Growing up in Copenhagen, Ronny Morris dreamed of becoming a musician. Today, his music transcends the borders of his homeland - as does his lifestyle.
Text: Sarah Redohl
It's the early 1980s; synth-pop is relatively new and growing more popular year by year, as is Norwegian synth-pop band A-ha. In Copenhagen, a young Ronny Morris is so fascinated by the band that a schoolmate makes him a 'keyboard' of his own by drawing piano keys onto a cheap plank of plywood.
Ronny places the plank on a stand in his bedroom, puts on an A-ha album and pretends to play along. Tapping on his magical keyboard, he stares out the window of his family's fourth-floor apartment as if serenading all of Østerbro, utterly unaware that one day he would be a musician for real.
"I've always been a dreamer and a seeker," Ronny said. His imagination was an escape from the depression and addiction he faced within his family. "Because I couldn't have the life I wanted on the outside, I created my own inner world."
In his inner world, he was a rockstar. "To be creative, to work with people and be part of a scene, all whilst travelling the world," Ronny said, "I thought if I could have all those things - Wow, what a life!"
Nearly four decades later, that's exactly the life Ronny has created for himself. A singer and songwriter whose voice has been compared to that of Bryan Adams, Ronny's original compositions have appeared on several hit American TV shows, from One Tree Hill to Ghost Whisperer. In 2018, he released his first album, Sweet Silence.
He's worked alongside music industry professionals tied to Guns N' Roses and Fleetwood Mac, among others. He's had the opportunity to travel widely and live abroad since 2005 - currently, in Spain. Ronny has managed to turn a vibrant childhood dream into vivid reality.
Dreams made real
At 13, Ronny attended a music boarding school in the rural countryside of Denmark, where he took drum lessons and learned to play the saxophone. When he left the school to return to Copenhagen, a former classmate invited him to join the rock band, Chromium Fender. Although Ronny considered himself first and foremost a drummer, the only available spot in the band was as its singer. He'd been interested in singing since childhood, but he was shy about his voice.
Ronny used to enjoy recording himself on a tape recorder belonging to his mother and stepfather during childhood. However, he wasn't allowed to use the tape recorder on his own, and he was too shy to sing in front of his stepfather. "He'd stay in the room to record me," Ronny recalled, "but I made him promise to close his ears so he couldn't hear me sing."
Years later, when singing was his only shot at getting in the band, Ronny stepped up to the mic. During his time in Chromium Fender, Ronny bought himself a cheap guitar and learned to play. The band's other guitarist taught him a few chords, and from those three chords, Ronny wrote his first song.
"When I brought (my song) back to the band, the other guitarist was like, 'Those are the lamest chords in the book!'" Ronny laughed. Heavily influenced by musicians known for their experimentation, from The Beatles to Depeche Mode, Ronny has never shied away from trying out new things to see what works. "We'd argue for hours. If The Beatles wrote a song in that chord, how could it be lame?"
When he left Chromium Fender, Ronny took his songs with him, grateful for his time in the band. If it hadn't been for his time in Chromium Fender, "there would be no Ronny Morris, songwriter."
When Ronny left Copenhagen for Los Angeles, the imagination that had served him well during childhood became its own challenge. Ronny's vision was clouded by his own imagination.
"I'd compare the stories, pictures, and ideas in my head like a blueprint against reality," he said. Usually, reality can't quite measure up to the fantasy. Minor faults, like traffic along LA's 405 Freeway, made Ronny question living in LA. His time in LA also forced Ronny to grapple with what he wanted from life itself.
"The American Dream that someday I might make it appealed to me," he said, "but it also scared me because I thought about all those who don't make it. What happens to them?"
Twice a week, he'd drive through downtown LA, passing Skid Row - infamous for its large homeless population. "They have dreams, but somewhere, somehow, life went sideways," he said. Although becoming a rock star and finding oneself homeless are two extremes, Ronny felt immense pressure to strive for success in LA.
"By talking to people, creating things, having adventures, You begin creating the city you live in for yourself. You create your life rather than waiting for life to happen."
On a visit to Laguna Beach, a seaside resort city south of LA, Ronny met an Italian man sitting along the beach playing chess. The man, who appeared to be homeless, told Ronny to look at all the multi-million-dollar seafront homes lining the coast that sat empty whilst their owners spent all day, every day, working to pay for them. The Italian man continued, "I'm the only one here, enjoying the ocean."
It reminded Ronny that simple pleasures of life, like watching the waves crash on a beach, are free. He weighed the cost of staying in LA, both financially and emotionally, and realised that moving to Spain was a better decision for himself and his family.
"My inner rockstar/ego/idiot/maniac told me to stay in LA chasing shows, but that didn't seem compatible with raising a family," he said. Spain appealed to Ronny because of its similarities with California, both in nature and climate. Furthermore, he said, "Spain offered a better balance, at a lower price."
A Dane in Spain
Recently, Ronny moved to a traditional Spanish village on the outskirts of a coastal Mediterranean town. Nestled among woods of orange, almond, and olive trees, the village's narrow streets are lined with two-story townhouses in shades of peach, pink, and pastel blue, with the occasional pop of purple and turquoise. Lush flowers spill off small balconies, paper decorations zig and zag between houses across the streets below, and Montgó Massif looms overhead. The 753-meter-high mountain is the final spur on the Cordillera Prebética Mountain Range.
Every day, Ronny takes a break from his work to go on long walks in the woods or ride his racing bike around the nearby mountains, discovering secluded villages hiding among the mountains. After all, he adds, "I grew up on a bicycle in Copenhagen."
