Interview: Jonathan Morrison and WOLF talk iPhone 12 and THAT MagSafe song
We sat down with Jonathan Morrison, and WOLF to learn more about their latest projects.
“I’m laid back but I don’t front, Dopamine up and the MagSafe plugged, Hit my line like you didn’t just dub, Pressing decline is a sugar rush.”
Queens artist WOLF (aka Julia Wolf) riffs expertly over a minimalist beat, built around a soundbite from one of the iPhone 12’s coolest new features, the MagSafe charger.
If you’re not familiar with WOLF’s music, you really should be. I can’t possibly do it justice the way a music critic could, but to me, two things about it are abundantly clear. One, all of her music pours out of the speakers like chocolate. It’s effortless and incredibly easy to listen to. Two, it’s totally unique, and as she moves around her tracks, often switching seamlessly between English and Italian lyrics, I can’t think of a single artist to compare her to.
On your marks, get set…
‘we made a song out of the iPhone 12 MagSafe sound’ is just one of the projects WOLF and YouTube star Jonathan Morrison have pushed out over the last two weeks, a breath of fresh air amongst the torrent of unboxings, camera comparisons, and spec sheets that follows the release of every new phone.
When it comes to the MagSafe song, it turns out it was the animation and not the sound, that first caught Morrison’s eye.
“Yeah, that was a silly thing, where it was genuinely my first experience with plugging in the MagSafe connector,” says Morrison, the creator behind the heavyweight YouTube tech channel, tldtoday. “I was like, oh, I wonder if there’s a sound that goes along with it?”
Sure enough, unmuting the iPhone revealed the MagSafe charger’s unique alert sound. A burst of inspiration and an AirDropped file later, Morrison was deep in Logic trying to create a track. Soon, a rough idea traveled from West coast to east that Saturday afternoon. WOLF loved the idea, and whilst dancing around filming even more creative projects with iPhone 12, she laid down her final vocals on Sunday. In just 48 hours, they had a song ready to go.
“I was like, oh, I wonder if there’s a sound that goes along with it?”
Plenty goes into a project like this, but it’s simpler than you might think. From a quick screen capture, AirDropping the sound, importing it into Logic, finding the key, and the right tempo (115bpm if you’re curious), to then laying down a simple beat.
“She [WOLF] sent me a voice memos idea… and I was like oh, this is really good, we should really do this.” Somewhere in the middle, producer Jackson Foote, who found WOLF on Instagram and helped connect her with Morrison last year, helps lay down “the sauce”, tweaking the final mix and production, and helping with lyrics. They did all of this in a weekend. “I was pleasantly happy, like a little kid, just to hear how little he changed from the original beat”, says Morrison. Hopefully, my editor feels the same way about this interview.
Even though it started as just a bit of fun, Morrison’s creative flair and WOLF’s lyrical prowess shine through, and there’s real feeling and a story behind the song. “I think I was just irritated with someone who kind of pops back into your life whenever they think it’s necessary,” says WOLF, “but not everyone should get that privilege.” Not just a quirky video about charging your iPhone, WOLF says the song was born from the irritation of another human being who thinks they can keep hopping in and out of your life. “That’s not the way things work,” she says. Despite the warning, the song is a feel-good song, she says and is supposed to be empowering in some ways.
“This has no business being this good”
The clearest example of this is the impact the song has made. Nearly 60,000 views in just ten days on Morrison’s second channel, Jonathan & Friends, the song has nearly five thousand likes and a swathe of commenters who just can’t get enough. “This is awesome! Apple should really use this on a MagSafe commercial!” says one. Others clamor for the song’s release on Spotify and Apple Music, and then there’s my personal favorite: “This had no business being this good”.
“I was just ecstatic to work on it”, says Morrison, who treasures the change of pace from the grind of tech YouTube. He marvels at WOLF’s execution and talent on the song, and that whilst he knew it could do well, says it was more so something they were proud of. “After that, it’s been a bonus”. “I’m so glad that it just exists”, agrees WOLF. “And yeah, I had never really heard anything produced by Jonathan before; this was also a new thing for me. So when I heard it, I just immediately freaked out and thought it was so cool. And that’s why I think it was also so easy to write it quickly.”
“I was just ecstatic to work on it”
Both mention how the MagSafe song benefited from the input of Foote, one half of Loote, and a producer who has previously worked with Demi Levato. If you look closely, you can catch him on FaceTime with Morrison in the MagSafe song video, vibing to the beat like a proud parent. It’s also to Foote that Morrison and WOLF owe their own creative relationship.
