for the mandolin, and now his influence and the mandolin are integral to my work with Satin Nickel.”
He finds a great deal of common ground between live theater, and creating songs. “Theater is all about storytelling, and songwriting is no different,” he elaborates. There’s a beginning, middle, and end. Each character starts a song in one place and ends in another, and that song needs to help further the plot of the show in some way.
“That’s how I was taught to write musicals, and that’s how I approach my songwriting, and for that reason I’ve had many people say that my stand-alone work should be in a musical. As a musical theater actor, I was trained to dissect a song, find the various shifts in thought, and take the audience on that character’s emotional journey through those shifts to their conclusion. The greatest music artists do exactly that when they perform their songs, because it’s simply another form of storytelling. Think of Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, and Paul Simon, who are renowned for their storytelling abilities through song.”
Asked to name favorite destinations when he visits his hometown, Hollingsworth affirmed his love for the burrito (and beyond).
“One of my all-time favorite Mexican restaurants is El Azteca. It’s a small, hole-in-the-wall place off Jackson and Fletcher Parkway that has some of the best Mexican food in the country, and everyone I’ve brought there agrees with me afterward. Whenever my parents pick me up from the airport, I always insist we stop there before going home.”