Ronny discovered the region he now calls home on a trip to Valencia. "There was something about it," he said. "I just kept coming back to this area." However, Ronny worried his career would suffer if he lived in such a remote place. "It's easy to tell yourself you're not in the right place to make this or that happen," he said, "and so you stop looking because you tell yourself it isn't there."
After his move, Ronny took action to find the music hiding among the mountains. He connected with a local university, requested coffee meetings with people who shared his interests and stopped to chat with street musicians about the local music scene. Soon, he discovered the local music scene's vibrancy, including an industrial complex where many bands practised that felt straight out of West Hollywood. "I felt stupid for ever thinking I wouldn't find music here."
It was, however, the first time Ronny had ever lived outside of urban environments; he didn't know what to expect. All he knew was that he'd always enjoyed spending time in nature, and he thought it would inspire his work.
"When you spend time in a place where it takes millions of years for a mountain to change, it offers you a chance to completely stop and enjoy the silence," he said. The city is so full of distractions, interruptions, noise. "When all of that subsides, you can focus on what needs your attention for a longer period."
The title track of his first album, Sweet Silence, epitomises this feeling. It combines a subtle piano melody and understated guitar with the ambient sound of children playing and doves' cooing (his father used to keep doves). "When you start with a naked arrangement, every time you add something to the mix, you're pulling focus from something else," he said. Sweet Silence manages to be both perfect and naked.
After the release of Sweet Silence, Ronny's producer, Steve Thompson, who also works with Guns N' Roses, said the album had such wonderful music that they decided to make instrumental mixes of some of the songs. Ronny plans to release those in 2021.
Lessons learned from life abroad
Since his move to Spain, Ronny has had to contend with the same feelings that plagued him in LA and every other place he'd lived: that perhaps there's a better place out there for him. "When I began feeling the same emotions again, I reminded myself to get out of my head, to explore what it is, not what I thought it would be," he said.
Surprisingly, it's Ronny's imagination that helps him overcome these feelings. He imagines himself standing next to a conveyor belt, waiting for packages to arrive. "When nothing comes, you feel empty," he said. "Meanwhile, on the other belt is someone assembling his own packages and sending them out. Who do you think is having more fun in life?"
As evidenced by his daily bike rides and exploration of the local music scene, Ronny aims to be the latter. "When that becomes your metaphor, you start thinking about what you can do from where you are," he said. By talking to people, creating things, having adventures, he added, "You begin creating the city you live in for yourself. You create your life rather than waiting for life to happen."
Recently, Ronny was talking to a British expat living in Spain who told Ronny his family rarely went to the beach or the mountains, that it had been three years since he swam in the Mediterranean. "I told him that made me sad," Ronny said, "because I'm sure that wasn't the vision of Spain he'd had back in the U.K. You have to remember why you came here. What was it that you promised yourself?"
Ronny, who makes a point to stay in touch with his friends worldwide, shared a similar conversation with a friend in LA. Despite living in LA for 10 years, his friend had put off launching his own studio because he thought he'd only live in LA temporarily. "I told him to start the studio," Ronny said. "It doesn't matter how long you stay somewhere, life is life. Even if he leaves LA, maybe he was meant to create the studio, not to run it forever."
After nearly two decades abroad, Ronny keeps alive his favourite Danish traditions, such as celebrating Christmas Eve rather than Christmas morning. "In some ways, I felt more Danish after I moved away," he said. "The most Danish I ever felt was standing in line outside Olson's Delicatessen on Pico Boulevard to pick up Danish sweets and a Danish roast with every other Dane in LA."
Sometimes, he would even travel a few hours northwest of LA to the town of Solvang for Æbleskiver. Settled by Danes in the early 1900s, the town is known for its Danish-style architecture and Danish bakeries, restaurants, and stores. The town even has a copy of the Little Mermaid statue and a replica of Rundetårn.
He's already found ways to maintain his inner Dane in Spain. A driver comes to Spain from Denmark once a month and delivers Danish products to Ronny and other expats. Ronny's most recent order was for liquorice. "Liquorice is a very Danish thing," he said, recalling his attempts to introduce the treat to American friends who often compared it to chewing tobacco.
And, of course, there's the matter of Danish pastries. One of his dreams for 2021 is to set up a Danish pastry shop in Spain. He also plans to record many of the songs he's written since his last album - a project for which he's teamed up with several musicians back in Denmark.
Nearly four decades after he played his heart out on an imaginary keyboard in Østerbro, Ronny remains both a Dane and a dreamer. Wherever he finds himself in the world, he listens to the music life has taught him: "It isn't about where you live, it's about what you make of life."
Those cool Danes
Despite living abroad for nearly two decades, Ronny maintains his Danish mindset. For example, when a neighbour in LA invited Ronny to his daughter's baby shower, Ronny chose not to go. "Why not? Because I'm Danish," he said. "In my Danish brain, I felt I was intruding. That's a very Danish way to look at it."
He believes this is rooted in Danes' fear of doing something wrong. "There's a lot of concern [in Denmark] about what other people think," he said. To people from other cultures, this may come off as 'cold', but Ronny said it's a way of maintaining "togetherness."
"Danes have a history of growing and excelling as a group," he said, citing the country's well-established middle class and equal opportunity. "When we move, we move as a group." That sense of teamwork is one Ronny carries with him wherever he goes.
When a car was stalled on the 101 Freeway in LA, most drivers drove around the car. Ronny, however, pulled up behind them, turned on his hazards, and carefully got out of his car to see what the problem was. What he found was an elderly couple scared to death and unable to start their car. He gave them a push-start with his own car and got them off the freeway safely. "I think Danes are good at teamwork. We're good at being proactive."