“I was just a huge Loote fan. And I think at that time, I know, I wanted to kind of steer in a direction of music and tech and I decided to reach out to Jackson on Instagram,” remembers Morrison. He jokes about how Foote’s manager JP (JRNE) grilled him like a father who had been asked if Morrison could take his daughter out on a date. The induction passed, Morrison and Foote started working together, even featuring a Loote track in the intro to Morrison’s iPhone 11 Pro Max review video. Around the time Apple launched its 16-inch MacBook Pro, Foote told him to check out WOLF, a New York artist he’d been working with, and the connection was born.
The two first got together to try out the 16-inch MacBook Pro, its amazing new speakers and its studio-quality microphones, lauded by Apple as “the most advanced audio experience ever in a notebook.” Morrison likewise hails the audio experience of the MacBook Pro, and how WOLF was able to record over the beat using the microphone whilst listening through the MacBook’s speakers without compromising audio quality.
The collaboration eventually culminated in Morrison’s unique 2019 Mac Pro review, where the three of them piled into a New York studio alongside Grammy award-winning producer Andrew Dawson (fun., Jay-Z, John Legend, Kanye West) to create a song from scratch. Morrison describes it as an Avengers moment, and one really special to him because of how different an experience it was. The resulting video is a stunning showcase of the Mac Pro’s raw processing power and capacity as a music-making machine, and WOLF’s resulting track Immortale is a certified banger. It has more than 350,000 streams on Spotify and sits proudly in the number eight spot of my 2020 Apple Music Replay’s top ten albums.
There’s something like music that makes my brain happy in ways that no other camera or USB-C port could.”
Morrison has rapidly evolved what he describes as a “silly” ‘iMac versus MacBook Pro’ video into a brand new channel, the aforementioned Jonathan & Friends. Home to all of his recent work with WOLF and an acoustic remix cover of Lauv’s Love Somebody, the new channel is a home for content that doesn’t really fit on his tech channel, and Morrison says he would love to collaborate with everyone he’s a fan of musically. “As much as I love video and tech, there’s something like music that makes my brain happy in ways that no other camera or USB-C port could.”
Across the country, WOLF has smashed out the Magsafe song’s vocal masterclass, and two ‘shot on iPhone’ 12 music videos in the last two weeks whilst at the same putting out her own brand new single, Hoops, and her first-ever full-production video to go with it. The song is out now on all major streaming platforms.
For her, like many, 2020 has been quite the year. “Yeah, it’s been incredible. I mean, with everything that’s going on, I will say that I’m someone who predominantly works from her bedroom anyway, so I am used to, you know, doing my own thing.” Not content with crushing vocals, WOLF also does all of her own video editing, Photoshop and After Effects, until very recently on an aging 2013 MacBook.
She describes working with creators like Foote and Morrison as “a breath of fresh air” compared to earlier in her career, and that everything has leveled up since the release of her first single ‘Captions’ late last year. Her latest single, Hoops, covers a much-neglected topic in music, friendship. “I’m not always hearing songs with that theme in mind”, she says, but I just wanted to express gratitude for the people who are closest to me in my life.” The song takes its title from the days when WOLF would play basketball with friends after class, hanging out and giving each other advice. “And realizing I’m a horrible basketball player” she confesses. I remind her jokingly that they even left a few takes of some missed shots in her latest video; she assures me this was intentional.
“I don’t want to be like everything’s rainbows and unicorns, when, you know, so many people are not having a great time.”
The challenges and changes of 2020 have left no industry untouched, especially not the creative worlds that artists like WOLF operate in. Morrison feels the same. Blessed to be able to wear the different hats of sound, camera work, and editing, Morrison says that YouTube creators like him might well have found themselves uniquely equipped to deal with the situation thanks to skill in numerous disciplines. “I think, for me, it was just more the mental part of like, trying to balance the craziness in the world of, you know, we’re very blessed and fortunate to have jobs and to work”, he says. For him at least, the challenge of creation in 2020 has come in the form of balancing this good fortune with the tone of everything else going on in the world. “I don’t want to be like everything’s rainbows and unicorns, when, you know, so many people are not having a great time.”
Shot on iPhone
The inspiration behind the MagSafe video, and the power behind the pair’s low light video of Hoops and an acoustic version of Pillow, we turn our attention to the brand new iPhone 12. “From my end, I think the main thing I want to get across is I think tech reviewers, journalists, whatever, and I’m this, myself included, are too guilty of looking at things as like year to year jumps”, says Morrison, his hands pressed to his temples as he tries to put himself in the mind of a ‘normal person’. “It’s a way better phone”, he says, comparing the iPhone 12 to the 11. Whilst Morrison says 5G might not be “cool” now, it could be in a year or two, and the 12 is way more futureproof. Dolby Vision and HDR are a huge selling point for both.
“I absolutely have never seen a phone do that”
“For someone like me, who is obviously a little less tech-savvy. I just get excited”, WOLF chimes in, “I’d see such quality and like, [that] just makes me motivated to create cool things with it, you know?” Of the cityscape in her low light Hoops video she says “I absolutely have never seen a phone do that, I thought the city just looks so beautiful, the colors, nothing was distorted.”
Right here, WOLF cuts to the heart of what I think their journey is about, not only do videos like the MagSafe song take tech journalism and reviewing to another level, they inspire people to believe that it’s possible to do a lot with not very much. “I’m gonna give a shout out to Julia real quick because she is an example of anybody who says that gear or anything is a reason not to do it, ” says Morrison, amazed at how she had worked up until very recently in Logic Pro, Final Cut, After Effects, and Photoshop on a 2013 MacBook Air. The upgrade isn’t lost on her either.
“The speakers on this computer absolutely blew me away… I feel like I’m in a concert hall!” WOLF can hardly contain her joy, and her raised hands temporarily disappear from her body as they’re lost to the custom Zoom background of herself she’s been rocking for the last forty-five minutes, the software unable to keep up with her excitement. “I don’t know how they did it, but it just excites me, and I love being able to just record on this. As far as gear goes, I’m pretty much a simple girl; I don’t really have that much that I work with. So it’s really just the iPhone, it’s been the iPhone and the Mac.”
“She is an example of anybody who says that gear or anything is a reason not to do it”
In fact, Apple is making it so easy for all of its customers to make incredible content, that even Morrison downsized his workflow to make one of these videos. “I was on a decked out 5K iMac hooked up to a 6K Pro Display, creating a Rec. 2020 HDR project in Final Cut, and just looking back and forth and trying to make sure the nits were correct. And then the next day Apple drops the iMovie update. And it’s as simple as AirDrop it, put it into iMovie, oh, you can view this in HDR, you can edit in HDR.” Whilst Morrison says that iMovie does have some strong limitations in terms of framerate and aspect ratio, it forced him to think differently, taking different paths and doing things he wouldn’t normally do, like a split frame using a horizontal, rather than a vertical layout. It worked so well, that he canned the first video he made and went with the iMovie version instead.
There’s more than enough space in this sphere for tech reviews, meaty spec sheets, comparisons, and unboxings, but for me, the raw talent and creativity in WOLF and Morrison’s iPhone 12 work connect on a whole new level. “People look at that and just get inspired. They’re like okay, I don’t need all of this gear, I can do it when I have inspiration”, says WOLF. She also says that inspiration is just part of the equation: “I feel like if you have a vision for something and you feel strongly about it, then really any level of experience is a good place to start. I don’t think lack of knowledge would hinder you from creating because everything I learned was self-taught like Photoshop and all the artwork stuff.” Resources like YouTube and tutorial after tutorial helped her to get where she is today, and whilst it might be a big-time investment, she believes the rewards are worth it.
Creativity without limits
“You don’t need the craziest, highest-end gear to make cool stuff, you just have to want it.”
“We don’t have limitations now”, says Morrison, “the hoops you had to jump through to make things are basically non-existent”. He says that everything from shooting on the iPhone to the recording is now open to basically everyone. “I know it’s not budget per see,” he says of WOLF’s microphone and interface, but when you compare it to a setup like Andrew Dawson’s studio, which houses microphones that cost more than some family cars, it starts to sound like a pretty good deal. “This song was made on a MacBook Pro with an interface and a mic that was less than a grand, you don’t need the craziest, highest-end gear to make cool stuff, you just have to want it.” The only thing Morrison adds is that if you want to be creative, you should surround yourself with the most talented people you can find.
Morrison and WOLF embody this perfectly, immense musical talent and inspiration that traverses geography and time zones, nurtured, encouraged, and honed by experts-turned friends. At least one of the secret ingredients? Consumer technology that puts incredible raw power in the hands of its users without breaking the bank. Now everyone with an iPhone 12 knows they can create video content that looks just as good as their low light shoot of Hoops or start a catchy song with just a screen recording of a sound and AirDrop. As WOLF’s grind on a 2013 MacBook Air is testament to, not even old aging tech can hold back passion and creativity, and as she and Morrison have shown, good tech can take you anywhere.